Fighting off the pandemic requires extreme measures. It is all part of the new normal we have to live with. Image Credit: Reuters

“The pandemic hasn’t gone away just because you’re bored,” read a recent Tweet. The idea stayed with me.

The writer had a point, but, we’re way beyond boredom now. COVID-19 is really starting to drag, and with each passing day, governments, businesses and citizens, are growing restless. You can see it: frustrations are starting to simmer, adherence to lockdown laws is slackening, and people are getting angry.

If the rules don’t change soon, societies will start making their own.

There are no quick fixes here and political leaders are faced with the unenviable task of balancing life with livelihoods, and human safety with financial security. Making matters worse, scientific consensus indicates that coronavirus is here to stay, and with a state of permanent isolation economically (and psychologically) untenable, nations are left with no choice but to learn how to live with it.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s time to get back to work. The multi-billion-dollar question is how?

At a cost

Clearly, there is no magic answer, but here’s a clue about the direction in which we’re headed: if people were concerned about workplace privacy before, it’s about to get a whole lot worse. I’m talking about monitoring with a capital M.

But before your alarm bells start ringing, let me say one thing: COVID-19 has changed the conversation. Privacy used to be a question of trade-offs. Now it’s a question of life and death.

With stakes as high as they can get, now’s the time to make peace with data-sharing. As a pioneer of AI-driven leadership and productivity tools, I have long made the case for trading elements of our privacy for positive change, and never has that need been greater than it is today.

Live with it

We need to stop viewing Big Brother as the enemy, and start seeing him as the caring sibling he is – always there quietly watching over us, but only really stepping in during times of need. The evidence is there to see: in the aftermath of 9/11 people didn’t call for more privacy, they turned to heightened monitoring and surveillance in order to stay safe.

Since then, employees have grown accustomed to key cards, visitor badges and X-ray machines at office block entrances.

Those measures rapidly became the new normal, just as those being tabled now will be in the post COVID-19 world. Apps that help monitor social distancing, enable efficient contact tracing, and track the health status of employees are the way forward, and companies are already starting to incorporate them into corporate life.

Already there in some form

It is part of a broader trend gaining traction in the business world. Before the coronavirus created the need for companies to monitor health, leaders were already turning to workplace monitoring tools. When it comes to employee surveillance, Bridgewater Associates reigns supreme.

By collecting and analysing vast pools of data on almost every aspect of employee behavior, movement and performance, the firm gains the insight it needs to make accurate judgements and drive productivity. Founder Ray Dalio has received his fair share of criticism for the firm’s “radical transparency” over the years, but Bridgewater’s success speaks for itself – and people still want to work there.

Dalio’s hedge fund is an extreme example, but workplace monitoring in some form or other is happening every single day at companies worldwide. Software can enable employers to see their employees’ screens, track time spent away from their computers, check emails and website activity - even monitor keystrokes.

You can call it spying, but it differs little from the actions of a good coach. Before handing out advice, great coaches spend time observing and understanding their client, down to the last detail.

Ok, so being observed can feel uncomfortable, but it is absolutely necessary if you want to become more productive, and better at what you do.

The need for privacy is human instinct, but so too is the pursuit of self-betterment – and of course, the will to survive. If monitoring can help both, what’s not to like?

- Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered leadership and author. Contact him at tsw@tommyweir.com.