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Remote work has become the new default in many sectors. As such, company leadership now has to find the best ways to support their remote staff members, especially when it comes to the tools employees need to continue doing their work. Since you can’t walk over to your employees’ desks and see how they’re doing, you’ll need new technological solutions to maintain the same level of productivity in your organization.

For many businesses, employee monitoring is the logical solution to overcoming the challenges of remote work while preserving the integrity and quality of your products and services. With the help of a managed service provider and remote monitoring and management software, you can oversee your employees’ work from anywhere, make sure they have everything they need to perform, and provide professional IT support when issues arise. Monitoring is just another tool you and your employees can benefit from while working from home.

Of course, employee monitoring does present its fair share of concerns for your business and your staff. Employees may have privacy concerns, and you have to ensure the investment in monitoring tools is worth it for your organization. As with any other expenditure or policy change, you need to learn the ins and outs of employee monitoring so you know what you’re getting into and can make it work for your business.

Types of employee monitoring

Though the idea is nothing new, the advancement of technology has paved the way for different types of employee monitoring. Some of the most common forms include:

  • Website tracking: Web tracking tools show what your employees are doing online, including what websites they are spending time on. This works for both remote and in-office employees and helps ensure they are spending an appropriate amount of time on non-work activities.
  • Application monitoring: These monitoring tools allow you to see how applications, tools, programs, and their associated infrastructure are used. They collect data and metadata that you can refer back to, offering a glimpse into the performance of the application.
  • Social media tracking: This type of monitoring refers to keeping an eye on employees’ personal and professional social media profiles, as well as their use of social media during work hours.
  • Email tracking: This type of surveillance involves reading company emails sent to and from your employees. It helps you keep an eye on internal and external communications.
  • Phone tracking: This method gives you the opportunity to record and listen to employees’ phone conversations, voice mail, and video calls. 
  • Keylogging: Keylogging software captures the strokes of a keyboard, allowing you to see what your employees type. This can provide a valuable record of how your employees are using their work devices, but there are limitations to how you can use keyloggers and questionable legality when using them in the workplace.
  • Time tracking: This involves making the time clock virtual. Just like in a more traditional setting, employees use a digital time clock to punch in when they start working and punch out when they finish. This could also involve manually completing timesheets each week or keeping track of employee time and activities.
  • GPS tracking: This method requires you to track the GPS location of your employees, so you can see exactly where in the world they are. However, this method typically only works when your employees use company-issued devices and vehicles. If you have a BYOD policy, you may not be able to use GPS tracking on employees’ personal devices.
  • Video surveillance: This type of monitoring has been a staple for many businesses for the last several decades. You need to set up video cameras and record the day-to-day activities of your employees and customers. While this may work in an office setting, it may not be feasible for remote organizations.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for employee monitoring. Depending on the unique needs of your business, one kind may work better than another. When looking at potential surveillance methods, it’s crucial to find one that’s well-suited to your organization.

You don’t need to commit to surveilling your employees and all of their activities 100% of the time; you can try selective monitoring. This can take many forms, but simply put, you do not need to monitor all employees equally or in the same manner. 

For instance, you may need to implement more thorough monitoring on employees who are struggling to ensure they can keep up with their work, while offering more leniency to employees who consistently meet performance goals. Taking a selective approach allows you to keep tabs on employees who need extra support, without invading their privacy or micromanaging them. 

Similarly, employee monitoring doesn’t always have to be a negative thing. It’s often touted as a way to deter and punish bad behavior, but it can also be used to discover and celebrate employee accomplishments. It can be difficult to know exactly how well your employees are performing, especially if you operate in a remote environment, but their successes still need to be acknowledged and appreciated. In this way, you can try to make monitoring a positive force, helping to boost its success in your workplace.

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Disadvantages to employee monitoring

Though it can be done successfully, there are some disadvantages associated with employee monitoring:


Ethics and feelings of distrust

There are ethical concerns when it comes to employee monitoring, especially as it relates to workplace morale. Employees may feel like you’re violating their privacy or don’t respect or trust them. This, in turn, can build resentment, reduce their trust in you, and decrease employee morale. 

Not only are disengaged employees less productive, but they are also more likely to leave your organization entirely. High turnover can harm your bottom line, put more stress on your remaining employees, and damage your company’s reputation among future candidates and applicants. In short, if you aren’t careful, monitoring could have the exact opposite effect you initially hoped it would.

