Everything Is Under Control: How to Implement a Monitoring Program and Not Lose a Team

Everything Is Under Control: How to Implement a Monitoring Program and Not Lose a Team

In 2021, ExpressVPN conducted a study to understand the implications of surveillance on the remote workforce.

  • About 83% of the employees outlined "ethical concerns" associated with employee monitoring.

  • 56% of the employees reported having felt stress and anxiety owing to employer surveillance

  • In fact, 48% of the employees agreed to take a pay cut, if it meant that they wouldn't be monitored

But why such a sense of unease? Well, some employees are spooked by the lack of privacy in their working environment, and that's mostly because of the obtrusive monitoring policies adopted by some employers.

In essence, employee monitoring is immensely viable — especially when it comes to identifying bottlenecks to productivity, ensuring adherence to security protocols, and enhancing overall performance. However, often, the lack of a uniform, robust monitoring program can lead to severe consequences — like a decline in employee morale.

The Case for Obtrusive Monitoring - How It Impacts Your Team

A while back, a German retail company was entailed to pay a fine of $12.6 million in response to its use of video surveillance cameras to monitor workplace activity - something that violated the privacy regulations defined by the country and the European Union. Likewise, a computer hardware company in Norway was fined $24,000 by the authorities as it transferred personal email addresses to its servers.

It's no wonder, then, that employees are hesitant to be monitored. Tech.co recently interviewed some employees who were subjected to obtrusive monitoring activities. The responses were pretty revealing - with employees saying that they "felt violated." One employee even said, "At one point, I asked if I needed to put in toilet breaks."

Now, that's something that says a lot about how difficult it can be to reconcile workplace monitoring with privacy concerns when intrusive and obtrusive monitoring practices are rife.

The last thing you want to do is to dwindle the trust that employees feel towards your company. It eats away at productivity and can certainly even have a negative impact on employee retention, not to mention the regulatory concerns that would pop up. In 2021, the Italian SA fined a municipality (controller) EUR 80,000 on account of a breach of data protection laws against the complaint lodged by an employee about their sensitive information having been collected.

In order to avoid the regulatory backlash that often ties up the deployment of an obtrusive monitoring program, it is of utmost importance to build trust within your team. To help you lay the foundation for an effective employee monitoring program, we have compiled some essential tips that you can follow.

How To Implement a Monitoring Program and Not Lose a Team

In one of our recent surveys, we found that an extra day off increased employee productivity by more than 5%. In another survey, we were able to outline how the active and inactive times increased/decreased before and after the Christmas Break. How did we do that? By analysing the online monitoring data that our clients accumulated over the period. And how did it help? We were able to outline the proactive measures that our clients should take to help their employees feel better and work better.

The point is - data doesn't lie. But to have that data at your disposal, you need to make sure that you have a handle on your employees, your teams, and their work requirements. And that's exactly what an "unobtrusive monitoring program" aims to do. From streamlining workflows to identifying problems and bottlenecks, an unobtrusive monitoring program can optimise processes, prioritise tasks that need attention, increase operational efficiency, augment employee productivity, and bolster the bottom line.

Here's how to implement such a monitoring program and not lose the team:

  1. Start by Defining the Goals of Control

    To implement your monitoring program, it is imperative to first define the goals of control. This means:

    • Identifying the objectives that you want to achieve through your monitoring program

    • Defining responsibilities for each member of the team

    • Establishing guidelines as to what is acceptable and what isn't

    • Preparing a roadmap for how you want the monitoring program to operate

    By doing this, you will have a clear idea of what your team needs and the corresponding requirements that you need to have in place. The "roadmap," in particular, sets the foundation for further considerations like surveillance limits, data protection standards, consensual control, etc.

  2. Evaluate the Criteria for Monitoring

    Next, you need to make sure that you evaluate the criteria for monitoring. This could entail something like:

    • Defining the type of channel that will be monitored (e.g., email, internet, phone calls)

    • Determining the times when the monitoring function will be active

    • Evaluating the level of surveillance that you need to have in place

    • Evaluating whether that level falls in the purview of the laws (more on it later)

  3. Let the Staff Know About the Potential Monitoring Function

    Seeking staff consent and keeping them abreast of the monitoring functions is critical. Having informed consent is imperative to have an effective monitoring program in place, as it ensures that you are accountable for the program and that you are not overstepping boundaries. To that end, this would effectively involve:

    • Telling the staff why and how they will be monitored

    • Explaining the goals of control (listing the objectives that you want to achieve)

    • Telling the benefits/repercussions of abiding/not abiding by the guidelines (e.g., disciplinary actions or fines)

    • Answering the questions and concerns of your staff

    Here's something noteworthy: While GDPR places emphasis on seeking freely-given consent from the employees, this does not imply that any surveillance or personal data collection practice can be pursued based on this consent. For example, if an employee gives consent to the installation of a CCTV camera for surveillance, it doesn't mean that the employer can do that. What if video surveillance is not permitted by law or doesn't fall in the purview of the local jurisdiction? This can be a tricky scenario - it's best to avoid it.

