Monitoring Working From Home Employees

A growing number of employees work from home, and employers are monitoring their workers through working from home employee monitoring software. These tools accomplish a variety of tasks including recording keystrokes, and also assessing the amount of idle and active time spent on various applications and sites. Monitoring tools can also assist companies to enforce their data security policies and can even take pictures to check if workers are working on computer at home.

But these tools can come with dangers. Monitoring at work can be subject to range of state and federal laws concerning the right of employees to privacy, they have to be informed that they are being monitored. From a legal standpoint it is the most effective method. Informing employees that they are being monitored eliminates any reasonable expectation of privacy, which is the element that is often the foundation for lawsuits for invasion of privacy that arise in common law.

Being transparent about the usage of such monitoring tools is vital to avoid legal pitfalls but it’s also essential to establishing trust within the workplace regarding privacy concerns.

According to a study conducted in June conducted by Gartner the study found that 26 percent of HR managers have employed some kind of technology or software to monitor remote employees prior to the beginning with the outbreak of coronavirus. This is up from the previous figure of 16 percent in April, as the disease was beginning to take hold. The monitoring covers working computer use as well as employee e-mails and internal communications, phone use, as well as employee locations or movements.

Many business leaders are examining the potential of this technologies because they know that working from home is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Gartner estimated the figure to be 47 percent for employers who are planning to allow employees to remote-work full-time moving forward. Additionally to that, 82 percent of business leaders from a variety of industries are planning to allow the employees to telecommute for at least certain times when they are able to reopen their workplaces that have been closed.

It is crucial for companies to communicate their goals when it comes to using employee monitoring tools, according to Josh Bersin, HR industry analyst and the founder of the Josh Bersin Academy in Oakland, Calif., a professional development company for HR.

“Is the purpose to benefit employees, to evaluate them or perhaps to penalize them?” Bersin says. “If the idea is to benefit employees, it’s good; if it’s to evaluate employees, it’s potentially dangerous; and if it’s to penalize them, it’s probably a bad idea.”

Multiple Monitoring Tools

Companies like Teramind, ActivTrak, CloudDesk, InterGuard, Sneek and Hubstaff offer tools that allow companies to monitor their employees from home. “These are tools that many companies weren’t buying before,” says Brian Kropp, chief of research for the HR practice at Gartner.

Teramind’s technology is able to track employees’ time spent using websites, apps or emails; measure the level of productivity of teams and aid in the enforcement of security measures for data. Teramind has experienced three times the usual amount of leads for sales coming through their website from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis claims Eli Sutton, vice president of global operations at the company based in Miami.

One of the ways companies utilize the technology is to monitor the time that remote workers use productive as well as “nonwork-related” applications or websites, Sutton says. These tools are able to measure active versus idle time in specific areas.

The Teramind tool offers users the option to regularly log out of the software that monitors them to complete tasks that are not work-related for example, checking personal email. “It allows them to regain their full privacy, which is well-suited for today’s work-at-home environment,” Sutton states. The technology can also be disabled automatically if employees visit websites that are considered to be sensitive, Sutton says, such as health portals or individual bank account.

ActivTrak is another company that offers technology that allows line managers and HR more insight into the way employees are spending the time they are at home.

“A growing interest of our clients is looking for ways to improve the productivity and work habits of remote employees and teams,” says Javier Aldrete, vice president of product management for Austin Texas-based ActivTrak. “The technology also can indicate signs of potential disengagement or burnout, since it provides reports on when and how long employees are working on specific tasks each day.”

ActivTrak can also help ensure that remote workers are following the right data security procedures. For instance, if employees save files in storage spaces that aren’t authorized by the company , or employing apps that aren’t authorized by the company Automatic alerts are delivered to managers to monitor such actions.

Legal Implications of Monitoring

Employers who use monitoring technology to monitor remote workers are subject to the same regulations as the use of this technology at work Legal experts agree. There are some special requirements when employees use personal devices for work at home.

“In most instances state laws require you to protect employees’ privacy rights by giving them advance notice of your monitoring,” says Jennifer Betts, an employment lawyer for Ogletree Deakins located in Pittsburgh. “The best practice is to get employees’ consent for monitoring in writing.”

This transparency isn’t just an excellent legal practice, but it is also a good management practice. “We’ve consistently found that when employees are surprised by the use of monitoring technologies, they get very frustrated” and that can affect the morale of employees, Kropp says. “The word will always get out that these tools are being used, so the question is whether you want employees to learn about it from management or from another source.”

If companies decide to install monitoring technologies and monitor their employees, they must consider remote employees could use personal devices to perform job-related tasks, says Usama Kahf, a partner of the legal company Fisher Phillips in Irvine, Calif. “Employees generally have an expectation of privacy in their use of personal computers and phones unless a different company policy has been communicated to them in writing,” Kahf states. In the event that you’re using any kind or technology for monitoring that is affecting employees’ personal devices , and keeping information from the monitoring, beyond data gathered when an employee’s device is connected to the corporate network, there should be written privacy policies that outline what the organization is doing and the reason for the way it is, Kahf says.

“That policy should detail those situations and uses where employees won’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” he states.

When an employee’s personal computer is connected to an enterprise network or the virtual private network (VPN), Kahf says corporations have the legal right to demand that employees consent to monitoring of data security in these circumstances.

Legal issues are also arising concerning using video conferencing in order to manage business operations, Betts notes, particularly in relation to recording the voice and images of employees, without their consent. Companies, for instance, might make use of video recordings to record transcripts, or as a way to record calls to be used for training purposes in the future.

“Some states have wiretapping laws that restrict employers from recording their employees’ voices or images without their consent,” Betts says.

Forward-Thinking Uses of Monitoring

Certain organizations are making use of the information they collect from monitoring to monitor employees who are located elsewhere, but in addition to aid in planning for their eventual return the workplace.

Kropp claims that one financial services company evaluates the performance of its frontline employees in two ways: the amount of claims for insurance they manage within an hour, and the accuracy rate for the claims. When the company looked into the work of remote employees during COVID-19 it found an interesting fact: Different employees were performing at high efficiency and productivity levels at different hours during the course of the day.

“They found that some people had a faster claims-processing speed and lower error rate earlier in the morning and others performed better on those metrics in the afternoon,” Kropp notes. “Some also were doing their best work later at night.”

He believes such research could be useful when the company starts to bring employees back to work. “Many organizations will have to do social distancing in the workplace, and they may ‘time shift’ when employees work,” the expert states. “To the extent they can schedule worker shifts when people have proven to be their most productive at home may be beneficial.”

If business leaders are planning an office return or an entirely remote workforce, or anything the middle, tools for activity monitoring could offer valuable insights on how work is completed and how companies can help their workers on the frontline.

Darren Trumbler

Darren Trumbler

Darrent is a digital marketer, tech enthusiast & blogger.

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