While hurting some employees’ feelings is inevitable, there are ways you can implement monitoring ethically. Make sure your employees know that you plan to start monitoring them, including what methods you’ll be using, what information you’re looking for, and how you could use the data. You could even allow employees to agree to your monitoring policy in writing so you have a record of their consent.

Cost in time and resources

Monitoring employees takes time and costs money. You have to do your research to find the right monitoring tools, create a new policy, and then actually implement them in your organization. Once the system is in place, you then have to work to refine your tracking and management processes for maximum effect. You’ll also have to sift through all of the information you collect, particularly if you plan to use that data to improve your business

Spending time, money, and energy on employee monitoring potentially takes your attention away from other tasks or projects you need to work on. Depending on what tools you use and how involved you are, there could be a permanent shift in your workflow. It may ultimately be worth the investment, but there’s no way to completely avoid the costs associated with employee monitoring.

Legal implications and risks

You do take on a certain amount of legal risk when you choose to monitor your employees. According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), employers can legally track employee activity on work devices. Each state has its own laws regarding employee monitoring, though, which may be more restrictive than the ECPA. Before implementing any monitoring solutions, you need to make sure you are compliant with all federal, state, and local monitoring laws.

Even when following local monitoring laws, it’s easy to over-monitor your employees, which presents its own set of risks. Too much monitoring can give you access to personal employee information, including private communications, medical records, and sensitive financial information. You are then responsible for protecting those sensitive pieces of information and data. If you fail to do so and that information is leaked, you run the risk of harming your business’s reputation among future employees and clients alike, as well as legal trouble.

Indeed, if you aren’t careful, your monitoring activities could result in a lawsuit. As an employer, you do have the right to monitor your employee using many different means, but your employees also have a reasonable right to privacy. Monitoring that is intrusive, deceitful, or infringes on employees’ personal lives may violate that right to privacy. An intrusion of privacy could easily lead to a lawsuit against you or your organization.

Advantages to employee monitoring

Despite these drawbacks, there are some major benefits —  both for your organization and your staff — of monitoring your employees:

Increased productivity

Monitoring your employees can increase their productivity. Scientific research has determined that humans improve their performance when they have an audience. One study exploring the use of IT monitoring solutions found that employees increased their productivity if they knew their superiors were watching them. 

Essentially, monitoring employees can positively impact your bottom line. You can compound the benefits of monitoring by offering rewards and incentives. It’s thought that well-structured incentive programs can also be motivating for employees, encouraging them to improve their performance. Additionally, with increased insight into their performance, you can offer rewards more appropriately for increased productivity or particularly high-quality work.

Improved team performance

Employee monitoring lets you see what employees are doing with their workdays, including how they work together. With this information, you can create stronger teams who can improve how they work as a unit. You can also learn more about your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, assigning out work to maximize the former and minimize the latter. This results in more balanced teams that can produce higher-quality work more quickly.

All of this knowledge also benefits your staff. No one enjoys working with someone who avoids work, shirks their responsibilities, or is hard to communicate with. Your employees also probably prefer to work on tasks that aren’t unpleasant or a struggle for them. In other words, with the information gleaned from monitoring, you can make your team’s workflow and time at work more enjoyable.

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Though it requires some investment, employee monitoring done carefully may ultimately help your business save money. Monitoring solutions allow you to determine ways your employees are costing you. With employee monitoring, you can discover when someone is wasting company time or even committing time theft. 

Less dramatically, it can also help you see if your employees are struggling with certain tasks or are unable to meet certain productivity goals. This allows you to check-in with them and find a solution that helps them improve. Catching these issues early prevents any further loss and gives you the chance to start regaining your losses that much faster.

Increased internal security and protection from harassment

Finally, employee monitoring can have positive impacts on your cybersecurity and help protect your employees. There are many threats facing your clients and customers, but your employees and their personal information are also vulnerable to outside threats. With a monitoring tool, you can notice threats that your employees don’t, get alerted when someone accesses data or information they aren’t supposed to, and spot other types of suspicious or malicious behavior from internal and external sources.

Similarly, you may also uncover your employees’ inappropriate conduct. This may include the harassment of other employees or customers, information about being intoxicated while working, proof of theft, or other behaviors that reduce the quality and safety of your workplace. 

Ultimately, employee monitoring isn’t inherently good or bad. It all depends on what you plan to do and how you plan to use it in your organization. As long as you take care to respect employees’ privacy, employee monitoring can be highly advantageous for your staff and business as a whole.

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