You may have seen a TikTok floating around social media about a remote worker hyping mouse jigglers to beat bossware. It is worrying that an employee had to go out of pocket to buy a gadget just to have the peace of mind to do their job.
Some companies use keyboard and mouse tracking software to account for every solitary second remote workers spend on the clock. This technology goes by many names, including employee monitoring software, employee accountability software, and employee spyware.
Regardless of what companies call this software, it gets remote work all wrong and actually exacerbates the problem they’re trying to solve.
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1. It Negates The Benefits Of Remote Work
One of the benefits of remote work on the employee side is that there is some digital distance between management and their remote team. Most workers use this distance to tailor their workflows to optimize personal performance and productivity.
Time is not a renewable resource. Remote work saves time by removing commuting, clock-watching, and distractions from the equation.
Managers also save enormous amounts of time by not micromanaging their employees. A healthy digital distance encourages employees to approach them with only the most urgent and pressing problems.
Management can now focus on macro-level strategy and planning rather than being witness to every minute detail of their employees' workflows.
Real-time personnel tracking and employee monitoring software brings these blockers and problems into remote teams with a vengeance. This technology carries problems that only existed in the office into remote teams.
Instead of maximizing productivity, monitored workers will spend more time double-checking with their managers that they’re on task and second-guessing every move in fear of “tattleware.”
2. It Gets Productivity Completely Wrong
Some companies are operating under the misguided assumption that workers can only be productive in the office. That’s not true.
According to Owl Lab’s State of Remote Work Report 2021, 55% of workers report working more hours remotely than at the physical office, and 67% are more productive at home.
People are getting more work done in four hours at home than eight hours in the office. They’re in their element and distraction-free. We’ve all been guilty of watching the clock and stretching out tasks in the office. Remote workers don’t need to knuckle through a cacophony of clacking keyboards and idle chatter – working remotely cuts the fat from the workday.
3. It Zeros In On The Wrong Metrics
Managers who use employee monitoring software want to get the most bang for their buck. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they’re focusing on incorrect metrics. You can’t measure productivity in time but in deliverables.
As long as you get the desired business outcomes, there is no need to zero in on an employee’s “real-time productivity.” Let people make their own hours and workflows and judge the quality of their work rather than the time they clock in refreshing their email.
If your company gets your desired outcome, then whether your employee was away from their keyboard for an hour is immaterial. Companies that use employee monitoring software need to reassess their priorities critically.
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4. It Increases Employee Turnover
It’s safe to say that any employee constantly subjected to surveillance, bean-counting, and micromanaging will look for the door sooner or later. The stress of having an invisible eye watching you while you work and constantly self-correcting to meet impossible standards will be too much to bear.
Employees can easily make a lateral move to a company that respects their privacy and personhood. Many leading remote-first companies have embraced async work models and flexible hours, not just because it boosts productivity and employee engagement, but also because it is simply a good business practice.
5. It’s Morally Dubious
Even if employees sign some policy or waiver that agrees to being monitored, it’s still coercive. The choice between your livelihood and your privacy is not a real choice. The whole employer-employee relationship then begins with the underline assumption that it’s likely that new hires lack work ethic or are potential wage thieves and liars. Employees are forced to admit on some level that there is some justification for believing they’re untrustworthy.
Monitask, an industry leader in employee monitoring SaaS, says it is “an employee productivity tool, but it is not a spying tool. You cannot run Monitask without user permission or auto-start screenshot monitoring. A user needs to press the start button when they work in order to start time tracking.”
Whether there is a veneer of consent or not, this is still an invasive, needless technology. Whether surveillance is known or covert, it still erodes employee trust. Most employees are smart enough to know that the money spent purchasing monitoring software could be used to improve the employee experience or invested in actual productivity-boosting tools like Katch and Almanac.
This gaslighting manipulation twists an employee’s sense of self. If this technology had any actual value, then it would be at least understandable why a company would use such tactics, but because there isn’t, it’s doubly unethical.
The most frustrating aspect of employee monitoring is how silly and needless it is. Instead of increasing productivity, it erodes trust between employees and employers and causes more friction and employee turnover rather than helping to improve it.
Employers should instead learn to trust that their employees can get their work done on their own schedule and invest money in tools that will actually help boost productivity. After all, employees are paid to complete tasks and fulfill deliverables – not be endlessly busy for every second of their workday.
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