Are You Really Working From Home? Microsoft’s Productivity Score Will Let Your Boss Know

3 min read
Nov 26, 2020
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Businesses that are using Microsoft 365 or Office 365 are now able to track employee behavior by using the newly available Productivity Score. Productivity Score is offered to companies that have business subscriptions to those services. According to Microsoft, the Productivity Score is meant to allow companies to help their employees develop successful habits in order to make the most out of the tools they use.

“As leaders, it’s our job to make sure people have the tools they need to do their best work. But tools alone are not enough—you also need to help everyone in your organization build the habits that harness the true power of those tools,” Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365, wrote. “Until now, it’s been difficult for leaders to get insight into these habits and understand how to help people make the most of the technology they invest in.”

Overall, there are 73 different pieces of data available to employers. These include the number of days an employee was actively using Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, and Skype. Employers are also able to see other information like the number of times an employee had their camera on during meetings and the number of days an email was sent.

Disturbingly to many privacy advocates, this information is associated directly with a specific employee’s name, and it’s all available under one dashboard. This new offering from Microsoft falls in line with a trend occurring during the pandemic that has seen the sales of surveillance and tracking software surge. 

While Microsoft touts the good intentions behind the Productivity Score, there’s nothing to stop an employer from using that data to determine individual reviews, promotions, or even firings. On top of that, Microsft won’t be notifying employees that they’re being monitored, let alone what types of behaviors are being tracked. Instead, companies using the service will determine whether or not they will let employees know.

Once activated, Productivity Score will automatically display data on every individual employee. Businesses have the option to make that data anonymous or to not use individuals’ data at all. However, since that data is available by default once Productivity Score is enabled, management will need to manually disable those features.

Understandably, Microsoft is attempting to brand their Productivity Score as something different than employee monitoring software.

“Let me be clear: Productivity Score is not a work monitoring tool. Productivity Score is about discovering new ways of working, providing your people with great collaboration and technology experiences,” Spataro said.

How helpful Productivity Score is for a business may very well be determined by the employees who are being measured. For example, will they rebel against being monitored in the first place? Perhaps they will attempt to hack the system by doing necessary actions to raise their score, like, for example, opening Word multiple times a day, even if they don’t need to. What effect will it have on employee morale, engagement, and retention? The jury seems to still be out on these questions.

However, at the end of the day, and as with all employee monitoring software, it’s most likely not a substitute for having mutual trust between employees and employers.