back to article 'We've heard the feedback...' Microsoft 365 axes per-user productivity monitoring after privacy backlash

If you heard a strange noise coming from Redmond today, it was the sound of some rapid back-pedaling regarding the Productivity Score feature in its Microsoft 365 cloud platform. Following outcry from subscribers and privacy campaigners, the Windows giant has now vowed to wind back the functionality so that it no longer …

  1. Robert Grant Silver badge

    I don't understand

    How can an organisation make something like this and not predict the backlash? It screams hubristic management and fearful staff.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: I don't understand

      Simple: it is a US organization run by an Indian. Both countries were workers' right are almost non-existent. Then they hit Europe - and found their "bright" idea could even be utterly illegal - and expose them to costly lawsuits if ever made available.

      1. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

        Re: I don't understand

        I cringed then laughed. Pretty accurate.

        Out of interest what are they typically monitoring? Should I prepare pointless email ping pong with a colleague?

        1. David 132 Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: I don't understand

          Honestly, when I first read about this "feature", what came to my mind was the Dilbert cartoon of a few years ago when, if my memory serves, the PHB announces that he'll be judging people based on how many questions they ask in meetings.

          Cue Asok raising his hand in the next Staff and asking "Who else likes cheese?".

        2. Triggerfish

          Re: I don't understand

          'Out of interest what are they typically monitoring?'

          It doesn't really measure anything in any meaningful way. I have a time tracker on my PC for billable work. The office 365 metrics just don't measure up, for example it will say things like you spent 10% of your time logged into O365 spending emails and so you are this productive with your team mates. It does not reflect the reality of what you are actually doing, if you spend all week on CAD and only answer a few emails then you are going to be showing as less productive than someone who spent ages chatting on teams and sending useless emails, its not metrics in a meaningful manner for work tracking., It's just tracking how you used the office services.

          1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

            Re: I don't understand

            and also how much time you spent not using MS 365 services ;-)

            You should use CAD 365 (aka Paint), Photoshop 365 (aka Paint), MS Edge (aka PaintMS Chrome) instead of Google Chrome, Bing Instead of Google Search (especially since Bing can also search in your Teams and OneDrive data), and so on...

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: I don't understand

              Yes, I'm still laughing at the idea that there could be a positive correlation between using Microsoft software and productivity.

              I'm pretty sure that my time spent using Awful 365 is inversely proportional to the amount of useful work I get done. Whether it's the fragility of Outlook, the sluggish ineptitude of Word, Excel's awkwardness and encyclopedic collection of unexpected bugs, or the searing agony of SharePoint, no part of the Office suite has ever made my work easier.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: I don't understand

                I'm pretty sure that my time spent using Awful 365 is inversely proportional to the amount of useful work I get done.

                We actually hit that conclusion years ago, and that included the use of Windows itself where people mid work could just get interr [UPDATING, PLEASE WAIT]..

                Yeah, that. We're a relatively small outfit (we *may* hit 100 people next year) and it means that when we calculate ROI, we also take into account staff time spent on updates and the general impact it has on company security, and as soon as you start looking at that, usability becomes important too (sadly, something that has been trending downwards with iOS in all its guises, it's losing that winning simplicity and directness).

                We also once had a FAST raid "organised" by a competitor which didn't go down well with management (no, of course they didn't find anything), so when we added it all up we ended up with Macs for desktop (some Linux) and mostly Linux in the DC (there's a bit of FreeBSD as well). Due to what we do we don't go big on cloud and subscriptions-that-can-milk-user-data either, so eventually we ended up using ODT as company standard and LibreOffice as main platform. If it has to look pretty we use Keynote, which is also *far* more efficient than Powerpoint when you want to cook something up that is presentable without your users spending weeks faffing with all the controls - it focuses them on content.

                The fun side effect of all of that was that GDPR compliance was also much easier to assess and warrant, and to be frank, it saves us a ton of money. Staff hours are expensive..

