Since Covid-19 erupted into our lives, we have seen enormous shifts in working patterns. Many employees are still working from home and those that are going into the office, are doing so less frequently, taking advantage of remote working practices and greater flexibility.
Employers have largely been accepting of this new practice of remote working and have had to place considerable trust and confidence in their employees, empowering them with a newfound sense of autonomy and responsibility. While this is undoubtedly great for morale and saves time and money commuting into the office, it’s not necessarily so great for productivity and profitability.
Whilst many employers are keen to adopt and further explore remote working and flexibility, there must be a balance in terms of productivity, efficiency, and output. Indeed, now that the government plans to make flexible working the default position by removing the 26-week qualifying period before employees can request flexible working, employers need to be able to manage their staff effectively.
What is ‘bossware’?
A computer monitoring software which purports to focus on employee monitoring, measuring productivity and performance. It involves tracking technology which can assess how much time is being spent on individual tasks and assignments and is easily installed on computers.
It has the ability to track the programmes, applications and websites employees are using and it can even measure keystrokes, take screenshots and record what words are being typed.
Arguably it is a beneficial tool which will afford employers invaluable information about how its staff are utilising their working hours and it can offer useful insights when it comes to appraisals, task assignment, promotions, demotions, disciplinaries and bonuses.
Moreover, it is likely that once employees know they are being monitored, productivity will increase as tasks will be better prioritised, deadlines will be met and the knowledge that ‘big brother is watching’ will surely spur individuals on to increase efficiency, turnaround, and output.
Another advantage is that it can highlight who is being overworked and who has additional capacity. The information generated will enable employers to make necessary adjustments to workloads and can draw attention to gaps in staffing requirements and highlight superfluous or redundant roles.
An invaluable tool is the ability to highlight inefficiency but also the ability to reward proficiency, improvement, and excellence.
Use must be necessary and proportionate
However, whilst clearly has its benefits, it is vital that employers ensure that the monitoring of staff is necessary and proportionate. Indeed, if not properly managed it can actually precipitate a decrease in productivity and morale.
The software is undeniably invasive which may lead to a decline in company morale and is likely to take a psychological toll as it lowers an employee’s sense of autonomy, trust, and confidence.
Tracking technology such as logging keystrokes, taking covert screenshots, recording mouse movements, and activating webcams and microphones can be extremely invasive and diminishes trust in the employer/employee relationship.
Moreover, the software is unable to look at the big picture and take a holistic approach. Indeed, employees may be excellent managers who motivate and encourage their team by merely verbalising strategies and co-ordinating projects. Individuals may spend hours presenting in meetings or at seminars and their absence from the computer will produce unfair and unmeasurable results.
Tracking employees without any consideration to length of service, loyalty or past achievements can render any analysis invalid and can actually reward slackers who spend hours on the computer but produce very little.
The feeling of being under constant surveillance can also cause apprehension, anxiety and stress. Employees displaying these types of emotions are likely to be counter-productive and are liable to make mistakes as they are too focused on who is looking over their shoulder and not on the work in front of them.
Balance the risks and benefits
When considering using Bossware technology, it is vital that there is a balance between the benefits and the potential risks. Before implementing surveillance technology in the workplace, data impact assessments should be carried out to identify risks arising out of the processing of personal data so as to minimise these risks as far and as early as possible.
It is crucial to be transparent with employees before installing surveillance software. Indeed, it is often utilised without employee consent and this can have drastic consequences for an employer in terms of breaches of data protection legislation, the GDPR and it will no doubt cause low staff morale, high turnover and reputational damage. Employers could also find themselves open to claims of discrimination.
Privacy concerns are understandable as it has the potential to collect, process and store personal information without consent. It may even track and record more information than is strictly necessary such as private passwords and sensitive personal data. Moreover, whilst tracking performance and productivity at work is acceptable, what is to stop an employer covertly checking to see what an employee is doing in their own personal time.
To minimise the risk of claims and so as to be transparent, employers should ensure that staff handbooks and contracts are updated to reflect the use of monitoring and surveillance technology in the workplace. Employees should have the right to know what exactly their employers are collecting and consent should be obtained at the outset.
Employers should also keep monitoring devices out of non-work areas such as canteens, toilets and common rooms.
The primary purpose of tracking technology like Bossware is to improve productivity. Assuming that employers are transparent, obtain consent and ensure that the monitoring of its staff is necessary and proportionate then this technology may just be the technology of the future.