  4. Study the Relevant Region-Specific Laws

    By now, we've established that it is imperative to ensure that you have a firm grasp of the laws in your region that govern the type of monitoring activities you can engage in.

    How can these laws suggest directions for the monitoring function? Let's look at some examples:

    • In the European Union (EU), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) ensures that employers seek consent for personal data collection. Monitoring employees is permissible, but the monitoring program must not interfere with employees' personal, sensitive information.

    • In the US, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 ensures that employers have a definite, justifiable reason for electronic and oral communication surveillance in the workplace.

  5. Choose an Employee Monitoring System

    Now that you have a good sense of the obligations that you need to fulfil, it is time to choose the right employee monitoring platform. But how to go about it, especially when the market seems saturated by a sea of different solutions? To help you with that, here are some questions to answer:

    • Can the employee monitoring software function unobtrusively? Is it designed in such a way that it does not intrude upon employee privacy?

    • Is it easy to implement? Can you get to work immediately after signing up for the program?

    • How do the reporting modules work? Can you easily generate reports on productivity, attendance, communication, and assignments?

    • Does it fall in the purview of the relevant laws? Does it meet your local jurisdiction's standards?

    • Does it reduce manual work for employees to help them focus on more creative tasks? For example, does the monitoring system reduce manual paperwork with respect to creating timesheets and reports?

    At the end of the day, an ideal solution will be:

    • Unobtrusive: Providing holistic visibility into the workplace without disrupting the employees

    • Intuitive: Easy to use and harness

    • Flexible: Extensible and scalable as the business grows

    • Customizable: Allows you to set up specific policies

    • Compliant: Support your local legislation and laws

    • Scalable: Can support a range of workflows and processes

    • Cost-efficient: Allows you to improve operational efficiency and weed out bottlenecks

  6. Consult with a Local Lawyer

    Although the general rules are broadly outlined in the regulations, there are still nuances that need to be explored. For example, let's say the employees are set up in the EU, whereas the company is based in Singapore. What kinds of principles would apply to both countries? To capture these nuances, you need to seek the services of a legal expert. They would also successfully guide you on the viability of the specific monitoring software that you've chosen.

  7. Don't Evaluate for the First Few Weeks or Months

    Like any other new project, you need to give this time to settle in. You don't get a snapshot of the effectiveness immediately. As much as possible, allow the employees to adjust to having the monitoring system in place for a few weeks or months. Don't jump into evaluations right away, or you run the risk of being too harsh.

    Meanwhile, keep gathering the data. By the time you do an evaluation, you will have profound insights associated into:

    • Workplace productivity with respect to active and inactive time

    • Whether there are any problems that are surfacing on a day-to-day basis

    • Project performance with respect to time and budgetary constraints

    • If there are any security vulnerabilities popping up too often

    • Whether there is any widespread misuse of company resources

    • Whether the unobtrusiveness of the monitoring system is working as per your expectations

    • Whether the monitoring system itself is delivering as expected

    Such insights would lead to patterns that would help you identify how to improve the workflows. It would also help you correlate the implementation with variables like total productivity, downtime and other factors.

  8. Redefine the Policies and Rewards

    Now, it's time to re-engage with the employees and involve them in the idea of being monitored. Here's where you need to redefine policies and encourage people to think about

    • The potential benefits of the monitoring system in place (at least as a motivational tool)

    • The rewards associated with performing to a certain standard

    • The consequences of falling below a certain standard

    • The incentives based on the achievement levels

    By taking these steps, you are encouraging employees to take ownership of their performance. They would be more open to contributing to the success of the business. From the employer's perspective, this is immensely viable to forge concrete workflows.

    For example, if you have a remote workforce and you need to closely track their work-from-home adherence, you can share a calendar online and encourage them to check in at an appropriate frequency. You can get them to set performance goals and provide regular updates. Also, you can provide progress reports so that you might be able to see if there are any rampant misuse issues happening.

  9. Refine & Improve

    As you set up a monitoring program in your company, there is always room for improvement. You need to continuously review the system to keep moving forward. You might notice that the employees are not getting enough work done. Or, a few of them are slacking off. Perhaps, you are not receiving timely progress reports. Maybe the employees are not taking ownership of the feedback. Perhaps, the software is missing some feature that is key to your needs.

    All such observations point towards one thing: you need to refine the approach. Keep talking to the employees to manage their expectations. Make it a point to set up checkpoints and assess the progress. Revisit the policies and ensure that they are as relevant as ever.

The Bottom Line

A monitoring program would be deemed a success if it helps you improve the working culture and workflow. For that, it's essential that you install a robust, comprehensive, and unobtrusive employee monitoring software fine-tune the operational processes after discerning the bottlenecks and inefficiencies, and establish a clear vision with your team.

Here are some other interesting articles: