Measuring Remote Employee Activity

Sure, it’s hard for many employees to work from home, but what about their managers?  Nothing says “Get back to work!” like walking the cubicles. I once had a boss who without making a sound would appear out of nowhere at just the wrong time. We called him “The Feather.” What would The Feather do in today’s remote world? An answer gaining momentum is installing “tattleware.” 

Tattleware embraces a wide range of insidious traps for malingerers. You have the cams that administrators can adjust to more or less generously count down the seconds permitted for bathroom breaks. Then you have the old standbys like keystroke and webpage loggers. Somebody has even mentioned paid Facebook informants.

Before we turn our virtual workplaces into casino floors where Security zooms in on our every twitch, maybe our leaders ought to take a deep breath. Remember all the meetings, courseware, group exercises, consultants and birthday cakes devoted to encouraging initiative, responsibility, teamwork, pride and loyalty?  Gone, wasted, if you choose to over-monitor. All of that just supercharges the cynicism and alienation that your people feel when you disrespect and humiliate them with your excruciatingly, mean-spirited surveillance.

What to do?  Here productivity is at stake. It’s one thing to promote high-minded values when the sun is shining. Quite another to bet the business on them. Do you trust your people to step up?  Frankly, it’s your only real option. Still, you can do a lot more than chew your nails as you wait to see if your people come through for you.

First, double-down on your values. Use video cams in your communications as much as possible, and avoid trying to use email as a substitute for group work sessions. Have “brown bag lunches” where rotating team members present successes. Start polling your employees regularly for their opinions and concerns. Be as transparent as possible about how the business is doing and what you anticipate going forward. You get the idea.

Second, take this as an opportunity to refocus on the contributions you expect from your employees. What do you really need from each person? You’ve heard the old saying, “You measure input when you can’t measure output.” Are you paying people to sit in front of their computers and click stuff using company-authorized applications? No, you want them to accomplish things and achieve goals. Even for people who are not engaged in traditional projects, try “projectizing” the processes and tasks with which they are charged. Expand your time collection system beyond tracking hours for payroll and managing leave. Have your people allocate their time to projects, so you can see where effort is being directed. If you know what your employees are specifically working on, you can easily check to see what they have produced. Also, the exercise of allocating time to a list of priorities can help employees become more self-aware of how successfully they are managing their work loads.

So don’t panic into destroying your credibility and culture with oppressive surveillance measures. Now is the time to trust your people and foster their enormous potential to create value.

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