Month: January 2022

Working from Home: is your Boss Spying on You ?

Two years ago working from home was a rare luxury: something you might do as an occasional one-off or as you recovered from an illness. Then came the pandemic and suddenly WFH – it soon became an acronym – went mainstream.

As the vaccine roll-out accelerated people gradually returned to the office – but there is an acceptance among both employers and employees that the pandemic has irreversibly changed the way we work. People do not want to spend two hours a day commuting: they’ve discovered they can be just as productive at their kitchen table: and that they rather like that their work/life balance has tilted towards ‘life…’

…But bosses want to know what their staff are doing. Are they really working? Or are they looking suspiciously tanned on the days they do come into the office?

This has led to charges that employers are spying on their staff when they are working from home, with electronic monitoring by companies rising sharply.

“It was creepy,” said one engineer quoted in a BBC article. “One of my managers was watching people’s personal computers to monitor what we were doing at home – all the time, not just when we were working.”

Can employers do this? Is it legal? Unsurprisingly, there are grey areas. Simply put, it is legal for your boss to track your work. “However,” says Boma Adoki, an employment expert at a Surrey-based law firm, “your boss does not have free rein to track his or her staff as they please.”

Employees clearly have a right to privacy: by the same token, employers also owe an implied duty of trust to their staff. And yet invasive forms of checking, such as keystroke monitoring (logging everything you type on a computer or mobile keyboard) and screen mirroring are still allowed – and, very clearly, surveillance technology is improving all the time.

Does your boss need to tell you if they are monitoring you remotely? While it is difficult for an employer to justify, it is not illegal. Employers do not have to obtain the consent of their staff to use spyware technology.

Undoubtedly, this is a hugely difficult area – and in the short term it is likely to get more difficult. Portugal has just banned bosses from messaging and emailing staff out of working hours as part of new laws dubbed the ‘right to rest’. You wouldn’t bet against a similar measure being introduced here, and perhaps the balance is gradually moving in favour of the employee.

It will, however, be a slow process and – as we mentioned above – technological advances favour the employer. So what should you do if you feel that your employer is carrying out unwarranted or over-the-top surveillance? Every case is different and this is clearly not legal advice, but common sense suggests that raising your concerns informally may be the best starting point, before any formal procedures are begun.

Unquestionably, this issue is not going away. The pandemic has changed working practices: people are going to spend far more time working from home. And employers will always want assurance that they are spending that time on next year’s cash flow forecast – not last-minute Christmas shopping…

What do Covid and Inflation Worries Mean for the Retail Sector ?

The financial burden on the average consumer seems to be increasing daily. Food prices are rising, energy bills are on the up and National Insurance is about to increase.

At the same time, businesses are struggling with issues such as rising transport costs and labour shortages, which have been linked to both Brexit and the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

All this means that people have less money in their pocket at a time when many retailers are having to pass on rising costs to their customers, and according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), prices look set to continue going up.

So what happens next, as retailers struggle with increased costs and rising inflation deters consumers from spending money?

Chief Executive of the BRC Helen Dickinson has called on ministers to take action, saying: “The trajectory for consumer prices is very clear: they will continue to rise, and at a faster rate.

“Government should relieve some of these costs by looking for long-term solutions for resolvable issues such as labour shortages.”

According to the latest BRC figures, shop price annual inflation rose from 0.3% in November to 0.8% in December. This was driven partly by increased food costs, with food inflation going up from 1.1% in November to 2.4% in December last year.

Inflation-related problems for the retail sector are also being compounded by continuing consumer worries over the Omicron variant, which is much more transmissible than previous strains of coronavirus.

Figures from Springboard show that concerns over Omicron led to fewer people heading to the shops to take advantage of post-Christmas sales.

Footfall on UK high streets was 37.7% lower on Boxing Day 2021 than it had been in 2019, while the number of shoppers in retail parks dropped by 40.2%. In shopping centres, meanwhile, footfall fell by 48.4%.

Of course, several factors could have contributed to this decline, such as some shops staying shut on Boxing Day so their staff could enjoy a longer Christmas break, and the fact that Boxing Day fell on a Sunday in 2021. But it is clear that Covid was a significant factor behind people staying away, especially in cities such as London, where the number of shoppers on Boxing Day 2021 was 50% down on the same day in 2019.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “Footfall is weaker in central London than in large city centres elsewhere in the UK, which in part is likely to be a result of cancellations of trains restricting shoppers’ ability to get into the capital.”

This view is reinforced by data from the Rail Delivery Group, which this week said nearly one in ten rail workers across the UK are off work because they either have Covid or are isolating. As a result, major operators including LNER and CrossCountry have had to switch to reduced timetables and warn of possible cancellations.

Rising costs, worries over Omicron and transport issues making it harder for people to physically get to the shops all add up to a big headache for the UK’s beleaguered retail sector, and a problem that may require some level of government intervention in the coming months.

Who Was the Richest Person in History ?

According to the latest Forbes Rich List, the richest person in the world is Jeff Bezos, founder and, until recently, CEO of Amazon. Forbes estimates Jeff Bezos’ wealth at $177bn (£133bn), which puts him ahead of those other well-known billionaires, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

These days it is easy to keep score of the billionaires’ wealth – and the title of ‘Richest Person in the World’ does occasionally change hands as the share prices of Amazon, Tesla, Microsoft and Facebook fluctuate.

But how do today’s billionaires compare to the richest people in history? We have all heard the saying ‘as rich as Croesus,’ the king of Lydia from 585 to 546 BC: was he the richest person who ever lived? Or do we need to look further afield?

It is, of course, difficult to compare. Do you put absolute rulers in your ‘all-time rich list’? Joseph Stalin, for example, had complete control of the Soviet Union, a country with (at the time) almost 10% of the world’s GDP. What about Genghis Khan who, as absolute ruler of the Mongol Empire, ‘owned’ land stretching from Mongolia and China through Asia and almost into Europe?

One name often mentioned in this vein – and frequently awarded the ‘richest of all time’ title is Mansa Musa, the king of Timbuktu, who lived from 1280 to 1337 and whose West African empire was almost certainly the biggest producer of gold at a time when gold was in especially high demand.

His pilgrimage to Mecca apparently caused a currency crisis in Egypt, with tales of dozens of camels each carrying hundreds of pounds of gold. Contemporary commentators struggled to describe Mansa Musa’s immense wealth, with one picture apparently showing him on a golden throne, holding a sceptre of gold in one hand, a golden cup in the other and wearing a golden crown.

If we are looking for more recent wealth that we can measure in today’s terms, then perhaps the accolade should go to Andrew Carnegie (1835 to 1919). The Scottish immigrant sold his company, US Steel, to J P Morgan for $480m in 1901. That sum equated to 2.1% of US GDP at the time, meaning that in today’s terms Carnegie would be worth between $370bn to $400bn (£277bn to £300bn). That figure puts him ahead of John D Rockefeller, whose Standard Oil company controlled 90% of US oil production by 1880 and gives Carnegie a fortune worth more than twice that of Jeff Bezos.

It will be interesting to revisit the ‘all-time rich list’ in 10 years’ time. Some analysts are suggesting that Jeff Bezos could become the world’s first trillionaire. There will certainly be names on the list that none of us have heard of today. And no-one would be surprised to see Chinese billionaires far higher on the list than they currently are. For now though, today’s billionaires have some way to go to catch up with Andrew Carnegie, and Mansa Musa’s camel train…