As COVID-19's spread has prompted an expansion of work-from-home policies across various industries, the use of more-pervasive monitoring software, also known as "tattleware" or "bossware," has increased. The New York Times demonstrated how this software works, but the idea is simple: Once the software is installed, an employer has deeper access and even live monitoring tools for everything you do on your computer, including which applications you open, what websites you visit, and how much time you spend doing different activities. Employers can use this data to track your attendance or periodically snap screenshots of your screen. Some software can even monitor the music you listen to, your facial expressions, your tone of voice, or your writing tone throughout the day. To what purpose depends on the type of work you do—and whom you do it for.
According to Brian Kropp, VP of Research for Gartner, the number of companies that use this "tattleware" has increased from 10 percent pre-COVID to 30 percent currently. It's an epidemic all on its own.I hate this type of employee monitoring. Employers that try to regulate employees' use of workplace technologies in this way are fighting a Sisyphean battle. I call it the iPhone-ification of the American workforce. No matter your policy trying to monitor your technology and your employees' related productivity, if your employees can take their smartphones out of their pockets to circumvent your efforts, how can you effectively police anything? Why have a policy you cannot police and enforce? It's also incredibly creepy and intrusive.
Instead of regulating an issue you cannot hope to control, treat employees' use of technology for what it is—a performance issue. If an employee is not performing up to standards because he or she is spending too much time on non-work activities, then address the performance problem. Counsel, discipline, and ultimately terminate if the performance does not improve. A slacking employee, however, will not become a star performer just because you limit their social media access, keep an eye on how often they shop on Amazon, or log their Spotify playlists. They will just find another way to slack off and will resent you for your intrusion of their privacy. Instead of wasting your resources to fight a battle you cannot win, reapportion them to win battles worth fighting.
We ask so much of our employees, even more so during Covid. The 9-to-5 is no longer relevant. If my employee, who is giving up nights and weekends for me, wants to spends a few minutes during the workday posting to Facebook, or checking the score of last night's game, or buying something on Amazon, I just don't care. I only care when it reaches the level of distraction and impacts performance. Then, however, we are treating the performance problem, not the technology problem—which is the appropriate and practical solution.
To put it another way, if you don't trust your employees enough to do their jobs, why are you employing them in the first place?