What’s the balance between managing remote workers vs surveillance?

Wednesday July 15, 2020

In the past, many businesses have been reluctant to allow staff to work from home due to fear of reduced productivity. But the coronavirus has forced most businesses to embrace the concept of remote working.

Even now, social distancing and COVIDSafe practices mean staff may be required to work from home, at least part-time. Yet productivity fears remain.

Not surprisingly, this fear has created a spike in sales for staff surveillance and monitoring tools. Of course these tools have been around for a few decades. But they are more sophisticated now which is starting to blur the lines between what’s appropriate and what’s an invasion of privacy.

What the law says about staff surveillance

Monitoring employee website visits during working hours, tracking emails, checking for appropriate language and identifying security breaches are common business practice, and often essential. But with good policies and procedures, this type of monitoring is also transparent and that’s a key component to ensuring your business is compliant.

Under the Australian Workplace Surveillance Act, an employer can monitor employees in the workplace if a formal notice and monitoring policy is in place. The Act also requires the employer to act within the scope of its monitoring policy. If, for any reason, the employer wants to increase monitoring beyond the policy, it must seek “Covert Surveillance Authority” which can only be issued by the Magistrates Court.

In broad terms, a surveillance policy can allow employers to:

  • Add monitoring software on work issued computers or devices
  • Monitor screen activities and keystrokes on company-owned computers
  • Keep an eye on employees’ social media accounts and work email accounts – providing there are policies in place and employees are aware of their obligations under those policies

The guidelines around surveillance are nuanced so care needs to be taken when drafting any policies regarding online usage and device monitoring.

Surveillance can also provide employee benefits

As surveillance tools are becoming more sophisticated, some employers are using them as a training tool to enhance employee performance. This type of surveillance requires employee consent and buy-in. But it can be hugely enlightening for the culture of the organisation as a whole.

For example, the Wall Street Journal has written about organisations that collect data on the tone of voice, speech volume and participation rates in conversations. This information is used to provide feedback to employees on how they can improve their management style and interactions with other employees.

While staff were asked if they wanted to participate in this type of monitoring, it can be hard to say “no” to your employer, which leads to the next question. Can consent be freely given when your career and livelihood are at stake?

Surveillance vs trust – what’s your perspective?

For many staff, surveillance of any kind can be perceived as lack of trust by their employer. This can lead to feelings of stress, insecurity, anxiety and overwhelm. At its worst, closely monitoring employees can increase sick leave and decrease productivity. Like all solid relationships, trust and respect are critical in the workplace.

That doesn’t mean you let your remote workers roam free. But it does mean you need good processes, clear expectations and realistic KPIs so everyone knows what a good day’s work looks like.

How are you managing your remote staff?

We are now in an era where managers and business owners need to manage their teams both onsite and at home with equal skill. But it’s not easy to achieve by yourself. That’s where the HR Dept can assist you. We will evaluate your current systems and policies to help you achieve the right balance between monitoring staff performance and trusting in their abilities.

To discuss the potential productivity gains you can achieve in your business, call us today.

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