View source: Shiran Weitzman
Before March 2020, only a sliver of the world’s working population was dialed into the “insider’s secret” of wearing pajamas and fuzzy slippers with a jacket and tie. Those who were clued in were part of a small, elite club: work-from-home (WFH) employees. Within weeks of the global pandemic shutting down office life as the world knew it, WFH became synonymous with business continuity. Zoom experienced stratospheric growth that continued through the year, ending the last three quarters of 2020 with sales up 370% over 2019. Suddenly, office life happened over video calls. With remote work instantly mainstream, a new need for workplace intelligence was ushered in. Conduct was called into question: How do you know your WFH workers are working?
Enter the era of tapping technology; some call it “tattleware.” Compliance officers in financial services who were tasked with enabling remote trades to keep the markets moving grappled with new conduct challenges. Sexual harassment, racism and privacy, along with the obvious perils of market abuse, were now all exponentially more difficult to track. If you didn’t see it, did it happen? It’s akin to the “if a tree falls in a forest” conundrum. The problem quickly became particularly acute as many brokers shifted from using bank-approved communications channels to exclusively using their own mobile phones. Digital communications as a field exploded.
However, the catch was that compliance regulatory technology (regtech) solutions didn’t monitor those e-comms apps at that time. And that was just one of the problems plaguing the compliance officers. How can you possibly monitor every digital word, emoji and hyperlink sent between every employee, broker and client? Perhaps some digital exchanges are nefarious preludes to a pending act of market abuse, but most are likely innocuous banter back and forth about the weather, the kids, the dog and whatnot. It’s a daunting task to be sure.
WFH has really caught on. People are self-reporting as more productive, despite some lamenting the blurred lines between work and home. In a nutshell, “remote work is working” as evidenced by 83% of companies surveyed by PwC considering their shift to remote work as successful. And although financial services leaders such as JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have mandated returns to the office, more workers across industries are leaving their jobs, including some who want to continue working from home post-pandemic, in what’s been called “The Great Resignation.” What does that mean for compliance officers?
Technology like Zoom and e-comms solutions have kept the global economy going — even though it’s dangled precariously by a thread at times since the pandemic began. Workplace intelligence is enabled by technology to monitor the activities of brokers as well as employees across every industry. Toxic corporate culture comes into question here as it has spilled over into WFH. This can include managers communicating “after hours” and expecting more from remote workers.
Complaints about the workplace are as old as time, but complaints shared on e-comms platforms like Slack might not be the safest place to air gripes. Case in point, Netflix was recently in the news for firing three senior marketing executives because of alleged remarks they made about peers on Slack. Here’s where things get interesting. According to the report, the trio thought their communications were private. However, another employee did a random search that detected the griping. This wasn’t a case of proactive analysis for bad conduct. Workplace intelligence wasn’t applied here.
Some companies take workplace intelligence to the opposite end of that spectrum. A positive team environment fosters psychological safety in the workplace, but e-comms surveillance solutions disrupt that sense of personal security. Tools that randomly take screenshots of your computer screen throughout the day and report when you logged on, for how long and how active you were while you were logged on can have the opposite effect on productivity. Incorporating such tools can put workers on the defensive, but that’s not illegal. However, it begs the question, if employers are monitoring employees’ behavior and dialogue — but only in an unobtrusive way — do employees still feel safe and motivated?
The proverbial “Pandora’s box” is busting wide open as employees demand WFH flexibility coupled with their right to privacy. What falls under an employer’s jurisdiction for monitoring and what actions should spark condemnation have come into question. Hyping a stock as part of a “pump and dump” scheme is clearly a violation. That’s black and white. But is the act of an employee sending a private photo on their personal phone subject to scrutiny by their employer? It’s a slippery slope, indeed.
Workplace intelligence as an emerging field has its work cut out for it. The path forward is probably not simple and will likely be fraught with peril. Ethical questions about what an employer can and cannot monitor now abound. With employers increasingly favoring a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) practice, the line is blurry when it comes to monitoring the personal dialogue on e-comms apps on an employee’s personal device. What happens next is unclear, and whether remote work has compromised conduct currently sparks more questions than it answers.