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How does it feel to be watched at work all the time? (bbc.com)
105 points by pseudolus 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments





That might sound like the most obvious thing ever written here to the point of sounding stupid, but:

In my experience as a manager, ANY kind of micro-level timekeeping or micromanagement is not only dehumanizing, but also an utterly unsustainable waste of time and resources and a recipe to let deadlines slip by.

How much time someone spends in front of their computer, how focused they are, and how their process works only gives bullshit metrics and teaches bad employees to game the system. By "squeezing productivity" you teach underachievers how to fake work while still underdelivering, while overachievers will get burned out quickly.

You'll fool yourself into believing that everything is "in control" but productivity will lower in a boiling frog effect that you'll only notice after several months of having everyone glued to their screens.

What I learned after failing: You need to sample a large interval in order to have ANY confidence on employee productivity data. So, it is better to allow employees to just be adults for longer periods of time (say, a sprint, or even a month) and measure them by their macro output and only act when they need you (aka be a real manager).

EDIT: Oh, and one more thing, if you don't have good metrics in place (like every programming shop ever), letting the OWN WORKER pick their metrics and give their own deadlines. This is a completely valid approach and will weed out under-performers like crazy.

EDIT 2: If you don't actually act on those macro metrics and pretend everything is fine, your team will resent you start looking for other jobs.


One of my manager once told me: Sometimes you are unproductive all week and then you push out two weeks of work in a day.

It's not always this extreme, but I would be crushed, when measured on a daily basis including some very unproductive whole weeks.


+1

Especially in a discipline that requires solving new problems.

One can appear unproductive, because it is hard to get a metric on thinking about a problem.

It might take a few days of writing junk then deleting it, no commits coming for review, whiteboarding the problem, slowly learning best how to solve it. Then a week later light bulb comes on and you can solve it.

Code then gets written at high speed. And your manager thinks you're lazy, but worth keeping you around because when you work it's fantastic.

But really, you've been working all along. That writing of code was only possible because of the time it was took to think about a problem.


Uggh, reminds me of daily “standups” where I have to make yesterday’s work sound important even though half of the days are a firefighting crapshoot/standstill.

If it's a firefighting crapshoot/standstill, then that's what you say at the standup. That's exactly what it's for; not to justify how you spent your time, but to share problems and delays.

Yes, but it has to be presented in a manner to avoid blame, which is exhausting over the long haul.

I agree with you, just want to call out a pet peeve of mine: in the boiling frog experiement, the boiled frog had its brain removed [1]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog


I've seen the boiling frog analogy used on humans in regards to climate change... Knowing the frog had it's brain removed somehow makes it seem even more analogous than less really.

Well, that certainly colors the results.

I feel the best use of metrics isn't trying to get your teams average time with a ticket opened down 10 minutes. That rewards people who are the best at meeting the metrics which aren't even nessecarily the best employees. They're generally ones that can do easyish jobs quickly and efficiently.

Metrics have rapidly diminishing returns yet companies seem to get addicted to them in ways that make them sick. I think of stack ranking. You do want to use SOME metrics though otherwise popular low performers will get promoted and unpopular high performers will get jaded.

It's also very appearant how the lower on the payscale jobs are more metric driven than the higher on the payscale ones. It comes off as a low-cost low-effort system that managers would never willingly impose on theirselves.


No offense to those who think that being watched while you work is a good thing, but it does surprise me how this topic has popped up multiple times in the past few weeks and how many HN'ers are on board with having someone(even their boss) watch them as they work.

I'll let my manager watch me as my work if I got paid in proportion to the amount of supposedly increased output. Oh, what's that you say pointy-haired boss? I won't be paid more for letting you spy on me? Oh, okay, FU then. I wouldn't even give an at's rass about "productivity" if it only serves the employer. Valuing productivity for its own sake doesn't seem like a healthy perspective to me.

In a way, I'm speaking from experience. I had a boss at one point that we all had to "watch out for" because he'd visit all the engineers every hour or so, look over our shoulders, and ask us for an update on what we were doing. We got a lot done, yet we were all underpaid and our work wasn't particularly valuable. I'm sure he got to go to his bosses and assure them of their ROI. (EDIT: lol, now I'm remembering how this same company wanted us to do standups, which gradually devolved into status updates for management)


I wouldn't be surprised if the stress that this kind of surveillance is inducing leads to lower productivity and less succesful projects overall -- a constant "North Korea" in your head might cause more depression, more overthinking and less creativity for finding solutions in the long term.

