Remote work has been rising over the last few years. But the pandemic forced companies to adopt remote work arrangements simply to keep operations running. 

But as a lot of businesses are shifting back from merely surviving to thrive they have begun to ask the hard questions. How to monitor employees working from home? 

There are a number of employee monitoring examples where intrusive tactics like stealth tracking and collecting data out of work hours have backfired for companies. 

This brings us to the question. How can monitoring employees in the workplace be done ethically and effectively? 

What is Employee Monitoring? 

Employee monitoring is the process of tracking the activities, productivity, and even location of employees. In-office employee surveillance primarily includes business communication, video, and attendance monitoring. But with the rise of remote work, staff monitoring is also beginning to include keystroke, GPS, and computer monitoring. 

As employee monitoring tools are becoming more efficient, and maybe even excessively intrusive, their impact on employee privacy rights is being questioned.  

What are the Employee Privacy Laws? 

Employees should be entitled to the right to privacy. With employee monitoring software becoming increasingly aggressive, there are some workplace surveillance laws that should be heeded. 

Employee Privacy Laws in the United States

The citizens of the United States believe strongly in the ideals of freedom and liberty. The general expectation is that employees have the right to privacy. But with so few privacy laws in the workplace, the law doesn’t support that expectation. 

Almost all privacy laws in the United States are skewed towards the data privacy of employers and very rarely support employee privacy.

Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986

On the federal level, The Electronics Communications Privacy Act prohibits the unauthorized interception of verbal and electronic communications at the transmission stage. It also prohibits the unauthorized accessing of electronic communications. 

To simplify legal speak, it means that employers should not tap phones and should not access emails unlawfully. But employers can be exempt from this due to these exceptions: 

  • If the employer can show a legitimate business purpose for employee monitoring
  • If an employee has knowledge of the employer’s policy and still uses the system

In fact, it is common practice for employers to make sure employees sign away any residual rights. They can do so by simply acknowledging that the employers can monitor computer usage including internet and email access. Often, employers do it through something as innocuous as a user agreement. 

State Law on Employee Privacy

As is the case with any state-level legislation, all states have different laws on workplace privacy. 

According to Harvard Law, 48 states have statutes similar to the Electronics Communications Privacy Act. But most states (at least 32) have statutes that appear even stricter than the Electronics Communications Privacy Act.  

Several state constitutions, including those of Florida, Louisiana, and California, expressly guarantee the right to privacy. Although this might give employees heightened expectations of privacy, it isn’t applicable to company communications. 

Employee Privacy Laws in the EU

Although the EU does not have any specific laws with regard to employee monitoring, companies aim to be GDPR compliant. GDPR requires: 

  • Employers to perform a Privacy Impact Assessment before implementing any employee tracking software
  • The express consent of employees before any employee monitoring begins 

Employee Privacy Laws in Canada

Although there are no federal laws primary for employee monitoring, there are several common law cases that are applicable. The general rule is that employees do not have an absolute right to privacy in the workplace. Employees should consent and acknowledge all monitoring policies. 

Obviously, this is a confusing area simply because technological advancements are outpacing the law. But as a general rule: 

  • Always inform employees about the surveillance methods used and take formal consent
  • Employees should know where the employers with use the data 
  • Do not indulge in any kind of staff monitoring after work  

Employee Monitoring Statistics

What is Employee Monitoring Software? 

Employee monitoring software is the medium through which employers monitor all activities and productivity of employees. The best employee monitoring software is one that provides complete visibility of all predetermined metrics for the entire staff on a single dashboard. 

What are the Types of Employee Monitoring Software? 

With companies requiring different levels of employee monitoring, there are many employee monitoring software alternatives. For the purpose of this blog, we are limiting ourselves to remote monitoring software commonly used for monitoring white-collar workers. 

Employee Tracking Software

Traditionally, blue-collar workers have been GPS tracked through company hardware on their phones or vehicles. With the growing popularity of remote employee monitoring, employers are repurposing GPS tracking to ensure that employees are working from the location they were hired for. In the context of the United States, this may be to ensure that the company is compliant with all local laws and regulations of the employee’s place of work. 

Time Tracking with Screen Capture

Companies ensure that employees aren’t slacking off at home by using screen monitoring software. This software tracks the employee’s computer to find out exactly what project the employee is working on, their activity rates, and even idle time. To top it all, they can also capture the screen of the employee at frequent intervals to ensure that the employee isn’t doing something they aren’t supposed to. Time tracking software with screen capturing ensures almost no privacy for the employee. 

Time Tracking Software 

This type of remote employee time tracking is much less intrusive and treats employees as partners and not school children. This type of productivity tracking software puts the burden of data input on the employee. They let the time tracking software know when they’re punching in when they’re punching out, what project they’re working on, and for how long. Employers can then look into the data to measure productivity, billable hours, and payroll. 

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Employee Monitoring? 

Advantages of Employee Monitoring

Irrespective of size, there are certain benefits that employee tracking has. 

