How companies monitor their employees

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Big Brother is watching you: Can you trust home office staff and make sure they’re productive? Monitoring software promises companies just that. But a self-experiment from the US and England shows that this can also have negative consequences.

Imagine working in the Home Office and your boss always knows everything about your browser history. He knows which websites you visit, how long you read emails, and when you’re working on projects.

Sounds a bit like Big Brother? It may be. But for many businesses, home office is not only new, but also difficult. This is not due to technology, but rather to trust.

Does the employee really read through the report? Does he prepare the PowerPoint presentation for the customer? Or is he more likely to enjoy articles from the gossip press or daddgle for hours on social media sites?

This is precisely why companies use software that allows them to control employees at work at home.

Demand for monitoring software increases as Corona

Since many companies switched to home office especially in the Corona era, the demand for such software has also increased.

The programmes are very diverse. For example, you can track how many words someone typed, use the computer camera to take photos of the employee and screenshots of visited websites.

Monitoring software vendors such as Hubstaff promise their customers that they can sustainably improve employee productivity. For example, one bank found that a 15-minute team coffee break could boost the sales of call center staff.

But how does it feel to work with such monitoring software in the Home Office? Is it really good for productivity?

The London-based journalist Adam Satariano, who, among other things, New York Times has tried it in a self-experiment. He was monitored by the Hubstaff software for three weeks and gave his boss access to all information.

Home Office Monitoring: Counting Screenshots, Photos, and Words

The software took screenshots of his computer, captured on camera when he was in team meeting and calculated the time he spent writing Excel documents. At the end of the day, a detailed productivity overview of his working day was provided.

In one day, for example, he had written and edited a text for three and a half hours. At the same time, however, the software also tracked that he had been distracted by Twitter for 35 minutes, spent 11 minutes on Spotify and spent ten minutes searching online for a pizza delivery.

By the way, the Hubstaff software also provides the location data of the employees. Typically, companies use this to check, for example, whether employees are visiting customers. In the case of Adam Satariano in the middle of the lockdown, she showed off his jogging activities in a neighboring park.

The superiors can see all this in detail. For Sataano’s boss, this was sometimes too much private information, so that towards the end she did not read the exact reports at all. Still, she noticed that his productivity numbers were very low.

Share sensitive information unconsciously

It turned out that the software did not register many work processes, such as phone interviews or the creation and review of handwritten notes.

This seemed understandable, even if in the end the boss had a doubt as to whether Satarianos had really worked so much offline. Perhaps not unjustly.

After all, Satarianos himself admits that in the end he had seen the software quite well and was able to outwit it to some extent and thus increase his productivity figures.

Both felt, however, that the Hubstaff software was collecting too much private information. Asked about this, founder Dave Nevogt said hubstaff did not compromise employee privacy. Finally, they would know that the software was active.

Nevertheless, one can also imagine that it is sometimes difficult for employees to reject this form of monitoring when it is part of company policy.

It is also possible that an employee forgets to turn off the software and then take screenshots of sensitive information such as the bank statement or Gesudata.

Big Brother in the Home Office: Is control really better?

In Germany, such invasive monitoring software for working in the home office is therefore also very unlikely, although there will certainly be digital verification mechanisms over time.

But in addition to the data protection issue, the self-experiment with such monitoring software shows another shortcoming: The software should strengthen trust between supervisors and employees as well as to work in the home office. In the end, however, both sides were much more suspicious than before.


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