The sudden shift to more remote work in 2020, has kicked off all kinds of conversations around topics like how to lead remote teams, providing effective support, and work from home accountability—including the potential need for employee monitoring software.
How much oversight remote workers need—and if work from home should even be allowed—was a subject for passionate debate long before current events forced the hand of thousands of organizations. Some see flexible arrangements as a plus, while others remain concerned about the potential for abuse. Still, it's likely more remote work is here to stay, so each organization will have to decide what strategy is appropriate.
Is Remote Work More Productive?
The assertion that work from home is more productive is somewhat counterintuitive, which may be why some organizations have been resistant to allowing it. For a society that has measured work for decades by requiring associates to punch in on a time clock, it sounds fanciful that an employee would actually do more if they're not under the watchful eye of a manager.
Still, there's significant evidence that "seat time" at an office doesn't necessarily equal productive time. In its most recent State of the American Workplace Report, Gallup found that people who work remotely 60 to 80 percent of the time are the most engaged. A much-cited Stanford University study where employees were randomly assigned to work from home or in the office showed remote workers were 13 percent more productive.
There will be plenty of new data to analyze now that we're in the middle of what Time magazine called the "world's largest work-from-home experiment." Before coronavirus, those working remotely were probably more likely to be people who wanted or needed to. Now, we're seeing preliminary surveys done post-COVID-19, which include people who prefer working in an office, and they don't find remote work as productive. It could mean the future of work will have to be tailored to each individual to remain productive.
Other Work-From-Home Benefits
Outside of promoting productivity, other potential remote work advantages include lowering costs and allowing for the ability to hire from a larger talent pool.
Global Workforce Analytics estimates the average employer can save $11,000 per worker per year by allowing them to work remotely at least half the time. "The primary savings are the result of increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness," GWA explained.
Not only do organizations have more choice in hiring if they're not limited geographically, more than half of respondents in one Gallup poll said they'd quit their current job for one that offers more flextime.
How do You Manage Work-From-Home Accountability?
Setting clear expectations is a primary consideration for keeping remote workers productive. It starts with a foundation of trust. There should be no confusion around what is wanted from each person. The simplest measurement of performance is output. Instead of measuring how much time is spent in an office chair, look at project completion rates.
Still, some jobs are harder than others to measure that way, and if you need other proof-of-performance analytics, there are options.
Workplace Analytics Tools from Partners You May Already Have
As so much of today's work happens in Microsoft Office and Google G Suite, they can be good places to start if you're looking for data.
Microsoft's Workplace Analytics is a paid add-on to Office 365 enterprise plans that constantly gathers user data "to identify collaboration patterns that impact productivity, workforce effectiveness, and employee engagement."
Using the data, managers, and human resources teams can get a holistic view of productivity across the entire organization. Examples include:
- Analyzing how much time is spent in meetings versus work tasks
- How workloads are distributed between departments
- Looking at how employees collaborate and what apps are effective
- Determining an employee's level of engagement
The platform lets you use custom reports and dashboards to generate actionable plans for improvement and success.
Other commonly-used apps have smaller analytics components. For example, Salesforce offers stats on what training users have done so that you can measure whether everyone is using the tool to maximum advantage.
Purpose-built Workplace Analytics Tools are More Powerful
If you really want granular information with the ability to drill down into what each member of an organization is doing minute-by-minute, you're likely going to want to look at purpose-built workplace analytics tools.
Hubstaff, for example, offers time tracking, location tracking, and URL and app monitoring—including screenshots that show you what an employee is looking at on a computer. On its website, Hubstaff explains, "you can see work in progress as it happens. Random screen capture can be customized for each person, and set to once, twice, or three times per ten minutes."
Time Doctor is another tool that breaks down what project a team is working on and how much time they're devoting to each task. Like Hubstaff, you can see what websites they're visiting, when they log in and out, and calculate client billable hours.
Hubstaff and Time Doctor are just two examples. There are dozens of other providers that offer competing products. Choosing one will depend on the cost and the data you need to collect.
But, Should You Watch Your Employees?
New York Times technology correspondent Adam Satariano recently wrote about his experience experimenting with Hubstaff. He and his editor said they came away with the mutual reaction that it was overly intrusive—so much so that "Ick!" was the word his editor used.
The comment goes to the heart of the argument over how workplace analytics can and should be used. While there are legal aspects to consider, there are also ethics and privacy concerns. There are legitimate reasons for needing to monitor devices such as security, or making sure company equipment is physically where it's supposed to be, but when it comes to productivity, where do you draw the line?
The level of monitoring has the potential to affect the overall company culture, so it's a not a decision to be taken lightly.
The Future of Work is Now
Despite the tug of war over what level of intrusiveness is acceptable, the benefits of broad workplace analytics for driving business strategy are hard to dispute. In the era of big data, insights, like spotting workflow bottlenecks, finding areas where better training is needed, or determining software and equipment ROI, can't be understated. As we move towards more distributed workforces, organizations will need high-quality information to make proactive decisions to help them win.