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Amelia Tan
Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014

Singapore

Bosses keeping digital eye on employees

The Straits Times | Amelia Tan | Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014

Asia Insight employee Steven Li conducting a street survey outside Bugis Junction on 11 July 2014. He uses a tablet which has mobile data collection software, allowing his employers to track his work patterns as well as to help him do his work better.

BIG bosses are watching.

Firms are keeping a closer eye on their employees' punctuality and efficiency - thanks, or no thanks, to technology.

Larger companies are investing in advanced software in mobile devices that can detect location - and record the time taken to complete tasks.

And smaller firms have found that run-of-the-mill but inexpensive instant messaging apps can also be used to monitor workers.

Employees of local property valuation firm GSK Global, for example, when out at meetings, are told to send a picture of the venue to their departments' WhatsApp group chat within 15 minutes of the designated time. Those who are consistently late will get their bonuses docked.

Bosses say they are not spying on their staff. Rather, they want to improve efficiency.

GSK Global boss Eric Tan said: "I want my staff to be punctual so they can be done with work earlier and go home by 8pm."

Market research consultancy Asia Insight chief executive Pearly Tan agrees.

Her firm engaged local tech start-up Epsilon Mobile earlier this year to develop a mobile data collection software that records the time employees take to interview people and complete surveys, among other things.

It costs "a few hundred thousand" but Ms Tan said it is worth it. The software helps the company spot patterns in the way the surveyors work, and also intervenes to reduce errors and boost productivity.

"The survey may not be conducted the right way if it is completed in too short a time. But if more than 15 minutes is spent on a street survey, then perhaps something is wrong with our employees' interviewing skills.

Then we need to train them better," Ms Tan said.

Her firm plans to use the software, which is enabled with Global Positioning System (GPS), to detect its employees' location.

This is to ensure they are at the right place and time for surveys.

Epsilon Mobile boss William Vo said besides market researchers, organisations such as voluntary welfare groups and chain restaurants have also shown interest in his data collection software.

"Social workers and operations staff who do spot checks on chain restaurants spend most of their time outside the office.

Bosses want to have a better idea of their work progress," he said.

Similarly, tech company FPT Asia Pacific provides a few fast- moving consumer goods firms with GPS-enabled data collection software to monitor roving sales staff.

While most workplace surveillance technology now focuses on tracking location and time, firms may soon be able to use it to monitor their workers' interactions with customers.

Local tech company FXMedia is in talks with some retailer groups to roll out a visitor analysis system in stores.

The software detects the number of customers and consumers' emotions using webcams.

However, bosses admit there are some drawbacks to using workplace surveillance technology; workers face extra stress and loss of privacy.

Asia Insight's Ms Tan said: "We explain to our staff that we are collecting information on them but it is with the aim of helping them do their work better."

Her employees have no complaints. Market surveyor Albert Verghese, 48, said: "I have no issues if the company can track my whereabouts and efficiency.

If I need to be at a place, then it's my job to be there."

CLEAR-CUT

I have no issues if the company can track my whereabouts and efficiency. If I need to be at a place, then it's my job to be there.

- Mr Albert Verghese, an Asia Insight market surveyor A HEADS-UP

We explain to our staff that we are collecting information on them but it is with the aim of helping them do their work better.

- Market research consultancy Asia Insight chief executive Pearly Tan


This article was first published on July 14, 2014.
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