For a period of time, we had a handful of brilliant engineers. I can't really say that I was one of them back then, but I can tell brilliance when I see it. All three of them ended up leaving within two months of each other, and one of them whom I knew personally told me they left because of that sort of micromanagement. That person works for Apple now, so it's for the best anyway. But once the people with experience and talent left the oppressive environment, that left the more junior engineers who couldn't realistically pick up the slack. I think you're right not only in that it will eventually become counterproductive, but it will also cause a company to simply lose its best employees.

What you describe is different that the topic that came up on HN recently. In that case the author decided that he wants to have someone monitor him. That’s completely different than having a manager constantly look over your shoulder.

The intended outcome, whether it be that of the watcher or the watchee, is fundamentally the same. What I'm commenting on is, whether one willingly consents to constant monitoring or not, it's counterproductive and unhealthy in the long-term.

At the time I worked for that company I described earlier, it wasn't as if I didn't go along with the micromanaging for a significant period of time under the assumption that it was both normal and necessary. Like I suggested, my ego fed off the basis that I was working hard and contributing something, so having my productivity closely watched played into that. Over the course of a year, I realized what a sham it all was.

Let's say it had been entirely my will, and that I hired someone to watch me work remotely, like that other article that came up on HN; I still maintain that it's not only going to lead to burnout and disappointment in the long-term, but normalizing these sorts of productivity-hacks can lead to expectations that I don't think everybody should be subjected to.

Both these articles are about two sides of the same coin; the idea of using close monitoring to maximize performance is supposedly being repopularized. I don't support it no matter who is making the choice.

Forgive me if I'm conflating ideas, but I don't see it that way.


Metrics are only worthwhile if they're accurate and measure what needs to be measured!

The last place I worked went as far as putting badge entry/exit readers on the toilets -- the stats were aggregated by person and anyone significantly above the mean would get a demand to explain.

Their other crowning glory was putting a graph of "list of reasons for sick-days". With the exact reasons reported on the return-to-work form. They updated it weekly, so you could pretty much figure out which long-term health issues related to whom. Employee reps raised it as a serious issue, HR defended it as "a very useful tool", and the entire group of employee reps resigned on the spot.

This kind of micromanagement only leads to two things: useless KPIs and resignations.


Yep my last job my manager moved his desk to right behind mine like a month in. He wasn't slick about monitoring me either. Took a serious emotional tole on me and made every day agonizing.

If you want to micromnanage like that then just be a damn engineer and do the work yourself.


Stuff like this may start with good intentions but in the end management will almost always transform it into micromanagement hell. Management will ask you "Why did you spend less time on X than the average worker?" but if you give an explanation with suggestions to fix something that will mostly get ignored. Happened with Scrum/Agile for example. The original idea was that the whole company would get transformed and improved by a series of retrospectives but in a lot of companies it has devolved into daily micromanagement from top down but feedback doesn't trickle up.

In the end companies behave internally like dictatorships so they shouldn't be given more tools that befit a totalitarian dictatorship.


Oh how I know about the suggestions to fix. My experience with scrum was basically just the company wanting to retroactively chastise people for investing time in things that didn't pay out but which no one could know that ahead of time.

> "Why did you spend less time on X than the average worker?"

"Because I wanted it to work correctly."

Edit: I assumed you meant "more time"


I meant something like “why did you spend less time in front of your computer”. It doesn’t really matter . My point was that management will pick a simple metric and micromanage people for that metric without considering that there may be a little more nuance.

Every job i had as a programmer, the first thing I did was kill VNC and remove it from the startup script. No one ever complained about it.

The reason I did so was because I worked as an IT before and I was often asked to dive into someone else computer to monitor what they were doing. Often without their knowledge.

Side note: One person that I found particularly interesting was an employee that had been affected by malware. I had him on the phone while I told him I'll access his computer. Right then, this person decided it was the right time to make a purchase online, showing me all his credit card information.


They were entering their details into a presumably infected and logged machine?

Yep.

I feel like some people are too entitled. Most companies do not turn a profit and survive over extended periods of time. Most managers do not lead extraordinary teams. Most managers are not assured extraordinary careers. Why can’t we just be adults, accept that a mediocre outcome is (by definition) what we should expect, and then try to be reasonably good people? Instead these fragile egos want to torment their employees into giving them something that they were never going to get in the first place.

