Digitalization driven by COVID-19 has accelerated and transformed management’s ability to track what and how workers are doing. This growth in networked visibility significantly increases the risk of institutional and interpersonal conflict, as well as challenges to cultural norms.
Many workers rationally fear that enhanced monitoring empowers management — and micromanagement — at their expense. When experienced as corporate surveillance, monitoring implies a lack of trust and an invasion of privacy, especially when people are working from home. That’s not sustainable; no one wants to feel spied on.1 Consequently, if not ironically, leaders are being pushed to make visibility far more visible.
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While greater transparency around visibility can allay employee fears, it may also expose and provoke clashes in core values. If the interactions on a distributed work team, for example, are appropriately inclusive, but that negatively affects productivity, what happens next? Workers in general — and remote workers in particular — want credible narratives explaining visibility’s benefits, costs, and trade-offs. Opacity around visibility invites credible accusations of hypocrisy.
Visibility, like capital, compensation, and digital transformation, requires explicit purpose and policies. Leaders, not just HR and IT administrators, should explicitly manage visibility as an enterprise asset.
When Visibility Clashes Arise
The ongoing digital transformation in employee monitoring effectively squeezes people between values-driven visibility and visibility-driven values. The former celebrates creating ever-greater visibility around core values and compliance; the latter emerges as increased visibility lets more people see where, when, and how core values compete, complement, and conflict. As performance analytics and cultural analytics visibly converge, leaders are looking beyond legacy KPIs to assess how well people align with espoused values. In doing so, they will have no choice but to rethink how they balance principles and productivity.
Earlier this year, Netflix provided a troubling case study of a visibility clash. A digitally sophisticated innovator committed to a “radically transparent” culture, the company fired three executives who privately criticized their bosses on an internal Slack channel because their behavior defied a core Netflix ethos.
“Very early on at Netflix, Reed Hastings wrote a culture memo for the company with Patty McCord, then our head of talent,” explained co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos in a LinkedIn post defending the terminations.
1. “ExpressVPN Survey Reveals the Extent of Surveillance on the Remote Workforce,” ExpressVPN, July 16, 2021, www.expressvpn.com.
2. J. Kelly, “Netflix Has a ‘Radical Candor’ Culture, but Fires Three Executives for Criticizing Executives on Slack — The Co-CEO Fires Back,” Forbes, July 19, 2021, www.forbes.com.
4. “Guide: Understand Team Effectiveness,” Google, accessed Oct. 12, 2021, https://rework.withgoogle.com.