        3. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

          Re: I don't understand

          Cortana is watching you and will report any gaming higher up in its "daily brief"...

          1. Fluffy Cactus

            Re: I don't understand

            I disabled Cortana as soon as this weird intrusive voice started to bother me.

      2. Robert Grant Silver badge

        Re: I don't understand

        I don't think this is a workers' rights issue, nor a cultural issue from the CEO (he will be far too far removed for that). It's the local team and exec over it, I think, who will be the factors.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: I don't understand

      I bet the process went like this:

      Manager 1: I wonder whether we can get organizations using extra tools if we give them metrics and make it look like they're beneficial.

      Manager 2: Yes, but it needs a catchy name to indicate that it's not a sales push. And maybe, if we can think of any, some actual useful features.

      Manager 1: Well, the optimal use of our services should help with productivity. While paying us for extra services doesn't constitute optimal, the benefits to the customers, if any, are productivity related.

      Manager 2: Productivity score. I like it. But what happens if someone adopts a tool, our score says they get extra points, but it doesn't roll out to anyone else. They might figure that out and cancel the thing that only one person uses.

      Manager 1: Simple. We'll score all the users individually and show how other people can gain in "productivity". People who want the total productivity score will be able to see who's not using a feature yet and get them to do so.

      [months later]

      Manager 1: Why are all these privacy things coming up? This isn't really a privacy issue. It's just for sales.

      Manager 2: I don't know. I mean you could theoretically extract information about communication frequency, but nothing about communication quality let alone noncommunication productivity. Using this to grade workers would be ridiculously idiotic.

      Engineer: You are assigning sortable scores to individuals, calling it "productivity score", and you aren't expecting some crap manager somewhere to use this without understanding what it really means? Think it through.

      1. Fluffy Cactus

        Re: I don't understand

        That's another thing that MSFT gets utterly totally wrong: "Oh, only 2% or 3% use this or that tool, so we can "safely" get rid of it!"

        Result: If you get rid of those 2% or 3% used tools, over and over again, then after getting rid of 15 or 20 of such actually used tools, then you managed to OFFEND about 30% to 40% of the whole user population. That's because use of this or that item does not necessarily overlap among different users.

        What they should do instead: Ask why no one is using such and such item! Could it be that you never explained it sufficiently? Could it be that your "automated Help system" is totally inadequate, as in it never answers the questions a specific user might have? Could it be that we are just inhuman numbers to you, and not people who deserve to be taken seriously?

        So, look at yourself Microsoft! Really!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't understand

      > How can an organisation make something like this and not predict the backlash?

      The same could be said of many if not all of the siloed products that are so popular today, yet most of the time they seem to get away with it.

    4. logicalextreme Silver badge

      Re: I don't understand

      What I don't understand is why thirteen years of detailed metrics slurpage still hasn't informed them that I (and presumably countless others) spend a good three minutes staring at the Ribbon interface any time I want to use a basic piece of functionality before Alt-Tabbing to a browser window to find out which area of which "tab" they've hidden it on in this release.

      1. Mage
        Windows

        Re: I don't understand

        On Office 2007 you can install Classic Menu. Brings back most of the previous Office GUI. I don't know if it works on later versions. The Ribbon is pretty stupid, as are personalised menus that hide little used options (especially needed on menu) or menus that reorder by MRU. All stupidity.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: I don't understand

          >as are personalised menus that hide little used options (especially needed on menu) or menus that reorder by MRU. All stupidity.

          As is W10's default handling of the "default" printer(*). I had more control and user-friendly functionality available to me in W95 running a Connection Manager.

          (*) Yes if your computer never leaves the desk and thus always uses the same network and printer, you'll never experience the daftness of MS's policy.

        2. logicalextreme Silver badge

          Re: I don't understand

          I know, but it's always been a paid product and I don't use Office enough to warrant buying it (I certainly wouldn't buy Office for a home machine). I'm luckily adept with keyboard shortcuts for what I do with any regularity.

