Big Brother-like attempts by employers to track the productivity of remote workers seems to be backfiring.
A new study released by research firm Gartner shows that employees are nearly two times more likely to pretend to be working when their employers use tracking systems to monitor their output. Gartner surveyed more than 2,400 professionals in January 2021.
“Our role as managers is to create an environment where people can do their best work. It’s really hard to do your best work if you feel like you are not trusted,” says Carol Cochran, vice president of people and culture at remote career site FlexJobs. “If I feel like someone doesn’t trust me enough to feel like I’m doing my work without monitoring through software, how do I trust them back? How do I build that physical safety?”
This past year, there’s been an uptick in reports of companies using monitoring software to keep tabs on their newly remote workforces, turning to technology to track their keystrokes and search histories, as well as tools to take periodic screenshots of their computers.
Reid Blackman, founder and CEO of corporate ethics consulting firm Virtue Consultants, said he’s not surprised employees are falsifying their work. “Obviously people are going to game the system … especially if they think the system is unfair,” he says.
Though he says it’s not unreasonable for managers to have concerns about their workers’ productivity, he suggests they think critically about why they want to use such software and what they stand to accomplish before deploying any systems. Blackman also recommends discussing the move with employees beforehand so they can ask questions and understand the reasoning behind it.
Alexia Cambon, a research director at Gartner, says employers’ initial instincts to track their employees may have been well-intentioned, especially in the early days of the pandemic, when there was a need to recreate in-office strategies at home. However, many companies did not take human behavior into consideration, she says.
“If you know that, as humans, we will struggle to disconnect from a remote world …. then you really need to create strategies to incentivize people to disconnect and not stay on longer hours,” Cambon says.
Gartner also found that adapting office-centric practices for hybrid work environments, such as creating an abundance of meetings, has led to virtual fatigue. Employees who now spend more time in meetings are 1.24 times more likely to feel emotionally drained from their work, the study found.
Cambon cautions that when employees experience high levels of fatigue, their performance can decrease by up to 33% and feelings of inclusion can decrease by up to 44%. Ultimately, these workers are up to 54% less likely to remain with their employers, she says.
Contrary to prevailing advice, Cochran advises companies to reconsider asking their employees to turn on their cameras for video meetings, as doing so can make them more exhausting. As a compromise, she suggests that everyone turn on their cameras for the first couple of minutes to exchange pleasantries with coworkers, but turn them off when it’s time to work.
“We shouldn’t do things just because it seems right or seems like the best practice,” she says. “We really need to be intentional in how we are managing these workforces, whether they are remote, hybrid or in person.”
I’m the Careers reporter at Forbes. Previously, I covered the world’s richest people as a member of the wealth team. Before joining Forbes, I reported for the Hartford Courant and the New Haven Register, covering breaking and local news. A Connecticut native, I studied journalism at Penn State University. Follow me on Twitter @KristinStoller.
By: Kristin Stoller