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What Is Employee Monitoring?

With an increase in remote working has come an in increase in the adoption of employee monitoring tools.

Employee monitoring aims to provide a sense of control over members of a corporate organization through collecting data.

Companies can use an employee monitoring solution to improve productivity, efficiency, or employee engagement. However, they should not overcome the importance of trust.

Progressive organizations understand the need to embed trust into every aspect of the organizational culture.

They diligently use employee tracking in conjunction with a transparent company policy and honest expectations when talking with employees.

I've worked in the IT sector for more than 20 years and experienced both high surveillance and high-trust corporate cultures. 

This article will describe the most used methods of employee monitoring and present you with a corporate mindset to use it to effectively improve employee productivity, efficiency, and employee engagement.

It was written based on my experience as both employee and team leader in both scenarios.

What is Employee Monitoring?

Employee monitoring can be any process related to gathering information about employee activity.

Activity may include anything performed by the employee. For example:

  • Internet traffic (websites visited, social network activity)
  • Geolocalization (GPS position data)
  • Health data (medical exams, fitness tracking devices)
  • Apps usage (what apps the employee is using and for how long)

What are the types of employee monitoring?

Although technology has opened the box of pandora of a vast scope of options and pricing, all methods have three fundamental elements:

1 - Watch (most with real-time monitoring and integrations with third-party software)

2 - Report (including push and email notifications or customized reports)

3 - Do not allow interruption of the previous two steps.

Internet Monitoring (Websites, Email Monitoring, and Social Media)

The Internet is currently the main focus of employee monitoring. Reports may include everything from browser history to timesheets showing how much time is spent on social media.

Emails are slowly becoming an old-school communication tool because of how unproductive and inefficient emails are compared to more recent communication tools. 

However, they are still used and therefore monitored in many organizations. Data collected from employee emails typically includes the body, subject, and recipients of the messages.

Operating System Surveillance

Most employee monitoring software will capture computer activity from the employee's computer, including what programs the user executed, and for how long. Computer idle time is often also recorded.

Some tracking software can also create a time-lapse using pictures taken from a webcam or automatically take screenshots.

Computer Monitoring By Using Keyloggers

Keylogging, or keystroke logging, is a method that registers everything a user is typing and can also take screenshots of the screen.

This method has important risks related to employee privacy and data breaches. The reason is because almost all monitoring software today is hosted online, everything from credit card numbers to trade secrets will end up being captured and transmitted through a network with this method.

Phone and Chat Monitoring

Some monitoring software allows recording phone calls and instant messaging monitoring during work hours to retrieve the data later for analysis.

Location Tracking

Companies can use GPS tracking to track cars and locate laptops and mobile devices during the employee workday.

Video Surveillance

Many companies integrate video camera footage to monitor the presence and actions of employees during their work time.

Advantages of Employee Monitoring When In a High-trust Environment

You can use the data collected to help employees that are struggling to perform their work and decide what type of training is in demand for each team.

It's also an excellent opportunity to provide feedback and talk about how each employee can strengthen their skills and plan their career to make the best use of them.

You can also use the reports to help set more realistic goals and expectations for teams, helping them improve by reaching one milestone at a time.

Creating open discussions about the data shows that you care and increases engagement and happiness for the team.

Considerations when implementing employee monitoring

The risks below associated with employee monitoring need to be mitigated through a cleverly crafted monitoring policy.

Privacy

Having an employee monitoring system opens the door to several privacy concerns. 

There's a high risk of disclosing company or personal data through a cybersecurity incident or malware, like a trojan or computer virus.

Unfortunately, no solution can guarantee that the collected data will be 100% safe.

Employee Engagement

If you don't trust your employees, why would they trust you?

And why would they care about their work if they don't trust the company they work for.

Therefore, it's crucial to consider how you approach the topic with employees to avoid impacting employee morale.

Increase in Stress

Some people, when given authority, tend to exercise their influence and control over others naturally.

When they have employee monitoring tools at hand, it's much easier for them to become abusive towards employees.

In addition, when people know the company they're working for is spying on them, their stress levels rise, and they have a higher risk of burning out.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which aims to create better workplaces, you should get legal advice before setting up any workplace monitoring program. 

In the USA, for example, you will have to comply with federal and state laws, and each case is different.

You also have to follow the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to monitor phone calls.

