Is Employee Monitoring Software Worth the Trouble?
Remote work has increased managerial concerns about their workforce’s productivity while out of sight, causing an uptick in surveillance and monitoring apps. In recent years, the flood of employee monitoring applications into the market became collectively known as "Bossware." In essence, Bossware apps are billed to enhance workers’ productivity through automatic time-tracking and analytics. But employees suspect it goes far beyond that.
“There are many different types of Bossware," said Sam Shepler, the CEO of Boston-based Testimonial Hero. "Some track productivity, some track activity based on clicks and screenshots, and some only track team productivity (not giving individual reports).”
While the software can provide a valuable and essential function in some situations, it can also be intrusive and harmful. Many employees have reported feeling concerned about the invasion of privacy and security these apps may pose and say the practice goes far beyond time-tracking to include logging information on keystroke/click, laptop screenshots and workspace video recordings.
So, is employee monitoring software ethical? Let's look at both sides of the Bossware coin to find out.
The Case for Employee Tracking/Monitoring Software
There are four main reasons why remote work leaders may require the use of employee monitoring software.
1. Real-Time Visibility into Habits and Patterns
Replicating the hands-on, close contact monitoring and efficiency of in-office environments can be challenging with remote work. In a physical office, it can be easier to assess an employee's performance by observing their workstation or how busy they are. Bossware provides managers with similar visibility into the working habits of an employee while working remotely, enabling them to assign tasks more effectively and remain productive.
Businesses that employ workers on an hourly or time-based contract may find it essential to know, for payroll purposes, the exact number of hours employees spent on the job. Bossware enables managers to track working hours, ensuring organizations are getting the most value from their investment.
3. Productivity Boost
For many companies, the primary benefit of Bossware is to boost remote-work productivity. Employees who know they are being monitored in theory could be motivated to go the extra mile and put more effort into company projects with minimal distractions. In turn, this can boost productivity and performance beyond what they would be without the software.
Data and server security when working remotely is a concern for all companies. It can, however, be challenging for managers to know what employees are doing, whether they are visiting malicious sites or using unsecured networks — and how safe the company data is. Bossware can mitigate security risks by restricting employee access to specific sites, hiding an employee’s IP address from servers and protecting the network against malicious software attacks that can lead to downtime or have financial implications.
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The Intrusive Nature of Bossware
Even though Bossware offers benefits for managers and company leaders, employees don’t always find the idea appealing or harmless. Several concerns have been raised about the invasive nature of monitoring or gathering data on employees. Some Bossware solutions even collect data without the employees' knowledge or consent, leading to privacy and security concerns.
"Traditional Employee Monitoring solutions rely on invasive 'big brother' type surveillance, which breaches employee privacy and erodes trust," said Nicole Moore, a senior analyst at Saratoga, Calif.-based DTEX Systems.
She said while the case for using these solutions is to track employee performance and increase productivity, they often lead to a toxic work culture where most employees eventually attempt to circumvent the tracking/monitoring software.
Related Article: 3 Ways to (Re)gain Your Team's Trust
Improved Insights at the Cost of Trust
Bossware can provide value when managing a remote workforce. On one hand, it can improve productivity, track time and help protect against malicious attacks. "If you’re worried about hackers gaining access to important data or if you think employees might be wasting time on social media during work hours, then a proxy like Bossware could be just what you need," said Mark Surprenant, general manager at Lee's Summit, Mo.-based Bennett Packaging.
On the other hand, organizations need to be aware of the negative impact an invasive solution can have on the workforce. "It's important to be as transparent and honest as possible,” said Shepler. Employers who choose to use Bossware should prioritize workforce privacy by only collecting minimal and essential data, ideally anonymous data that can help inform the employee experience.