Keeping efficiency at pre-pandemic levels as the physical component of the office faded, led some business leaders to lean on software — one more time.
The thesis is, software platforms that track productivity keep staff focused on their tasks as they operate from home. But data suggests a trust-first mindset focused on outcomes has a more direct impact on productivity than a task-by-task approach.
Almost three-quarters of workers say employee monitoring software would have no effect on their productivity, according to a Clutch survey of 400 full-time employees in June 2020. Only 13% of workers say their efficiency would rise if tracked by software, while 15% say they would become less productive.
Half of employees say their company has no employee-monitoring software tracking their work but almost a third are unsure if such a solution is operating without their knowledge, according to the survey.
"I get the tension," said Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Limeade and chief science officer at the Limeade Institute. "It's a whole new way of working, where people are at home and they've got lots of distractions."
But in the context of potential mistrust between management and the workforce they oversee, adding software designed to track specific outcomes is not a desirable strategy, according to Hamill. Instead, managers should focus on having clarity on the outcomes expected of employees.
"Trust is really broken down when you put this kind of software in place," said Hamill.
Tracking what, exactly?
Employee-monitoring tools fall in the bucket of people analytics, an expanding subset of human resources. Some providers include Teramind, Hubstaff and ActivTrak.
Dave Weisbeck, chief strategy officer at Visier, says people analytics tools often follow one of two playbooks: measuring outcomes versus measuring work being done. Using sales as an example, it's the difference between tracking actual sales volume or the specific calls or meetings taken.
"Those organizations who focus on outcomes tend to get higher engagement," said Weisbeck. "True productivity tends to be higher."
Tools measuring work processes can get real granular. Some track the time a laptop cursor sits idle, others snap screenshots randomly throughout the day to log where workers spend their time. The distraction these mechanisms introduce in the workplace can, paradoxically, lead to reducing productivity
Organizations that get too invasive in the way that they're trying to monitor employees don't reap benefits in engagement, and ultimately productivity, according to Weisbeck.
"If you are basically sending a message of distrust, you're going to get distrust right back," Hamill said. "If it's too micro, too granular, if it's not really focusing on the results and the impact that you're having, I think it can do more harm than good."
Trust and clarify
When work processes moved into people's home, the physical dimension of work went out the window. The shift brought about questions of trust: Are employees truly doing what they say they are, when they say they are?
The problem isn't new. Organizations whose workforce is spread among multiple hubs didn't have perspective into what's happening across state or country lines before the pandemic hit. The novelty is the sudden universality of remote work.
When monitoring software is part of the tech stack, communicating its existence is helpful in assuaging privacy-minded employees. After management explains to employees why their email is being monitored, for example, more than 50% of workers are comfortable, compared to just 30% of workers who say they're comfortable with monitoring, according to a 2018 Gartner survey.
Here are four ways managers can build a culture of efficiency and productivity, according to Hamill:
- Have clear and documented expectations of success
- Have clear measures of what being unsuccessful looks like
- Align measures and expectations with overall business goals
- Explain to workers how their work connects to impact, inside the organization and outside of it
"The secret to any optimization is measurement. If you're guessing, if you're operating off belief, you're going to be far less effective," said Weisbeck said.