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Author: Gary Hilson

With the sudden closure of many workplaces and offices, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred organizations to learn more about remote employee monitoring. According to Gartner, before the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 72% of customer service and support functions operated almost exclusively in-office, with fewer than 10% of employees working from home (WFH).  The percentage of those employees working from home has risen to 80% to 100%.

Having remote employee monitoring capabilities in place can help track an employee's activity and productivity, and with the right cyber security protocols, help keep your company’s assets safe. But there's more to it than simply implementing technology. Organizations also need to establish best practices for monitoring employees working from home and create a transparent working environment with their remote staff.

What is remote employee monitoring?

While some employees excel at working from home, others struggle to be productive in an environment that's designed for living, not working, especially without the buzz of coworkers around them or face-to-face check-ins with the boss.

Remote employee monitoring employs software to keep track of workers' activities based upon a set of established metrics and objectives that can include their keystrokes, hours active, an ability to view their screen in real-time and log internet activity.  Some companies are monitoring employees working from home via phone calls and webcams, applications in use and social media activity.  There is software available that allows for the remote-control takeover of an employee's workstation. This can be beneficial when training a new employee, for continuing education, or when upgraded or new company software is released. 

Many companies are seeking to learn more about monitoring employees working from home, leading to a 60% surge in demand for remote employee monitoring software and tools.  Without pre-arranged and agreed upon policies for remote monitoring, these activities may raise privacy concerns and potentially strain the relationship between employers and their staff.  To help ease privacy concerns, providing your remote employees with the ability to read and sign off on a remote IT policy allows clarity for the organization and its remote workers. 

Face-to-face meetings have swiftly been replaced with virtual meetings which has led to an increased amount of virtual fatigue, or burn-out, while other employees are simply interested in getting back into the office. Research has shown that employees want flexibility and about half of the new pandemic-era WFH workforce is interested in continuing to work remotely.

Remote employee monitoring through software tools can provide insight into how much time employees are spending on work and whether their activities are inherently productive.  There are additional ways to help positively impact a remote workforce.

Focus on outcomes, not activities

When monitoring employees working from home, establishing a clear agreement between workers and employers about goals, milestones and outcomes is essential to achieving productivity goals. Managers should set productivity guidelines for remote workers rather than relying on monitoring keystrokes, time logged-in and the volume of email messages sent and received. Ultimately, it’s about accountability for performance by setting standards and benchmarks for various projects. Reports and analytics are helpful tools to see how well employees are performing.

But to ensure remote worker productivity levels are high, it’s critical to make sure employees have the right tools to do their jobs when they work outside of the office. This includes enough network bandwidth, a fast and reliable workstation, and the applications they need to do their job and communicate effectively. Tracking progress and hours spent on a project against the original project plan can provide additional insight into how productive teams are and allow for opportunities to provide feedback or offer additional support if it looks like things are falling behind schedule.

Feedback is particularly important for remote workers, as a key barrier to remaining productive while working from home is effectively managing the isolation from coworkers who may not know if they're on the right track. Managers can support their teams by establishing regular check-ins like a weekly call, email or a simple reporting process. And while no one wants to spend all their time in meetings, it can be helpful for remote workers to have some “face-to-face” interaction through video conferencing or screen-sharing.

Additionally, if a hybrid work environment is possible, it can help to bring employees together in-person occasionally for a team meeting which can go a long way toward helping employees feel connected. 

Build a culture of trust

Using software to monitor employees working from home—without first establishing policies and best practices about remote employee monitoring and evaluation—can clash with employee’s privacy concerns, and is not a substitute for thoughtful best practices or strong leadership. There are many remote employee monitoring solutions available today. That said, each solution has different strengths and weaknesses so make sure to consider the factors you need for your business that will help meet your specific business objectives and goals.

Standard features should include the ability to monitor a wide range of activities including keystrokes, clipboard activities, screenshots, document-related activities, messaging and websites visited, application usage and time as well as network traffic and security monitoring. Many monitoring solutions also integrate with project management and online collaboration tools making them less intrusive and common practice.

Whatever remote employee monitoring technology you choose to implement, it’s vital to communicate your organization’s work-from-home policy to all employees and institute an effective system to track employee and employer obligations. Ultimately, the most successful organizations are those that foster a culture of trust and empower employees to work independently in support of the company’s goals.

Learn how Verizon's Field Force Manager can help you connect remote employees and drive efficiency in the field.