Improved Time Theft 

A lot of companies believe that when employees are taking a break or even having a quick chat with their colleagues they may be committing time theft. Although the term is debatable and so are the pitfalls of these activities, some companies may wish to minimize it. In such cases, employee tracking software ensures that employees are mindful of non-productive tasks. 

Enhanced Productivity

Irrespective of how intrusive the employee monitoring software is, there is always a way to measure and enhance productivity using them. Both employees and employers are able to track time spent on projects, breaks taken, and punches. This data can be used to produce insights around productive hours, workforce management, and profitable projects. 

Less Busy Work for HR 

HR manages employee productivity but who improves HR productivity? With HR being so busy with a multitude of tasks throughout the day, attendance and time tracking can be quite a drain on productivity. With employee tracking software like AttendanceBot, HR can forget about tracking punches, vacation requests, and payroll inputs. They can do away with all the admin busywork and just focus on more productive tasks. 

Actionable Security Insights 

When we say security we mean everything from employee wellbeing to data security. 

For example, if an employee is unresponsive for a while the company can check the GPS coordinates of the employee and check if everything is alright. 

Although intrusive, a feature like this can be life-saving too. 

With email and message tracking, employers can ensure that there aren’t any embarrassing data breaches. 

How Employees Feel About Employee Monitoring

Disadvantages of Employee Monitoring

Although employee monitoring may seem like the Holy Grail of employee productivity trackers, there are some downsides that need to be considered. 

Detrimental to Team Morale

With so many employee tracking tools focusing just on productivity they forget that humans aren’t machines. They don’t perform consistently all the time. With the software constantly pitting team members against each other based on performance, team morale can take a serious hit. 

Fears of Privacy Violations

In the world of GDPR compliance, constant monitoring can be quite harrowing. Employees are scared of data breaches that can have far-reaching consequences.  

Employee Burnout 

Constant monitoring can cause employees to overwork themselves. Their daily casual walk around the room or even just chatting with colleagues can be kicked to the curb in order to “maximize productivity”. They keep at it all day and end up burning out due to the constant stress and pressure. 

Lack of Trust 

Employees are, for the most part, honest and trustworthy. They want to work and be productive. When companies trust that they will by giving them freedom, they work harder. 

Employees can lose that sense of accountability when their workspace is constantly being screenshotted and tracked. They may look for ways to game the system even though they don’t have any malicious intent. Employers need to understand that this is a potentially dangerous disadvantage of employee tracking tools. 

Legal Repercussions 

Employee privacy laws are convoluted across the world. With remote teams having increasingly diverse nationalities involved, it makes sense to check the local guidelines around employee privacy. Do your due diligence to ensure that there are no legal ramifications for the company. 

Employee Monitoring post COVID

Source: Gartner

What are the Guidelines for Seamless Employee Monitoring? 

Consent, Consent, and Some More Consent 

The consent to monitor isn’t just a simple legal requirement. Employees need to know that they can trust their employer. If you mention employee monitoring tools as just another term and condition, when they do find out the extent of surveillance they’ll feel cheated. Ensure that you ask for consent expressly and provide them with all information. 

The What and Why of Employee Tracking 

Ensure complete transparency by telling employees what metrics you will be monitoring and why. Introduce your employee monitoring solution carefully. 

  • Call a Town Hall where the CEO explains the need for an employee tracking solution. 
  • Introduce the solution and answer any questions employees may have regarding privacy 
  • Have a kickass internal marketing plan to improve adoption rates
  • Ask for feedback every step of the way
  • Ensure that all fears are allayed and feedback is incorporated

Have an Employee Monitoring Policy

Taking consent and feedback can be easy in the initial stages of software adoption. But as time passes, it becomes more important to crystalize processes in a policy document. Make an employee monitoring software policy that is easy to understand and includes the most frequently asked questions. Be sure to include this in the onboarding process so that all new hires know what to expect. 

Both Positive Reinforcement Along with Negative

Oppression is often mentally associated with surveillance software. Make sure that your employees don’t make the same connection. Use employee monitoring as a tool to help improve employee productivity and reward exceptional performance. Try not to tie employee monitoring to just inefficiencies. 

Find out ways to reward well-performing employees, especially if employees are being pulled up for questionable productivity.

Move Beyond Metrics

We live in unique and tough times. Hardworking and talented employees may be stretched a bit too thin. It could be because of conditions at home or even deteriorating mental health. Make sure that managers take the time to talk to these employees with tact and a strong mindset of supporting them well. These employees are valuable and need to be retained. Ensure that managers are trying to understand the employee’s situation and focusing on helping them improve performance. 

To conclude an important but complex topic, only use intrusive employee monitoring methods if you have a legitimate reason. Don’t do it for the sake of it, because it’ll begin to look like employers spying on employees at home very easily. 

If you have any questions about time tracking, productivity, or even just the metrics to track reach out to us at @HarmonizeHQ.