Since the pandemic, employers around the world changed how things worked. They’ve shifted how their employees operate, and increased the options for how employees access work itself. Remote work is 100% here to stay, and both companies & employees benefit from the work-from-home and hybrid work revolution.
Cost savings is a major driver for supporting remote work. Employers can save on office lease rent, which is a major drain on EBITDA, while also effectively giving employees a 5-figure raise from the lack of expenses related to commuting and eating out. Employee morale and productivity have proven to also be higher when employers grant this flexibility.
A majority of organizations support some type of remote work. Statistics show that:
While there are benefits, WFH also presents challenges to this new environment. Employers should worry about the cybersecurity risks of remote teams. Managers may also find it more challenging to track work employees are doing.
These factors with remote and hybrid work environments have led to the rise of employee monitoring tools. These tools naturally have mixed reviews from employees.
What Is Employee Monitoring Software?
Employee monitoring software tracks digital movements. This can include everything from general clock-in clock-out tracking, to taking screenshots of an employee’s computer at random intervals several times per hour.
Tracking tools like Hubstaff and BambooHR track many activities on a person’s computer. The information is then sent in a daily or weekly report to the company and/or relevant management.
These tools can track things like:
The most invasive of tools can even track the sounds and video of the employee, though the legality and ethics on that front are questionable. Tracking can be visible to the employee, so that they know about it, or hidden from the view. It all depends on the tool used and the ethical considerations of the employer.
This type of monitoring can benefit an organization worried about “productivity theft.” But it also typically alienates good employees, causes efficient ones to leave, and overall tends to torpedo morale and trust. We’ll go through the pros and cons to weigh before you set up this type of system.
Pros of Activity Monitoring Software
Helps Managers Understand How Employees Spend Their Day
One feature of many tracking tools is the ability to track time by task or project. This helps managers understand how employees spend their time, and what they are prioritizing. Knowing how much time employees spend on a project helps with ROI projections.
Reduces Non-Work Activities During Working Hours
One thing that employers worry about with remote employees is that they will waste time. A manager doesn’t want to pay someone only to find out the employee spent half their time on Facebook. If that is a high-priority concern, then managers should look into the software for on-site workers, as this is not a new issue.
About half of monitored employees spend 3+ hours per day on non-work activities. When employees know that their boss is monitoring their app usage, they’re less likely to goof off.
Can Be an Easy Way to Track Time for Remote Workers
Smaller companies that work with fully remote teams may find tracking tools convenient. Employees or freelancers can track their time at the click of a button. Employers can put an hour-per-week cap on time, and they can also manage payments automatically through the app.
Cons of Activity Monitoring Software
Hurts Employees’ Morale & Productivity
Many employees feel they are put in a cage when monitoring is introduced. Morale tends to plummet, which takes productivity along with it. The best and brightest employees are the ones which will end up leaving as a result, creating a brain drain where only the lower quality labour pool is open to working at your business long-term, with the rest using it as a temporary job or most likely not applying to begin with.
Instead of focusing on work completely, various thoughts go through employees’ minds. Such as, “If I think about this problem too long, is the tracking going to give me a low productivity score?” Or “What happens when I’m on the phone with a customer and not moving my mouse around? Will the tracking make it look like I’m not working?”
When you hone in on abstract “productivity” metrics, rather than actual business outcomes, it leads to employees being less efficient and increases their stress levels, while making them disaffected and lowering job satisfaction.
Some of the feelings that employees identify when monitored are:
“Activity Monitoring” Doesn’t Mean Productivity
Many of these tracking tools send employees and employers “activity reports.” These reports simply look at keyboard and mouse activity during a specific time.
But what if the employee must solve a workflow issue and needs to use their brain, not the mouse? What if a salesperson is on the phone with a customer, not using their keyboard? Zoom calls bring a similar quandary. If you’re in a Zoom call, your mouse and keyboard aren’t being actively used as they would if you are typing.
There is an old adage for this exact problem; “The moment you pick a metric focus on when evaluating employees, it ceases to drive the desired results”
When a business focuses on meaningless indicators that may correlate with business outcomes, they tend to cease any relation to actual end results, and degrade a business’ ability to be effective. Suddenly people start skipping out on critical procedures in order to maximize their metrics, and eventually it has to be replaced with something that isn’t leading the company astray.
The activity reports from these tracking tools don’t include any information on actual outcomes. It will simply give a score of x% based on keyboard and mouse activity, and break down where people were spending their time. This leads employers to think a worker was goofing off when they were actually working hard, and incentivizes the workers to prioritize good numbers on irrelevant metrics over actual results.
Increases Employee Churn, Concentrated Among The Top Performers
Nearly half (47%) of surveyed tech employees stated they would quit if their boss tracked them. Employers implementing monitoring software can alienate good employees and make them feel untrusted. They can also feel unappreciated.
When you relegate everyone to a number of keyboard strokes, you constrain creativity. Good employees often stay with companies where they feel appreciated and can grow. Once that’s gone, they’re likely to leave.
Finding a Balance
A few things to think about when finding the right balance between tracking too much or too little are:
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