• Dave Bates

Avoiding the employee surveillance trap

Why you shouldn't use a remote employee monitoring tool - and what to do instead



For some companies, this is an incredibly difficult transition. For those who weren't able to be as prepared, there are many who offer what looks like a quick fix for knowing what remote employees are doing.


One of these "solutions" is to install remote monitoring software. Employers use a remote workforce management system software to make sure workers are at their desk for the required amount of time during the day and are spending time in the "right" systems.


There's a huge problem with remote worker management systems and none of those companies will tell you about it.


But I will.

The problem


A core challenge with this kind of solution is that it measures the wrong thing.


These solutions provide the same kind of value that a university gets when they implement clickers in large classes.


Are you present?

*click*


Are you paying attention?

*click*.


In rapidly growing businesses, of course we value staff who are present and alert.


But we value progress toward goals more.


The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently posted an article about weighing the legal risks of tool-based remote worker management. In the article, they offered this statistic:


According to a June study by Gartner, 26 percent of HR leaders report having used some form of software or technology to track remote workers since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. That's up from 16 percent in April, when the pandemic was taking hold. The tracking includes monitoring of work computer usage, employee e-mails or internal communications, work phone usage, and employee location or movement.

Monitoring Remote Workers, SHRM.org


SHRM is wise to advise on the legal and privacy implications.


And, it misses the most critical issue that business owners care about more than simply staying out of court.


In the same article, SHRM cites another survey that speaks to how employees feel about the monitoring systems. (Here's a spoiler - they don't trust employers who use them.)


Employees are the lifeblood of every business that has them. They are the primary way we deliver value to clients and customers.


Trust is a critical factor. On both sides. It takes a long time to gain. It can be lost in an instant - and, sometimes, forever.


If automated surveillance software solutions rapidly destroy trust, what can we do instead?

The Solution


Here's the short version of 6 steps you can take right now instead of implementing remote monitoring software systems that erode trust while exposing you to increased legal and privacy risks:

  1. Decide whether or not you've got the right people.

  2. Make sure they know the company or team expectations.

  3. Allow them to participate in defining the answer to "how are we going to do this most effectively?"

  4. Work together to define the goals for this week, this month, and this quarter.

  5. Talk to your team.

  6. Help your team own their results.


If you're willing to invest in a technical solution, I hope you'll be willing to invest a little more time here.


These suggestions will save you money and, more importantly, they'll improve the quality of your team's output.

Do you have the right people?


If you don't have the right people, a technology-based remote worker monitoring system won't help you anyway. Here's another quote from the same SHRM article:

One way organizations use the technology is to track the time remote employees spend in productive versus unproductive or "nonwork-related" applications or websites, Sutton says. The tools have the ability to gauge active versus idle time spent in targeted areas.

Is your primary measure of success the amount of time someone is clicking around in Salesforce and Outlook vs. Facebook and Instagram?

What does the team or company expect?


If you think you have clear expectations, now is a great time to make sure your team heard the thing you think you said.


Have you ever played "the telephone game"?


One way to be sure you're in alignment is to ask each person, individually, what they think the expectations are for their remote work.


How do they see their own personal accountability for the results they produce?

What are your specific, measurable goals?


This is one of the most important steps in "monitoring" your remote workforce.


Every single person on your team should know:

  1. what they're responsible to produce and

  2. when that result must be done.

The most effective teams are those in which the leader works with their team to define the path forward.


A person who helps plan the steps to a goal is far more likely to take personal responsibility for achieving it.


How have you engaged your staff in defining what happens next?

How often are you talking with your team?


When a leader and individual contributor commit to regular check-ins (daily or weekly), the chances of goals being "off-track" are much lower.


The percentage of missed targets and failed deliverables goes down even more when there's a mutual commitment to showing the work.


This isn't the time to micromanage your team.


It is the time to be available, connected, and aware of progress. When you see the work product, it is an opportunity to let people know things like:

  • You've done a great job - it's good enough and we can move on from here!

  • It looks like things might be giving us trouble here, how can I help?

  • Things are moving along well, what difficulties do you think will show up that we can plan now to address?

The operative word is "with". When your team knows they are adding value and you are there to help, great results will happen.


In fact, you might be surprised at how often your team begins to tell you about the good (and challenging) things that are happening.


No complicated software tools required.


More importantly, your team is happy and productive. Your stress level might still be elevated - but it won't be because you don't know what your team is doing.


If you're dealing with a tough situation (maybe you don't have the right people after all), there's a good chance I can help.


I've been a remote worker, manager, and leader for many years. I've led teams across the United States and around the world.


I never used remote employee management software to do it.


My teams consistently outperformed other teams.


You can be the leader that experiences the same kind of results. Please call or fill out my contact form and let me know you'd like to talk.



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