          The worst things about the Ribbon are that third parties have started aping it, and the way it's tainted non-Office MS products. I'm still waiting for the day they move all the calc.exe buttons into a Ribbon, with the numbers on one tab and the decimal point on another and the operators on a third and the equals button buried behind a dialogue offering to save your calculation to OneDrive.

      2. Uncle Slacky
        Stop

        Re: I don't understand

        Try UBitMenu: https://www.ubit.ch/software/ubitmenu-languages/

      3. Byham

        Re: I don't understand

        Just staring at the ribbon cannot be sensed - could be a phone call interrupt. Try clicking on each ribbon item in turn but not actually accessing anything in the dropdown / pop up menu/ extended ribbon. IF they record mis-selections or null selections then they may get a clue what the problem is.

        They actually still use a cartoon 3.5" floppy for 'Save' - can the Gen z people in the office remember 3.5" floppies? I don't understand why there is no ICON decode in a menu somewhere.

        1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

          Re: I don't understand

          confusing UI?

      4. el_oscuro

        Re: I don't understand

        I spent 15 minutes unsuccessfully trying figure out how to do a "save as..." in whatever the current version of word is.

        1. Fluffy Cactus

          Re: I don't understand

          Ok, File - Save As - Enter a filename - or decide where to save it if you don't want to use the "Documents folder".

          If you click "Browse" to find the folder you want to save the document into, you will find that MS Word has arranged the various main folders on the left side of the appearing window in the most illogical way possible. For example, there are several folders called "Documents" and some are called "My Documents", and when selecting them, some of them do not work and others do.

          So, you have to use that slider thingi to go up and down on the left area of the window, to find the Documents folder that will work for you. Once you have successfully save a file there, the next file you save will (usually) go into the same folder. You have to left-click or left-double click on a folder to see what's in it.

          If you are on a Network at your employer, you should ask your computer guy (guy includes gal) to

          tell you where you are allowed to save your stuff.

          Personally, I never use OneDrive, because

          a) your documents might not be available when Microsoft servers (aka cloud) go down, and

          b) they strangely do not allow you to save password protected or encrypted files (why, do they want to

          read my documents?)

          Your employer may think otherwise.

          There is so much that can't be understood at first, that I encourage you to try and save a document

          in whatever folder you can find, and see whether it works out for you.

    5. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Mage
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Katie Price

        No, not Katie Price, the Gloop woman. Gwyneth Paltrow?

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: Katie Price

          Price? Paltrow?

          That reminds me - Christmas is just round the corner, and if you are wondering what to get your nearest and dearest and want to part with some money on overpriced tat...

          https://forums.theregister.com/forum/all/2020/02/21/mcdonalds_scented_candles/#c_3980922

          Perhaps if Myrrh or Frankincense is in short supply...

    6. Jurassic Hermit
      FAIL

      Re: I don't understand

      Welcome to the 21st Century Victorian Workhouse where everything is monitored. And it's all just to make more and more profits for MS and the corporations using it.

      For them, the human costs are irrelevant because there's plenty of suckers lining up to be sucked dry and tossed out the door as empty vessels.

    7. quartzz

      Re: I don't understand

      vaguely sort of half related

      in the past year there was a company who made toilet seats for staff toilets, the seats were angled forward slightly (5 degrees). this was meant to prevent people from hanging around on the loo for too long (because they didn't have a flat surface to sit on) - and getting paid for your poo

      no idea what happened to the idea, but I read a medical article (it was on twitter geeze, and reddit, total legits mate). apparently for effective poo-ing, your legs are supposed to be slightly up from horizontal. on the way to a 'crouch'.

      the point (of this true story): not sure. companies don't always provide people-friendly equipment?

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: no idea what happened to the idea

        It sounds like the result of a Time & Motion study.

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: no idea what happened to the idea

          Time and Motion - Some places record the number of times and the duration of toilet breaks...

