The Pros and Cons of Remote Employee Surveillance

As remote work increases, companies are using employee surveillance tools to track worker performance. Good idea or bad idea?

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The Pros and Cons of Remote Employee Surveillance

While studies have consistently shown that remote workers are more productive, employers remain concerned about whether their work-from-home teams are working efficiently. Many have turned to remote employee surveillance to keep an eye on what workers are doing. Overall, there’s been a 56% increase in the purchase of employee surveillance software since the pandemic started.

Employee surveillance software is capable of recording almost everything employees do on their computers via keystrokes to random screengrabs, covert webcam access, and remote audio surveillance.

Employers should give careful consideration to the impact of monitoring work-from-home employees before deciding to implement them. This article will take a look at the pros and cons of remote employee surveillance.

What is remote employee surveillance?

Remote employee surveillance is a way for employers to track what workers are doing on the job when they are working from home or remotely. It can range from simple checklists and activity trackers to more advanced tools such as facial recognition, webcam access, and remote audio surveillance.

In one survey, 78% of companies said they are using some form of remote monitoring software to track employee activity. 46% said they had terminated an employee based on what the surveillance found.

In the office, you can see if someone appears busy or focused on their work. When employees are working from home, you can’t. You have to trust that your team is working efficiently and not spending the day on social media or online shopping.

Many employers choose to “trust but verify” route using surveillance, so let’s examine the pros and cons of employee surveillance.

Pros of remote surveillance

Remote employee monitoring has several benefits, starting with accountability.

Accountability

The biggest benefit to remote surveillance is the ability to hold employees accountable. Not only do you have insight into how much remote employees or working but when employees know monitoring is in place, they are more likely to hold themselves accountable.

Monitoring workloads

Employers using remote monitoring can gain important data to help manage workloads and timelines to make sure both are realistic.

When you can see how your team is working in an office setting, it’s easier to spot when someone is stressed, overworked, or frustrated with their workload. It’s much more difficult when they are out of sight. Employers using remote monitoring can gain important data to help manage workloads and timelines to make sure both are realistic.

For companies that charge clients by the hour, remote monitoring can help track billable hours.

Improve processes

Remote surveillance may provide additional insight into business processes and help employers recognize when systems need to change. It can help uncover which tools get used (or not), or how much time is spent in meetings or downtime.

Avoid burnout

A study of nearly 7,000 workers showed that most employees are working longer hours, including nights and weekends. Employers using remote surveillance can help monitor work hours to ensure that employees aren’t overworking themselves.

Employee recognition

It’s easy for remote workers to feel unappreciated, especially the high-performing employees that get the work done on time and do a great job. Remote employee surveillance makes it easier to track performance and see who’s working efficiently. This allows employers to recognize them for a job well done.

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Cons of remote surveillance

Employers also need to consider the downsides of using remote employee surveillance. Depending on how it’s done and what you track, it can have a negative effect.

Legal concerns

If not done properly, remote employee surveillance can lead to significant legal challenges. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) lays out specific prohibited activities. Collection or monitoring of some communications is illegal. For example, if employers captured information about an employee communicating with their lawyer on their personal computer during work hours, the employer might be guilty of unfair labor practices. If they accidentally capture banking, health, or login information, they might violate privacy laws.

Some states also have specific regulations about employee monitoring, including Maryland, Illinois, California, Connecticut, and Delaware.

If not done properly, remote employee surveillance can lead to significant legal challenges. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) lays out specific prohibited activities.

Impact on morale

Even if employers have followed legal requirements and gained consent from employees, monitoring can have a negative impact on morale. When employees know that their activity is tracked, they can feel as if their employer doesn’t trust them. That doesn’t create a positive feeling towards the company, and it can significantly hurt engagement.

Lack of respect

While companies with highly engaged employees see a 22% lift in productivity and nearly 60% less employee turnover, when engagement is low, productivity suffers. Unengaged employees leave their jobs or, even worse, quit working but stay on the job.

One of the key reasons people quit their job is a lack of respect. Employees may see remote surveillance as a violation of their privacy.  In a Gartner study, more than half of workers surveyed said they don’t trust their company with their data.

Alternatives to surveillance

For business leaders concerned about remote worker productivity, there are alternatives to employee surveillance.

You can still keep an eye on whether employees are getting the job done, but instead of surveilling them, you are tracking their progress by setting key performance indicators (KPIs), tracking deliverables, and communicating regularly.

Set KPIs

Each remote worker should have their own set of KPIs based on employer expectations.  KPIs need to be specific and measurable to provide an independent assessment of work.

Track deliverables

Remote work requires making a shift from monitoring work hours to measuring results. When you track deliverables, you are measuring outcomes. Employees should have a clear expectation of deliverables. When they deliver, you know you’re getting the productivity you require.

Communicate

Employees working at home require consistent communication. This helps build a positive culture and keeps everyone engaged in the process. Frequent communication helps monitor employee productivity and keeps workers focused on company goals.

Is remote employee surveillance right for you?

Whether you choose to use surveillance on your employees is up to you. Be aware of the potential negative consequences and consider whether other methods will achieve the same results.

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