The move to home working has prompted more businesses to invest in more digital, online staff-monitoring tools to help with transparency and productivity.
Working at home because of the pandemic has led to companies wanting to monitor employee online activity and employees becoming concerned about how this could impact upon their privacy.
Real-time, employee tracking/monitoring tools include software such as StaffCop, Teramind, Hubstaff, Time Doctor, Flexi Spy, and CleverControl. The primary focus of these tools is to enable managers to measure the productivity of employees and to flag-up any potential issues e.g. employees not working within company guidelines, or employee productivity levels indicating that support/training/help is needed. Also, monitoring can reveal evidence of other serious issues e.g. bullying.
The kinds of metrics and details that employee monitoring software solutions can highlight are:
- Taking sample screenshots/recording screens.
- Whether employees are active/inactive during working hours.
- How much time is spent on the Internet, plus whether games are being played or social media accessed too much.
- Whether employees are using work devices for work or private purposes.
Whilst many industries monitor employee activity and productivity in a certain way, the current physical division of the workforce, particularly in service industries, away from the office and any normal office-based monitoring methods has led to an increase in demand for and the use of employee monitoring/tracking software solutions.
For example, while only 30 per cent of companies monitored their employees this way in 2015, this figure rose to 50 per cent in 2018 (Gartner) and it was predicted (Gartner) that 80 per cent of companies would be monitoring employees anyway by 2020.
Research by Accenture in 2019 found that 62 per cent of workers said that their organisations were using new technologies. When the pandemic hit, however, a Top 10 VPN study found that demand for employee surveillance software (based on internet searches) increased a massive 87 per cent in April and this carried on into May where searches were 71 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels. Internet searches for the phrase “work from home monitoring software” rose over 4,000 per cent in April and remained at over 2000 per cent.
Think They Are Being Monitored
One other interesting study by ‘Clutch’ in August revealed that 21 per cent of respondents believe that their companies use employee monitoring software to track their activities and only 10 per cent of employees would have more trust in their company if that company used monitoring software to track their work.
The Law and Advice
Concerns about employee monitoring focus on the issues of data protection (the data gathered about individual employees) and privacy. Laws relating to the monitoring of employees include Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights whereby individuals have a non-absolute right to respect for their private and family life and correspondence and GDPR. Under GDPR, data needs to be processed lawfully, fairly, and transparently as well as being collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a way incompatible with those purposes. Also, monitoring data must be adequate, relevant, and limited to what is necessary for those purposes.
Further guidance comes from the ACAS which (on its website) notes that although employers can monitor employees, it should be remembered that workers are entitled to some privacy at work and employers must tell employees about any monitoring arrangements and the reason for it. Employers should have procedures in place setting out what is and what isn’t allowed, and these procedures should be made clear and understood by all workers before monitoring begins. Generally, employers must have a genuine reason to carry out covert monitoring such as criminal activities or malpractice, and any monitoring should be limited, targeted and within certain times, and employers should also have regard for private communications.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Employee monitoring software has been used for many years as a tool to help manage productivity and ensure that company policies and procedures are adhered to. The upsurge in demand this year is, however, an understandable reaction by businesses as they try to very quickly adapt to having to suddenly manage a remote workforce and yet maintain standards and styles of management that are consistent with their business. Monitoring employees in this way can bring many business benefits such as giving closer and unbiased insights, saving costs, freeing-up management time and getting early warnings. It is important, however, to understand that there are rules and guidelines to adhere to and that keeping employee trust, maintaining morale and displaying behaviour that sends positive motivational messages to employees can also be contributors to productivity.
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