Below is a complimentary Demography Unplugged research note written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

Big Brother Is in Your Laptop - 5 26 2022 10 27 15 AM

The rise of remote work has sent sales of corporate surveillance software soaring. Some are intended for use in the office, but others keep track of productivity and internet usage anywhere. (The Economist)

NH: According to an analysis by Top10VPN, a digital security and VPN firm, internet searches for employee surveillance software skyrocketed at the beginning of the pandemic.

In March 2020, searches were +80% higher than the 2019 monthly average. And while interest dipped last year, it's again on the rise. In Q1 2022, searches were +75% higher than the 2019 average. 

Big Brother Is in Your Laptop - VPN

This rise in interest has translated into increased sales for many surveillance companies. Time Doctor, a company that records workers' computer screens, reported that in April 2020, its accounts tripled from a year prior. And TimeDesk, a company that tracks time spent on specific duties, said its accounts quadrupled.  

What's driving this increase? Most analysts point to the rise in telecommuting. In spring 2020, many white-collar workers went remote for the first time, and employers wanted to ensure everyone was staying on task.

Driving the recent rise in interest, I suspect, is the shift many companies are making to permanent hybrid schedules. (See "Americans Are Choosing to Work Remotely.") 

Corporate surveillance software was already gaining in popularity before the pandemic began. Some of this technology was more tied to the physical office, like high-tech time cards that scan an employee's retina.

But other programs were similar to what we see with telecommuting, like software that tracks keystrokes. (See "The Rise of 'Total Tech'.”)

So how do people feel about being monitored? It depends on the technology. I suspect most people are fine with advanced keycards that monitor who is entering and leaving the office. But multiple surveys have shown that software that tracks employee productivity leads to distrust in management and higher stress levels.  

Ultimately, attitudes fall along generational lines. To Xers and Boomers, this software screams Big Brother. But to many Millennials, these systems promote efficiency and optimization. But surely they would prefer a supervision system that offers carrots as well as sticks.

Millennials want to be recognized for their hard work. Surveillance software firms would be well advised to broaden their package into a full-spectrum "employee credit" system that would dole out rewards, not just demerits.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.