Employee monitoring software: productivity vs ethics

Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in hybrid and remote working has led many organisations to start using employee monitoring software to check on their distributed teams.

On the one hand, this is understandable. Research shows that teams allowed to work from home at least part of the week see big increases in productivity. Yet most business leaders don’t want to take someone’s word for it when it comes to their business’s bottom line.

But monitoring your team’s productivity remotely leads to all kinds of ethical considerations. Where does monitoring for productivity purposes end and privacy begin?

What is employee monitoring software?

Employee monitoring software covers a huge variety of different programs. Some track an employee’s “idle” time. Others can monitor web search history, record emails, chat messages on all kinds of platforms – including WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, and Slack – and even keyboard keystrokes and webcams.

Developers of the latest generations of the software are even working on voice recognition and analysis additions.

In short, between them, these tools can take in and analyse almost any digital signal anywhere in your organisation. Soon, it will be possible to monitor anything your employees do or say in the digital sphere.

Monitoring your employees’ computer use

Although employee monitoring software might be simplified to “monitoring your employees’ computer use”, the key driving points behind their adoption as far as some organisations and the developers are concerned include:

  1. Letting companies understand their workforce
  2. Enabling better monitoring of remote collaboration efforts
  3. Theoretically protecting against harassment and other online abuse

The problem of privacy

To most employees (and some business owners too), the list of features and capabilities of even the current generation of employee monitoring software can sound fairly dystopian.

Examples of organisations abusing their new monitoring powers have hit the headlines on numerous occasions recently:

  • A complaint was made against Google after it appeared to spy on employees engaging in protesting the company’s activities and then fire them.
  • A rush of call centres in the US have forced employees to install in-home cameras for monitoring purposes or face being fired.
  • Amazon’s routine surveillance of its delivery drivers is roundly seen as ineffective as well as morally questionable, chiefly because drivers can be financially penalised for the faults of other road users.

The software may also backfire in its intended purpose. Recent research has shown that employees are more likely to feel they need to pretend to be working rather than simply working after monitoring tools were installed.

Constantly monitoring your team’s every move is also hardly the way to demonstrate trust and build a friendly, positive corporate culture. Some monitoring software’s ability to preserve edits and deletions has also been criticised for making staff less willing to be creative or offer valuable input.

Employee resistance levels are high. Many remote and hybrid workers say they feel far more anxious and pressured knowing their every move is monitored. Over 50% of workers in a recent survey said they would resign if their employer instituted this kind of monitoring.

Striving for balance in employee monitoring

So where will the debate on employee monitoring software – sometimes called “bossware” – go next?

Many employers trust their team (and the data that shows this kind of software may well be unnecessary or counterproductive) enough not to use it.

Some employees have said that as long as it’s clear where surveillance is happening and their data isn’t shared with third parties, they’re okay with it. Especially if it enables remote and hybrid working.

But the global market for employee monitoring software is predicted to hit nearly £1 billion in the next five years. It’s here and it’s happening. Where will you draw the line?

Do you offer your team remote or hybrid working?

Want to make sure you’re enabling them to be their most productive (without the use of bossware)?

Let’s talk. Dial A Geek helped nearly 1000 businesses in Bristol and beyond set up the best systems for them.

Book a cost and commitment-free consultation with Chief Geek Gildas Jones today to talk through what your ideal setup might be.