Hey, have you ever been concerned that your software wasn’t keeping close enough track of your working habits? Then Microsoft’s 365 office software suite certainly has a feature for you.
This week, Austrian researcher Wolfie Christie drew attention to a rather dystopian feature of the popular cloud office software.
Esoteric metrics based on analyzing extensive data about employee activities has been mostly the domain of fringe software vendors. Now it's built into MS 365.
A new feature to calculate 'productivity scores' turns Microsoft 365 into an full-fledged workplace surveillance tool: pic.twitter.com/FC3N6KkIR3
— Wolfie Christl (@WolfieChristl) November 24, 2020
“Esoteric metrics based on analyzing extensive data about employee activities has been mostly the domain of fringe software vendors. Now it’s built into MS 365. A new feature to calculate ‘productivity scores’ turns Microsoft 365 into an full-fledged workplace surveillance tool,” he tweeted.
In 2019, Microsoft added the ‘productivity score’ to Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365). This feature “reflects performance against people and technology experience measures,” according to the company.
How does it do that? It measures things like how many emails sent, documents collaborated on, Yammer questions asked and answered, Teams messages, mentions and posts you’ve made.
Microsoft reports this at an organisational level, i.e. 400 out of 500 employees sent chat messages. This, in turn, can be compared to an aggregate of other companies.
But here’s where it gets turned up a notch: by default, each user is given an individual productivity score based on 73 pieces sources of data collected by the software. And so any boss can drill down into their individual employees to see how many of these ‘productivity metrics’ they’re fulfilling.
The issue with this feature is that Microsoft is framing it as a measure of just dynamic and effective you are at work by calling it a ‘productivity score’.
But of course, this data doesn’t necessarily show that. Sending lots of emails? Often quite unproductive. Only making a few changes to documents? Could be you’ve got talented colleagues, or maybe you’re not in a super collaborative role. Don’t use Yammer much? Maybe that’s because you don’t really know what a ‘Yammer’ is.
And with all that in mind, maybe every worker shouldn’t be worried that their boss is keeping count of how many work DMs they’ve sent. It could lead to perverse incentives where workers spend time appearing to be busy, rather than actually being productive.
In response to the criticism, Microsoft claimed the feature is targeted at tech staff rather than general management.
“Productivity score is an opt-in experience that gives IT administrators insights about technology and infrastructure usage. Insights are intended to help organisations make the most of their technology investments by addressing common pain points like long boot times, inefficient document collaboration, or poor network connectivity,” a spokesperson told the Guardian.
No matter their intention, what matters is how it gets used. And we’ll see how companies choose to use this data now that they have it.
Now, off to mention my boss in our Slack channel so she knows I’m busy.