This isn’t 1984, so it’s time to dispel data collection fears

Mark Braund
Met Police Launch New Special Operations Room
Businesses need to help employees overcome fears that this is Big Brother monitoring (Source: Getty)

Big data has the power to revolutionise our experience of the workplace through its predictive powers.

It can be harnessed to allow buildings to automatically shape themselves around the preferences of their inhabitants – from the temperature to meeting room specifications, boosting both productivity and happiness.

However, many respond with abject horror at the idea of their employer collecting data on them.

For the benefits of data collection to be realised, it’s crucial that the causes of the stigma are understood, so truth can be distinguished from fallacy.

Dismantling fear

Fear and the perceived lack of personal control have played a central role in nourishing fears around data collection.

We are constantly barraged with stories of data breaches. But these cases are in the absolute minority, and the fear they encourage doesn’t take into account the numerous companies that are safely utilising data mining for the benefit of their employees.

To override the myth, businesses must go out of their way to demonstrate to their workers that their information will be secure, and provide them with an element of control. If they do so, employees are far more likely to agree to data collection.

The General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect in May, will play a crucial role in achieving this by enforcing higher security measures and putting individuals back in the driving seat. The new laws mean individuals will have the right to know how their information is being used, or even request its deletion.

Offering individuals the right to opt in or out of data sharing is crucial to preventing negative perceptions.

Tackling the big brother mentality

Staff will naturally be more reluctant to allow their employers access to personal information if it’s of a sensitive nature, and businesses must respect this. We know that people are willing to agree to sharing their information if they can see a tangible, personal benefit – because it’s already prevalent in the consumer market.

For example, we sign up to loyalty cards because we know that letting them track our spending habits gives us access to personalised rewards. The same understanding needs to be achieved between businesses and their employees.

Look at smart buildings which use workplace heat-maps to show how the facilities are being used. It’s understandable that employees might find this concept unnerving, but the realisation that this is being done help find free spaces more quickly and increase productivity makes it worthwhile.

Even those who opt out of having the data they create linked to them personally can contribute to the data hub.

Removing the stigma around data collection depends on three factors: education, choice, and security.

Only by illustrating the benefits of data sharing, giving employees the opportunity to opt in or out, and proving that their information will be kept secure, will businesses succeed in dispelling pop culture fears that data collection amounts to Big Brother monitoring.

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