(This article originally appeared in The Guardian)
A year ago, while still in the grips of the pandemic, workers at many businesses — small and large — were continuing to work from home mostly due to either government or corporate mandates. Now, as the pandemic (hopefully) recedes, many workers are coming back to work but my smartest clients have learned that, to attract and retain the best people, a work-from-home option needs to be on the table.
During the pandemic we were scrambling just to keep things going. But now we’re implementing policies that many feel should have supervisory controls. And many business owners, large and small, are asking themselves a question: is it time to monitor what our people are actually doing when they’re not working in the office?
To this I say: are you kidding me? Apparently not. In fact, a growing number of companies, as they’re implementing new work-from-home benefits, are also incorporating remote monitoring software to keep an eye on their employees’ behavior.
A recent poll in the UK of more than 2,400 workers by the trade union Prospect found that almost one in three reported being monitored, up from a quarter of workers in April 2021. Not only that but the number of remote workers who said they’ve been watched through an in-home camera has doubled during that period. Yes, you read that right: an in-home camera!
Here in the US a study of 1,250 employers by Digital.com revealed that 60% were using monitoring software to track the productivity and activity of their work-from-home employees, citing reasons such as a “better understanding how employees are spending time”, “confirming workers are working a full day” and “ensuring they’re not using work equipment for personal use”.
Meanwhile, demand for remote monitoring software is up more than 54% since the pandemic started, according to a site that tracks these things, and to meet that demand a proliferation of software companies have emerged offering work-from-home monitoring solutions.
For example, there’s Aware, a platform that analyzes employee behavior across messaging platforms like Slack, which raised a $60m third round of financing last month. Microsoft announced just this week that it was adding increased employee surveillance so that its Microsoft 365 platform can use machine learning to track employee actions. Up-and-coming providers like Activtrak, Kickidler, Workpuls and iMonitorSoft position themselves as “workforce analytics” platforms but are really just offering their corporate customers the capability of watching how their employees are using apps, the ability to take random screenshots triggered by an employee’s suspicious behavior, and to see their workers’ activities. Workpuls promises its customers that employees can be monitored “without being noticed” so that they can “still get the information you need”.
Really? After years of employees demanding more flexibility, independence and mobility are we as employers going to respond by tracking those employees’ every movement while they’re not in the office? This is the exact opposite of trust. There could not be a worse way to manage your teams. There does not exist a more inferior message to send to your people.
There are lots of advice columns — like this one — written to help employers get the most out of their employee monitoring software or to help them better track the activities of their employees working from home.
Want my advice? Don’t. Don’t monitor your employees. Don’t buy any of this software. Don’t worry about what your employees are doing when they’re not in the office. And for God’s sake, don’t install a camera in an employee’s home!
Instead, worry about how your business is achieving its objectives, how your employees are meeting their goals set out by their supervisors, whether or not they’re doing this from home or from Mars. Who cares? Who cares what your employees are up to? Who has the time to waste monitoring this minutia? I couldn’t even bear to spend an hour monitoring my kids’ activities on Facebook without feeling my IQ drop, so now I’m going to look over the shoulder of grown men and women hired to do a job for me as if they’re in middle school?
This is not how you treat your people. This is not how you trust your team.