Managing Remote Employees
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, approximately half of the United States workforce worked remotely leading to some companies now managing remote employees for the first. With the traditional American workday completely disrupted, many companies decided they needed to monitor work-from-home employees.
Though there are privacy and practicality concerns, work-from-home arrangements offer significant benefits for businesses. Companies can utilize remote technology to gauge productivity, identify inefficient processes, protect themselves from theft, and ensure information is not being handled insecurely or sent to competitors.
Since companies started allowing their employees to work from home in 2020, monitoring has continued to grow. According to a 2020 research report by Skillcast and YouGov, one in five businesses now tracks their employees’ activity online.
An April survey of 2,000 employers and 2,000 remote or hybrid workers by ExpressVPN illustrated how prevalent tracking software has become. In fact, 78% of managers said they use software to track employees’ performance or online activity, and 57% had adopted the technology within the last six months.
Here is a summary of the most common working-from-home monitoring practices.
Web History and Time Tracking Software
There’s an abundance of software on the market today that allows businesses to monitor work-from-home employees. According to the ExpressVPN survey, web history and time tracking top the list of closely monitored activities.
Web history tracking software records what has happened in an employee account, even if a browser history is cleared. Monitoring software can help employers see if employees are visiting work-related sites and for how long.
Time tracking software works similarly. These programs allow employers to track every file and app an employee accesses. The software tracks and monitors employees as they work, allowing the employer to see how much time team members spent on individual tasks, websites, or apps.
While time tracking software can monitor employees and make sure they are working, it’s often used to automate workflow and processes so that employees can work more efficiently.
Many computers also feature hidden software that creates a timeline of apps and websites the user visits during a session. The software then determines whether the websites or apps were productive or unproductive and sends an alert to a manager if something seems amiss.
Emails, Chat, and Messaging Logs
Third-party software, including popular communication tools like email accounts, Slack, Google Workplace, and Microsoft Teams, can also be monitored.
It is possible to monitor anything work-from-home employees write on company messaging platforms, though it is not always easy to review all the correspondence.
Email is even easier to monitor. None of the emails sent or received on a company account are private. If a company monitors an email account (or other work-related platforms), the employee will usually receive a notice that monitoring can take place.
Companies do need a valid business purpose to review emails. While there are many scenarios where companies could search, the issues monitored most commonly include lawsuits, thefts, and harassment.
Keystroke Monitoring and Periodic Screen Captures
Some companies use multiple tools when dealing with work-from-home employees. Keystroke monitoring and periodic screen captures are two of the most popular.
Keystroke monitoring records each key pressed on the keyboard. The monitoring can reveal how employees are spending their time. Like time tracking software, it can also be used to fix inefficiencies.
Periodic screen capture software will take a screenshot of an employee’s screen at predetermined intervals without knowing when the following picture will happen. It can be an effective tool for employers because it forces employees to remain on task. Some screen capture software also records entire work sessions, allowing employers to see what employees do on their computers during the workday.
Video and Microphone Recordings
Working from home monitoring goes beyond tracking keystrokes and Internet use. Companies can use software also to record video meetings, audio from microphones or webcams, and home office surroundings in real-time.
Some companies require that employee webcams and microphones be turned on at all times so conversations can happen in real-time like they would at the office. In most of these instances, audio is recorded from speakers and microphones.
Companies can also set up monitoring through keywords, both spoken and written. If employees were looking for a job, for example, there are software programs that will trigger an alert when the word “job” is typed.
Managing Remote Employees
While there are privacy concerns involved with monitoring work-from-home employees, there are many work-from-home benefits associated with strategic monitoring practices. As such, many businesses navigate potential privacy issues by simply notifying employees that monitoring can occur at any time. As remote work continues to grow, tracking and monitoring employee work has become a common practice in managing remote employees to ensure business growth.