On remote monitoring

The CIPD have released a new report that considers perspectives on the remote monitoring of remote workers.  They found that more than half of managers agreed that there was at least one reason to monitor employees, including identifying the risk of burnout, the amount of laptop time per day, employees working outside of the normal working day or to track billable hours. 

Image: Pixals.com

On the same day I read this new report, I also read this, taken from a paper on remote work (or telecommuting as the academic folk like to call it): ‘it appears that management apprehensions about loss of control… are currently the pacing factors in the adoption of telecommuting’ (Jack Nilles).   This paper was written in 1988.

As I have said before on this blog, reluctance toward remote and flexible work has always been rooted in attitudes and beliefs rather than practicalities or technologies.  We are hard wired to prefer the status quo, as well as to believe that our own experiences and perceptions are the objective truth. For some managers this objective truth is that the office is best and flexible work is a risk.

The desire to monitor employees is rooted in this same reluctance. Too often, leaders want to monitor their remote employees because they don’t trust them not to take advantage, they believe that employees will not be as productive (what Microsoft calls ‘productivity paranoia’, complex fears about loss of status and control – or maybe just a lack of skills. 

The problems with monitoring are many.  It is a clear signal of distrust. It works directly against one of the main motivators that many employees have – autonomy.  Perhaps even more problematically, what we are able to monitor is not a good measure of very much at all.  It is a blunt tool, capable only of measuring faux productivity, and faux engagement.  Whilst some jobs can indeed be monitored through key performance indicators or easily quantifiable measures, this is not an option for a significant amount of knowledge work.  So instead we end up measuring something else instead – just like some of the measures in the CIPD report.  Time spent online. Time spent in meetings. Time spent working out of hours. Emails written and sent.

No mention here, of value, contribution, outcome, or of creativity, innovation or learning. Time spent connection, sharing or building relationships.  And despite the report suggesting some manages are really only trying to check up on employee wellbeing, employees may well feel, with some justification, that this is not really about their wellbeing at all, but a new form of heavy handed supervision.  

Some organisations will make the decision to monitor remote workers regardless of the (few) benefits or risks to engagement and morale.  Where monitoring does take place we must ensure that it is transparent, fair, and above all, that it is actually measuring what we want and need to monitor.* 

Otherwise, it’s nothing more than micromanagement.

*Yes, you should have a policy that sets out what you will do, how you will do it, who has access to the information and how it will be used. Employee privacy concerns must also be taken into account, and protocols put in place to ensure that monitoring is not overly intrusive or likely to cause harm. This is the minimum standard.

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