Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have been working from home over the past year.

For the majority of home workers there have been tangible benefits of homeworking. With no commute into work we can all spend a couple of hours longer in bed!

However, despite the advantages of home working, a concerning trend has been the rise of managers using surveillance software to monitor remote workers.

Although there are some advantages of the technology, on balance we feel that high levels of monitoring cause more harm than good.  

In this post, we explore 5 reasons why managers should think twice before incorporating surveillance software.

Does this include time tracking software?

It is important to acknowledge that we don’t view time tracking software provided by companies such as Harvest and QuickBooks as a form of surveillance software.

These tools were used prior to the pandemic and are extremely useful to organisations as they help track hours and expenses in teams. We use QuickBooks in our own organisation and it is extremely helpful!

The surveillance software we are critical of is the new trend of creepy surveillance tools which invade and violate the privacy of home workers.

What actually is surveillance software?

Surveillance software is used to monitor home workers’ productivity and there are a number of different surveillance tools on the market. US-based Hubstaff software is used to track workers’ hours, keystrokes, mouse movements and websites visited. It will also take a screenshot of your computer every few minutes and generates a productivity score which is then compared against fellow home workers.

Another company called Sneek offers technology that takes photos of remote workers through their laptop and uploads them for colleagues to see. Due to a rise in home working there has been a spike in demand from employers for surveillance software. Hubstaff, for instance, says its number of UK customers is up four times year-on-year since February.  

Sneek offers technology that takes photos of workers through their laptop and uploads them for colleagues to see.

Why should managers avoid surveillance software?

Bosses who use these types of software might argue that it’s good for maintaining productivity, but how would you feel if your employer was taking pictures and screenshots while you were working?

In this section, we explore 5 reasons why managers should think twice before incorporating surveillance software.

1) Monitoring increases stress and anxiety

Lockdown has had a major impact on the UK’s mental health, according to a study by the University of Glasgow. Unable to see friends or family, employment has often been the only thing that has kept people busy during the pandemic. However, surveillance causes unnecessary stress and anxiety to home workers as every keystroke, mouse movement and web page visited is tracked and recorded.

Home workers may not even feel that they are able to take a short break during their working day as the software is expected to take a photo of them every 10 minutes. When managers implement these surveillance tools are they thinking about improving their remote workers’ mental health and wellbeing? Or are they solely thinking about improving productivity and profit margins.

2) Surveillance software disproportionately impacts parents

Due to home-schooling an increasing number of home workers are not wanting (or able) to work the traditional 9-5. Instead, some parents may work 3-4 hours early in the morning and then 3-4 hours late at night so they can look after their children in the day. However, this may result in lower scores generated by the surveillance tools which is unfair.

This also creates gender imbalances as it is often women who home-school their children. But if home workers are getting their work done, does it really matter what time they completed their working hours?

3) There are legal implications of the technology

In Europe the rules surrounding surveillance software are much more stringent than in the US. Employers in Europe must be transparent with employees and put in protections to safeguard data.

However, monitoring interims in such a way puts the firm squarely foul of “supervision, direction and control” tests of IR35. High-security environments or contractual requirements by clients may occasionally require such monitoring but they should certainly not be a default practice.

4) Monitoring damages trust between employers and employees

Research by CIPD suggests that workplace surveillance can damage trust. 73% of employees feel that introducing workplace monitoring would damage trust between home workers and their employers. Surveillance tools also highlight a power imbalance between managers and home workers. Home workers should just be allowed to get on with their work as being closely monitored fragments trust and is highly demotivating.

Research by CIPD suggests that workplace surveillance can damage trust.

5) We’re all working longer anyway!

Home workers are working longer hours at home than they were in the office. A study involving 2,533 office workers found people working from home would undertake an extra month’s work a year, compared with before the pandemic. This is because many of us are allocating some of the time previously spent commuting to work. If we are working longer hours, are surveillance tools really necessary?

What are the alternatives?

We believe that there are better alternatives to using surveillance tools. Organisations should focus on improving the mental health and wellbeing of their home workers as this is likely to be one the biggest factors impacting a home workers productivity. Managers could organise games nights or quizzes, although if your fed up with quizzes (I know I am) send your home workers a meal kit or another small gift.

Mentally healthy and well looked after home workers who trust their managers are likely to work better – and this is also likely to increase productivity more than incorporating surveillance software. Additionally, you could adopt more discreet tactics. For instance, if you believe that one of your workers if bunking off work an hour early, hold a daily 15-minute meeting with them from 4.45-5 to ensure they are working to their allotted end time.

How can managers best implement surveillance software?

Although we feel that there are suitable alternatives managers may feel they have no option but to implement surveillance software. If this is the case it is important that managers explain the rationale behind their decision to home workers.

According to research by CIPD on technology adoption, where workers have not been consulted about technology change, only 20% are positive about the likely impact on their job quality, compared with 70% for those who have been consulted.

Implementing surveillance software will likely cause stress and worry from home workers, so they should be supported through the change. You can draw insights from our blog in which we explain how the Change Curve can be used to assist a change programme.

Final thoughts

We believe that surveillance tools are likely to cause more than harm than good as there are huge ethical, legal and social implications of implementing such software.

In addition, with home workers working longer hours, is close monitoring really needed? Probably not!

We use cookies – small text files that are placed on your machine to help the site provide a better user experience. As a rule, cookies will make your browsing experience better, however, you may prefer to disable cookies on this site and on others. The most effective way to do this is to disable cookies in your browser. If you continue, we will assume that you are happy to receive all cookies.