The work-from-home (WFH) concept came as a saviour to billions of people around the globe after the onset of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Even after the world got back to the ‘new normal’, the WFH formula was found to be more efficient for most employees and employers. Not to mention, it helped people save countless hours that would otherwise be wasted while commuting.
However, things are not all rosy for employers implementing work-from-home policies, considering they have a tough time keeping a tab on the work progress of every individual. As a result, some employees have figured out ways of exploiting the work-from-home system. With no direct supervision, WFH employees tend to get a free hand as there’s no realistic way for the employer to monitor whether his colleagues are working or not … at least that’s what we thought.
An Australian firm has found a solution that uses some rather simple technology. The insurance firm used something known as keystroke technology to monitor the work-from-home performance and productivity of an employee. This particular software managed to pinpoint the employee’s inefficient working style using something as simple and mundane as typing. The result? The employee was fired.
So the question arises, is keystroke technology going to play an active role in the future of the work-from-home culture? We attempt to answer that by taking a quick look at everything we know about this incident and how things panned out.
What is keystroke technology:?
Keystroke technology, known more popularly among the IT crowd as keystroke logging, is the practice of registering records of all the instances when the keys on a keyboard are pressed. Also known as keyloggers, the software essentially tracks everything a person is typing on the keyboard of their PC or laptop. The tracking is done to the point where data can be obtained about the name of the key, typing style and even the times when the keystrokes happen. All of this usually happens without letting the user know that they are under surveillance, a fact that has raised ethical concerns.
Keystroke logging is often used to monitor a device for taking system feedback. It has also served a more sinister purpose with hackers using it to steal credentials from PCs or laptops. Now this technology is being used to keep track of an employee’s productivity.
How did keystroke technology get a woman fired?
As the technology is quite simple, an Australian insurance firm was able to find a clever use for it. The firm, called Insurance Australia Group (IAG), used it to monitor an employee’s work and gather her typing data, which was eventually used as proof of her poor productivity and resulted in her termination. The employee in question is Suzie Cheikho, a former consultant with the IAG.
Cheikho was fired from her role on February 20, 2023, on the grounds of poor performance. Her role at the IAG was to create insurance documents, meet regulatory timelines and monitor work-from-home compliance. Considering her job responsibilities, it was quite ironic to see her being dismissed from her job for poor work-from-home performance. Her firing brought an end to her 18-year tenure with the company.
Based on a report from news.com.au, Cheikho had filed an unfair dismissal application with the Fair Work Commission (FWC). However, her application was rejected. As per the FWC, she was fired for her poor performance which included missed deadlines and meetings, being absent from work and not being in contact with the employer. According to this report, she had also failed to complete a task which led to the FWC fining IAG.
Keystroke tech finds how much she works
Prior to her firing, Cheikho’s work was put under surveillance by a keystroke logger from October to December 2022, wherein she was observed for a period of 49 working days. The data from the keystroke logger revealed that she failed to complete her rostered hours for 44 days, started late on 47 days and finished early on 29 days.
The logger data also revealed that she did not work for four days in the observation period. When she did log in, she had significantly low keystroke activity. Cheikho recorded zero keystrokes over 117 hours in October, 143 hours in November and 60 hours in December. At most, she was found to be averaging 54 strokes per hour during the surveillance period.
In November 2022, Cheikho was reportedly given a formal warning regarding her deteriorating performance, after which she was put on a performance improvement plan (PIP). However, that didn’t help her case. The FWC filing also states that Cheikho attended a performance meeting with her manager with the word ‘f**k’ written across her hand.
The FWC eventually dismissed her application and claim that it was a premeditated plan to remove her from the business and that she was targeted due to her mental health issues.
How did Cheikho respond to the outcome?
It looks like there are two sides to this coin. Cheikho was shocked by looking at the data. “I have been going through a lot of personal issues which have caused a decline in my mental health and unfortunately, I believe it has affected my performance and my work,” she wrote in her application. She also revealed that she used to conduct her work from her other personal devices* which she believes could be the reason behind her low productivity numbers in the data.
*It was revealed that Cheikho’s employers had asked her to do her work on the office laptop instead of her mobile phone.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is keystroke technology?
– Keystroke technology, also known as keystroke logging, registers records of all the instances when the keys on a keyboard are pressed.
Hero and Featured Image: Courtesy Christin Hume/Unsplash
This story first appeared on Augustman India.