On 7 August 2023, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (CMSC) published its report “Connected Tech: Smart or Sinister?” focused on “connected technology”. This refers to physical objects connected to the internet. The report covers numerous topics concerning the impact of such devices on society, but our focus today is the part of the report dealing with the effect these devices have on workplaces.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly developing across the world and is spilling into sectors we may not ordinarily expect. The impact of connected devices in the workplace is sometimes called the “fourth industrial revolution”, given the broad applications and impact that these devices have had, and are projected to have, on workplaces. For example, AI has led to ever greater automation of industrial processes such as in supply chain management, customer service chatbots, industrial robots and smart speakers. These devices have the potential to improve productivity while simultaneously decreasing the workload and improving employees’ experience at work.
However, the CMSC also notes that connected devices could have a negative impact on employees. This includes the obvious threats to jobs that automation might entail, such as people replacement, as well as deskilling roles by breaking down complex tasks into various smaller simpler tasks so that they can be performed by a robot. Further, there is evidence to show that using connected devices to monitor and collect data on employees with a view to improving productivity has led to some employees feeling alienated or experiencing stress and anxiety (for example, if they do not meet physical targets such as speed per delivery). Additionally, the existing power imbalance between employers and employees may be exacerbated by the use of connected devices: employees tend to have few options for recourse if they feel their employer is overusing monitoring technology, and it may be difficult to challenge decisions made by AI about workers.
In response to these concerns, the CMSC made recommendations for the use of connected devices in the workplace. These are as follows:
- Employees should only be monitored in “smart” workplaces (ranging from offices to factories) where the employees have been consulted and given their consent to monitoring.
- The CMSC reccomended that the government commission research to gather evidence on the deployment of automated and data collection systems at work.
- The Information Commissioner’s Office should develop its existing draft guidance on monitoring at work into a “principles-based code for designers and operators of workplace connected tech”.
- The government should clarify the remit of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to establish whether proposals for the regulation of workplace AI systems will be covered by the HSE and, if so, detail how the HSE can be supported in fulfilling this remit.
Takeaways for employers
While the CMSC’s report only contains recommendations, these may shape the way the government addresses the issue of connected devices in the workplace going forward. In June, we wrote about how the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee reported in April on workers’ rights and made similar recommendations to the CMSC’s report with regard to the use of technology and worker surveillance. Consequently, we would not be surprised if the government is developing a new approach to technology of this sort with these committees’ suggestions in mind. We recommend employers keep an eye out for further reports and legislative developments in this area which could be used to inform workplace policies towards connected devices and technology more generally.
Please get in touch with a member of the team if you have anything you wish to discuss regarding this matter.