Now instead of a mediocre manager with a mediocre track record but an upstanding moral character and at least a respectable reputation as a human adult, you’re a mediocre manager with a mediocre track record and a depraved moral character and manipulative personality. For all I know this is leading into your personal life making your kids and wife hate you because you’re a control freak asshole. And you likely didn’t even increase your results.


when i worked at apple they monitored even our private phones. i only found our afterwards that they had been reading the conversations i had with my wife. they way they did it was to ask me to install a certificate or something like that under the pretense that they needed me to participate in testing and providing feedback on the software service they were working on.

apple can go suck it.


How did you find out?

Wait.

Did they install certificates in your personal private phone?


This is par for the course in BYOD regimes. On a past job, I was once given the option -- not required -- to install an app called "Good" on my phone to grant access to corporate email and messaging through my phone. I found out that "Good"'s real purpose is Mobile Device Management -- tracking and controlling phones that connect to the corporate network, including forcing software installs and updates, remote monitoring of device and app activity, and installing certificates that let corporate IT MITM your device.

I told the IT department that if they want me to receive email via cellphone, they will need to provision a corporate phone for me to use because I am not installing anything of theirs on my personal device.

I never heard about it again.


But the OP’s use of the word “private” suggests that they had both a personal and a work phone, and that even the personal one was being MDM controlled. I can’t think of a reason that this would be acceptable.

Would they let you use android? and do the same if you did?

Define “private phone”. Was this a carry device or a phone you had purchased yourself? Did you access Apple confidential information on it? Did you ever use it for work purposes?

It seems unreasonable to assume the person you are replying to does not know the definition of "private phone".

Not really. Specifically,

> they needed me to participate in testing and providing feedback on the software service they were working on

makes it seem like this is not in fact a “private phone”.


Just insert this slim, minimally intrusive sensor into your anus until the soft beep it emits can no longer be heard; that's how you know it's in far enough. Our team in Copenhagen came up with the sleek design (you should see the office there!). Our CEO even wears one, and you can watch his colon expand and contract, in real time, up on the big board!

Over time, we've found that a rectum capable of dilating to at least 1.5 inches in diameter is correlated with improved productivity, so try and stay loose throughout the day! There are lube and applicators available in the restrooms, and welcome to Job Corp!


The Yes Men approach:

> AG: How did you get started?

> MB: We got started by accident when Andy put up a fake website for the World Trade Organization in 1999 and people started writing for advice and questions. Eventually people started inviting us to conferences and we realized we didn’t have to be the WTO to go. Pretty soon we had been to half a dozen conferences. No one objected no matter how ridiculous the thing we proposed.

> AB: We got invited a textile conference in Finland as the WTO by a technical university. We lectured about the WTO’s solution to various problems, including the problem of modern slavery. The problem of modern slavery is they are across the world in places you don’t want to go, so you have to control them remotely and you want hands-free operation. The natural place to mount a view screen is at the crotch. We developed “the employee visualization appendage,” basically a 3-foot golden penis. People from major corporations were in the audience, including DOW Chemicals. They applauded.

0) https://indypendent.org/2009/09/the-yes-men-speak/


> that coders who sat at 12-person lunch tables tended to outperform those who regularly sat at four-person tables... >...driving more than a 10% difference in performances

Yeah, so this is exactly the sloppy analysis that makes these policies so counter productive: there's a pile of data, it is interpreted so poorly as to be random yet instills an absolutely unreasonable level of confidence.

It certainly does not compensate for the loss in productivity that such demoralizing practices create.


Worker 4575 you are not sitting with the optimal number of coworkers for lunch, please move to table 21b.

“It approves of rereading.”

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson, 1992

Excerpt of the relevant section available here:

https://www.deaneckles.com/blog/700_docsend_in_snow_crash/


> "The sales pressure was relentless," she recalls. "The totality was horrible."

This sounds very dystopic.

> These include tools to analyse e-mails, conversations, computer usage, and employee movements around the office. Some firms are also monitoring heart rates and sleep patterns to see how these affect performance.

This can actually end being good. Once you get the data and add to it any study that proves how stress, bad office environments, etc. affect negatively employees health. Companies should be liable for an unimaginable amount of money. People waste a lot of their lives in jobs that are pernicious for their health but usually, it is difficult to prove.

