Like companies of every size in every sector, the coronavirus pandemic radically restructured the work environment for small and medium-sized businesses. Now, it's clear that the hybrid workforce created by COVID-19 is here to stay, as 57% of small and midsize businesses expect that they will continue offering remote work even after COVID-19.
In many ways, this is excellent news. It reveals that many companies possess the agility that will be required to survive and thrive when the pandemic subsides. Increasingly, remote work is in demand by employees and expected by consumers while helping companies cut costs and increase competitiveness at a critical time.
It also presents significant logistical challenges for small businesses, which may be unprepared to embrace remote work as a long-term, comprehensive business solution. In response, they will need to invest in the technical resources to embrace this dynamic environment without compromise.
That's why, among other tools, many companies are turning to employee monitoring software to try to attain some level of control over their processes and outcomes.
Across industries, this software is ubiquitous, and it offers many benefits, from cybersecurity to productivity, but when poorly implemented, it can backfire, reducing employee buy-in when it's needed most. Therefore, leaders need to understand the benefits of employee monitoring while keeping implementation top of mind.
The case for monitoring employees
Even without a global pandemic making remote work a veritable operational necessity, it's an obvious extension of the office that's uniquely suited for the digital age. Of course, companies need to manage the trade-offs that come with this arrangement, which is where employee monitoring software can step in as a viable solution for many companies.
While productivity metrics are anything but an exact science, remote workers are, in many ways, more efficient than their on-site peers. For example, a May study found a 47% increase in worker productivity since working from home became the new normal. The study, which relied on employee monitoring software to determine best practices related to communication methodologies and peak work days and times, gives credence to the notion that remote workers are more productive.
At the same time, employee monitoring software is helping companies identify employees who are overburdened or working too much. Since the workday for many employees has increased by three hours since the onset of COVID-19, this is an essential component of promoting employees' health and well-being.
Microsoft used data from its monitoring protocols to identify team members who were inundated with new work and divert resources to these team members. The company also learned that employees were most productive between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., allowing them to avoid scheduling company meetings during these times.
Companies have spent the better part of the last decade fortifying their IT infrastructure against a growing threat landscape that is constantly looking to capitalize on vulnerabilities.
Unfortunately, those risks are amplified when employees work from home. These risks include:
Insider threats. Malicious actors and accidental mistakes are both heightened when employees are away from the office. Employees are trusted team members with unparalleled access to a company's most sensitive information, and companies need to have cybersecurity and data exfiltration protocols in place to protect this information.
Fraud. When employees are isolated and afraid (two factors that are especially pertinent during a pandemic), they are more likely to engage with fraud attempts. Phishing scams have increased by nearly 700% since the pandemic began. Cybersecurity software and automation can stop many of these messages, but some will inevitably make their way into your employees' inboxes. Comprehensive and ongoing awareness training can prevent these hoaxes from causing a serious data breach.
Network access. Offsite employees may use unsecured wireless connections or haphazardly mix personal and professional technology. Employee monitoring software can ensure that employees are using their company-issued technology and that they are managing data in afe and effective ways.
In a hybrid work environment, employee monitoring software is a natural extension of the oversight that regularly occurs in the office. However, small businesses need to be especially intentional about the implementation process.
Best practices for implementing employee monitoring software
1. Promote privacy from day one.
In the digital age, most of our personal information is conveyed through our devices. Often, the lines between personal and professional technology can become blurred, potentially compromising employees' personal information as they interact with the software.
In response, companies should promote privacy from day one by adopting a privacy-by-design approach to employee monitoring. For example, companies can:
Rely on automation as much as possible, reducing the amount of personal data that's reviewed by IT personnel
Auto-redact personal information
Secure employee data whenever possible
Restrict monitoring to specific apps, locations, and times
If employee monitoring software is implemented without notifying employees, your workers may feel that their privacy was violated, diminishing morale and buy-in, but a privacy-first approach to monitoring can ease this conflict.
2. Communicate and collaborate
Secret monitoring initiatives may seem enticing, but they are unlikely to yield the results you want. Instead, harness your teams' power by collaborating on monitoring requirements and communicating expectations and processes from day one. By operating collaboratively, companies can help ensure that their monitoring goals are met without compromising workplace culture when it's needed most.
3. Prioritize outcomes over activity.
Some leaders are worried that employees will spend their workdays bingeing Netflix and taking absurdly long lunches. These fears are, to some degree, valid, but productivity is about more than just mouse movements and app activity.
In reality, many employees are working long hours that make it unclear when their work stops and their personal lives begin, something that is only exacerbated by a work-from-home arrangement.
Fortunately, companies can help boost productivity and employee well-being simultaneously. By measuring outcomes rather than activity, companies can ensure that they are getting the results they need while giving workers the flexibility that they desire.
As news headlines continually remind us, the economic reality brought about by the coronavirus pandemic is grim. This is especially true for small and medium-sized businesses that face many of the same challenges as large corporations, including a disrupted workforce, reduced foot traffic, and reserved consumer spending, but lack the deep pockets to persevere through this challenging time.
In response, small businesses are redefining agility, pivoting everything from their workplace arrangements to product offerings in an attempt to remain competitive.
Employee monitoring will undoubtedly play a prominent role in this transition, both now and in the months and years ahead. This is an appropriate response to an increasingly decentralized workplace, but some implementations will be more effective than others. By focusing on what matters most, small business leaders can meet the moment without compromise.