In pursuit of growth and higher levels of business performance, business leaders continue to seek new ways to unlock the true potential of their workforce. That’s one reason why the use of employee monitoring technology is on the rise. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 8 in 10 business leaders surveyed said that collecting and using workforce data drives business growth. This Accenture survey also found that 62% of organizations were leveraging new tools to collect data about employees including performance, attendance, and productivity information but only 30% of leaders were very confident that the data is being used in a highly responsible way.
If your business is considering the use of employee monitoring technology, it’s important to note that this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are privacy rights and data security issues to consider and businesses must prioritize the proper handling of data to preserve employee trust.
There are many digital tools and software options businesses can use for employee monitoring. Learn how other businesses are using this technology to monitor performance, attendance, productivity and more. Find out how employees feel about the use of employee monitoring and workplace surveillance technology. Plus learn why business leaders need to clearly define goals and specific objectives before beginning to monitor employees. As you build out your employee monitoring plans, be sure to consider business ethics, privacy, and security issues.
How businesses are using employee monitoring technology
A recent Gartner analysis noted that employers are increasingly using technology to monitor employees such as analyzing the text of email and social media messages and gathering biometric data to understand how employees are using workspaces. Likewise, more employees say they are comfortable with the use of monitoring technology as long as they know why and how it’s being used. Gartner points out that from 2015 to 2018, employee comfort levels with email monitoring increased from 10% to 30%.
There are many other ways employers can monitor employees to evaluate performance and productivity including:
Time and attendance systems such as clock-in/clock-out
GPS tracking on company vehicles and devices
Security codes or cards to limit and record access to specific areas or files
Utilizing application usage tracking, screen recording, or keylogging software
Security cameras or biometric sensors
Once this data is collected, it can be analyzed to help uncover problems like absenteeism, harassment, and unsafe working conditions. It can also pinpoint bottlenecks so work can be redistributed and even reduce theft and prevent data security breaches.
How employees feel about monitoring technology
There is another side to employee surveillance. Once the COVID-19 pandemic forced more employees into work-from-home arrangements, thousands of businesses began utilizing monitoring software to not only record active work hours, but also actually watch and observe workers throughout the work week “mandating always-on webcam rules,” multiple check-in times per day, and scheduled team social activities.
Though well-intentioned, business leaders often don’t realize that the very systems they’ve installed to boost productivity and make workers feel more connected actually serve to blur the lines between work and personal life and cause workers to feel “incredibly stressed out.” If the monitoring data is not used responsibly, employees are left feeling as if their privacy isn’t valued and they aren’t trusted—which ends up negatively impacting productivity.
Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons of employee surveillance and decide to proceed with the implementation of monitoring tools, it’s important to be transparent with your workforce. Because so many employees feel uncomfortable being monitored, it’s crucial that business leaders communicate the purpose of your monitoring and how it aligns with your business goals.
More than three-quarters (77%) of Americans would be comfortable with their employer monitoring their digital activities as long as the company is transparent about it.
However, 70% would consider leaving a company if monitoring took place without their prior knowledge.
Business ethics and data privacy concerns
From both a legal and ethical standpoint, monitoring should be within reason; in fact, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 allows businesses the right to monitor employee verbal and written communications as long as there is a legitimate business reason that “definitively outweighs any potential harms to the privacy rights of employees.” Other privacy laws such as the GDPR emphasize that monitoring must be limited to the minimum extent required to achieve the objectives of your company. US-based companies should be prepared to shift policies as the privacy landscape continues to evolve and provide more protections to individuals.
Transparency helps preserve employee trust
Being highly transparent with employees about your company-wide monitoring practices may help avoid legal problems and make your employees feel better. Above all, employers must remember that they are also responsible for protecting and safeguarding all employee personal data—whether it’s basic personal and employment information or data collected from monitoring such as browsing history.
Here are some best pract
ices businesses should follow when considering the implementation of employee monitoring or surveillance technology:
Transparency – It can’t be stressed enough. Employers must understand and share the following information with employees about the purpose if monitoring, how and when it will be used, and what will be done with the data/information. It’s important to work with employees, also known as collaborative monitoring, to preserve trust.
Collect data-driven, insight-oriented information. Monitor and use data responsibly. Don’t use employee monitoring technology as a way to broadly collect large amounts of data about an individual employee. Instead, prioritize anonymity by using privacy-first features and limit the scope and subject of your monitoring to a particular location, application, or task.
Eliminate any discrimination. A recent article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) notes that employers should continually monitor their own systems to ensure that they are not disproportionately affecting diverse groups. When monitoring, it’s important to ensure that surveillance isn’t focused solely on one particular group, instead everyone in the organization should be monitored to the same extent.
Be human. Monitoring should not just be used as a looming threat. You can also use it to incentivize employees to be more productive and reward them when certain goals are achieved. Additionally, HBR points out that employers should go into monitoring with the acceptance that even your best workers will not always be at the top of their game all the time – if the numbers aren’t what you want them to be after monitoring, take into account special circumstances and focus on creative solutions.
When to seek outside expertise
Remote employee monitoring is a new concept for many small and midsized businesses. You will want to establish a written policy for any decisions you undertake. You also need to be certain your company is staying on the right side of data privacy compliance. If you’re in doubt about how to proceed, you might want to get some help with the issues. Consulting with your business attorney or IT services provider can help business owners better understand the legal issues and technology options available.