Written by Peter Montoya
Workplace monitoring is a heated topic, and a slippery slope. While employers do have the right, generally speaking, to track a certain amount of employee activity – just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. So, when is it reasonable to monitor, and what type of monitoring is appropriate?
I want to point out here that I am not a lawyer, and that the laws related to workplace monitoring vary from state to state. I encourage you to consult a legal expert before embarking on any surveillance plan.
It’s important to realize that there is a vast spectrum when it comes to the types of surveillance available and the level of their intrusiveness. On the less invasive side are things like documenting when an employee logs into or out of your organization’s internal systems, or tracking the number of hours they are ‘active’ on their computer in a given day. On the more invasive side are things like real-time screen monitoring or listening in on phone conversations. In general, I recommend keeping monitoring as considerate and non-intrusive as possible.
Before you consider what type of monitoring you might do, first ask yourself if it is truly necessary. As an example, let’s imagine a small business that is shifting to a remote workforce model. The owner has a handful of trusted employees with whom she has worked for years. After a few months of her team working from home, she finds that productivity has remained steady or increased, and no problems have been reported by staff or customers. There is probably no need for her to invest time and money in workplace monitoring technology for the time being. However, in the same scenario, let’s say productivity has decreased, and the owner has received complaints about employee responsiveness. What now?
I will always advocate for addressing the problem directly as a first step. Talk to the staff. Let them know that you’re concerned about their productivity and ask them what challenges they may be facing as a result of working remotely. Simple, direct conversation and/or better resources and guidance may alleviate the issue. But if the problem persists, monitoring may help you to discover the root of it.
Start by carefully considering what it is you need to learn, then determine the most respectful way to ascertain that information. Begin with less invasive measures and only increase the degree of your surveillance if/as necessary. For example, if sales have dwindled you might consider monitoring your team’s call volume. If one salesperson has a significantly lower amount of outgoing calls, you probably know where to direct your efforts. This type of oversight – focused on activity or productivity – is a practical, ethical first step.
But what if call volume doesn’t reveal any red flags? In that case, it may be necessary to expand or adjust monitoring efforts accordingly. Proceed with care and respect, and never abuse your access to surveillance tools or avail yourself of their use out of sheer curiosity. That is a rabbit hole you should never go down, and your time could almost certainly be put to better use.
Whether or not the laws in your state require you to do so, I strongly recommend that you fully disclose any and all forms of workplace monitoring to your employees in advance. Create a clear, written policy that explains not only what may be monitored, but how and why. Beyond merely being respectful, it can help to mitigate issues before they arise.
Think of the police officer in plain sight, with a radar gun pointed at passing cars. Their intention isn’t to make drivers uncomfortable or hand out tickets, it’s to discourage speeding and maintain a safe flow of traffic. Workplace monitoring should be no different. Remember, your goal isn’t to “catch” someone doing something they shouldn’t, it’s to ensure smooth operations and guard against activity that could adversely impact your organization.
Peter Montoya is the best-selling author of “The Brand Called You” and his latest books, “Meetings Without Walls” & “Leadership Power”. He’s also a sought-after and highly motivational keynote speaker and leadership development strategist, specializing in developing high-performance teams. To find Peter, visit www.PeterMontoya.com or call (949) 334-7070.
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