Otherwise, there is a grim future for humanity when management tries to become psychologists while doing some un-regulated human experimentation in the hopes of getting a promotion. Like lobotomies, gay therapy, etc. humans are really good at coming with the most ridiculous and hurtful ideas to improve how others live or do their jobs.


In the specific case, the company--a bank--is already liable for a lot of money and that is the reason the tellers are watched and tracked as closely as they are. That was a poor example.

In the fast food restaurants I used to own, one girl complained that I was watching her every move and using a stop watch to time everyone but this wasn't true. I wasn't watching her. I was watching the whole line. I wasn't timing her. I was timing how long it took the customer from the door to the order counter and the time it took to get to the cash register.

However, the last job I ever had working for someone else, my supervisor said I needed to turn my desk around in my cubicle so that, when the owner walked by, he could look and see that I wasn't just surfing the 'net instead of working. I understand his point--I'm being paid to work not surf the 'net--but you can't work continuously without some kind of break for the mind (which, in my case, was actually a slow walk to get a coffee from the lunch room).


>> I understand his point

I don't. If at the end of the week, you got your work done (issues resolved, specs written, test cases covered, classes implemented, documentation written), it doesn't matter at all what you have done in between.


> Larger lunch tables were "driving more than a 10% difference in performances". A fact that would probably have gone undetected without such data analysis.

Isn't this poor data analysis, though? Correlation doesn't imply causation and all that. I think it's more plausible that people who sit at 12-person lunch table have more friends on the company, and that drives performance up, than the lunch table affecting performance. I mean, it could be any reason, but I highly doubt the lunch table is the cause of the higher or lower performance.


Depends how they studied it. If they changed a few floors of the building to larger lunch tables, and observe the difference on those floors, keeping everything else the same, they would have a good case. If they difference stayed for months after the change, it further strengthens the case.

They still have to apply a random sampling or you risk the same correlations in the new data.

Ask any retail employee in the last thirty+ years.

It feels bad.


I think it depends. I worked at a credit card factory for awhile. We printed, encoded, and mailed the cards so we had access to finished cards. There were cameras everywhere. But the company only used them for security (i.e. when cards went missing). Management never used them against us or tried to micromanage us. Maybe because of that none of us ever cared about the cameras.

If you worked there, why even steal a card? I've had online purchases where I've entered the wrong billing address by mistake and it still went through fine; all you needed was the numbers on the card. Surely someone looking at these everyday would end up really good at memorizing the numbers, or at least memorize them well enough to run to the bathroom stall and write them down quickly.

Because it was 1995.

IMO this just worsens the already bad employee/manager relationship when it is the employees by definition that add value to the company. And I bet you the upper management/CEO won't have these trackers installed.

More proof that we're living in Clownworld. This was a joke from 1994: https://dilbert.com/strip/1994-02-27

Pretty sure there are 'efficiency expert' jokes from the 1950s era on the same subject.

Thing is, now we're actually doing it -- and dead serious.

I think it largely depends on the industry and perhaps the reason why you are being watched. From working in retail on a shop floor selling, they used to have management join us when we would speak and "sell" products to customers, this type of watching was terrible and put you under immense pressure to perform with someone literally standing over your shoulder hearing you speak and watch you do your work.

Fast forward 4 years working in professional services, if my manager set next to me and watched me work it would be fine and probably a positive experience.


Even if you're gaining a benefit from it, it's terrifying that you don't own the data.

I measure my sleep and heartrate via fitbit - for me this is useful information - but I would never pass this on to my employer. Likewise, I have my terminal set to keep a very long history but would be quite upset if my employer kept a copy.


Shoshana Zuboff:

Psychological and organizational implications of computer-mediated work

Author: Shoshana Zuboff

Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : Center for Information Systems Research, Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, 1981.

https://www.worldcat.org/title/psychological-and-organizatio...

In the age of the smart machine : the future of work and power

Author: Shoshana Zuboff

Publisher: Oxford : Heinemann, 1988

https://www.worldcat.org/title/in-the-age-of-the-smart-machi...


I certainly don't like it, but I know that I have no guaranteed privacy at work. Or at least, using devices and services owned by my employer. As others note, obsessively tracking "productivity metrics" is stupid and pointless. And demeaning and dehumanizing. But on the other hand, someone has to guarantee good OPSEC, so admins gotta see everything.

However, I do expect privacy at work when I'm using my own devices. At appropriate times, of course. During breaks, when there are personal emergencies, and so on. And I expect that there will be WiFi hotspots for those personal devices, and for guests. Which are not monitored, except when good OPSEC demands it.


