Remote Work Surveillance on the Rise
December 17, 2021
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by Stephen Kanyi

We are two years into the pandemic and while economies are slowly opening up, most workers remain at home working remotely. Remote work has been a net positive for both employers and workers. Workers get to work at home close to their families while managers get to save lots of time and money in terms of rent for office space, electricity and transportation costs. The result is a lot more companies are choosing to retain remote work as their modus operandi, at least for the foreseeable future.

Freelancing does however present a problem for both employer and worker. How to ensure accountability for employees as they work from home.

You see work freedom and flexibility is all good for the employee but for managers it may be a problem. They cannot supervise their employees as they used to in the office. Moreover, most managers carry over their lack of trust in their employees to the remote office and need to know what their employees are doing 100% of their work time.

The solution?

Remote Work Surveillance

While remote work means that employees cannot be supervised physically, digital tools like tracking tools and facial recognition make it possible to do it remotely; a tactic that many executives have been quick to adopt.

According to research done by Top10VPN the use of surveillance software increased by 50% during the lockdown and has also continued to grow since early this year. Further, another survey done by Kaspersky of both employees and workers, found that 44% of companies utilize surveillance software in their operations.

While the use of digital surveillance is not a new phenomenon, it has certainly increased, especially during the pandemic. This is however understandable as most companies who adopted remote working had not tried it yet before and were keen on maintaining some sort of control over their employees.

What is however confounding is that we are two years into the pandemic and this practice still lasts. In some sectors, remote surveillance is even increasing. One would have thought that most managers would have already found a way of ensuring their employees remain accountable while not invading their privacy.

The number of large employers using tools to track their workers doubled since the beginning of the pandemic to 60 percent. That number is expected to rise to 70 percent within the next three years,” says Brian Kropp to The Washington Post, chief of human resources research at Gartner.

Moreover, monitoring technology is getting more sophisticated. Some software from Hubstaff for instance, a company whose sales have gone through the roof in previous months, utilise technologies such as facial recognition, tracking computer keystrokes, taking screenshots and in worse cases, recording audio or video while the employee is working from home.

Breakdown of Trust

This level of privacy invasion is undoubtedly one of the worst we have seen in the corporate sector. It is an indication of the levels of distrust between employers and workers.

For employers, however, the rationale for such a level of intrusion is justified. Some executives say that tracking is essential in ensuring that their employees remain productive and also that they tell the truth about their work time even when the manager is kilometres away.

“Other employers have voiced concerns that, without the monitoring, their workers might cut corners or pursue multiple jobs simultaneously, depriving them of the focus and labour they need to stay competitive in the remote-work era.”

Effect on Employees

Most workers are (understandably) against the use of such intrusive software when working. Monitoring technologies such as facial recognition do not only invade their privacy but negatively impact their productivity.

The truth is most workers do not like supervision, be it in the office and especially not at home. Supervision while understandable from the manager’s point of view only magnifies the distrust between employees and their bosses.

Now I am not saying that employees should not be accountable to their managers. There are however better ways to manage employees while they work from home. Tracking tools like Clockify, for instance, are less invasive and only request input from the employee instead of capturing audio and video from the workers’ environment.

Overall, whatever tools managers use to monitor their employees’ work, trust should always come first. Otherwise, the advantages that come with remote working are nullified and all we have are office cubicles carried over to people’s homes.

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