What inspired this article is this TikTok floating around social media about a remote worker hyping mouse jigglers as a way to beat bossware. It was stunning that an employee had to go out of pocket to buy a gizmo just to have the peace of mind to do her job.
Some companies, thankfully not a lot, are using keyboard and mouse tracking software, so remote workers are accountable for every solitary second they're on the clock. At first, I found this strange, then the more I thought about it the more disturbing it became to me.
This technology goes by many names including employee monitoring software, or employee accountability software, or employee spyware. Regardless of how these companies brand themselves, it gets remote work all wrong and actually exacerbate the problem they’re trying to solve.
One of the benefits of remote work on the employee side is that there is some digital distance between management and their remote team. Most workers use this distance to tailor their workflows to optimize personal performance and productivity.
Time is not a renewable resource. Remote work saves time by removing commuting, clock-watching, and distractions from the equation.
Managers save enormous amounts of time by not micromanaging their employees. A healthy digital distance encourages employees to approach them with only the most urgent and pressing problems.
Management can now focus on macro-level strategy and planning rather than being party to every pittling detail of their employees' workflows.
Real-time personnel tracking and employee monitoring software brings these blockers and problems into remote teams with a vengeance. This technology brings problems that only existed in the office into remote teams.
Instead of maximizing productivity, remote workers will spend more time double-checking with their managers that they’re on task and second-guessing every move in fear of tattleware.
They’re operating under the misguided assumption that workers can only be productive in the office. That’s not true.
According to Owl Lab’s State of Remote Work Report 2021, 55% of workers report working more hours remotely than at the physical office, and 67% are more productive while working at home.
People are getting more work down in four hours at home than eight hours in the office. They’re in their element and distraction-free. We’ve all been guilty of watching the clock and stretching out tasks in the office. They don’t need to knuckle through a cacophony of clacking keyboards and idle chatter.
Remote cuts the fat from the workday.
Managers who use employee monitoring software want to get the most bang for their buck, nothing wrong with that, but they’re focusing on incorrect metrics. You can’t measure productivity in time but in deliverables.
As long as you get the desired business outcomes, there is no need to zero in on the granular minutiae of your employee’s “real-time productivity.” Let people make their own hours and workflows and judge the quality of their work rather than the time they clock in refreshing their email.
If your company gets your desired outcome then whether your employee was away from their keyboard for an hour is immaterial. Companies who use employee monitoring software need to critically reassess their priorities.
Do I have any data to back this up? Nope. Some things are just intuitively true. You don’t need a comprehensive research study to show a correlation between bear poking and bear attacks.
It’s safe to say that any employee constantly subjected to surveillance, bean-counting, and micromanaging will sooner or later look for the door. The stress of having an invisible eye watching you while you work and constantly self-correcting to meet impossible standards will be too much to bear.
They can easily make a lateral move to a company that respects their privacy and personhood. Many leading remote-first companies have embraced async work models and flexible hours. Not just because it boosts productivity and employee engagement, but also because it is simply a good business practice.
It’s just plain wrong. Even if employees sign some policy or waiver, it’s still coercive. The choice between your livelihood and your privacy is not a real choice. The whole employer-employee relationship begins with the underline assumption that it’s likely that new hires at best lack work ethic or, at worst, are potential wage thieves and liars.
Making it a “ take it or leave it” condition that employees tacitly agree that this assumption is even a vaguely valid reason to use a virtual watchdog is a violation of a person’s self-worth. They have to admit on some level that there is some justification for believing they’re untrustworthy.
Monitask, a industry leader in employee monitoring SaaS, says it is ” an employee productivity tool, but it is not a spying tool. You cannot run Monitask without user permission or auto-start screenshot monitoring. User needs to press the start button when they work in order to start time tracking.”
Whether there is a veneer of consent or not, this is still an invasive, needless technology. Whether surviellance is known or covert, it still erodes employee trust. Most employees are smart enough to know that the money spent in purchasing this software could have been used to make employee experience better or be invested in actual productivity boosting tools like Katch and Almanac.
This gaslighting manipulation twists an employee’s sense of self. If this technology had any actual value, then it would be at least understandable why a company would use such tactics, but because there isn’t, so it’s doubly unethical.
The most frustrating aspect of employee monitoring is how silly and needless it is. Most people go into business with the intention to make an impact, change the world, and make money. All worthy pursuits. Yet, some people start businesses to be the lords and ladies of their own, little fiefdoms. It’s this latter group I imagine are purchasing this software.