New Tools Let Your Boss Know If You're Not Really Working

Working from home has its perks, like getting to wear your pajama pants all day, and snuggling with your dog while you're pecking away at that spreadsheet. Do you also consider it a perk that with this remote set-up, your boss will have no idea if you're actually napping during meetings, or spending some of the work day cooking, doing laundry, or helping your kid with his math homework? If so, be warned. Some new features from Microsoft as well as Zoom are basically playing the role of the office snitch, using artificial intelligence to sound the alarm when you're not doing your job. Microsoft rolled out upgrades to its Office programs in October that will alert your employer how often you turn on your camera during conference calls, as well as how many hours you spend using Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and how often you contribute to shared documents. As Gizmodo reports, it will even assess you with a "productivity score."

Meanwhile, Zoom has been offering a feature called "attendee attention tracking" since April. Your boss can find out whether you've stepped away from a Zoom meeting for more than 30 seconds. Which is less time than your average bathroom break, is it not? "So just be aware that, when you're using Zoom to work from home alone, you're not necessarily actually alone. Zoom is keeping tabs on you so your employer can, too," advises the blog FairyGodBoss.

Critics say 'spying' on remote employees is bad management

So how many employers are taking advantage of these new bells and whistles? According to a study by Garnter conducted in June, 16 percent are tracking how much time employees are spending engaged in work activities. Now, of course, they have additional tools to monitor us working from home, thanks to the new Microsoft enhancement.

Privacy experts are not a fan of this new trend. "The word dystopian is not nearly strong enough to describe the fresh hellhole Microsoft just opened up," tweeted David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of the office suite Basecamp. "Being under constant surveillance in the work place is psychological abuse. Having to worry about looking busy for the stats is the last thing we need to inflict on anyone right now." Employees as well have been critical of the use of these tools. "I would argue, if your manager thinks they can use these tools to discern your productivity, they aren't a good manager," commented a reader on the workplace advice blog Ask A Manager.