Microsoft 365 ‘Workplace Analytics’ – Productivity Score nightmare

[German]Microsoft’s software developers have enhanced their Microsoft 365 with a ‘Workplace Analytics’ feature that allows administrators to monitor and evaluate the performance of their users. This is a topic that is currently calling the attention of data protectionists and works councils.


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Microsoft 365 ‘Workplace Analytics’

In Microsoft 365, Microsoft has integrated a feature called ‘Workplace Analytics’ for the evaluation of the productivity of workforces and has now activated that feature. Microsoft advertises that this functionality enables people to determine their productivity and also to measure whether they become more productive over time. For example, it is possible to find out how long employees were in meetings, how often and how long e-mails were processed, etc. The Workplace Analytics function can access calendar and e-mail data as well as telemetry data. The results are then displayed in a dashboard. There is a promotional video from Microsoft that demonstrates this function. I have included the video entitled Microsoft Productivity Score | Measure Your Company’s Productivity below.


(Source: YouTube)

What Microsoft promotes for self-optimization of an employee, however, also enables management to monitor the productivity of the workforce. It can be used to find out how many hours a department spends in meetings on average, how often people interact with e-mail, and so on. These evaluations can be broken down to the employee level using query tools.

The feature was developed with a clear focus on US companies where no one cares about co-determination and data protection. But now this feature is also available in a European Microsoft 365. Of course, this calls for works councils and data protectionists, because Microsoft 365 is the ideal tool for monitoring workforces and conducting performance reviews. The Vienna based researcher and data protection activist Wolfie Cristl has addressed it in a series of tweets.

Microsoft 365 'Workplace Analytics'
Microsoft 365 ‘Workplace Analytics’


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In his tweets, he writes that metrics based on the analysis of extensive data on employee activities have so far been primarily a domain of software vendors on the fringes of society. Now this function is integrated into Microsoft 365. A new function (Workplace Analytics) for calculating “productivity metrics” makes Microsoft 365 a full-fledged tool for workplace monitoring.

Employers/managers can analyze employee activity at an individual level, and can eject, for example, the number of days an employee has sent e-mail, chat usage, use of ‘mentions’ in e-mail, etc.  The display of data about individuals can be turned off, but it is enabled by default. This makes comprehensive workplace monitoring ‘back to normal’ in a way never seen before.

Wolfie Cristl, who is quoted in the above tweets, writes on the topic: “I don’t think that employers can use it legally in most EU countries. I am sure that they cannot use it legally in Austria and Germany. And he also refers to a second aspect and writes In addition, Microsoft tempts companies to share employee data with Microsoft to show them how their numbers compare with those of other organizations, giving Microsoft access to a huge pile of employee data in many companies.

More international criticism

Microsoft had already published the article How Microsoft Productivity Score can help you build a more resilient business in September 2020. But only now is the issue making waves internationally. Forbes gets straight to the point with the articleMicrosoft’s New ‘Productivity Score’ Lets Your Boss Monitor How Often You Use Email And Attend Video Meetings. At Microsoft’s annual Ignite conference in October 2020, the company gave a preview of the new Productivity Score tool. During the virtual presentation, a senior product manager said the feature “provides insights that change the way work is done” by showing employers how employees use Microsoft 365 services such as Outlook, Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive.

Now that the tool has recently been officially launched without much fuss, a closer look at the data Microsoft is showing employers about employees reveals a “privacy nightmare,” according to researchers and privacy advocates. Microsoft 365 Corporate Vice President Jared Spataro published this blog post at the end of October 2020. There he negates that Workplace Analytics is a tool for employee monitoring. But that is a naive notion at best. When the feature is available, it is used – illegally, if necessary. In addition to the Forbes article, The Register also takes up the topic in this post and quotes Wolfie Christl with the tweets mentioned above.

Update: Microsoft is changing Workplace Analytics and it’s Productivity Score, see this blog post.


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