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Study calls for ‘big brother’ COVID tracing tech to be regulated

Technologies, such as track and trace apps, used to halt the spread of covid-19 have to be thoroughly examined and regulated before they are rolled out for wider adoption, to ensure they do not normalise a big-brother-like society post-covid-19.

That’s according to research conducted by Jeremy Aroles, Assistant Professor in Organisation Studies at Durham University Business School, alongside Aurélie Leclercq-Vandelannoitte, Professor of Management of Information Systems at IÉSEG School of Management, which draws from the concept of ‘societies of control’, developed by the French philosopher Giles Deleuze, in order to analyse the technologies currently being used to tackle the covid-19 pandemic.

Whilst the study acknowledges the public health benefits of these technologies, the researchers state we must be wary of what technology is rolled out by governments and critically cross-examine these.

Dr. Aroles said: “Presented as ways to curb the immediate progression of the pandemic and improve safety, the acceptance and use of these technologies has become the new “normal” for many of us, therefore it is important that these systems of control are heavily vetted and cross-examined before being rolled out to the wider public.”

The researchers suggest three solutions regarding the development and use of covid-19-related technologies.

First, the public should question the locus of collective responsibility. Increasingly complex systems of control and surveillance have been fuelled by our reliance on technology which, the researchers say, has blurred our understanding of the boundary between “good and bad” or “right and wrong”.

Second, more must be done to raise people’s awareness of how digital technologies work, and the risks of adopting them across society. People are often, rightly, concerned over their privacy and the sharing of their data. It is therefore crucial that these technologies are transparent and actively help individuals fully understand the ramifications of the control systems they’re opting in to.

Third, given that covid-19 tracking technologies are developed by companies for the benefit of governments, it is vital that greater regulation of the partnerships between state authorities and companies is adopted. Alongside this, it is also important that counter-powers such as journalists and the public hold these partnerships to account, to ensure they do not violate the privacy of citizens for financial gain.

The researchers state that it is important the covid-19 pandemic is not utilised as an opportunity to enforce a society of control and to normalise greater surveillance. They suggest that researchers or bodies specialising in the management of information systems should be brought in to supervise the developments of digitally enabled control systems, such as covid-19 apps, and not to abandon them to companies that could violate the privacy of citizens.

Only 20% of workers happy with employer COVID-19 planning

Research carried out by The Workforce Institute at UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group) has found only a fraction of employees (20%) felt their organisation met their needs during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there is a silver lining: a third of employees globally (33%) say they trust their employer more now than before the pandemic began because of how organizations reacted.

Hindsight 2020: COVID-19 Concerns into 2021, commissioned by The Workforce Institute at UKG and conducted by Workplace Intelligence, explores how nearly 4,000 employees and business leader1 in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. felt about their employer’s initial COVID-19 response and explores the top needs and concerns of the workforce through 2021.

Key findings include:

Clean and healthy workplaces are meaningless without job security, flexibility, and work-life harmony.

  • Half of employees globally say they’ve been working either the same or more hours regularly since the start of the pandemic, which helps to explain why 43% call their organization’s ability to balance workloads to prevent fatigue and burnout a priority.
  • Overall, three in five (59%) employees and business leaders say their organization has taken at least some measures to guard against burnout, though, overall, 29% of employees wish organizations would act with more empathy. Burnout and fatigue are equally concerning for employees working remotely (43%) and those in a physical workplace (43%).
  • Three in 10 employees and business leaders wished their organization better leveraged technology to provide flexibility, especially when the pandemic was at its most chaotic. This is especially true for those with families (34%), though this technology-focused wish exposes a generational divide between youngest workers (31%) to Baby Boomers2 (19%).
  • More than a third of employees and business leaders (36%) are concerned about future layoffs and furloughs due to economic instability created by COVID-19. This is most concerning in China (44%), followed by Mexico (41%), Canada (40%), and the U.S. (37%).
  • Concerns about job security span all generations: Gen Z and younger Millennials (35%), older Millennials (37%), Gen Xers (36%), and Boomers (34%) are all equally worried.

Nearly half of employees globally (46%) say quick notification about confirmed COVID-19 cases in the workplace is their top concern.

  • Even though older workers are considered a higher risk population for COVID-19, interestingly, the younger the respondent, the more concerned they are with rapid notifications in the workplace: this is the biggest concern for more than half of Gen Zers and younger Millennials (51%), and then decreasing by generation from older Millennials (45%), to Gen Xers (44%), and then Boomers (42%).
  • While employees and business leaders in India (58%), Mexico (53%), and China (48%) say sharing news of a positive test is a top concern, fewer people in Germany (39%) and Australia/New Zealand (38%) feel the same way.
  • Respondents globally are slightly more concerned with encountering an asymptomatic visitor at work (45%) than being in close contact with an asymptomatic coworker (40%).
  • Only 13% of all employees are worried about movements being tracked at work to fight COVID-19 – including fewer than one in 10 Gen Zers and younger Millennials (8%) – signaling they may recognize the immediate safety benefits in this approach to aid contact tracing.

