Building trust or increasing suspicion? Employee monitoring software requires a balancing act

3 months ago 22
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Gartner analyst recommends using productivity tracking to improve the employee experience, not just record activity and idle time.

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As more companies use monitoring software to track employees' activities during the day, managers need to weigh the benefits and risks of this strategy. Activity tracking can be reassuring to leaders who can't "manage by walking around" to keep track of who is doing what. The downside to these platforms is the risk of eroding trust between companies and employees.

Helen Poitevin, a vice president of research of workplace and workforce issues at Gartner, said she has seen a significant increase of interest in employee monitoring technology through the pandemic and expects this interest to continue as hybrid work environments emerge. She said companies deploy these tools for two reasons:

  • A lack of trust that employees are working
  • A need to make sure employees can be effective and productive without working too much or becoming isolated

Poitevin said that organizations that deploy these tools to verify people are working will continue to erode trust. 

"Those using them with an aim to improve employee experience and well-being may be able to find value in these tools—as long as the purpose and use of the collected data is clear to employees," she said. 

SEE: 7 attitude adjustments managers must make to succeed in a hybrid office plan (TechRepublic) 

As Owen Hughes reported for ZDNet, research carried out by YouGov last year suggested that two-thirds of employees were uncomfortable with employers recording information like screenshots and keystrokes while they were working from home. This kind of monitoring also has privacy implications, particularly for companies subject to GDPR rules.

She said monitoring that simply identifies how much time is spent working and how much time is spent idle will most definitely erode trust, and the risks of this approach far outweigh the benefits. If a company's goal with monitoring is to improve employee experience and well-being, the benefits may be worth the inherent risks in collecting such extensive data about employee work patterns.  

Poitevin said the key is to use monitoring in addition to surveys that collect subjective views and opinions on work activities and other performance feedback methods that focus on outcomes rather than on activities.  

"It is equally important to gauge employee attitudes around such monitoring as those attitudes can vary across age groups, job functions and geographies," she said.

Using AI as a productivity coach

Tommy Weir, founder and CEO of enaible, said his company's platform uses artificial intelligence to recommend the ideal time for particular tasks. Enaible tracks activity in software that is most relevant to an individual's work, such as SAP, Oracle, Salesforce and Slack.

"The platform learns how people work and makes recommendations to employees and managers based on their role," he said.

Weir said the software analyzes worker behavior and then suggests the ideal time for writing or other focused tasks as compared with meetings.

"The analysis might find that when you have focused time in the afternoons, you write more words per minute and don't edit as much as when you write in the morning," he said. "The recommendation might be to shift your meetings to the mornings so you can get your focus time in the afternoon."

Weir said these recommendations are designed to reduce context switching and help knowledge workers find more blocks of focused time. 

One advantage of these tools is that the platforms can collect additional data about employee experience, without needing to send out yet another survey.  

"This is relevant especially for knowledge workers who use technologies extensively and leave a clear digital footprint during a significant portion of their working time," Poitevin said.

Weir said that monitoring software has the potential to drive the wrong behavior, such as scheduling meetings for the sake of looking busy. That's why enaible's personalized recommendations go directly to an employee while a manager sees an anonymized version.

Managers see aggregated reports from the system, such as the total amount of time a team spends selling, as opposed to completing paperwork. 

"The goal is getting them out of repetitive internal work and identifying tasks that are eating up time, such as writing reports or attending matix meetings." 

Poitevin said that monitoring tools that use AI are relevant to knowledge workers who conduct their work activities through digital channels, particularly for people doing relatively routine work such as claims processing or customer contact center work.

Poitevin said that anecdotal feedback on the recommendations about time management in Cloud Office tools shows that many times those recommendations are far from relevant.  

"Oftentimes, this can be linked back to the fact that these tools can only capture insight about activities that happen within particular environments," she said. "No tool will capture all of the activities of an employee."

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