A New York Times reporter voluntarily downloaded employee monitoring software, shared the information with his boss, and wrote about the experience in a recent article.
You can find out how little the software accounted for major parts of his job, how it captured some of his personal life, and how uncomfortable his boss was receiving the information from the article, which goes on to explain that trials for the software he used have tripled in the wake of COVID-19.
I want to talk about the idea of employee monitoring software, and how inherently flawed it is in the modern workplace.
Employees have been gaming technology since Homer Simpson used a drinking bird toy to continuously press his keyboard. While monitoring technology has advanced, I’m certain that the ability to manipulate these systems has advanced as well.
I can imagine a case in which, as the NYT writer pointed out, and employee on the phone with clients all day will be considered less productive than one that designed a program to scroll through websites, move the mouse around the screen, and register keyboard strokes while the actual employee sits on the couch and watches Netflix.
When it comes down to it, employee monitoring services may work in certain cases, such as monitoring cold calling for staffing company employees for example. However, it doesn’t exactly fit the way we know people work in the 21st century. Especially for remote employees, for whom these services have been designed.
Assume that the general work day goes from nine until five. A remote worker might sign on at 7:00 to get work done before going for a morning jog at 9:00 until 10:00. They might take a few more breaks throughout the day, but end up working from 5:00 until 7:00 to make up for those breaks. The employee gets all of their work done on time, but not during the mandated work hours.
Is that really a problem? If your answer is yes then I’m not sure I’d want to work with you. At the end of the day, I care that my employees get their work done, not that they get their work done within a specific, arbitrary window of time. If they hit the due date and do a good job, for all I care they could have done the entire assignment at three in the morning.
What really matters when it comes to an employee? Checking the right boxes or doing a good job? Because I promise there are plenty of employees that can check all of the boxes, sign in on time, sign out on time, never surf the web or check personal email during the workday, and do half as well in their job function as a coworker.
If an employee is available when they’re supposed to be, completes all of their tasks on time, makes few mistakes, and gets a 30/100 on their employee monitoring software, I still consider that a good employee. At the end of the day, employee monitoring services can only measure objective traits – time logged, keyboard clicked, cursors moved, websites visited. It can’t measure innovation, client relationships, new revenue streams created, and so on.
If you need employees that are essentially human robots, then monitoring services are certainly an efficient way to measure their productivity. If there is any subjectivity or creativity in their job function, I can’t see how monitoring services do anything but make them feel they are under the watchful eye of big brother. It will make them work in ways that don’t suit them, and will make them worse off for it in my opinion.