Remote Work Surveillance Backfires on Some Employers

By: James Flippin · April 13, 2023 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

No More Chair Time

In the past, measuring employee productivity in an office could be as simple as observing how long a worker sat in their desk chair. Now, with an increase in remote work brought on by the pandemic, executives are turning to technology to track employee productivity.

Last year, the New York Times (NYT) reported 80% of large US private employers monitored employees through metrics such as keyboard activity and time online.

Another survey of 1,000 executives at companies with remote workers found that roughly 40% of respondents started monitoring employees in 2020. An additional 20% began doing so in the last 12 months.

Seeds of Distrust

While 10% of companies introduced the surveillance as an indirect way to motivate workers to return to the office, 97% considered the technology a productivity enhancer.

Over one-third of these companies went as far as requiring employees to be on camera while working, but as a result nearly 70% of respondents had workers quit rather than submit to the video monitoring.

In some cases, methods of measuring productivity risk having the opposite effect. A 2021 study found intrusive monitoring of employees encouraged workers to take excessive breaks and work slower.

Carrot vs. Stick

Other companies have found alternative ways to motivate employees. Morale-boosting moves include offering better work-life balance through four-day work weeks, six-hour days, and earlier starts. Many such companies have found that flexible schedules can make for both happier and more productive employees.

Another common tactic is to create a work culture that actively addresses employee values. This may include perks such as training and career development, which can help to enhance worker engagement.

Happier employees tend to be more productive employees. And using the carrot, rather than the stick, to motivate workers could actually benefit executives too — allowing them to spend less time on their screens watching employees on theirs.

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