A male employee at his desk with a surveillance camera trained on him

Why Employee Surveillance Software Could Do More Damage Than It's Worth

September 22, 2021 Employee Experience
David Roe
By David Roe

Here’s food for thought. There has been a 63% average increase in the purchase of employee surveillance software since March 2021 compared to pre-pandemic average. This is a 24% increase compared to nine months prior.

The figures form part of an ongoing survey of these and other similar sets of figures by Top10VPN, an internet security company based in the UK. The figures were compiled by analyzing over 200 terms related to employee surveillance software, taking into account both generic and brand specific queries. This is what the survey showed:

  • Second wave of demand (from March 2021): 63% average increase since March 2021 compared to pre-pandemic average.
  • New normal: 58% more interest in employee surveillance since the pandemic was declared than before.
  • Most popular surveillance tools: Hubstaff, Time Doctor and FlexiSPY.

The research also indicated exactly what buyers are looking for in these offerings. Its analysis of 26 of the most popular employee monitoring companies revealed some of the functionality these companies offer, including:

  • Keystroke logging (81%)
  • Instant message (IM) monitoring (61%)
  • User action alerts (65%)
  • Remote control takeover (38%)

One software package offers the ability to “capture the passwords typed in many programs and websites” with their keystroke logging feature. IM monitoring allows bosses to monitor their staff’s private messages on popular social media chat platforms, and even on encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp. User action alerts notify employers when an undesirable behavior is occurring, allowing them to follow-up with monitoring or intervention if deemed necessary. The cherry on the top, and perhaps the most intrusive, is functionality that allows an employer to access workers’ devices and remotely takeover all functionality.

Related Article: It's Time to Take Another Look at Employee Monitoring

Should Employers Be Monitoring Workers?

If this growth seems concerning, the fact is that bosses have always monitored what their employees were up to, even before the digital workplace. It is also true that no one in the enterprise is entirely free of some kind of surveillance, generally in the interest of productivity, workers are often told.

While there are some who advocate and even encourage the use of such tools, it is far from a given that every company wants them. Gary Vari, CEO at Indonesia-based Lensa, an international recruitment and data services company, said the fundamental question to ask before investing in employee monitoring software should be is there a reason why employees should be monitored. For example, was there a large dip in productivity as a business transitioned to remote work?

“If the answer is no, then I would avoid playing Big Brother at all costs," he said. "It's a massive invasion of privacy and creates an adversarial relationship with employees, which is bound to increase resentment and could even convince some people you aren't worth working for. Keep in mind that you can absolutely have conversations about acceptable social media and internet etiquette with respect to cybersecurity while people are working from home.”

If the answer to that question is yes, make sure to rule out explanations that have nothing to do with an abuse of the honor system that lies at the heart of remote work. That said, if stress and other external factors aren't at play and people really are taking advantage of the remote work dynamic, then employee monitoring software shouldn't be off the table.

The Downsides of Employee Monitoring

Like many other people in recruitment and human resources, Joe Flanagan, senior employment advisor at Los Angeles-based VelvetJobs, an international agency that matches talent and jobs, advises against surveillance software. Despite the increasing trend of using surveillance and monitoring software, organizations would be better off if they didn’t participate in it.

“It is akin to leaders micromanaging their employees in the physical workplace, but this is worse as it is accompanied by an invasion of privacy,” said Flanagan.

He points out that, even looking beyond the laws and ethics, it is counterproductive and irrational to keep track of what workers are up to every minute. Everyone knows that even in the physical workplace, all of us don’t work all the time. Occasional breaks, random conversations, quick calls and a dozen other things employees do on company time is part and parcel of how businesses operate.

“As long as the set goals and targets are being delivered on time, it should be up to the employees as to how they choose to schedule their day, what time they work, and how quickly they are able to accomplish their goals,” he said. “Isn’t that the whole point of working from home? Increased flexibility and autonomy over your time so that you are able to live a life outside of your professional identity?”

Related Article: 5 Steps to Avoid Micromanagement in Remote Work

The Advantages of Employee Monitoring

Not everyone is convinced, however, that enterprises should avoid surveillance software. Greg Armor, executive vice president at Boston-based Gryphon.ai believes there is clearly a downside to this kind of software, but enterprise leaders should and will even need to invest in this kind of software as an aid to overseeing remote workers. Because teams are distributed across various locations, department leaders must introduce new strategies and methodologies to help keep employees on task and improve the overall performance of the team, he said.

This can lead to micromanaging, checking in too often on work and bogging down productivity. To keep teams operating successfully from remote locations, real-time visibility and AI-powered sales coaching tools could be the answer. "Managing remote workers can be challenging and many leaders find it difficult to ensure their employees feel supported and confident from a distance. To find the right balance, new technologies including AI and ML-powered sales tools are allowing employers to leverage in-the-moment insights to better understand how they can best coach and support remote sales reps," he said.

Armor pointed out that AI-powered sales technology is becoming one of the ways business leaders are able to remotely manage a team of professionals while gaining the metrics needed to successfully run a data-driven sales organization.

Technology has become a game changer in the way employees connect remotely, and by leveraging the most up-to-date systems and sales technology, company leaders can better manage employees with the right balance of support and trust while gaining the insights they need to successfully forecast revenue and meet quotas.

Surveillance Tools' Long-Term Effects

Employee surveillance tools are not the only solution to managing teams and making sure productivity remains consistent. While this may work for managers who can't be in several places at once, this is seen a lot differently to the average employee, said Mike Grossman, CEO of Redwood City, Calif.-based GoodHire.

The principle disadvantage is the clear and perceived breach of privacy and trust. Employees who are being monitored are immediately made aware that their employer refuses to take them at their word, and must instead commit to micromanaging to ensure that output remains consistent. This tends to have the opposite effect, demotivating employees and alienating them from the managers conducting the surveillance.

“This will only hurt your team's efficacy over time, and is likely to lead to a steady incline of employee turnover," Grossman said. "Surveillance is not the only solution. Reaching out to your team, setting short-term attainable goals, and demonstrating a high level of respect and trust are the best methods in keeping productivity high without the notable drawbacks."


Featured Research

Related Stories

woman holding her head in her hands looking tired, jar of sunflowers  on the table in front of her

Employee Experience

Your Digital Workplace Can Be a Cause – and Antidote – to Burnout

A nurse sticks a needle into a person's arm.

Employee Experience

The Vaccine Mandate Arrives Soon. Are You Ready?

2021 Employee Experience Leader of the Year Finalists

Employee Experience

Meet the 2021 Employee Experience Leaders of the Year

Register Now: Digital Workplace Experience Fall Session

DWX21 - Q4