According to Gartner, the number of large enterprises that use employee monitoring tools has doubled since the onset of the pandemic and it will continue to rise. Employers have many remote work monitoring tools at their disposal. However, studies indicate that the intensified control over remote employees may bring businesses more harm than good.
In April 2020, the global demand for employee monitoring software increased twofold. The frequency rate of the search phrase “how to monitor employees working from home” rose by 1705%. The sale of systems tracking employee activity spiked.
The challenge posed by the implementation of remote work has not been eliminated. On the contrary – just to give an example, in April 2023, new regulations regarding remote work were added to the Polish Labour Code. Therefore, one may reasonably predict that the popularity of remote work (including the hybrid mode) will continue to rise. We will still be facing the fundamental question whether employees working from home or another place outside the company premises should be monitored. And if so, how should it be done?
Work monitoring is an indispensable tool for production companies, industrial plants and logistics operators that work in transit, with machines, and along production lines. Work monitoring enables quick detection and elimination of downtime and irregularities in how business processes function. It also enhances the level of employee safety. However, when it comes to intellectual work (which is the type of work usually performed by remote employees), monitoring seems far from effective. In such situations, employers should switch to task-based work, says Sebastian Młodziński, CEO at TIMATE.
More often than not, employers still resort to various ways of exerting their control over employees who work remotely. ExpressVPN’s report says that the most frequent methods include checking the Internet browsing history and the time spent online, the use of applications, real-time screen monitoring, and active working hours. Furthermore, employers use screen capture tools and they go through chats and message logs.
Video conferences and phone calls are their favourite ways to verify if employees are actually doing what they should be doing. 41% of employers prefer e-mail reports, 40% choose programs designed for reporting tasks and results, while 26% use software that measures the time devoted to particular tasks.
Such practices are extremely popular. The survey conducted for Vmware in 2021 says that already back then 84% of Polish entrepreneurs admitted that they used or were planning to implement tools to monitor employee performance during hybrid work. Another survey (Microsoft Annual Work Trend Index Report 2022) gives us an insight into what actually motivates employers. It says that as many as 85% of responding managers have doubts about the engagement of employees who work remotely.
Work monitoring tools will not do their job if they are used just to keep employees in check. My experience tells me that Polish entrepreneurs are starting to see that effective monitoring of work is not about controlling the employees, but that it should consist in analysing the use of the working time and the flow of business processes for the purpose of creating a more friendly and more efficient work environment that would benefit both employees and employers, explains Sebastian Młodziński from TIMATE.
Monitoring – a double-edged sword
Though the market provides the tools and the law defines how they can be used, there are more and more studies and opinions which question the validity of remote work monitoring. A report by the European Research Council indicates that monitoring may decrease the level of employee satisfaction and increase stress, which, in turn, can intensify employee rotation. Gartner’s experts point out that work monitoring causes anxiety which leads to occupational burnout, because remote employee have difficulties “turning themselves off”. Afraid that they are constantly under surveillance, they keep making their workday longer.
Another thing is that employees dislike control systems, because they are not sure about the data collected by the employers. 41% of respondents say that no one in their organisation has informed them about the type of collected data, the reasons for data collection and the ways of using such data. According to Gartner, even when such information is provided, employees have difficulties understanding it because of its low quality.
The conclusions of the Microsoft Annual Work Trend Index Report 2022 also suggest that remote employees should have more freedom. As many as 87% of respondents assert that the home office mode has not affected their effectiveness. Gartner’s studies indicate that flexibility in terms of the working place and time as well as the selection of co-workers may boost employees’ performance.
To monitor or not to monitor?
What should employers do? It seems there is no one simple answer. Of course, when employees work remotely, it also needs to be formally verified and documented that they actually perform the contract and their duties. For this purpose, electronic time and attendance systems come in handy, since they can be also used within remote/hybrid work models. As a result, employees can register the start of work, the end of work, the number and length of breaks, and the location they work from. Such information is needed by payroll departments and individuals in charge of HR or financial settlement of contracts and agreements. So formal control cannot be avoided.
Another thing is the monitoring of what employees do precisely. When it comes to remote work, it is better to choose a different way of assessing its effectiveness.
Entrepreneurs should strike a happy medium. It is, of course, impossible to switch monitoring off all together, but by constant checking whether employees sit at their computers and what they write in their e-mails, you won’t make them more effective or improve their results. Considering what the studies indicate, I would go so far as to say that this approach will make them demotivated and disaffected, comments Sebastian Młodziński from TIMATE. It seems that the best solution here is task-based work, because what really counts is the actual amount of work performed by employees, not the number of times they clicked the mouse. In other words, it is a good idea to know where the employee sleeps, but it makes no sense to check under the bed.
The practice of organising remote work is a relatively new thing. However, employers will have to face the necessity of providing their employees with the possibility of working in a remote or hybrid model. The sooner they develop standards acceptable by all, the easier it will be for them to adapt to changing market conditions and expectations of employees.