Hybrid Hurdle: Remote Workers Pretend to Be Active Online

By: Keith Wagstaff · June 24, 2024 · Reading Time: 2 minutes

Working remotely at least for some days of the week has become the new normal. Many workers have welcomed the increased flexibility that comes with it, pushing back against the claim that working outside the office has a negative impact on productivity.

Many companies have incorporated activity tracking tools to ensure workers are actually working, which has given rise to gadgets like “mouse jigglers” that move workers’ cursors to make them look busy online. But it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Wells Fargo (WFC) fired more than a dozen people last month for using apps or devices that simulate online activity, according to Bloomberg , citing a filing with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Of course, you don’t need an app to pretend to be busy…

Mice on the Move

In a Harris Poll survey from last month, more than a third (38%) of Millennial workers admitted to moving their mouse to appear online while working remotely.

The practice is part of “productivity theater” in which employees spend time doing performative work such as scheduling late-night emails to look like they’re working long hours, or attending meetings they don’t need to be in just to show their faces.

According to a survey from business analytics firm Visier , 43% of employees spend 10 hours or more a week engaged in performative tasks, including:

•   Responding to emails or instant messages as quickly as possible, even when they don’t require immediate attention (42%)

•   Scheduling emails or instant messages for later (36%)

•   Attending unnecessary meetings (36%)

•   Keeping laptop screen awake while not actively working (28%)

The Boss Might Be Watching

Some workers have good reason to appear busy. A report from ExpressVPN found that more than three-quarter (78%) of employers use some kind of surveillance software to track employee productivity.

In a report from the New York Times , office workers complained that surveillance software created an incentive to appear busy instead of doing things that might be productive – such as chatting with coworkers, or taking a walk to clear your head and brainstorm – but can’t be recorded and quantified.

Understandably, employers want their remote workers to be, well, working, instead of catching up on their favorite TV shows. But on the flipside, employees are stressed out by the thought of their bosses watching their every move. Something that might help: A study from research firm Gartner found that when a company explained the purpose and scope of their monitoring program, employees were far more accepting of it.

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