The dark side of New Work – Monitoring staff behavior with AI

In Great Britain and China, surveillance systems are in place monitoring behavior at the workplace. The Isaak system alone monitors 130 000 people each day.

Robert Booth writes in the Guardian “Dozens of UK business owners are using artificial intelligence to scrutinise staff behaviour minute-to-minute by harvesting data on who emails whom and when, who accesses and edits files and who meets whom and when.“  This is done via the Isaak system from StatusToday. 

He goes on “The system shows bosses how collaborative workers are and whether they are “influencers” or “change-makers”. The computer can compare activity data with qualitative assessments of workers from personnel files or sales performance figures to give managers a detailed picture of how behaviour affects output.“  This potentially opens the door to a rigorous top-down surveillance system.

When you go to the Isaak website provided by StatusToday you get a more cozy picture. They market the tool to promote workplace wellbeing, improving team collaboration and strengthening the customer relationship. There is little to criticize here. 

To take a middle position, tools are basically neutral. Nobody will be against a knife which can be very helpful to prepare food but it can be a weapon that is misused too.

New Work
New Work has many facets, but it positioned itself to go beyond the industrialized work model of making the human a part of the corporate machine. It stresses innovation, creativity, agility, worker autonomy, self-steering teams, work-life blending to name a few. 

Making use of control tools that monitor work behavior is counterproductive to realize New Work.

China takes an entirely different approach to deal with monitoring people in general with artificial intelligence. The following case may serve as an example to reflect upon the matter.

A Chinese high school in Hangzhou is using facial-recognition technology that scans students every 30 seconds.

Chinese high school in Hangzhou – “Intelligent Classroom Behavior Management System”

The “Intelligent Classroom Behavior Management System”  is analyzing students’ emotions and actions in the classroom.  Emotions covered are neutral, happy, sad, scared, disappointed, angry and surprised. Behaviors include reading, writing, hand raising, and listening. On the positive side, teachers can improve their teaching style making use of the statistical data provided. On the downside, it is a tool to control the teacher too. And what about using the tool for grading the behavior? A plus for hand raising and a minus for not looking happy. 

Enough food for thought for today!

Sources – Links
Booth, Robert. (2019). UK businesses using artificial intelligence to monitor staff activity.  Retrieved 20 April 2019

Chan, Tara Francis. (2018). A school in China is monitoring students with facial-recognition technology that scans the classroom every 30 seconds.  Retrieved 21 May 2019

Curtis, Jospeh. (2019). Dozens of British firms are using artificial intelligence including email data harvesting to keep tabs on their staff.  Retrieved 20 April 2019

Modi, Ankur. (2019). The Future of Work has to be Transparent.  Retrieved 20 April 2019

StatusToday. (2019). Isaak – AI Powered People Analytics. Retrieved from

Techjuice. (2019). China “Intelligent Classroom Behavior Management System” Facial Recognition (Techjuice) Retrieved 20 April 2019