According to Global Workplace Analytics, remote work has grown 159 percent since 2009, while Owl Labs established it has increased by 55 percent in the last five years. With the pandemic, remote work and remote employee monitoring have soared, and so have doubts as to how to do it in conformity with the law.
Remote Employee Monitoring Is Growing
Two months into lockdown—May 2020—around 20 percent of surveyed organizations had acquired remote work monitoring software, according to a Gartner research.
Fast-forward to 2021, 48 percent of employees are believed to somehow do remote work after the pandemic, 18 percent more among those who worked remotely at least part-time before the pandemic.
There are several reasons for companies to monitor their employees—trust, cybersecurity and backups, and productivity monitoring. But Josh Bersin, HR industry analyst of the Josh Bersin Academy says, “If the idea is to benefit employees, it’s good; if it’s to evaluate employees, it’s potentially dangerous; and if it’s to penalize them, it’s probably a bad idea.”
The increasing monitoring stems from how the employer-employee relationship has been sent into a spin during Covid times. Further, doubts about the productivity of remote work seem to vary depending on who is asked and how each person adjusts to the new reality.
But trusting that someone is doing their job is one of the essential requirements for remote work to function properly, especially when 85 percent of managers state that having teams with remote workers will become the new norm, according to a Tecla research.
Monitoring, says Brian Kropp, chief of research in the HR practice at Gartner, is “everything from technology that will take photos of employees from their laptops to tools that allow workers to punch a virtual time clock to tracking keystrokes to monitor productivity levels.”
Pros of Remote Employee Monitoring
There are several advantages of remote employee monitoring that allow for maintaining teams aligned and keep tabs on productivity.
Monitoring software can improve employee output by measuring the time collaborators dedicate to the company—from their arrival time to their departure time, whether from home or anywhere else.
So, employers can see if workers, for instance, spend endless hours on social media or browse other pages that have nothing to do with their daily contracted activities. Further, they can take action if an employee is struggling with a project or client.
Also, the monitoring can effectively help the billing and budget handling, as an accurate measurement of project timelines and resources dedicated to a client will have to reflect on their satisfaction.
Cons of Remote Employee Monitoring
It is impossible to detach employee monitoring from an ethical frame. “Employees may feel their privacy has been devalued or violated, and it may be difficult to retain employees if monitoring seems intrusive,” according to HR Daily Advisor.
“Monitoring can signal a lack of trust, which can breed resentment and reduce employee morale and productivity.”
In this regard, based on Gartner’s research from January 2021, less than 50 percent of workers trust their companies with their data, while 44 percent do not hear any information about the data companies collect.
Brian Kropp says, “If it’s really just about ‘Are people productive or not?’ then you might have better tools to prove it.”
“If you’re using it to understand the employee experience, what is hard for them, what’s breaking, what are they spending a lot of time on … That’s where the productivity gains are.”
How to Do It Right
Jennifer Betts, an employment attorney for Ogletree Deakins says: “In most instances state laws require you to protect employees’ privacy rights by giving them advance notice of your monitoring. The best practice is to get employees’ consent for monitoring in writing.”
Further, Usama Kahf, a partner with Fisher Phillips asserts that “Employees generally have an expectation of privacy in their use of personal computers and phones unless a different company policy has been communicated to them in writing.”
With regards to independent contractors, companies could be traversing a trickier, pricklier path, since hiring this type of workforce and using any kind of tracking and monitoring software on them, “could affect their work status at your company,” according to Flex Jobs.
The remote job website says that independent contractors are allowed to do their work “how and when they want.” This is especially so, as independent contractors use their own personal devices like phones, tablets, or laptops.
“If you, as an employer, are tracking and monitoring them, you may be controlling or directing their work, turning their independent contractor status into employee status.”
Specialized website Creators emphasizes that “Spying on your independent contractor’s online activity dramatically increases the risk that the IRS or some other government agency will reclassify your independent contractors as ‘employees,’ with disastrous consequences for you and your business.”