  2. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Good

    Dear MS,

    Please employ someone* with the ability to make rational appraisals of new 'features' before they are implemented.

    * Obviously a marketing or business management background is an instant NO here as ethics and understanding of normal human behaviour is required.

    1. J. Cook Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Good

      ... Such as an average 5 year old? (#12 on the Evil Overlord List). Or possibly an 18 year old, due to child labor laws.

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "such as number of documents shared via OneDrive and emails created overall"

    Well as metrics go, that must be one in the utter bollocks corner of the magic quadrant.

  4. schmeckles65

    Weird metrics

    I constantly get emails saying "It's been a quiet week" implying that I do no work or no one emails me, yet I never feel like I stop working... Also, I didn't ask Microsoft to rate my weeks so please in the future allow opt-in for this trash.

    Thanks.

    1. quartzz

      Re: Weird metrics

      it's quite likely that Microsofts new ideas that they sell to your company, are designed to make them (Microsoft) money, not your company money[?]

  5. Craig100

    Half baked

    In my book Microsoft is a byword for naive arrogance and a great source of half baked ideas and terrible UI's. "We all think it's great, why wouldn't anyone else? Let's do it!"

    1. Teiwaz

      Re: Half baked

      Half baked is a very generous appraisal.

      Barely warmed up, marinated overnight in cat wee and then strained through really old socks.

      ...Seems more accurate.

    2. Mike Lewis

      Re: Half baked

      Not to mention seriously defective support.

      Someone on Microsoft's Technet website asked how to add Copy to Folder and Move to Folder to the context menu of Windows Explorer on Windows 10. A Microsoft rep told them to reinstall the operating system.

      I knew it was a simple registry change for Windows 7 so I ran Windows 10 in a VM, made the changes and it worked. After I reported my findings, I got an email from Microsoft congratulating me on having solved my problem. Good grief.

  6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Big Brother

    No more user names

    I wonder if they have a "workstation ID" field, though?

    1. MJB7

      Re: No more user names

      Yes, I read "No one *in the organization* will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365." (my emphasis) and wondered who, outside the organization, will be able to.

      1. TonyJ Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: No more user names

        "...Yes, I read "No one *in the organization* will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365." (my emphasis) and wondered who, outside the organization, will be able to..."

        I came to say exactly the same thing:

        No one in the your organization will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365...

  7. bigtimehustler

    I presume that the lower the numbers the better the employee? Perhaps the problem was just the default sort order of the table.

  8. the Jim bloke Silver badge
    Go

    As i posted in response to the previous article

    This functionality automates MANAGEMENT tasks - thereby threatening reduction in management headcount.

    See how quickly it has been pulled....

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: As i posted in response to the previous article

      No no no....that's not how it works. You'll need to DOUBLE management to look at the additional pie charts and graphs.

  9. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    FAIL

    It was feared the dashboard could have been used by bad bosses

    Feared? It was bloody certain...

    Idiots.

  10. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    If

    The Register

  11. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Thought they

    could measure

  12. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    productivity

    by the

  13. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    number of posts

    a person made

  14. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    then I should

    be doing alright

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      The LOC Metric

      I used to think the same thing whenever a Mangler mentioned the LOC metric. At one point in time my LOC was being measured in the negative hundreds of LOC a day, when I was rewriting the dumbass code that had been written when LOC was king.

      My attitude had always been to avoid the 'M' word (metric), cos as soon as you introduce one your employees will stop doing real work, and just start working the metric.

      1. AndyMTB

        Re: The LOC Metric

        A long time ago, our department (primarily programmers) was subjected to a "number of lines of code per week" metric. Cue one of my colleagues unwrapping his code - DO I=1,20 became 20 pasted copies.

        1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

          Re: The LOC Metric

          And now you know some of the sort of code that I was clearing up!!!!

