The Right and Wrong Kind of Remote Monitoring: Ensuring Productivity or Big Brother?

When employees are working from home, how do you know they are actually working?

Some bosses have turned to monitoring software to keep track of productivity.  Software like Time Doctor or Hubstaff records time spent working at the keyboard, grabs screenshots of what’s being viewed, monitors chat and social media, and uses GPS to track locations.

Such tracking software has been around for years, but it’s become more popular since the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) took center stage and the number of remote workers increased.   

As companies discovered Zoom video conferencing, managers found the “attention tracker” which flagged the host if a participant left the app for more than 30 seconds.  The company removed the feature after complaints in April.

Complaints by workers about such tracking have grown louder in recent days.  There’s concern about what’s being tracked, whether private conversations are being recorded, or whether email and passwords can be revealed.   There are also some legal questions being raised – especially if remote workers are using their own tech devices.

While such software can be used to track productivity and keep an eye on what remote workers are doing, there’s potential for abuse.  If it’s being done without the employees’ consent, for example, you may have a problem. In California, it’s illegal to track “moving things,” which means using GPS on mobile devices could be illegal.   Monitoring employee email and text is illegal in some states even with consent.

For employers, it really comes down to trust.  Can you trust your team members to work remotely and get the results you need?  If not, maybe you’ve got the wrong people on your team.

By the way, a two-year study by Stanford showed the average employee working from home is as much as 20% more productive than those working at the office.  That’s like getting an extra workday out of them every week.

There are More Important Things to Monitor

While monitoring employee behavior and time management can seem productive, it can erode trust, and is simply an inefficient management strategy. Companies that really want to be sure employees are being productive can do so by making sure they have the ability to work efficiently.  This means making sure they have a healthy network to use, secure connections to the corporate network and beyond, and reliable access to business-critical apps and services.

Although much of today’s work can be done using cloud software or Software as a Service (SaaS), most work-at-home employees need access to company data that may be on private clouds or on-site servers.  Most companies use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) to allow this access.

Monitoring VPNs for session count, tunnel count, and data is important to identify traffic and probe for security risks.  For IT teams, Remote Infrastructure Monitoring (RIM) allows the monitoring of hardware, software, and infrastructure from remote locations.

With more employees using VPN connections, it can stress the infrastructure.  This can increase disconnects or outages. Monitoring the number of concurrent connections and managing licenses can help assess what’s needed.  

When connections are slow or employees have negative experiences when connecting to company resources, it’s frustrating for everyone.  It’s a productivity killer and can put an extra burden on IT teams to diagnose and solve problems.  As frustrated employees try to find other ways to get the job done, they may be tempted to circumvent remote access solutions and security protocols.  That just increases the possibility of trouble.

The rise in the number of remote access points also significantly increases the potential for exposure.   Once devices fire up their VPN and make the connection, there’s a pathway to your infrastructure.  Constant network monitoring for breach attempts is crucial.  Setting up flags for suspicious behavior and monitoring Syslog servers becomes even more important with the increase in remote connections.  With many newly at-home workers using personal computers and mobile devices, it creates even more exposure.  Even if your network is secure, it doesn’t mean an employee’s personal laptop hasn’t been compromised.

Monitoring During the Coronavirus Pandemic (and After)

In response to COVID-19, a study highlighted by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) demonstrated the dramatic increase in employees working from home.  67% of employers surveyed in March said they were allowing employees normally work in the office to work at home.  36% were actively encouraging all employees to work from home in some locations.

Even as the world moves closer to normal, it’s likely more employees than ever will continue to work at least part of the time from home.  Instead of monitoring your employee’s productivity, monitor the tools they need to be productive.  

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