With many more people working remotely, how companies monitor their employees is an issue that has acquired new emphasis. There are differing points of view – some believe companies need to electronically surveil their workers, while others think this is a bad idea.

The research tends to support those who oppose it, reinforcing the idea that workers respond better to carrots rather than sticks.

Surveillance Advocates

More companies are doing it. They are keeping an eye on their remote workers through software installed on computers, programs that keep track of websites employees access, measure mouse movements and even keystrokes.

Advocates of such surveillance say it is necessary to replace the supervision that is lost when employees are no longer in an office in close proximity to a manager. But the programs are much more invasive than the eyes of a manager, providing screen shots moment by moment.

But advocates say companies aren’t interested in such granular data. They are more concerned with general information – is an employee working the hours he or she should and is he being productive?

Surveillance Critics

Opponents argue this practice does more harm than good. It measures the wrong things – inputs rather than outputs. Rather than keeping track of what people are looking at, managers should be focusing on the quality and quantity of the work employees produce. Managers who focus on inputs are not doing their job, critics say.

If a worker is doing good work and meeting his or her goals, it should not matter what websites he or she is looking at. Resorting to surveillance software betrays an insecurity on the part of management, a belief that their employees are not trustworthy and need to be kept on a short leash, according to critics. But if that is the case, managers need to ask themselves why there is this lack of trust to begin with because that is where the real problem resides.

There are also other kinds of fallout from using surveillance software. Studies have shown that it increases stress levels among employees and lowers job satisfaction, which could lead to higher turnover. Other research shows that such monitoring can also impact motivation among workers, which in turn affects creativity.

The bottom line, surveillance critics say, is that employees perform better when they are treated well by their employer, rather than looked at with distrust.

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