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Bossware: The pros and cons of implementing tools to monitor remote employees

Posted by Shivali Anand

June 1, 2022    |     5-minute read (878 words)

Precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, work from home and hybrid work options have become increasingly popular in the past two years. According to PwC, 83% of employers have come to recognize that the switch to remote work has been largely successful for their businesses. 

At the same time, the widespread adaptation of remote work has spurred demand for software that automatically monitors the productivity of employees — more familiarly known as “tattleware” or “bossware.” While bossware is meant to track the work employees do in real time, it also mitigates the risk of employees burning out due to never leaving their remote workstations, since those stations are now located in their homes.

So, how does bossware work, and how could it benefit your company? We will delve into this and more below, including the potential drawbacks of bossware programs.

How bossware works

“Activity tracking” is the overarching purpose of bossware software, usually in the form of a log of the apps and websites that employees use. Among the digital bossware-type solutions being used by employers today are apps such as Teramind, ActivTrak, Monitask, Hubstaff, Slack and Asana.

Breaking it down further, bossware keeps tabs on employees’ output in real time with features such as activity monitoring, keystroke logging, screenshots or screen recordings, webcam and/or microphone activation and stealth or “invisible” monitoring. 

Bossware may also track which people employees communicate with through social media postings and through email. In general, it gives managers comprehensive information on the activities that transpire on employees’ workstations.

Pros

The main benefit of bossware is that it lets employers see how employees do their jobs. Insights gleaned in the process can be leveraged to improve the business’s operating efficiency, meet regulatory obligations and strengthen security measures. 

Other potential benefits of bossware include:

1. Higher productivity

Monitoring employees can boost output. People who are aware they are being monitored are apt to work harder. Further, employers who are more familiar with how employees are doing can devise incentives and rewards for increasing their productivity or for doing excellent work. 

2. Improving overall team performance

Employee monitoring highlights what employees do and how they collaborate, which gives managers the opportunity to design stronger teams. Learning more about the capabilities and limitations of team members also lets managers allocate tasks more appropriately, which can lead to better-quality work, faster. 

3. More efficient use of resources

While it entails an initial investment, bossware may save your business money in the long run. This is because monitoring systems help you zero in on expenses incurred by staff. In short, it can help you discern whether staff is struggling with particular tasks or productivity tasks, and whether anyone is misusing company time.

4. Better cybersecurity and safety awareness 

Monitoring employees can help businesses detect whether staff are unwittingly exposing the business to cybersecurity risks, as well as provide alerts when unauthorized access to data is made or malicious/suspicious behavior is identified. This extends to potential misbehavior by staff, such as harassment of colleagues, or other actions that degrade workplace safety. 

Cons

Employee monitoring software is not without detractors. Bossware may lead to frustration among employees over perceived micromanagement and intrusive surveillance. That means it’s especially important for companies planning to roll out bossware to include employees in the discussions and be mindful of their concerns.

Other potential drawbacks of bossware include:

1. Ethical considerations

Employee surveillance software has the potential to raise ethical concerns about privacy. Employees must be told in advance that their devices will be monitored, and it’s important to follow privacy rules when tracking or monitoring employees’ workstations and not use their personal information. Employees’ devices must not be monitored after work hours, either. 

Keep in mind that employees may think you do not respect their privacy. Ensure they know what methods you will use and what information you will look at. You might even have employees agree to your monitoring policy in writing.

2. Time and resources

Keeping tabs on staff requires an investment in terms of both time and money. You’ll need time to research the appropriate monitoring tools, to devise a monitoring policy and to put these steps into action. Once the system is in place, you will need to fine-tune the monitoring process. 

Additionally, employee monitoring can take time, money and energy away from other initiatives. Depending on your tools and level of involvement, your workflow may also change. 

3. Legal implications

Before introducing an employee monitoring system, ensure it complies with federal, state and local regulations. The potential for digital technology to be abused or misused could infringe on employees’ right to privacy, particularly in the context of remote employment.

4. Potential for misuse

Employers may use monitoring software for reasons that were not originally intended, weren’t disclosed or that are unlawful, leading employees to have their right to privacy violated and opening the possibility of harassment. This is most likely to transpire when information gathered about employees is not strictly confined to work hours.

Also, people who work from home will have their own privacy expectations, especially if they use their own devices for work. Remote workers may reasonably anticipate more privacy since their work environment is more personal and intimate than a traditional workplace.

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