Peter Griffin, Editor. 29 October 2021, 2:01 pm
Here’s the dilemma employers face as they look out over empty office cubicles because everyone is working from home – should they use monitoring tools to keep tabs on their employees?
Some are already doing so. It’s hard to know exactly how active employers are in monitoring workers through methods like checking their web browser history or measuring how long they are active on their computers.
A survey from the US suggests 6 in 10 employers already do some form of monitoring to keep tabs on productivity and there’s a booming market for monitoring software programmes suggesting that a lot of employers are paranoid about workers slacking off and company productivity taking a hit.
But some other research out this week suggests Kiwis have little appetite for being monitored while working at home. In the age of the Great Resignation where workers, particularly in the tech space have greater options and mobility than ever, the Big Brother approach could risk seeing staff walk out the door.
The annual Unisys Security Index survey, now into its 15th year and which surveyed 11,000 consumers in 11 countries, including 1,000 in New Zealand, shows Kiwis clearly rejecting monitoring for productivity, security or support purposes.
While 59% said they were uncomfortable with their computer log-in and log-out times being monitored, 83% rejected their keyboard activity being monitored during the day, while 84% said they were uncomfortable with their computer camera and facial recognition software being used to authenticate that they were actually sitting at their computer.
Monitoring of log-in and log-out times was already reasonably common in office workplaces before the coronavirus pandemic. But the Unisys Security Index showed that concern over such monitoring decreased with age. While 46% of 18-24-year-olds were comfortable with it, only 40% of 55-64 year-olds were. When it came to monitoring an employee’s browser history on a company or personal device used for company work, 18-24 year-olds were the least comfortable with it.
The self-employed and small business owners were the most comfortable with monitoring.
“People don’t understand why they’re being monitored,” says Mark Pesce, an Australia-based author and researcher who reviewed the Unisys Security Index survey results.
“It’s producing a sense of nervousness rather than a sense of safety and this is clearly something that we need to educate around. But that education begins with a conversation.”
Office workplaces are in the process of being “exploded”, says Pesce. Employees are demanding more flexibility after around 600 days of living with the pandemic and its disruption. With labour shortages in many industries, a high-trust, low monitoring work environment could make the difference when it comes to retaining and attracting staff.
“In this next decade, [employers] will do three things, they will emphasize outcome over output, they will emphasize safety in solidarity, working together for safety in the organisation, and they will offer support over surveillance,” Pesce says.
Where monitoring has a genuinely accepted and valuable role to play is in monitoring an employee’s security status at home, so devices and the home network are protected from cyber attacks.
“People hook all of these different peripheral devices into the same Wi-fi network that they’re using for their work and which their kids are all using,” says Leon Sayers, director of advisory at Unisys in Asia Pacific.
“I think that the home network environment is really going to be the next target and I think we’re going to see a ramp up on attacks in the home environment with home technology a stepping stone, if you like, into the corporate world.”
Bottom line: Trust your employees to get the work done and measure the outcomes of their activity rather than the activities themselves. Oh, and give them the tools to avoid getting hacked at home.