In a preview of his presentation at AHRI’s convention in August, risk management specialist Stan Gallo outlines key considerations for employers when managing the performance of remote employees.
Workers who consistently underperform while working from home present a risk to business and company culture alike, which leads some employers to explore new ways of monitoring their productivity. But tools that take activity monitoring to the next level, such as user activity monitoring or keylogging, technology that allows employers to see what a user is typing on their computer, also raise questions of employee privacy.
Stan Gallo, Forensic Services Partner at BDO, believes an increasing focus on remote performance management is a byproduct of the instability of recent years.
“Businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and they need employees to work at their best,” says Gallo, who will be a speaker at AHRI’s convention in August. “They can’t afford to carry people who aren’t productive, and, while the majority will embrace change, there will be a portion of staff who take advantage of working from home and aren’t as productive as they could be.”
Privacy and trust
Striking a balance between minimising risk and respecting employee privacy will be front of mind for employers moving into a hybrid future, says Gallo.
Any employee who uses a company laptop or phone would be familiar with the idea of their employer being able to monitor activity on the device, but the boundaries begin to blur when the employee brings that device home.
An employee might use their work device to complete their online banking, for instance, or their partner or family member might use it for a quick internet search.
“In the workplace, there’s a mental separation between work and home,” he says. “But in a hybrid environment, work creeps into the home space.”
Gallo believes a thin line exists between reasonable oversight of an employee’s performance and intrusion upon the individual’s privacy.
“There is a perception that employee monitoring is unethical – but factory workers are expected to turn up and clock in at a certain time. That’s monitoring.” – Stan Gallo, Forensic Services Partner, BDO
Take keylogging as an example, which allows employers to check that employees are staying on task and not slacking off on YouTube, or sitting away from the computer for large portions of the day.
“The problem is that keylogging can capture everything,” says Gallo. “If a remote worker does their internet banking or other personal activities at lunchtime under a fair use policy, it can also capture their personal details such as user ID and password.”
The interplay between activity monitoring and trust is one that Gallo will ponder in his presentation.
“An employer [who is using transparently tracking software] might argue, ‘I trust my employees to be productive at home, and they are aware of and trust me not to misuse that power,’” he says.
“Obviously, there are arguments counter to that. An employee might think, ‘Well, no. That means you don’t trust me. You’re monitoring me because you don’t trust me to do the right thing.’”
Change in perspective
In response to a question about what other, “more ethical” avenues employers could take to ensure compliance in a hybrid environment, Gallo amiably debates the mention of ethics.
“It’s interesting that people use the word ‘ethical’, as though monitoring inherently wasn’t,” he says. “There is a perception that it’s unethical – but employees are already monitored in multiple ways every day. If you consider production line factory workers who are expected to turn up and clock on and off at certain times and complete activity timesheets. That’s monitoring. Further, computer monitoring is already embedded in many work environments, even if employees may not realise it.”
Nonetheless, he predicts the discussion around performance monitoring will evolve to consider more than just the employer’s perspective.
“We will find a balance between over-monitoring and alternative monitoring, or using other performance metrics like productivty as opposed to time,” he says. “Technology is currently pushing out a myriad of monitoring applications to meet a need, or a perceived need, but I think it will evolve to a point where it is less invasive.”
There will likely be an attitude change, he says, towards using monitoring to optimise the wellbeing of workers for the benefit of the entire workforce, rather than tracking activity purely for the employer’s benefit.
Gallo describes a recent behavioural analysis innovation that monitors an employee’s activity over time to identify moments when activity drops as a potential indicator of poor wellbeing.
“If an employee’s average day-to-day productivity alters significantly, the technology can flag something may be wrong,” he says. “If that extends to cross matching against their web activity – indicating job hunting, for instance – that prompts employers to ask, ‘Have we got a disengaged employee here. Are they a flight risk?’”
With the right balance of proactive, transparent monitoring and intervention, an employer can monitor activity to ensure a certain level of staff productivity, says Gallo, while also supporting the very wellbeing of the staff in question.
What are your thoughts about employee monitoring techniques? Let us know in the comment section.
Keen to hear more from Stan on risk management, employee tracking and more? Book your place at AHRI’s National Convention & Exhibition in August and catch him as part of the main program.