Why Office Surveillance? Are Employees Handling Loose Diamonds?

The drive for teamwork in business organizations that started in (or before) the 1980’s was based in the recognition that people are more productive and do better quality work when they feel like part of a team with shared over-arching goals.  Teamwork relies on a sense of trust.   Unfortunately, many people are not trusting by nature, and, even more unfortunately, some of them are managers.I am now working in a place where the office area is on surveillance camera all the time, with the company security officer watching via large plasma screens on his office wall.  When the cameras were first installed one of my colleagues waved to one of them, and within seconds the phone rang on the desk of the person he was conversing with.  She answered it and turned to my colleague to say “Bob (the security officer) says ‘Hi Joe.'”  Perhaps Bob was doing that as a joke, or perhaps to underline the fact that he is watching us, and that we are being recorded on video all the time, but the word got around, and the effect was chilling in a subtle way.  We now occasionally joke about it, and wonder whether we are also being monitored and recorded by hidden microphones, though we haven’t been able to identify any.  I keep daydreaming of ways I would obstruct the view of the camera that watches me so many hours of the day.

Needless to say, this situation gives us a strong sense that we aren’t trusted, not a feeling that promotes teamwork, commitment, and high quality work.  I am sure that some manager somewhere feels that the company is better off, or will impress customers with its high security, but … we’re not a bunch of children or convicted criminals, and we’re not handling gold bars or loose diamonds.

The effects (loss to the organization) of having this surveillance system would be nearly impossible to quantify, but intuitively must be significant.  Productivity is extremely important to every business, everywhere, and every element of the business environment, systems, relationships, and culture has direct impact.  As a manager, would you want to promote anything that would decrease productivity by even one percent?  It would be easy to implement a variety of measures that would each detract from the average worker’s effectiveness.  Business is more competitive than ever in the 21st century.  Can you afford for your people to be even 5% less efficient than your competition?  Are you savvy enough to consider such things?  If you are, then you may have an automatic advantage over clueless competitors.

The manager with the better understanding of human nature and psychology always has an invisible advantage, and will tend to get more and better quality work from their people.  This knowledge doesn’t work well when used against people, however, as I have seen in some places.  It works when used to build a team of trusted individuals who can identify with their work, their colleagues, and their employer, and who take personal ownership of every aspect of personal and organizational development and success.  I have worked in situations where people enjoyed their work and pursuing the goals of the company so much that they raced to see who could be the first to open the door in the morning and had to be chased out of the building at the end of the day.  That culture would not have developed if they all felt spied upon.  It just makes sense: you will have difficulty building or maintaining a high performing team when they know you are watching their every move.

As always, I welcome your comments.  – Tim

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