Variations of employee monitoring software have been around for quite some time. As technology has progressed, the breadth of these tools has expanded far beyond clocking-in and clocking-out. This type of software is now able to monitor employees’ emails, social media, locations, and more. Some programs even record keystrokes, capture screenshots and recordings, and allow employers to remotely control their employees’ computers. A recent Gartner survey found that more than 50% of large corporations are using some type of nontraditional monitoring techniques. It is expected this number will be closer to 80% by the end of 2020. This increase in monitoring is likely due to companies searching for new ways to track productivity while employees are working from home. However, focusing too heavily on productivity measurements may come at the cost of employees’ privacy and trust. The growing popularity of employee monitoring has spurred many questions from those unfamiliar with the concept; so much so, that some people have volunteered as guinea pigs to show a detailed day in the life of a monitored employee. There are multiple software companies providing tools in this space, including ActivTrak, InterGuard, and OccupEye. Their most prominent selling point, and what companies are most often looking for, is the ability to oversee and optimize productivity. These programs are installed on employee devices and begin working in the background to show employers how individuals are spending their time.  

Does Employee Monitoring Improve Productivity?

The narrow answer is yes. Tracking how employees spend their time, limiting access to distractions, and optimizing work hours has proven to increase productivity within companies. Brad Miller, founder of InterGuard, shared his insight on why it works: “I think if people know it’s happening, then people will act better than they would otherwise, because we all act better when someone is watching.” Ultimately, knowing you’re being monitored would make you think twice about doing things like mindlessly scrolling through social media or watching Netflix while you’re on the clock. In the same way businesses evaluate company performance using KPIs, employers can evaluate employee performance based on the productivity scores provided by these platforms. A certain level of concern about employee productivity is understandable, especially during this work-from-home transition that is new for many companies. But maybe businesses are more worried than they need to be. A recent study by Airtasker found that employees were actually more productive at home than in the office. The study also resulted in interesting discoveries regarding employee tracking. Here are a few of the key findings:

  • On average, remote employees worked 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year, than those who worked in an office.
  • Office workers reported an average of 37 minutes each workday not getting work done (outside of lunch and standard breaks), while remote employees only lost 27 minutes of each workday to distractions.
  • If employees had their screen and/or mouse time tracked, 39% of remote and 56% of office employees found ways to avoid working.
  • When trying to avoid being caught not working, 51% of remote and 44% of office employees were caught by their employer.

Privacy Concerns, Damaged Trust, and Additional Risks

Improved productivity is great, but it comes at a cost. For employees, that cost is privacy. For employers, that cost (aside from paying for the software) is damaged trust with workers and increased security risks.

Employees

Privacy concerns are no longer just for the tin-foil hat, off the grid types. The vast majority of people are at least somewhat aware their personal data is collected, stored, and used for a myriad of purposes online. While individual privacy preferences vary, there is a general agreement on foundational aspects such as notifying users of when these things are happening. Employee monitoring software can enter a particularly grey area when it is used without employees’ knowledge. Even when employees are aware of the monitoring, it can still be creepy to know your time spent on devices is constantly being watched. This unsettling surveillance may result in a perception that the business has more of a “caught you!” mentality, rather than a genuine focus on their employees’ work with respect for their privacy.

Employers

In weighing the costs and benefits of utilizing employee monitoring software, employers may find it’s not worth the damaged relationships and potential risks. A survey conducted by Accenture found that “62 percent of C-level executives said their organizations were using new technologies to collect data on their employees, but 52 percent of workers within those organizations thought that surveillance risked damaging their trust in their employers.” The feeling of constant observation may create unnecessary anxieties and a relentless fear of wrongdoing for employees, even when they have nothing to hide. This can create an unhealthy work environment both in an office and at home. Additionally, all of the data that’s being collected has to live somewhere. And with more data, comes more risks. All kinds of information can get caught in the web that is employee monitoring. This software can unintentionally capture financial, medical, and other sensitive information. This is especially true as the lines between work and personal devices are often blurred while working from home. All of this data is then stored in large databases which can become a hacker’s delight if left unsecured. Companies may store this data on their own servers, but most likely use third-party companies to manage this for them, creating a whole other list of privacy and security concerns. Data leaks have become scarily common these days, and the more data you store, the more susceptible you become.   Deciding whether or not to implement employee monitoring software requires an evaluation that goes beyond the question, “will it increase productivity?”. Businesses should carefully consider the full scope of pros and cons, keeping in mind what’s best for their employees in addition to the bottom-line.