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Monitoring remote workers: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Cubo writersOct 11, 2022

Employee surveillance is not a new topic. However, since the Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, online searches for the term "employee monitoring" skyrocketed to an all-time high. The amount of attention companies have paid to monitor remote workers has continued its growth as remote work opportunities have also grown.

Since more employees work from home, more employers monitor them through remote monitoring technologies.

The function of these tools is to perform multiple tasks. The software can track keystrokes and measure employees' activity. The software also monitors idle time in critical applications and websites.

Monitoring tools also help enforce data security policies and even take photos to see whether workers are sitting at their laptops at home.

Disclosing surveillance

However, tracking tools are not without risks. Workplace monitoring is subject to miscellaneous federal and state laws regarding when employees have a right to privacy and when notifications must occur.

Disclosing surveillance from a legal perspective is the most thoughtful tactic.

Letting employees understand when monitoring occurs removes their reasonable expectation of privacy. Interfering with their right to privacy forms the basis for invasion-of-privacy lawsuits arising under common law.

While transparency about monitoring tools is essential to avoiding legal pitfalls, it is also key to building trust. The workforce wants to know you will respect the privacy issues surrounding the monitoring.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, corporate leaders have utilized software or technology to track remote workers. The tracking includes monitoring, internal communications, employee e-mails, or work computer usage.

Many also monitor employees' location or movement and phone usage in the physical workplace.

Many executives seek more information on monitoring technology because they understand remote work is here to stay.

Many studies project that 47 percent of employers plan to let workers work remotely full-time. In addition, 82 percent of businesses plan to allow employees to work remotely for at least some time as they reopen closed workplaces.

Organizations need to be clear about their intentions when using employee monitoring tools. Employees want to know the purpose where it will benefit or penalize employees in the evaluation process.

If the idea of a monitoring system benefits employees, it will be perceived as sound. However, if it is to evaluate employees, it will be viewed as potentially dangerous, and a method to potentially penalize them.

Tracking productivity

Remote teams collaborating on CuboOne method organizations can utilize monitoring technology is to track the time remote employees' activities. Typically software can track the employee's time in productive versus unproductive applications or websites. The tools can gauge active versus idle time spent in targeted areas.

Teramind's tool allows workers to periodically log out of the monitoring software to complete nonwork tasks, such as checking personal e-mail briefly.

Therefore, it allows them to regain their complete privacy, which is well-suited for today's work-at-home environment. The technology becomes automatically disabled if employees access sensitive banking or healthcare websites.

ActivTrak is another company providing technology that can give leaders greater visibility into how employees occupy their time at home.

A growing interest is looking for ways to improve productivity. ActivTrak observes the online habits of remote employees and teams. The technology also indicates the possibility of potential disengagement or burnout.

ActivTrak ensures remote employees are using good data security practices.

Suppose workers are saving files to storage areas not authorized by the company or using apps not approved by the organization. In that case, the software can automatically send alerts to managers who can follow up on such practices.

Legal implications of monitoring

Legal experts say that employers utilizing monitoring technology for remote workers face the same legal guidelines as in the workplace. However, there are special considerations when employees use personal devices at home.

In most illustrations, state laws mandate you to protect employees' privacy rights by providing them advance notice of your monitoring. The most reasonable method is to get employees' consent for monitoring in writing.

Such transparency is a good legal practice but also sound management practice. Management consistently found that when employees are surprised by monitoring technologies, they get frustrated. Therefore it impacts their morale.

The word will always get out about how the monitoring tools' utilization. Therefore, the question is whether you want employees to learn about it from management or another source."

When organizations install monitoring technology, they must consider that remote employees may use personal devices for work tasks

Employees generally expect privacy in using personal computers and phones unless communicated in writing through a different company policy.

If you are utilizing monitoring technology that affects employees' devices, there should be a written privacy policy disclosing what the company is doing. The policy should inform how retaining information from that monitoring occurs beyond knowledge gathered when an employee's device interacts with a corporate network.

The policy should detail situations and uses where employees won't have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

When a connection of the employee's device to a corporate or virtual private network, VPN, the company has a legal right to require employees to agree to data-security monitoring.

Legal issues also are emerging around the usage of videoconferencing to conduct business. The specific issues related to recording employees' images and voices without their permission.

Organizations may use such video recordings to create transcripts, document calls, or for future training.

Some states have wiretapping laws restricting employers from recording their employees' voices or images without their consent.

Some organizations use the data they gather from monitoring to keep tabs on remote employees and help outline an eventual return to the workplace.

Some financial services company measures the performance of their front-line employees in two key ways:

  • Rate of processing insurance claims

  • Error rate associated with those claims

As a company analyzes the performance of remote workers during COVID-19, it might discover something of interest: Various employees operate at peak productivity and efficiency levels at very different times of the day.

They observed some employees with faster claims-processing speeds and lower error rates earlier in the morning. However, other employees performed better on those metrics in the afternoon.

Some employees do their best work later at night. Therefore monitoring software might help the company transition employees into a better onsite workplace experience.

Many organizations will continue social distancing in the workplace and may time shift' when employees work. Therefore, they can schedule worker shifts when people have proven their most productive at home may be beneficial.

Whether business leaders anticipate a return to the office or keep an entirely remote workforce, monitoring tools can facilitate valuable insights.

When monitoring, remember your objective

Business leaders have many monitoring technological options to choose. There are many tracking activity options for your remote employees. Experts say the decision on what type of software to use comes down to a few fundamental questions:

  • Why are you tracking your workers?

  • Is your primary motivation for improving your remote workforce's productivity and working conditions?

While some technologies can address both goals, it is essential to be clear about your objectives. On the surface, the awareness of being watched usually improves human behavior. However, when used in a draconian fashion, surveillance can destroy worker trust and diminish employees' willingness to go the extra mile.

Some firms in heavily controlled industries, such as finance or health care, may require monitoring workers for compliance. However, other organizations should focus on utilizing monitoring software to gain a deeper understanding of their employees' behaviors.

As a result, you can understand the challenges of remote workers not keeping an eye on their every keyboard stroke.

The software can provide helpful insight into how people spend their time working at home. Therefore you may find out whether they have too much or too little on their plates.

Leadership's primary goal should be developing the support and needs of their remote workforce. Therefore you might need to change policies to include more automation or better technical support.

Companies that excel at creating a good employee experience observe the data produced by monitoring software from a place of curiosity, not punishment.

Know the monitoring practices

A woman seated on a desk talking on a laptopMonitoring software can measure how much time remote employees employ work-related applications instead of nonwork websites or apps. However, these metrics can sometimes be deceptive.

Attempting to conclude people's productivity from software can be a slippery slope. You need to analyze the data with a careful eye.

Does more activity mean the employees are being more productive? This is not necessarily true, especially if the work involves knowledge work.

The highest-performing, productive employees do not always log the most extended hours. Top employees may work fewer hours in a day but are far more efficient and effective in using that time."

Transparency and intent

Transparency is key to the effective use of monitoring software.

If you do not inform your employees they are being monitored by management but find out in another way; it becomes highly uncomfortable.

It would help if you were transparent about the technology's use, and employees should know the monitoring policies.

Intent creates all the difference in the use of monitoring tools. You being straightforward in making a policy based on the lowest common denominator in the workspace. Individuals who break the rules will be hesitant to incorporate these policies.

However, the organizations who excel at this make policies based not only on those outliers but on employees who get their jobs done productively. The procedures ensure the most productive people will have the support and resources they need to keep performing at high levels.

While monitoring software has its place, it is not a cure-all. There is no substitute for managers to stay in frequent touch with their people, even in remote environments.