The Cabinet Office has announced it will start monitoring civil servants that work from home in an effort to get more of them back to the office. But does employee monitoring software work, and how should you implement it in your workplace?
Before he departed the Cabinet Office, minister Jacob Rees-Mogg had famously encouraged civil servants to return to their office desks by leaving ‘sorry I missed you’ notes at their workstations. Now the Cabinet Office has announced it will implement computer monitoring software on the home computers of its staff in an attempt to encourage more of them back into work (the implication being that staff will only be monitored at home, not in the office).
Andrew Pepper-Parsons, head of policy at charity Protect, told City AM that “monitoring of staff devices is unlikely to rebuild trust between civil servants and ministers” in the wake of partygate.
Leaving aside the specifics of this case, what are the pros and cons of employee monitoring software and, if you feel it would be right for your organisation, how should you implement it without causing unrest?
How does monitoring software work?
It varies from platform to platform. Some systems monitor mouse activity, others take regular screenshots to ensure employees are on work-related screens. A third uses GPS to ensure workers are where they say they are/should be. By the end of 2020, as this report notes, almost 30% of European and US companies had implemented some form of employee tracking.
The benefits and disadvantages of employee monitoring software
The immediate reaction to employee monitoring among workers is often a Big Brother-style feeling of mistrust. One major disadvantage of such software is that it risks exacerbating problems between staff and management. It’s not just about the surveillance and trust aspect – it’s the fact that companies that already face major challenges in handling vast quantities of secure data suddenly have lots more to deal with.
Some companies refusing to adopt staff monitoring do so because it simply doesn’t feel like the right cultural fit.
Then there’s the ROI question. The purpose of employee monitoring software is to improve productivity. If you don’t have a productivity problem, then the risks of bringing in a monitoring system may outweigh the benefits.
Yet the benefits are there. From an employer perspective, monitoring software provides an answer to that most basic question to individual employees: I don’t know what you do all day. It gives employers the same sort of transparency over their in-house team that they may already get from contractors. It may also help employees feel their manager does have some grasp of what their work involves.
For workers, monitoring software can identify areas for improvement and give mangers the information they need to be able to actively help their people work smarter. Some employees value the fact that the monitoring software keeps them on track and helps them manage their day more effectively.
How to implement monitoring software in your business
Whether monitoring is seen as a valuable tool or a trust-damaging licence to snoop largely depends on the way you implement it. Transparency is vital, which is why it’s important to only implement a system with full knowledge of staff. In addition:
- Consult before implementation with staff and unions
- Ensure your plans are legally compliant
- Choose software that offers greater insight than merely ‘spying’ on staff. Ensure functionality will, for example, provide data that benefits development and/or time management
- Explain not just the ‘what’ of the implementation (that is, what the system will monitor) but the ‘why’. Be clear about the reasons for implementation and the benefits (for all parties) that you expect to come from this
- Ensure any data collected is wholly secure
- Create a formal monitoring policy and get everyone in the business to sign up to it
- Abide by the policy, ensuring the extent of the system’s use is as you promised
Consider staging implementation
Even with all the above steps in place, introducing monitoring software when the business uses no other employee-benefitting software may come as a shock to the system. You may enjoy better results by first implementing far more benign and less controversial software such as cloud-based HR systems.
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