Remote Monitoring Software: Useful technology or a step too far?

As more people are working remotely than ever before, some employers are questioning if Remote Monitoring Software is the way forward or whether it’s a step too far

Lucy Hopwood Marketing Administrator at FMC Global Talent

Ever felt watched when working from home? You might not be alone!

Hearing that up to 60% of large firms ‘secretly’ monitor their employees at home may sound startling, but it’s becoming increasingly common. With remote and flexible working on the rise, it’s little wonder that the use of remote monitoring software (RMS) has doubled since early 2020 as companies are increasingly turning to tech to help them track what their employees are doing.

But is this truly effective? And how does it impact employees?

So, what’s going on?

According to a recent poll by the union Prospect, 1 in 3 workers reported being monitored when working from home in October of this year and more than 1 in 10 reported being watched via camera – albeit knowingly. Demand for remote monitoring software is up 54% since the beginning of the pandemic, so you’d not be mistaken in feeling like Big Brother is watching. It appears that many companies are turning to these kinds of technologies, but as with all tech there are two sides to the story…

Why is it being used?

There are a few commonly cited uses for remote monitoring software. Much of the increase we’ve seen over the last year or so has come from companies looking for a new way to assess performance beyond presenteeism with traditional metrics not being so easy to track when a workforce is based remotely rather than in the office.

RMS arguably allows companies to understand how people are spending their workdays, which can have a direct impact on productivity; 81% of companies found that once their employees knew tracking had been introduced, productivity increased.

There’s also the argument that it reduces employees working outside of working hours as employers can notice when this is happening and help to promote a more positive work-life balance by encouraging them to move away from their work.

But does it cross an ethical line?

Remote monitoring is a controversial topic. Even the quickest of Google searches on the topic brings up think pieces both about advising companies on which software is the best to use, and people vehemently arguing against its use, calling it unethical.

There’s a delicate balance to be struck for companies choosing to use it. Without a doubt, for it to be ethical employees must know they’re being tracked and observed – transparency is key in this situation. Whilst there’s nothing illegal about companies monitoring their employees, amidst arguments that it’s invasive and at risk of being abused, it’s easy to see how it could have negative connotations. Employers choosing to use this kind of technologies need to take care to make sure they’re open and honest about its use, rather than keeping it secret.

A culture of trust

There’s no shortcut to building trust in your employers, and software designed to watch their every move can, in fact, do the opposite. As people demand more flexibility in their working lives, it’s easy to see how remote monitoring can create an ‘atmosphere of surveillance’ and seem like the opposite of trust to employees, and more like bosses are simply watching over their shoulders.

Rather than being concerned with every minute employees are working, it’s arguably far more effective for employers to look at the bigger picture. Are objectives and targets being met? Are teams flourishing and achieving? And are they still managing to do this away from the office?

For many companies starting from a position of trust and dealing with any issues with productivity that may arise on a sensitive, case-by-case basis is likely to be the most effective way forward.

What do you think about RMS? Is it an effective tool for monitoring employees and making them more productive, or does this come at the cost of trust?

The FMC Future of Work series aims to explore what the future holds for our professional lives. During the project, we’ll be providing weekly updates where we’ll be discussing different aspects of how, where and when we work.

We’re also researching what the future of work may look like for us all, and will be sharing our findings with you in the new year. We’d love to hear your thoughts – fill in the Future of Work Survey here.