Should You Play Big Brother to Your Teleworkers?

While speaking to a group of managers about to implement telework path, one person asked, “Is it okay to measure when teleworkers are on their computer and what applications they are using?”

This highlights the ongoing debate around employee productivity versus employee privacy.  The technology available today allows employers to monitor their employees like never before.   Employers can track your web usage, read your email, and even watch your keystrokes.  One (although dated) study of 526 companies by the AMA and ePolicy institute  found the following:

 

–          76% of companies monitor employee web site usage

–          36% of companies track content employees are receiving and sending, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard

–          55% of companies read their employees’ email.

However, just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should.  I may be reading a little too much into what the manager above was asking, but I have met many managers new to telework who were very uncomfortable letting go.  Managers often fear that their employees won’t be productive once they are out of sight from their supervisor.  A recent Booz Allen Hamilton and Partnership for Public Service study backs this up.  One of the most often cited telework challenges by managers is employee productivity and accessibility. 

In most cases, I believe this fear is unfounded.  While working in an office environment years ago, we used to joke about how employees could be absent at their desk.  Do you really think someone is productive just because you (the boss) are in the same building?   

Here are some other things to think about:  Are you planning to monitor everyone’s computer/internet usage or just the teleworkers?   If you have hard working, diligent employees now, do you really believe they will become slackers if they work from home or another remote location?  How are you currently measuring employee success? Ideally, if you are measuring quantifiable results, it shouldn’t matter where the employee is located.

The question of whether or not to monitor to your employees revolves around trust. Managers need to trust their employees and learn to let go.  Trust, combined with solid success metrics to measure individual performance, will make the need to look over an employee’s shoulder irrelevant.

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