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More businesses turn to software to monitor their remote employees’ productivity

Posted by Grace Townsley

July 8, 2021    |     4-minute read (653 words)

As a growing number of companies are offering remote work opportunities, an increasing number of those same companies are using surveillance software to track their employees’ productivity during work hours. There are several pros and cons of tracking employee activity. The software may boost productivity and help reduce slack time. But it may also hurt employee morale and drive away key employees who desire privacy. Is surveillance software right for your business? 

How surveillance software works

Most commonly, employer activity monitoring occurs on devices the company provides their employees for necessary work activities. Provided devices like a company computer, cell phone, or tablet are the most frequently tracked.  The monitoring software may track websites employees visit during work hours, how long they spend on each site, what apps they install and open on the device, their bandwidth usage, what data they transfer onto external storage sources like flash drives, and even their keystrokes. This data may be stored as a report sent to management on a recurring basis or may only be available for review as needed. Many companies also provide their employees with a way to monitor their own data as a tool for self-improvement.

Legal considerations

Employee monitoring is legal in the United States if the surveillance is for legitimate business reasons. While some states do require employers disclose their monitoring, most states do not. Surveillance of any activity done on a company device is legal, including keystroke and screen monitoring. However, employers are not permitted to use the data collected to access an employee’s personal account. In other words, if a keystroke monitor records an employee’s social media password, the employer is not permitted to access the employee’s account with that information.

The employer’s perspective

According to a survey by ExpressVPN and Pollfish,78% of bosses report using some form of employee monitoring software to track employee activity during work hours. This includes monitoring emails, calls, messages, video, websites visited, and bandwidth usage. Employers who use surveillance software say it helps their employees understand that working from home still comes with expectations of productivity, focus and commitment to the job. It helps their employees stay on task and better avoid tempting distractions. Besides its positive impact on productivity, surveillance software offers the company greater protection from cyberattacks by being able to monitor and curb employees’ potentially dangerous browsing activity. Monitoring and storing communications can also offer the business better protection from lawsuits caused by employee indiscretion.

The employee’s perspective

Many employers do notify their employees of the company’s monitoring policy in their new hire employment agreement or as a company-wide memo once the software is rolled out. However, providing surveillance notice is only legally required in Connecticut and Delaware, so employees in the 48 other states may be monitored without their notice or consent. For those employees who are aware of their employer’s surveillance policy, many feel their privacy is being infringed upon. Of the employees surveyed, 59% report their mental health being negatively impacted by the surveillance.

Consider this before purchasing surveillance software

It seems the pros of using surveillance software to monitor the activity of remote employees do provide more benefit to the company than harm.  Ultimately, the way in which your company informs your employees of the surveillance extent goes a long way in controlling the reaction. When employees are made aware upfront that their devices will be monitored and how that data will be used, and when they are given access to their own data to encourage self-management, morale can remain high. When employers misuse the data or attempt to micromanage every bit of slack out of their employees’ day, that is when the software does more harm than good. As with any tool, wise business leaders will understand that every company is different and will consider the costs and benefits of launching any new strategy – internal or external.

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