Have you ever thought about monitoring your employees? Or are you an employee wondering whether your company is watching what you are doing? The COVID-19 pandemic forced most industries and companies to transition from employees working in an office full-time to working from home full-time. Research has shown it is likely many employees will continue working from home in some capacity on a permanent basis.  In order to maintain accountability with so many employees working remotely, there has been a surge in company use of monitoring tools as a way to ensure employees are actually completing work from home. For employees, the obvious issue raised by monitoring is privacy. Read on as we break down all you need to know on the subject.

 

What is employee monitoring?

spreadsheet data monitoring

For those not familiar, let’s start with the basics… what is employee monitoring? Hubstaff, a company that provides staff monitoring through time tracking software, defines it this way… “Employee monitoring allows a business to track employee activities and monitor worker engagement with workplace related tasks. A business using employee monitoring on a computer can measure productivity, track attendance, ensure security and collect proof of hours worked.”

 

Types of employee monitoring

employee monitoring

There are countless ways to monitor employees.

First off, monitoring can be done with or without employees knowing.

The legalities of monitoring employees without their knowledge or consent largely depends on which country and jurisdiction you’re operating in.

Many (including us) believe that if employees are not made aware of exactly what data is being collected and how it is being used, then monitoring it is a breach of privacy. With that said, there are companies that do choose to monitor without alerting their employees.

Hubstaff provides the following list of 5 common ways employees can be monitored:

  • Internet usage
  • Email
  • Phone
  • Voicemail
  • Location

 

Pros and cons of monitoring employees

pros cons

There are many websites out there that have put together extensive lists of advantages and disadvantages of employee monitoring. We found the following list compiled by HR Daily Advisor, a resource for HR professionals, particularly insightful:

Pros:

  • Helps to uncover problems, like harassment;
  • May reduce theft;
  • Can discover where workload may need to be redistributed (i.e., when some groups have too much time for nonwork activities);
  • Can help to monitor and ensure safe practices are being followed;
  • Can reduce incidences of employees wasting company time, as they know they’re being monitored and are then less likely to do so;
  • May highlight bottlenecks or areas where employees spend more time than expected during their work process, which can allow the employer to review the process and improve it;
  • Can allow employers to monitor employees’ activities to ensure they’re being productive and following rules;
  • Can track hours worked on a specific task, which can increase accuracy for invoicing;
  • Can help with recordkeeping, such as tracking employee time, etc.; and
  • Can monitor customer interactions to ensure policies are being adhered to and customers are being treated well.

Cons:

  • Employees may feel their privacy has been devalued or violated.
  • It may be difficult to retain employees if monitoring seems intrusive.
  • Monitoring can signal a lack of trust, which can breed resentment and reduce employee morale and productivity.
  • The line between work and home may be blurred; people often use the same devices for both, so where does monitoring cross the line?
  • Extra data means more information could be misused if it lands in the wrong hands.
  • There are legal issues to contend with to ensure the employer remains within legal rights and respects employees’ rights. The more geographic areas the employer operates in, the more likely these regulations will differ in each area.
  • Any monitoring program is only useful if it is actually scrutinized, which takes time and money.
  • Surveillance may create a false sense of security, which can actually be a risk in and of itself.

 

The Law

employee monitoring law

In most cases there is wide latitude when it comes to how employers can monitor their workers.

According to an article in Business News Daily, “Federal and most state privacy laws give discretion to employers as to how far they can go with their employee monitoring programs. In some cases, employers do not have to inform employees they are being monitored, depending on their state and local laws. Some regulations do require employee consent.” Matt C. Pinsker, adjunct professor of homeland security and criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University, was quoted in the article saying, “As a general rule, employees have little expectation of privacy while on company grounds or using company equipment, including company computers or vehicles.”

 

The Stats

time management monitoring

According to PrivacyPolicies, a firm that creates privacy policies for companies, 63% of employers monitor internet connections in the workplace. PrivacyPolicies also says that 77.7% of major U.S. companies monitor through email, phone calls, web browsing, computer files, and video recordings.

PrivacyPolicies shares additional statistics explaining why some companies might choose to use monitoring services, including that 64% of employees use the web for personal reasons during work hours, 48% of the worst security breaches at large companies are perpetrated by employees and 25% of corporate internet traffic is categorized as unrelated to work.

 

Initiating Employee Monitoring

employee office monitoring

There are many ways to prepare employees before you begin a monitoring system. The Balance Careers, a career advice website, provides the following list of tips:

  • Train your employees early so that they are familiar with your company’s expectations and the use of monitoring or performance data collection.
  • Ask your employees if they mind, and have them sign an agreement stating their acceptance and agreement.
  • If you are gathering employee performance data, let your employees know and see how you are using the data. They should be receiving feedback that includes improvement recommendations from their data. If they don’t, they will become suspicious.
  • Evaluate your use of employee performance data or monitoring regularly.
  • Ensure you are ethical in your use of these data. As you evaluate your monitoring and collection, determine whether it is worth continuing the practice.

Our Thoughts: 

We wanted to provide some final thoughts on monitoring since it is a controversial topic. While, as you have read, there are pros and cons to the decision of whether or not to monitor employees, our point of view is that workers should always be made aware of any type of monitoring that is taking place.

Workplace experience, productivity and the quality of products and services organizations deliver can be enhanced by the smart use of data. However, in many cases, data can achieve these goals when anonymized and used at aggregate level, rather than honing in on the work patterns and behaviors of individuals.

We at Smartway2 firmly believe that if you recruit and hire great workers and set the bar high with superb leadership, employees can be trusted to perform to the best of their abilities, without the need for stringent monitoring.

Smartway2 is a next-generation technology companies that enables employees to book desks, spaces, parking, equipment and any other office facilities they need to be productive at the office, in advance. Our workplace scheduling software helps modern, agile and collaborative companies transform employee experience and boost productivity, while reducing carbon footprint.