While businesses may be paranoid about the productivity of their remote or hybrid employees, there are cases where surveillance is used to protect sensitive company data and proprietary information.
However, when these policies do not have guardrails, too much data can become a liability.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a memo last month regarding intrusive and abusive electronic surveillance and automated management practices. The memo said electronic surveillance practices could infringe on worker rights covered under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.
NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo urged the board in the memo to protect employees from intrusive monitoring which tend to interfere with the Section 7 rights.
Electronic surveillance and automated management strategies can include recording workers’ conversations, logging keystrokes, screenshotting workers’ computers and tracking movements via wearable technology, as well as the use of cameras and GPS.
Studies show surveillance can affect morale, too. More than half of employees said they felt stress and anxiety as a result of monitoring software, according to data from ExpressVPN. Four in 10 employees believe its a violation of trust.
While a level of surveillance might be beneficial for security purposes, there are instances where these practices can become intrusive.
Fritz Jean-Louis, principal research director of security and privacy at Info-Tech Research Group, said companies can address insider threats without consistently capturing a worker on camera or other abuses of access.
Email programs can be set up with specific controls in place to flag an email for review if the email contains sensitive information, such as a company credit card number or an employee’s social security number, Jean-Louis said. This way, employers are not tracking every word, but rather giving the security team a chance to make sure that it is an actual use case, like an employee filling out a work form or for tax-related purposes.
“It only scans for those items that can potentially produce a risk to the organization, it’s not about you scanning emails for everything that the employee is saying, that is intrusive, so I think that’s where the balance is,” Jean-Louis said.
Some federal laws restrict the use of electronic surveillance. A law requiring all private sector employers to notify employees of electronic monitoring went into effect last May in New York. Similar laws are in effect in Connecticut and Delaware, though the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 granted employers the right to monitor employee activity under some specific circumstances.
More than 3 in 4 bosses and executives are surveilling staff via employee monitoring software, according to data from ExpressVPN, which surveyed 2,000 employers. Nearly half of employers said they had fired an employee based on data related to their remote work.
For productivity paranoia purposes, data suggesting the benefits of practices could be misleading. There are many different ways employees can bypass restrictions.
Employees can buy “mouse jigglers” for less than $10 online, making accurate productivity data impossible. One Digital.com study said 81% of employers said productivity increased after installing employee monitoring software.
Companies using keyloggers are not likely to have accurate productivity measures, according to Jean-Louis.
“There are known ways around it,” Jean-Louis said. “And it doesn’t serve any purpose from a security perspective.”