Needs a study of different kinds of people. The difference being how they respond to surveillance.

I'd guess there's a very high performing group that hates surveillance, and when it's noticed finds something else to do. Might be those people whose results are 20 or more times better than the others.

Then there's those who get into flow. Would be interesting to see what impact surveillance has on them.

As a corollary, study the managers who chose to do and not do this. Figure out how good they are.

My attitude, if there's monitoring, it should be done by the individual and used by them for self improvement, no oversight.


Also see the Hawthorne Effect[1] - I think we're actually experiencing this on a global level as we all accept that there's the possibility of being surveilled at any time via use of mobile devices.

It's like the bit in 1984 about never knowing when the telescreens are watching you (if ever) - but the mere possibility that they might be watching was enough to keep people in line.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect


"Machine learning algorithms analyse all the data, and create beautiful charts," he says.

Duly noted as a quip for my next bullshit tech job.


I have / had a plan to work on a MOOP (massive open online psychology) where Alexa / iPhone would listen you your conversations and coach / guide you through life.

To do this is technically possible but the trust problem is huge - basically it involves medical / legal levels of confidentiality baked into our legal and social systems.

It was obvious that in the workplace was the early traction for this (and hey guess what I waited too long) but the good parts and the bad parts of this all hinge on one simple question - is the technology and the legal and support frameworks around the technology aimed utterly in the best interests of the individual in all cases.

Only then do we get the trust levels - only then is the foundation strong.

And we in the West "know" that a dictatorship cannot put in place those systems - and yet we think we can put them in place in our workplaces.

There is I think a vast beneficial life coaching framework that technology can bring to we humans.

But it must come with a medical "patient interests first and only" approach - and the companies that benefit from that (and they will benefit from empowered optimised engaged happy workers) can only benefit by being the kind of companies that one can completely trust - which almost certainly means total rewrite of the rules of how companies work - the laughable dictatorships of today must give way to open communes of equals.

And the catch 22 at the heart of this is only the kind of well adjusted people for whom AI coaching will have least effect are those that will build those companies first


Chipping parties? Welcome to the era of nano-management #behavioralControl

the lunchtable example in the article sounds like overfitting.

More like Texas Sharpshooter. The more data you have, the more likely you are to find some correlation, no matter how nonsensical.

See also http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations


Don't think that's a trend that is stopping any time soon.

It's also why I carry two phones...keeping the employer at bay.


Some of the methods sound very interesting. I would love to see if there are patterns in data from microphones, keyloggers, location tracking, etc. Realistically, though, I doubt much will come out of it (the 12-person lunch table fact is probably the most interesting one they have, or they would have given a more impactful example).

So while it would be fun, I already don't expect it would produce much... but on top of that, I would never want to be tracked that way in a workplace environment. It would indeed be dehumanizing. I will happily track myself, but there is a power relation between an employer (or even colleagues) and myself. Data about me might be negative, or positive data about me will be negative for a colleague. This is the reason why employers cannot use your data under GDPR with consent: you cannot freely give consent. A request from your boss is not the same as a request from a local restaurant to track my choice of dishes across visits: I might or might not feel an implied pressure, so it's not free. It's even worse here: this kind of data is always negative about whoever turns out to perform less well on whatever metric it tracks.

(One example of self-tracking is that I like to look back on my trips, so I have OsmAnd record every time I use it for navigation, but I deny Google Maps that permission because then it is no longer me that is tracking myself.)


Makes me feel like making sure they see me scratching my ass.

Actually, the feeling that there's someone to watch you at work all the time has an invisible benefit: Focus.

You'll be forced to be focus on what you're doing. But depends on situation, it might be your loved or hated kinds of work you want to focus.

Without anyone watching, it's easier to get distracted.


It is so much more distracting to know someone is watching you.

That's why i said it's "feeling".

Is this from your personal experience of being watched?

Anecdote: I've found that developers tend to be more productive - as in producing higher quality code, in shorter periods of time - when the environment they're working in encourages shoulder-surfing - that is, we set up the physical environment such that developers are mostly in a circle, and should one wish to, one can easily swing ones chair around in a circle and see the groups activity on each screen.

This has its detractors - sure, unless you've worked this way, you might find it intrusive that any dev can shoulder-surf at any time - but after a few days it rapidly becomes clear that such a configuration encourages developer participation, and more particularly: honesty about what is going on.

