Balancing productivity privacy and management in remote and hybrid law library work.

In the post Pandemic world forward thinking Law Libraries have developed ways to continue remote based work, or thoroughly integrate it into the new hybrid environment. What remains new and exciting times for knowledge workers, poses a challenge for those who have grown accustomed to traditional based means of tracking employee progress. In the post pandemic work environment, virtual meetings have become the norm. One of the challenges of virtual meetings is the extra scrutiny which is applied to remote workers by those who fear that remote work is inherently less productive as in-person work.

Contrary to what one might think, this stance is not limited to boomers, or technophobes. No other than Elon Musk inadvertently shared this view with his leaked ‘return to work’ email ultimatum, in which he inferred that his remote workers were merely “pretend[ing] to work…”  The world understands that Tesla and SpaceX line workers cannot be expected to assemble single-speed transmissions or inspect rocket fuel out of their home garages. However, from the first video game he coded at age 12, to Paypal,  Zip2, OpenAI, and his most recent attempt to purchase Twitter[1], Musk owes his fortune to knowledge-based technological innovations. Thus, it is baffling that he takes such a post-industrial-era stance towards modern knowledge-based work.

Law Librarians have a unique set of challenges to overcome. Libraries are still understood to be physical spaces, and the attachment to the physical space to which we tend to operate from, is baked into our very titles. Notwithstanding this fact we cannot deny that a sizeable amount of our knowledge-based work (if not all of it) can be accomplished remotely. So, we must decide whether we will take an active role in helping to de link the strong association between the physical space of the law library and ‘real’ legal work.

The workarounds we employed during the pandemic are far from perfect. Zoom has become an integral part of making the transition, but it has also altered how knowledge workers perceive engagement. Engagement is limited to what a presenter or manager can see from a profile shot or computer screen. Innocuous actions which may have occurred during face-to-face meetings, like getting up for water or bending to pick up an item which fell under the table can now be interpreted as disengagement. In contrast, engagement behaviors like note taking, may outside of camera view and as a result this form of engagement may be virtually (no pun intended) ignored.

Tech companies have picked up on the need to better measure engagement. Sales company software’s such as Sybill has attempted to create software which calculates and interprets human emotions. Zoom has also taken a dive into the mood analyzation business.

Although mood recognition AI is the most extreme of AI tracking examples, a survey conducted by Morning Consult, indicated that between 46%-56% of employees would resign if their employers used the following technology:

  • Record audio and/ or video of employers through their computers.
  • Use facial recognition to monitor employee productivity
  • Track employees’ keystrokes
  • Take screenshots of employees’ computer screens

While some companies may praise its implementations, various civil rights and digital privacy groups called it “invasive technology” which is a “violation of privacy and human rights”

As Tech-orientated Law Librarians, we are uniquely poised to provide research insights for Law School leaders and managers, who seek to implement technology that is purported to improve or enhance the remote work experience. We are also in a good position to research relevant areas of the law of privacy for legal scholars and activists who seek to ensure that remote work/accountability software is not implemented in a way which potentially violates privacy and human rights.

[1] Twitter has allowed all its 7,500 employees to work from home permanently.