How to track employee productivity without crossing privacy lines

 Two years into remote work and employers still want to keep tabs on their workers and monitor their output. But online tracking isn't boosting productivity — it's only stunting it while making employees wary in the process.

Eighty-two percent of managers are concerned about reduced productivity among their remote staff, according to GoRemotely, a job insights platform for remote workers. But their call for more support through online monitoring solutions is being met with some pushback: 43% of employees would consider leaving their jobs if employers started tracking their productivity. 

"There has been some form of monitoring technologies available for decades at this point — they're not exactly new," says Dr. Heather Whiteman, an assistant teaching professor at the University of Washington Information School. "What we're seeing now is this heavier reliance on them, especially during the pandemic, when organizations saw this as a way to feel like they still had control and insight into what was happening."  

Monitoring solutions do improve productivity: according to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when employees knew they were being monitored, profits increased by 7%. However, monitoring solutions can often foster feelings of distrust or performance anxiety among a team, according to Whiteman. 

"The technology systems aren't designed to take into account the natural variability of how humans work," she says. "A lot of times productivity is reinforcing, "Do more! Do more!" for the sake of the organization, as opposed to for the sake of the person." 

Whiteman says simply monitoring output is a "fundamental flaw" of these systems, which can overlook the time employees spend building their social and professional relationships through team meetings or networking opportunities.

Employees are actually open to employer oversight into their work habits — as long as they know about it up front:  despite the negative perception surrounding monitoring systems, 77% of employees said they'd be OK with being monitored on personal or work-issued devices, according to security systems provider Dtex.  

"The most important thing is to leverage these kinds of [monitoring] tools after a culture of trust has been established," Whiteman says. "[Otherwise], it's likely to be met with failure, resistance, and difficulty in leveraging these tools and technologies in the way that organizations want to."

Whitman says the issue is not necessarily with the systems themselves, but the intentions behind implementing them. Productivity metrics — when used correctly — can encourage employees to get their work done efficiently and help them be more engaged and motivated in the work that they do. 

"We should be doing analytics for people, not analytics about people," Whiteman says. "When we treat employees as just resources, we tend to bring in that old mindset around it. If instead, these technology companies think of it as technology for people, you end up with really different designs that understand [productivity] as a whole."

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