In the EU, there's the right to privacy at work. Employers have to ask for the employee's consent to collect personal data, and they must say how and why they collect it.

You also need to conform to specific privacy laws. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has strict requirements for storing and transferring sensitive information.

Here are some things to think about:

  • What methods am I allowed to use for activity monitoring?
  • When is it OK to monitor, and in which location?
  • Do I have to get consent from employees or only notify them?

Related Read: 10 Best HR Case Management Software To Manage Issues & Risks [2022]

How to approach employee monitoring with team members as a leader

It's essential to take some time to reflect on the real reasons that are leading you to this mindset by using the following questions.

  • What excuses am I making to justify micromanaging this employee? For example, do I think I'm the only person to hand in this task?
  • Why can't I see the bigger picture? As a leader, it's crucial to leave the details for the team to take care of and focus on the big picture. 
  • How can I help this employee make progress? When was the last time they've reported about it? Are there any past events that could make you question their abilities or not trust them?
  • How can I positively use activity tracking software? Do you think presence is more important than performance? How would you feel as an employee if your company decided to monitor your actions? Which methods would I consider using and which I would not?

The perfect corporate mindset to go with employee monitoring

If you want to see outstanding results when using employee monitoring, invest your resources in building a high-trust company culture where employees feel:

  • Respected as professionals
  • Have leaders, not bosses
  • The corporate culture is fundamentally fair
  • There are cleverly crafted monitoring policies in place.

How to build a high-trust environment

For more than 30 years, Great Place to Work has studied the relationship between a high-trust culture and a company's overall success. 

In 2016, they published "The Business Case for a High-Trust Culture," including a crucial finding:

Companies with trust-based cultures perform better in stock markets, have much lower turnover, are more creative, with employees more engaged and productive. They also display higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Also, according to GPW, no company without a high-trust culture has ever made it to "The Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For" list.

In 2020, a study from the London School of Economics (LSE) found that "leaders and managers will increasingly need to learn that trust is central to the performance, commitment, engagement, and retention of productive employees."

Doist, a productivity software company redefining the future of work, has an interesting approach to tackling this challenge.

They start by hiring the right people by looking for easy-to-spot traits that show someone is likely to be trustworthy.

You won't see any job ads with unrealistic requirements, like multitasking and 24/7 work availability. 

The screening process is as transparent as they can make it, with frequent feedback from both the candidate and the company.

After they've decided to hire the candidate, they build trust from day one by having a dedicated onboarding process that includes the following:

  • Inviting someone from the team to become a mentor for the new hire. They also make sure they'll block some time in their schedule to be available in the first month to answer any questions they will have.
  • Communicating frequently and always being honest with them when providing feedback.
  • Giving new employees real opportunities to contribute to the company from day one.
  • Setting clear expectations on the outcome of their work and any performance indicators you'll use to assess their work.
  • Creating casual talk moments for new hires to socialize with colleagues, so they can get to know each other better.

After some weeks, they keep reassuring their trust by giving new team members autonomy to perform their work.

One lesson learned here is that leaders need to master how to assign tasks to others to build trust; trade their micromanagement impulse for leadership skills. 

Not an easy task, but it does pay off with a surprising outcome:

Employees will automatically respond to this mindset with higher productivity, feeling responsible and motivated.

Final Thoughts

You should use employee monitoring inside a high-trust environment to boost positive impact on employee performance, efficiency, and engagement.

Remember, the central point is to build a high-trust company culture.

Hire the right people, have a carefully crafted onboarding process, and give employees the autonomy they need to carry out work.

It's critical to have leadership care for removing what's hindering workflow while making employees more engaged and motivated. Employee monitoring can be an excellent tool to help them achieve this goal.

Once you've established a high-trust culture together with the right tools, organizational success will follow.

To help, see our pick of the best employee monitoring software on the market today.

By Tim Reitsma

Tim is the co-founder and General Manager of People Managing People, an online publication focused on building a better world of work. He is experienced with people & culture, leadership, business strategy and operations with a focus on building great teams who are excited about their craft and their organization. With over 15 years of leadership experience, Tim has always been guided by his core values: faith, family, curiosity, and fun. He is a coach, mentor, speaker, advisor, and an active volunteer in his community. Tim loves spending time outdoors with his wife and two kids as well as mountain biking in the north shore mountains.

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