Employee Monitoring, User Behavior Analytics

Bossware and the Future of Work

By Elizabeth Harz

Recently, there has been considerable coverage of “bossware” and a focus on draconian types of “surveillance” some companies are using to stay on top of remote and flexible workforces. Articles claim companies are accessing the camera on laptops and tracking every movement so that employees can’t even go to the bathroom.

In 1992, the New York Times ran a long article about Caller ID and how the new technology was an invasion of privacy. In 1995, reporters discussed how companies were policing “net surfing” as the internet started to gain traction at work and managers feared that proving access would distract employees from their jobs.

Where there is change, there is fear. Today, the stories about bossware signal that another change is underway.  Smart businesses are allowing employees to work in new ways, are using tools to enable that and are moving beyond fear to embrace the future of work.

Employee Monitoring Was Already Alive and Well

Before the pandemic, a third of companies used some form of employee monitoring. Today, that number is closer to 70%. Despite the widespread use of employee monitoring, the surveillance approach that makes headlines today is exceedingly rare. Typically, the employee monitoring happening today is to make sure employees are productive and that customer data and company property are safe.

The more common approach to monitoring is one that relies on non-intrusive tactics and helps protect employees, organizations and data.  Monitoring enables:

  • Understanding of new patterns and behaviors: The vast majority of managers use monitoring software to understand what their employees are doing now that they work from home or have a hybrid workweek. With the rise of hybrid policies organizations want ways to track days remote and days in office.  Managers can also see what hours employees are most productive, and what applications get most or least used.
  • The flagging of potential dangers with sensitive data: Companies can set alerts to ensure that employees are not misusing company information or to ensure compliance for requirements like HIPPA and GDPR.
  • Managers to see increases and decreases in productivity: Employee monitoring can be useful for managers to get a picture of productivity overall, and to use the insights to start conversations if productivity is markedly lower.

In an environment where many people are working from home, using their own devices, or working outside of the company network, employee monitoring is not just a good idea, it’s a necessity. Employee monitoring done right is not surveillance, and in fact, provides a host of benefits that can keep a workforce productive and businesses safe as millions of people shift to remote and hybrid work.

Workforce Behavior Analytics – technology for the Future of Work

One positive change that many companies are making is to shift their thinking from “monitoring” to “analyzing.” With software that helps companies understand the productivity patterns of their workforce, the focus can be on the productivity itself and not as much on the monitoring of employees.

Rather than consider a workforce to be a liability that needs to be reigned in, companies should consider their workforce as their greatest asset. Moving from employee monitoring to using workforce analytics creates a more proactive and modern approach.

Monitoring implies a somewhat passive “on” or “off” – either someone is working or they are not. Someone is shopping online during a meeting, or they are paying attention.

With an analytics approach, the data is an input into a new, continuously evolving process. If an alert appears, managers have an opportunity to start a conversation with an employee to learn more since they are less often co-located. If sensitive data is being accessed too frequently, it is not just about asking employees what they are doing, it’s an indication that the data needs to be safeguarded.

Getting employees and managers comfortable with this new way of working requires good communication. That doesn’t happen enough today. One study from Gartner found that 40% of employees surveyed never had communication from their employers about what is being monitored or for what purpose. This not only creates distrust, it can create lower morale and lower productivity, which can in turn encourage managers to implement more surveillance-like monitoring, creating a negative cycle.

As companies shift to using analytics to support a distributed workforce, communication is a powerful tool for learning and improvement. Successful companies not only explain what they monitor, they explain why. For example, if a company explains that data access needs to be tracked to follow regulations, or that managers will use productivity analytics to help understand how people are adjusting to a flexible schedule, managers can use this as the beginning of a learning process to maximize productivity and employee morale – and ultimately enable remote work for the long term. This approach is positive for the culture, fuels higher productivity and better retention, and is a great way to increase company performance in the face of a down market.

With changes in the way we work comes new processes and technologies. The best companies use transparency, communication and trust (not surveillance and fear) to ensure high productivity as we and the way we work evolves.

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About the author

Elizabeth Harz
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