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The Big No-No’s in Monitoring Remote Employees

Almost every employer leverages employee monitoring to promote accountability, measure staff performance, and boost productivity. There are tons of valuable data that can be acquired through different surveillance practices. 

These results were evident when ExpressVPN and Polfish surveyed 2000 employers in 2021. It found that 78% of participants use employee monitoring software to keep tabs on their employees.  

Another study by Insider Threat reported that 94% of companies monitored workers in 2018, up from 42% in 2017. 

Employee monitoring is now more common in the remote working landscape where staff no longer have physical supervision. 

However, questions and concerns have been raised about the ethical overreach of these practices. If done improperly, monitoring can be illegal and incur costly financial and reputational damage. 

However, that’s not where it ends. You’ll begin to lose your staff’s trust and loyalty when they find out you’re surveilling unethically. These issues will, in turn, hurt your company’s general productivity and employee turnover. 

So, for those asking, “How can I monitor employees that work remotely?” the primary goal should be finding out how to do it right. 

This article will cover things you should avoid when monitoring remote workers. 

Surveillance Without Consent 

Monitoring employees without their consent is one of the worst unethical workplace practices. In most cases, it’s illegal. When workers discover they’re being monitored in secret, they can take legal recourse, which could damage the company’s reputation and inflict financial damages. 

In some cases, though, employers can keep tabs on employees in secret when carrying out investigations. This sort of monitoring may be necessary in cases where reports have been filed, or there are suspicions about one or more employees. 

However, they still have to be careful as the law protects workers against such practices in most cases. 

Your workforce must be on board with all your monitoring and surveillance policies. This way, you’re showing them that you respect their right to privacy. In addition, it will boost trust and make them more committed to the company. What’s more, knowing they’re being monitored ethically will increase a sense of accountability as everyone wants that bonus or promotion at the end of the year. 

That is why some 84% of companies told workers they reviewed computer activity, according to the America Management Association’s 2019 Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance report. 

Using Employee Monitoring Software to Gather Personal Data 

Employee monitoring software applications are popular in virtual workplaces. They track time and monitor each employee’s work process. However, some of these programs have invasive features like screen grabbing and screen recording. Some even go as far as capturing keystrokes. 

Features like screen grabbing help keep employees accountable to ensure they’re spending time on the job. In addition, they deter workers from using dubious means to trick employers and log hours while they loaf around. 

The problem here is that screenshots might be taken at the wrong time. For example, it could happen when your employees use social media or banking websites. Unfortunately, that means you’re unintentionally gathering personal data. 

In some cases, employers collect personal and private data on purpose. This kind of practice could also result in expensive lawsuits if employees find out. Other damages, such as workforce turnover, damaged trust, and reduced productivity, could also follow. 

You can prevent the issue of gathering personal data by going for a time tracking app that respects your employee’s privacy. For example, such a program would take screenshots but blur them to conceal sensitive content. This way, you grasp what your workers are doing without knowing specific details. 

You should also avoid using apps that capture keystrokes and record screens. 

Monitoring Workers When They’re Off Duty 

Employers monitor employees outside work hours for different reasons. For example, it could be to ensure they’re not engaging in activities that would hurt the company, such as a second job with a high conflict of interest. 

Whatever the reason, monitoring employees outside the workplace is another risky and, in many cases, illegal surveillance policy. For example, under the National Labor Relations Act in the US, employers will be penalized for monitoring any employee union involvement outside work hours. 

So, ensure you turn on/off any monitoring application once your workers clock in and clock out

In some cases, employees use company devices for personal matters from time to time when they’re off duty. However, that doesn’t give you the right to continue monitoring them. You can end the practice of using company devices outside working hours by establishing a rule that forbids it. 

If your staff’s personal devices double as workstations, ensure they have autonomy over starting and stopping employee monitoring programs. You can go for a time or productivity tracker that can be easily turned on and off on the host system instead of remotely. This way, your workers have the peace of mind that they control when they’re monitored. 

Using data for non-business related Purposes 

Even if you get your employees’ consent regarding monitoring, how you use the data you collect also matters. Ethical surveillance doesn’t start and stop at how you gather the data but extends to what you use them to implement. 

You’d want to ensure that you only gather the information to improve things like productivity, workflow, and accountability, for starters. Surveillance data could also be used to keep workers in check and penalize them if they go wrong. 

The important thing is making sure you have clear objectives for the data you’re looking to collect even before gathering them. For instance, if you want to boost productivity, go for employee monitoring software that calculates how fast each worker executes specific tasks. This way, you’ll discover those who are efficient at what and those who need improvement.  

It’s also critical that the data you collect is safely guarded and never makes it to the public space. You wouldn’t want your employees losing trust in your ability to keep their professional data safe. 

Why You Should Monitor Employees Ethically 

While unethical employee monitoring comes with dire consequences, ethical surveillance has its benefits. Workplace monitoring has been around for decades because it yields results. Unfortunately, companies are only abusing it today because technology can now be used for good and bad. 

However, if you want to win, you have to do things right. Here are three reasons you should quit questionable monitoring practices and go ethical. 

Improve Workplace Culture 

When your employees are satisfied with your surveillance policies, there’s a sense of calm and trust in the workplace. They understand that they’re being surveilled, what data is being collected, and what the data is used for.  

This way, they’re comfortable around the office space and can work towards accountability. This comfort improves employee engagement, strengthens company culture, and reduces employee turnover. Your firm becomes a desirable place to work at, given that you respect worker privacy. 

Boost Productivity 

Employees are always uneasy when they feel like their every move is being watched. This discomfort increases stress levels, which in turn hurts productivity. Doing things ethically removes these concerns and allows them to work more freely. 

For example, if your company uses an employee monitoring application that people turn on when they start working, they understand how to comfort themselves during that time frame. In addition, having the freedom to turn off the monitoring app whenever they like gives them a sense of control that allows them to work comfortably. 

Reduce Overheads 

It’s not news that bad surveillance policies can cost companies financially and drag the reputation through the mud. The best remedy is doing things ethically. This way, you’re avoiding potential budget-crippling lawsuits. 

Also, when done right, employee monitoring can help you keep your books in order and avoid the cost of payroll errors and missed deadlines. 

Continue Enjoying the Benefits of Employee Monitoring 

You can develop a healthy monitoring policy and still keep your employees happy. The secret is telling them about your plans and carrying them along every step of the way. Don’t hesitate to collect feedback after deploying your monitoring system. This way, you’ll keep optimizing the policy as you go.

Ajay Deep

Ajay Deep is the brain behind Coworking Mag. He founded this website to help startups and aspiring entrepreneurs find a coworking space in their city. He is a successful entrepreneur who started and scaled a bunch of startups – all from shared office spaces. He has visited hundreds of coworking spaces in different countries and is now an investor in this evergrowing idea of developing new coworking spaces. You may reach Ajay Deep at hello@coworkingmag.com
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