In February of this year I made the decision to leave a job and do something completely different. I know, people leave jobs all the time – switching industries and even career paths…who cares? Well, this was a particularly tough decision for me because not only was I leaving my well-paying, very sturdy (albeit dry) position where I’d worked for a few years, made friends, and risen through the ranks, but I was going to a small startup. At the time I thought it could be something huge. Then again, being a startup, it might not. Oh, and I would be working remotely FULL-TIME. I’d only ever worked in an office(employee monitoring).
The whole team at this startup worked remotely and was spread all across the country (insert feelings of uncertainty and fear of the unknown here). The questions came fast and furious:
- How will we have Friday happy hours?
- Who will sing happy birthday to me in the middle of the workday?
- When will I listen to podcasts?
- What am I going to eat for lunch?
Fast forward just three short weeks and…that in-office life has all but vanished.
If I’m being honest, I loved working from home from about day 3 in my new role. It took me no time at all to get ready. I had time to eat a real breakfast. I got to pet my cat for a few minutes throughout the day. I ate lunch. I cooked dinner (what a concept!). My stress levels normalized. I worked out every day. In a nutshell, I felt great (minus the woes of the world). So, whether I was working remotely by choice or because of a worldwide pandemic, I immediately saw the upside, and six months in, I don’t know that I’ll ever go back if given the opportunity.
Now that I consider myself a WFH pro (like many of us), I believe I’m in a position to comment on a very common – and also controversial – topic that’s been top of mind throughout this remote revolution: employee monitoring. I should add that I work for a company that fits somewhere in the monitoring conversation, but mostly to highlight that that’s not what we do.
So, we commissioned a third-party study in July to gather real data about our thoughts on things like performance management, productivity intelligence, employee success and remote team management. One of the most telling findings was that an overwhelming majority of employees are open to their employer having visibility into their daily productivity. And, when asked what would be most beneficial to their productivity, the #1 answer was “visibility software.”
That employees are open to some kind of monitoring is a surprising suggestion at face value. Upon further examination, however, considering the implications of that kind of visibility presents a few logical explanations.
With greater visibility into how employees spend their days, managers can enhance training with more active and regular coaching, identify at-risk employees who may require additional resources, and work to replicate the behaviors of more successful team members.
Imagine if managers could reference actual data to monitor performance. They could highlight top performers and pinpoint the behaviors that lead to their success. They could identify lower performers and offer training in key areas. Leaders could very quickly understand how employees are working and proactively offer feedback. Think of it like continuous engagement or ongoing assessment.
A customer recently mentioned to me that, for them, the tool has minimized the need to micromanage. It offers full transparency between employees and managers and makes the feedback and coaching loop super easy. Findings from our study suggest that workers recognize this.
If an employee is putting in the work, why wouldn’t they want to be recognized for it?
Monitoring That’s Not an Invasion of Privacy
Let me be really clear here. By no means are we taking these results to suggest that invasive monitoring is a plus, or something that people want. We all know that employees deserve to be treated with trust and respect – without these basic things, it’s easy for them to become alienated and discouraged. Many employee monitoring solutions go beyond simply monitoring productivity, allowing employers to read emails, capture keystrokes and screenshots, and even enable live video feeds. No employee wants to feel like they’re not being trusted to do what they’re expected to do on a daily basis.
Finding out that you’re constantly under surveillance can have extremely negative effects on employee morale and stress levels, as well as the level of trust between employees and their employers. Employees who are being monitored in such an invasive way can quickly begin to feel like they can’t speak up, leaving team members constantly on edge, affecting the overall quality of work and greatly increasing the possibility of burnout. Ultimately, the result is more likely to be a decrease in productivity.
When employees suggest that they’re open to monitoring, transparency is critical. Employees need to be involved in the process – they should know exactly what is being monitored, why, and what you aim to do with the data collected. Assuring employees that they’re not the subject of Orwellian-style surveillance will assuage their fears and make it clear that they’re trusted members of the team.
It’s also wise to remember that all employees are different, and as such, will respond differently to situations. Even your best employees are affected by change, stress, and other outside factors. If your team is new to working from home, you’ll need to allow for some changes to their usual work habits due to the many stressors and other factors that may be affecting them. If a return to the office is on the horizon, some employees will need time to adapt to being away from home again. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to be there for your employees in their time of need, offering them the support and resources necessary so that they can overcome these challenges and return to their happiest and most productive selves.
Another interesting finding from the study we conducted is that employees liked the idea of viewing a productivity report of sorts for their managers. When asked why, the majority said they wanted to learn how to be more productive.
The Impact of Remote Work
It’s likely that by now, like me, many teams have grown accustomed to working from home, developing routines and best practices that help to support their productivity and efficiency in this strange new working environment. Challenges associated with remote working have probably started to rear their ugly head – the biggest one usually being how to keep remote workers engaged during the crisis.
With visibility into daily productivity, management teams gain access to a plethora of information about employees so they can make informed decisions and provide help to those who may be struggling with tools or resources, for example. But also think about that sales rep Ava who puts in 110% every day – call volume is through the roof, CRM activity is high – yet doesn’t see the revenue return. Most companies would give up on Ava after just a few months. They may not trust her work ethic or believe she’s putting in so much time. With proof, there’s an opportunity to train. Maybe Ava’s calling at the wrong times of day. Maybe her pitch messaging is off. Maybe her emails are confusing.
Employee Ava could really benefit from a visibility tool of some kind.
Productivity Has Improved But Beware of Burnout
The switch to working from home has been shown to keep productivity steady, with many businesses finding that the new remote work arrangements actually led to an increase in productivity. Just a few of the companies experiencing increased productivity during the pandemic include Cisco, Eventbrite, Deutsche Bank, Splunk, and Chegg, all of which have reported a number of surprising benefits to hosting a remote workforce. From increased customer service numbers and enhanced employee collaboration to completing projects far ahead of deadlines, there have been some surprising improvements during these unprecedented times.
Employees were no longer exhausted from long commutes, they didn’t have to deal with distractions in the workplace, and could now focus on the task at hand in a more flexible environment. Employers, too, have discovered that lengthy processes like meetings and regular check-ins weren’t actually as important as they once thought, as business continues to thrive without these things. Internal data from Prodoscore also supports the argument that employees are in fact more productive now, showing a 47% increase in daily productivity in March/April of 2020 versus the same time last year.
However, with remote work comes the risk of burnout. Employees can struggle with “turning off work,” and clearly distinguishing between home life and work life. The boundaries are blurred, which can be detrimental to health. Another key benefit of “monitoring” then may be preventing burnout and helping to establish boundaries. Managers would know when employees are working too many hours, when their workload needs some rethinking, and when projects need to be reprioritized.
Now more than ever employees need to feel supported. Monitoring is one way to do that. Just do it the right way. Tracking keystrokes, viewing browser activity, and watching people through webcams (how is this even legal?) are not it.