      2. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: The LOC Metric

        El Turkey (the toxic boss I had a while back) was like that. I was expected to contribute 7 hours of 'productive work time' each day, but provided no way of measuring or quantifying it. It was being used to justify revoking the three month long remote work exemption I had spent six months negotiating for when I was dealing with helping my parent after a very complex surgery.

        And now? it's back to "as long as the fires are put out and the projects are getting done, we don't care what you do in your idle time, but we'll pay you for 40 hours a week."

    2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: 1 thumb down

      spoilsport

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Potemkine! Silver badge
    Flame

    Privacy? What's that?

    You bloody commie Europeans! Why don't you just shut up and obey like anybody else? We're talking about MONEY dammit! What is more important than the golden calf?

  16. RobLang

    "Productivity" score anything but

    I'm not sure what they thought they were measuring but it wasn't productivity. Smells like a case of having a lot of data to hand and then wondering how to market it rather than starting with human/work psychology and working back to a product, then collecting the data. Not that I think the latter would be any good either!

    1. parperback parper

      Re: "Productivity" score anything but

      It's always a good idea to raise productivity using automation, so we could just write a script to constantly send emails via Office 365.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Productivity" score anything but

        don't forget to also log the sending of mails with a log file in your OneDrive...

        (been there, done that, but had to add error handling to the log writing because OD doesn't like to see files updated several times per second, and also find a way to keep my Windows session active when away from the computer for long stretch of time)

  17. Dabooka

    Absoltuely cretinous decision

    Are we supposed to really believe that not a single person at Microsoft thought this might be used for its intended purpose to manage people and 'bad' managers would lap it up? Give over.

    I could see some at my place salivating at the prospect of management by metrics. The fallout would be brutal.

  18. Chairman of the Bored

    Constant surveillance

    I survived a manager who weighed one but the kilo of briefs and emails sent. Every day saw another half hour to 45min justifying ones existence.

    When one lady was called on the carpet in front of the entire team to explain why she only sent a few emails over two days, she exploded, "I've been writing the fscking proposals that bring in the money that pays for all this bullshit!"... Long pause... "Can you prove it?"

    Happy ending though: our team was so successful our sociopathic leader was promoted to senior executive. Up, up, and away!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    daft metrics...

    What ludicrous workplace would ask for reports on who sent the most emails per week?! Oh... wait....

  20. bonkers

    Can someone explain?

    Basically, Office 365 appears to report every change, every click, every button press on every document.

    This was "explained" as a wizzy new featured that allowed it to continue working even whilst being updated - a use case of about 0.0001%.

    I can't see how checking for an updated button code "object", halfway through an update, is ever going to work, or even be testable.

    In return, you get an exact timeline on every document, that you can't access, but MS can - and can release some/all to management tracking tools.

    I think it's a huge security risk - in that it massively increases the value of stolen data.

    Imagine a commercial espionage situation; the disk-image data for most companies would run to terabytes, a lot to look through - but the statistics on which documents are in use, being edited or viewed, by whom, is an enormous clue as to what is the important data.

    So, as usual, poor privacy has a sting in its tail, with unforeseen security risks waiting to be exploited.

  21. simply Marc

    Been here before

    When IBM first started doing Social Network Analysis over a decade ago they restricted the data no more granular than team or BU level. And that was before data privacy really kicked in.

  22. Falmari Silver badge
    Facepalm

    I'm an idiot.

    Sometimes you just don’t see it. The MS analytics stuff started a few months ago were I work. I never saw the down side of how it could be used, the invasion of privacy etc. My god how stupid I feel that I didn’t see it.

    There were some useful things, for example it reminded you of things that you had be asked to do. Which I though wow that’s clever and useful, saves me having to keep track. Never gave it a second thought over the useful bit.

    The time in meetings and emailing etc to me was more a measure of time lost to being productive, time I am not designing/coding. As I said I’m an idiot, sometimes you just don’t see it.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, it's there now

    I'm betting it's only hidden and still sold in countries with less staff friendly legislation.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like