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Missteps put you at risk of encountering ethical and toxic workplace challenges.

In short:

·         The digitalization of work, coupled with the adoption of hybrid and remote work practices, has created interest in monitoring workplace productivity.

·         If done without proper communication and transparency, employees may lose trust in their organization.

·         To implement a successful rollout, HR leaders should tailor communication to roles, consider geographic differences and communicate through individual managers.

While the concept of monitoring employee performance is not new, hybrid work has fostered greater interest in keeping tabs on workplace productivity. However, it poses ethical challenges and, when done incorrectly, creates a toxic work environment.

According to Gartner research, the number of large employers using tools to track their workers has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic to 60%, with this number expected to rise to 70% within the next three years.

Why companies are implementing productivity monitoring technology

“Leaders and managers want to make sure their workers are being productive, regardless of where they’re located,” says Helen Poitevin, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner. “However, there is a widespread misconception that remote work leads to a decrease in employee productivity, despite data showing remote work leads to positive productivity outcomes.” In fact, Gartner research finds that 55% of employees are high performers when provided radical flexibility over where, when and with whom they work versus 36% of those working 9 to 5 in the office.

Still, leaders cite several reasons for implementing employee productivity monitoring technologies:

·         Ensuring work is getting done as expected

·         Detecting work challenges

·         Ensuring that technologies deliver on the organization’s value proposition

·         Detecting opportunities to improve processes or technologies

·         Ensuring the employee experience is safeguarded regardless of location

What employee monitoring technologies do

These technologies are built to collect data from various sources and generate insights, reports and recommendations. The biggest challenge is the concept of “productivity,” which is highly context-specific. Most often, these technologies detect time spent on tasks and how those tasks vary — this is not a clear indicator of an employee’s performance. 

While there are risks, it is possible to effectively use the technology to help improve employee experience and productivity. 

Employee sentiment around productivity monitoring

Although employee productivity monitoring continues to grow more popular, employee communications about the matter are lacking. A stunning 41% of employees report nobody in their organization communicates with them about what data is collected and why or how it’s being used. Plus, Gartner research shows even when there is communication on these topics, the quality of that communication tends to be poor, resulting in limited employee understanding and awareness of personal data usage.

To assist, clearly express to employees the different types of personal information you are collecting, when you are collecting it, why you’re collecting it and who has access to it. For example, most employees believe monitoring is done during business hours. However, some organizations collect employee activity data at other times.

There’s a clear benefit to transparency. Employees who are informed about why and how their organizations gather data about them exhibit higher discretionary effort and levels of trust relative to their peers who remain in the dark.

3 ways to implement a successful rollout 

Organizational change management and communication are perhaps the most critical steps for successful rollout of this technology. Many employees are initially fearful when faced with the rollout and feel threatened that the technology will impact their reputation, choices, skills or relationships.

It’s important to note that rolling out employee productivity monitoring is not a low-risk project; all stakeholders must identify and align on a clear strategy. It’s crucial to strike a balance between the efficiency of broad communication and the personalized nature of individual communication. Compliance and privacy leaders can work with HR to:

1.   Tailor communication to roles. Some roles, such as customer service representatives, may be subject to more monitoring than others. Rather than sending out a blanket email, be thoughtful, narrow the type of data you’re collecting and convey the specific purpose to employees.

2.   Consider geographic differences. For example, employees based in western Europe are less comfortable with employee monitoring than those in East and South Asia. To get ahead of these differences, have FAQ documents readily available and consider specialized training for managers, should questions arise.

3.   Communicate information through managers. Our research shows employees prefer to receive information from their manager over someone else in their organization. This takes advantage of strong relationships, signals to employees that the information is important and allows managers to more easily contextualize the purpose behind monitoring to their direct reports.