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Bossware, Trust, and “Productivity” Scores

At Status Hero, we're building the opposite of bossware.

August 18th 2022

by Henry Poydar

in Newsletter

This week, the New York Times published an excellent, terrifying piece called “The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score.”

In the article, the reporters describe the increased adoption of employee surveillance software for white-collar jobs that require graduate degrees. (At blue-collar jobs, like roles at UPS or in Amazon warehouses, tracking activity to the minute is ubiquitous.)

Tools like this are commonly referred to as “bossware.”

Several disturbing anecdotes punctuate the story, including an instance where a software company continuously tracked developers through their webcams and mouse movements. As a result, employees feared bathroom breaks because the tracking mechanisms were directly (and erroneously) tied to performance assessments and pay.

Proponents of bossware argue that modern workplaces are fraught with distraction. Spying on contributors keeps them on task, they say – Heisenberg was right! But as the story points out several times, the use of bossware has a devastating impact on morale and rewards the dishonest practice of gaming the system. Not only are the resulting “productivity” scores bullshit, but trust among the team and with management are completely vaporized.

That’s bad, because high-performing knowledge teams operate on trust. (Don’t take my word for it, Google spent 2 years and millions of dollars in research to discover this and share it with us.)

Moreover, knowledge work is about energy management, not time management. As a contributor, high-quality output and collaboration won’t happen if you’re tired or burned out, no matter how many appointments are on the calendar. Hairy problems often get solved “off the clock” anyways: on a bike ride, in the shower, or standing in line at the grocery store.

At Status Hero we’re building the opposite of bossware: Instead of prying and spying we use brief check-ins and other project management data to enable team leads and organizations to serve their contributors – the people creating value – not the other way around.

For example, with “blocker” reporting in Status Hero, team leads are notified instantly when a contributor is blocked from progress and needs help. We use “mood” emoji to subtly signal state of mind. (We all have both good and bad days that affect our work for personal reasons, do managers need to know the details?) And we’re hard at work developing mechanisms to detect burnout patterns. (Think too many GitHub commits late at night.)

So you get all of the data you need and get to keep the trust you’ve worked hard to earn as a conscientious team lead. All of this is within the team alignment framework of collecting a couple of sentences around accomplishments and intentions daily or weekly.

No bossware required.

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