As workplaces reopen, swift decisions are even more important, and small common areas – not open floorplans – commuting, and cleanliness concern employees and leaders.

  • A common complaint about the initial pandemic response? It was too slow, according to a third (36%) of employees and business leaders, who wished offices closed faster and safety measures for essential workers were implemented sooner.
  • Nearly a third (32%) also yearned for more communication – both sooner and more transparently – which is a primary regret for more than a third (35%) of C-level leaders.
  • While 45% of employees and business leaders say overall cleanliness is also a top concern going forward, they’re equally concerned with using shared common areas like lounges and restrooms (42%) as well as shared workspaces like conference rooms (37%).
  • More than a third of employees (35%) also voiced concern about passing through high-traffic areas such as elevators, staircases, and lobbies. Only a quarter (26%) say being in an open floorplan environment is worrisome.
  • Physical workplace concerns vary by country: In India and France, the top concern is safely commuting to the workplace (72% and 50%, respectively), while overall cleanliness and sanitation is most worrisome to those in Mexico (60%), Canada (50%), Germany (47%), Australia and New Zealand (46%), the U.S. (44%), and the U.K. (42%). In China, two-thirds (63%) are worried about passing through high-traffic areas while a third of employees in the Netherlands (35%) are nervous about shared common areas.

Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR, executive director, The Workforce Institute at UKG, said: “As organizations around the world operate through an unprecedented global pandemic, they need to double down on their employee experience strategy. However, instead of looking for trendy perks, they must get back to the foundational needs every employee requires: physical safety, psychological security, job stability, and flexibility. Among employees who trust their organization more now than before the pandemic, 70% say the company went above and beyond in their COVID-19 response. By truly putting the employee first, a mutual trust will begin to take hold that will propel employee engagement – and the success of the business – to new levels.”

Dan Schawbel, best-selling author and managing partner, Workplace Intelligence; advisory board member, The Workforce Institute at UKG, added: “While organisations made mistakes during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees also recognize the unprecedented nature of this once-in-a-generation event. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, employees want their employers to adapt and evolve as quickly as possible. Those that have made changes to address protect employees – specifically physically, emotionally, and with economic stability – have earned newfound employee trust, which will be a valuable commodity that helps ensure future success.”

Data shows workers reluctant to return to offices

The number of workers heading back to the office has increased in fewer than half of the UK’s biggest city and town centres.

That’s according to the latest data from the Centre for Cities High Street Recovery Tracker, which reveals that in central London and Manchester, early August weekday footfall rose by just one percentage point compared to the early July.

While Leeds, Bristol and Nottingham all saw no change and in Birmingham city centre the number of workers has fallen this summer.

It says the persistently low numbers of workers going back into city centres, particularly in big cities, reinforces the concerns for the future of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars that depend on office workers for custom.

Summer has bought better news for businesses in some places. Seaside towns in particular have seen some of the biggest boosts in visitors since the beginning of July with Bournemouth, Blackpool, Southend and Brighton all seeing increases.

But, again, overall footfall in bigger cities is much weaker than in smaller places. Central London’s overall footfall increased by just five percentage points since early July, and Manchester and Leeds’ by 7 percentage points.

On the other hand, footfall in small cities increased by 14 percentage points and medium-sized cities by 18 percentage points over the same period.

But there is some good news: Using mobile phone data, the tracker shows that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme has encouraged more people to visit city and town centres outside of work duties. On average on Monday to Wednesday evenings in early August visitor numbers were 8 percentage points higher than in late July.

But the scheme has been less effective in large cities. In London, the number of city centre visitors on Eat Out to Help Out nights was just 3 percentage points higher than the same nights in late July – one of the lowest increases in the UK. In contrast, average footfall on Eat Out to Help Out nights in small and medium sized city cities was on average 12 percentage points higher than in late July.

Seaside towns appear to have been some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme and the good weather. With a 23 percentage point increase in Monday to Wednesday night visitors, Bournemouth has had the biggest Eat Out To Help Out boom. Meanwhile Southend, Blackpool and Brighton have also benefited.

Centre for Cities’ Chief Executive Andrew Carter said: “Good weather and the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme have helped increase the number of visitors to city and town centres. But a question mark remains over whether the footfall increase that we have seen this summer can be sustained into the autumn without the good weather and Government incentive – particularly with so many people still working from home.

“Shops, restaurants and pubs face an uncertain future while office workers remain at home. So, in the absence of a big increase in people returning to the office, the Government must set out how it will support the people working in city centre retail and hospitality who could well find themselves out of a job by Christmas.”