Too many times, dev teams I've managed have been tripped up by the one guy who doesn't like to share anything and rather prefers to work privately without any oversight - well, those guys don't last long in an environment where everyones work is equally open for shoulder-surfing. And I have found, anecdotally, that the most productive devs really don't care if you shoulder-surf - and in fact those that openly invite it, are a net positive effect on the teams own morale. People really learn a lot faster, and are seemingly more motivated to share their work, when the cubicles are set up for observation and not privacy.

Just an anecdote, but I've seen this, effectively, in action over 3 decades now and its just something I insist is a great way to build a developer team. Those that resist it, usually don't have good reasons to do so, either ..


> the most productive devs really don't care if you shoulder-surf

Are you sure this isn't because you've just forced out productive devs who aren't insane and tolerate this?

You know... Like this:

> those guys don't last long in an environment where everyones work is equally open for shoulder-surfing


The guys who worked this way, stayed in the company and were very successful for years. Those who complained about it and left weren't really doing a great job in the first place.

And, there really is nothing wrong with this policy of shoulder-surfing - unless you have things you need to hide about the way you work.

Ask yourself: what's so scary about sharing your work this way with your colleagues in a professional environment? There aren't any productive answers to this question .. only emotional ones.


::And, there really is nothing wrong with this policy of shoulder-surfing - unless you have things you need to hide about the way you work::

Because that can introduce anxiety and second guessing in even the most self assured person. Which is good from time to time, but not when you're trying to figure something out.


But then again .. maybe truly competent developers don't get such anxiety in the first place, and if they do need to 'figure something out' in an open, shoulder-surfing environment, can reliably depend on their colleagues to assist rather than "judge them for the secret difficulties they are having"?

Unless you've experienced such an open environment, I wouldn't imagine you'd understand the advantages of not working in a state of secrecy. After all, the modern tech work place is an aggressive and hostile, often very competitive environment, right?

Well this open-screen policy puts a stop to that hostility and competitiveness at a group policy level, and as a result: folks are less competitive and more cooperative. This manifests in a much better group dynamic, and higher levels of productivity occur.

Try it! Or, if you find yourself resisting the idea, take some time to reflect what, exactly, this represents that you are afraid of ..


> maybe truly competent developers don't get such anxiety in the first place

That's a big maybe to base these things on, and most available data seems to indicate that ability and confidence don't really correlate all that well, and even incredibly successful people struggle with mental health issues.

We don't live in some kind of a fair world where competent people are rewarded with happiness and confidence, and incompetent ones are made anxious. A casual perusal of history makes this instantly obvious.

> if you find yourself resisting the idea, take some time to reflect what, exactly, this represents that you are afraid of

Seems like you have already made up your mind and are just seeing what you want to see.

The statements you make here are not falsifiable and seem to be is-ought and wish fulfillment. They don't seem to be based on anything actually real.


I'm telling you my experience - an open environment that encourages shoulder-surfing and interaction with ones workspace environment has, in my experience, been more productive and a happier place to work than one where everyone hides their screens and don't interact 'because it gives them anxiety'. I, for sure, would not want to work in such a milquetoast environment.

Why is your experience, which you are clearly already primed to perceive in the matter that fits your preconceived conclusions, worth anything?

I for one am ‘not afraid’ of anything, I just find open offices incredibly unproductive and this sounds like an extreme form of it.

What? Competent can't have mental health issues such as anxiety?

Competent people don't let mental health issues get in the way of getting stuff done and sharing ones work with ones colleagues...

Maybe they have a health issue that shoulder surfing triggers? Maybe they weren't very good because you were shoulder surfing constantly. Maybe they are human and have the basic evolved human instinctual drive to not have a stranger/semi stranger constantly behind their back doing who knows what, plotting their downfall likely.

This sounds horrible at first look but I would like to see how this looks in the real world. I assume management is part of that circle too, right?

Yes, managers sit in the circle too. Its not hierarchical, and thats the point - there is nobody in the group with the special privilege of withholding our screens, therefore we all feel comfortable with whatever is on each others screens.

Respect, equalised this way, means we don't care if one of us is doing something non-work related on their system - its accepted, and nobody cares. Its just so much more productive to be able to understand, at a glance, what ones colleagues are up to without them having to worry about having 'privacy issues' in a workplace where really, the work isn't private.


