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Employee monitoring software: remote working performance vs ethical implications

Published: Thursday 16th July 2020

Tracking remote workforce performance through employee monitoring software is a complex and delicate issue. Using employee monitoring software on employees who work remotely might seem like a smart way to track progress or handle a difficult situation, yet it could raise ethical issues.

Understandably, the recent rise in working from home policies due to Covid-19, is driving managers to find ways to keep track of their teams. Underlying reasons can vary from keeping work visible to measuring productivity and gauging performance. But although employers have a legal right to track activities on company computers and devices, such as web surfing and emailing, should they do so? What’s more, is employee monitoring ethical?

The employee monitoring software debate

Male employee working in bright office, sitting at desk with laptop and mobile phone.

Throughout the recent years, growing use of electronic performance monitoring in companies has led to a debate. On the one side, advocates of the employee monitoring software approach argue that it benefits businesses, customers and the society from a teleological perspective.

On the other side, critics of this approach argue that employee monitoring invades certain workforce rights, such as employee privacy. In deontological terms, the first approach is also countered on the grounds that it’s dehumanising, it increases stress while decreasing the quality of work-life balance.

Reasons for utilising employee monitoring software

As is reasonable, there can be several reasons in favour of monitoring. Tracking employee performance can help protect organisations from theft or other harm, while securing evidence and ensuring regulations’ compliance. For some employers, the importance of employee monitoring lies in keeping things fair. That could be in regards to when employees clocked in, what they worked on or how much time a project took.

technology concept, communication. Connecting people around the world, employee monitoring software.

For others, it’s more about tracking productivity and spotting areas of improvement. With the help of an employee monitoring software, they get reports with insights on potential productivity weaknesses that each team should work on.

Can monitoring software be ethical?

It’s crucial for employers to consider the difference between monitoring and surveillance. Monitoring of any kind understandably makes people uneasy, but in a workplace context it can spark anxiety, stress and lower job satisfaction. The main reason is trust. When employees feel trusted, they produce higher-quality work while experiencing less stress and increased motivation and  engagement. However, when they feel their privacy isn’t respected or trusted enough to do their job, they quickly lose faith in the employer.

Transparency and communication in the design and implementation of monitoring systems set the key in this case. There is a way to balance to balance the employee monitoring debate out and be ethical by satisfying three main points:

compass with needle pointing the word ethics. Conceptual 3d illustration of business integrity and moral

Leading with transparency – your employees know what data is captured and how it will be used.

A clear policy of offering employee benefits – your employees consent to sharing that data and understand how this will benefit them.

Only relevant data is shared – your employees maintain full control over their own privacy, sharing only relevant data with employers, managers and colleagues.

Tips for ethical performance monitoring

Set written policies – It’s important to create a corporate policy. This will make rights and responsibilities clear to everyone. Clearly define risks and security needs and weigh your employees’ expectations in order to strike a balance. Moreover, set rules for acceptable use of email, instant messaging, social networks, and Web surfing.

male and female employees, working, being productive, sitting at table together during working brainstorming session using gadgets for analyzing and research

Communicate and inform your workforce – Explain the risks to the business from improper use. Communicate the company’s policy as well as the limits on employee privacy at work. Ensure you communicate clearly and timely the fact that monitoring will occur. Transparency will prevent any legal or moral issues.

Use technology tools –  To reduce the potential for office friction or the collection of sensitive personal information, consider making use of tools that can alert you to potential problems. You may also want to filter or block certain Web content, that could create a hostile work environment and spiral into a crisis.

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