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I've recently started as a Lecturer but have been with the same University on a fixed-term contract some time prior. My University is mainly using MS Teams as the official chat, e-mail, calendar and everything else integrated platform, the use of which has obviously increased heavily due to the currently work-from-home (WFH) policies. While I have received such a "analytics report" prior to WFH as well, I strongly suspect they have increased in frequency over the last couple of months (I haven't actually checked the date of every single report). These analytics are based on our online activity and contain assessments such as:

Your work patterns the last 4 weeks:

68% (time) Available to focus

This is the time you typically have leftover to focus on your tasks outside of meetings, emails, chats and calls.

15 Quiet Days

These are days without interruptions of meetings, emails, chats and calls outside your working hours set in Outlook.

Productivity insights:

Quiet hours pattern

Your work during quiet hours has increased from 0.5 to 2 hours over the past few weeks.

Time spent in email

Your email hours have increased from 2 to 7 hours over the past few weeks.

While I can understand the need for the University to hold records of our online communications (especially when e.g. students are involved) to protect itself and provide evidence in case of any disputes, these statistics and analytics feel invasive and make me extremely uncomfortable.

While some of my colleagues have a blanket concern about any of the data being collected ("as it could be used against us in any dispute with the Uni"); I am personally less worried about raw data justifiably collected, as I can offer my own interpretation of that if needed. However, the above analytics are done by an algorithm which (especially as somebody working with machine learning) I would never trust to evaluate something as subjective as research work. I am worried that the summary could give a false picture of my work. And being so closely monitored just feels uncomfortable. I.e. I don't understand how they measure "how much I work during quiet hours" (and can't find the info easily). I also tend to work well in "bursts" -- have some slow days and then work long and late several days in the row when I get in the "zone" (making the "quiet days" information of dubious benefit).

This becomes even more important now during the WFH times. I have some colleagues who are very reluctant about using any such services due to security reasons, and due to this I can't bring myself to properly encourage them to use the provided services. But using such services is one of the very rare things that alleviates and eases WFH for some of us (and has generally been well-accepted by most of my colleagues). Every time I have to use a collaborator's personal phone number to attempt instant communication (the equivalent of poking your head in somebody's office, which I would typically do by pinging somebody on Teams), I want to lecture them on how much more difficult they are making the WFH situation. On the other hand, every time I get yet another "analytics" e-mail, I want to follow their example, and only log in to official Uni services for 2 hours a week during the official team/school meetings, instead of begin available from morning to evening (my typical work hours).

So, my questions are:

  • Is this appropriate, typical, allowed?
  • How would I go about expressing my disapproval?
  • Do you think I could influence all or any of this by expressing disapproval?
  • (all this considering I am a very fresh Lecturer in a fairly new organisation still finding it's way, so I don't have leverage to kick up too much of a fuss)
  • Does your employer actually have access to those reports? – Tobias Kildetoft May 5 at 13:08
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    I have to say I'm really jealous of your '68% (time) Available to Focus'! My experience has been that video meetings take much longer than in-person meetings, and there seem to be more of them as well... – Jon Custer May 5 at 14:39
  • This looks like Office 365’s MyAnalytics tool. From what I remember, only you would have access to it, but I am not quite sure about that. In any case, it only collects data from your Office usage/calendar data, so if you don’t use Office 365 much during your workday it might not be very accurate. – Pieter Naaijkens May 6 at 8:41
  • @JonCuster I think “time available for focus” basically means the working hours that you don’t have any events in your Outlook calendar with at least one other participant, which may or may not say much depending on how you use your calendar. – Pieter Naaijkens May 6 at 8:43
  • @JonCuster Hence my comment that I am afraid these don't give the real picture -- some of my meetings are still off the work system, so the system doesn't register them. We do interviews on Skype. I don't ask externals to get on our internal system, etc... I believe I will be taking some time after work today to finally do some work, as it doesn't seem possible during work hours. – penelope May 6 at 9:08
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A full answer is beyond the scope of this site as it involves questions of surveillance and governance generally. However, the question is really about how such data is used, how it is retained, and who gets to see it. If it were sent only to yourself and then discarded, it would be benign, in fact.

For legal questions you need to consult a lawyer. If you are unionized then the union likely has good representation.

If the data can be seen and used by others then there are some principles that should be adhered to, though they might be ignored. Here are some general principles that should apply everywhere.

Do you give explicit permission for any data gathered?

Is the the data collected used for a valid purpose?

Is the data collected minimal to achieve a valid purpose?

Does the data collected have a reasonable life span for the (valid) purpose?

Will the data be shared only with those having a valid reason to see it?

Others ...

Since this is an educational system the additional principles might involve such things as permitting individual flexibility so that an instructor can properly respond to situations that aren't common/universal. One of our long term principles as educators is that the professor has quite a lot of autonomy over how a course is delivered. How a Law course is delivered will be very different from how a CS course unfolds.

As a low level employee you probably have little personal influence over outcomes and can be easily silenced, especially if the principles are being ignored. But collective action can make a difference. I assume that many academics are uncomfortable, at least, with being surveilled. Join with them in discussion groups initially and see if you can formulate common positions and potential actions. You may not have much leverage, but a committee of your senior peers will.

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