Despite the fact that this system seems unpopular in the average HN reader’s mindset (and I can see why), it also seems like it would select people who are good communicators and encourage good communication and collaboration. I’d be interested to see it play out in practice. Is it stressful to have what effectively amounts to no privacy, or does the collaborative aspect make it seem like everyone is constantly pair-programming with the entire group (which might not be a bad thing at all)?

I’d also be interested in my own reaction and whether I’d adjust to that kind of workplace.


The question is whether it's real collaboration or "Collaboration" with an open office, noise and everybody wearing headphones.

It is not a noisy, open office. Its a circle of desks where people can easily see what each other are working on and collaborate with each other without having to leave ones own desk...

Whats missed here is that individuals have the choice to get up and look at each others screens, and people also have the right to communicate whether or not its appropriate for them to be shoulder-surfing. These are choices at the individual level - at the group level, yes: we do select for good communicators and people who can work effectively in a team while not taking personally the issue of utter privacy in their workplace.

Which is not to say that members of the team can't have privacy if they really need/want it - just that its expected that they work in a way that keeps others informed about what they're up to and how things are progressing.

Its not stressful - that is the point. Nobody has to hide anything because the expectation is that there is nothing to hide - or, if there is something you need to hide (i.e. you have self-doubt about your own competence and don't want to share that doubt with your colleagues), this is supplanted by the expectation that people will help each other if they notice a problem-solving session going on too long.

It results, thus, in less stress in the environment, more cooperation/collaboration and a more open level of communication among the team members - and we are more productive as a result of it. Also, we help each other: we don't criticise or degrade someone whose work is inaccessible.


Let me just roll over there and watch you read emails about me and the team for a while.

Good one, you must be a comedian.

So what happens when you shoulder surf your team and they're reading reddit or hackernews? lol

The funny thing is I work in an open place and really don't care if people see me reading reddit or hn or whatever else on my screen and I happen to not be focused on a task. That said, I got startled when a tour group walked by and closed my browser one day. That was weird.


How do you manage having a circular desk arrangement in regards to space concerns. I can't imagine that the footprint of this type of setup is very efficient.

Believe me they can do it and cram you in there real good.

Well, as a software developer, I don't mind my work being monitored as long as I am unaware that the employer is monitoring me. If I know the employer is monitoring me I will become self-conscious and the employer would then, in essence, destroy my productivity. However, like writers, coders think about what they are going to write next and web search stuff a lot more than they code so monitoring a developer in real time would probably be pretty boring - and employers would probably be dismayed at how much they pay us to google/cut/paste/modify/test.

In all seriousness though the situation is that, privacy concerns be damned, if valuable data can be collected it will be collected. Absent laws protecting worker privacy, employers will collect as much information about you as they can and use it in whatever way the deem necessary. It's a sad and unfortunate truth.


Well and it needs to be prohibited with absurd large amounts of fines when doing it any way.

When you can‘t make goals and check their success as a manager without surveillance you need to stop managing people.


As long as "right to work" (anti-unionization) and "at-will" (immediately fired for no reason, or any reason listed as non-protected) states exist, those states will be free to implement whatever checks on employees.

And they will be free to make decisions on this data without ever disclosing it, hence the 'at-will' status of the state. And if they are put in a position of court, the company will have ample data to show cause, even if the employee never explicitly approved or knew.

The 'right-to-work' also protects companies since unions that are formed can't force employees to pay into the union... Yet the union must negotiate for all employees, including the ones who refuse. In this way, "right-to-work" is a way to drain and kill unions by attacking their solvency.

Perhaps through Europe, their governments care more for workers. In the US, I have no illusion that the local governments, the state government, the federal government, or the company I work for truly cares for us workers. The worse times shows just how little we workers are thought of.

(Edit: And I deal with, as a system administrator, that no demographic or monitoring shows how we are performance-wise. If you count closed tix/day, each job gets split into X tickets for number bloating. Time to close is also sad because some tickets are autogen'd or long term projects. And like plumbers, our jobs aren't noticed UNTIL the 'shit' is backing into the sink.

I've proposed only counting internal and external customers' time in our group, but that too encourages us to blame and bounce tickets to other groups to stop the clock.

Tl;Dr. Sysads are even more fucked than devs that can show feature/ticket over time. We can't show 'crisis averted/ticket/time'.)


ÄI wonder, why the downvotes

That would mean they have to resort to manually adjusting the velocity indicator on a spreadsheet.



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