Google Work Insights: Making Life Harder for Teams That Slack Off

It’s no secret that companies monitor employees’ online activity while they’re on the clock. Chances are pretty good you’ve known someone who’s been disciplined for using Facebook or watching Netflix when they were supposed to be working.

But a new tool from Google might take workplace monitoring to a whole new level. Work Insights is billed as a way for employers to (in Google’s words) “measure and understand the impact of digital transformation within their organizations, driven by G Suite.” What that means, outside of marketing-speak, is that administrators can monitor the deployment and usage of G Suite apps such as Sheets, Calendar, and Gmail.

Google’s official blog posting positions this monitoring as a wonderful way to boost workplace efficiency: “For example, an admin can quickly surface the percentage of users on the Sales team that are working with the Marketing team to see patterns, like if they’re working together in meetings or co-creating documents. This insight can help executives identify opportunities to strengthen collaboration and reduce siloes.”

Indeed, these kinds of metrics can boost efficiency and security. But for any employee who hasn’t been keeping up with work, such data raises the risk that management will want to have a “talk” about their productivity. With Work Insights, a manager could tell if a team wasn’t collaborating with the broader organization, bothering to open their calendars, refusing to hang out in Hangouts, and so on.

Potentially great for companies, in other words… but terrible for office slackers who thought they’d be able to binge-watch “Ozark” in a corner of their screen instead of collaborating on those TPS reports.

Google has become increasingly serious about enterprise customers in recent years. At the Google Next 2018 conference, it rolled out a host of new, business-centric tools, and Google executives emphasized their newfound ability to listen to what enterprises actually want and need from their tech stacks. For corporate sysadmins, Google pushed how its cloud plays better with SQL Server and Windows Server (as many companies are still largely Microsoft shops); and for managers and workers, it pointed out that G Suite is becoming more robust, including additional admin security features.

Work Insights aggregates data at a team level, meaning that an individual could get away with being less productive for some time—but as anyone who’s worked in an office environment knows, the performance (or non-performance) of one worker eventually begins to affect the whole in ways that are noticed. For better or worse, G Suite has become a better panopticon for office performance.

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