What are the advantages and disadvantages of monitoring your remote workers?

There has been a surge in popularity of technologies and tools designed to monitor employee productivity and at-desk time, to seek reassurance that work is still being done, outside the office.  But monitoring remote employees is a contentious subject.  Jason Fried, author of Remote; Office Not Required believes that if you don’t trust your employees, you’ve got the wrong employees, whilst some CEOs suggest that monitoring technologies is as much to protect the remote employee as to check up on them, citing concerns around monitoring employee mental health.  There are also some important legal issues to consider, around monitoring remote workers.  Let’s take a look at the arguments for and against:

The advantages of monitoring remote workers include:

Improved employee accountability– “watched workers” are arguably less likely to be idle, or distracted away from the desk as they know their work is being monitored and are accountable for the time they spend at work.

Improved workplace productivity – having more visibility over time taken to complete projects, or insight into time spent in meetings etc may create opportunities to reduce inefficiencies or identify patterns in work energy, output etc to create more efficiency. In fact there are a number of time tracking technologies that can offer powerful insights for remote workers and their managers, giving them visibility of how their day has been spent which in turn creates opportunities for reflection on how improvements to productivity might be made

Monitoring employee mental health – monitoring remote workers can help fulfil an employer’s legal – and moral – obligations safeguarding their mental wellbeing, as active hours are monitored so excessive hours would be immediately noticeable

Disadvantages of monitoring remote workers include;

Legal issues – there are a number of potential legal pitfalls that need to be carefully considered before monitoring employees, particularly when monitoring employees using visual means, in their own home.  These disadvantages are generally confined to monitoring software rather than time tracking software – but many of the time tracking software options track sites visited and time spent on them, which raises some thorny issues around privacy.

Micro-management – nobody likes to be micro-managed, and being monitored in an “over the shoulder” way can absolutely feel like a form of micro-management.  It can also make managers more likely to step in and intervene in work, as they have added visibility– this could be advantageous at times, but as with any form of micro management, the net effect more likely contributes to feelings of distrust and disempowerment

Feelings of distrust – the biggest objection to monitoring employees – working remotely or otherwise – is the message it sends about the extent to which a company trusts its employees.  Resentment may arise, leading in turn to reduced productivity and a less receptive work ethic.  Most monitoring software comes with a host of features enabling employers to emphasise the productivity, accountability and collaboration benefits, to help overcome this.

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