Privacy Risk added to Remote Monitoring

Employers are keeping an eye on their workers at home through use of remote monitoring technologies. These tools perform task-like tracking keystrokes, measuring employees’ active and idle time in key applications and websites, enforcing data security policies and even taking photos to see whether workers are sitting at their laptops at home.

Experts also say being transparent about the use of such monitoring tools not only is essential to avoiding legal pitfalls, it’s also key to building trust in the workforce around privacy issues.

During the past six weeks, almost 20 percent of organizations purchased some form of software or technology designed to track and monitor remote employees, according to data from Gartner, a research and advisory firm in Arlington, Va. That research suggests these tools will continue to be used even as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.

Gartner projects 48 percent of employees will still spend at least some time working remotely after the pandemic, up from 30 percent who worked remotely at least part time before the coronavirus crisis. The Gartner research is based on a survey of 420 HR leaders in early April, a survey of 317 finance leaders in late March and a study of 4,500 global managers and employees earlier in the year.

“Is the purpose to benefit employees, to evaluate them or perhaps to penalize them?” he said. “If the idea is to benefit employees, it’s good; if it’s to evaluate employees, it’s potentially dangerous; and if it’s to penalize them, it’s probably a bad idea.”

Monitoring Technology Tools Grow

Companies such as Teramind, ActivTrak, InterGuard, Sneek and Hubstaff offer technologies that enable organizations to monitor their employees at home. “It’s everything from technology that will take photos of employees from their laptops to tools that allow workers to punch a virtual time clock to tracking keystrokes to monitor productivity levels,These are tools that many companies weren’t buying before.

Teramind’s technology can track employee time spent on apps, websites or e-mail, gauge team productivity levels and help enforce data security policies. Eli Sutton, vice president of global operations for the Miami-based company, said Teramind has seen three times the normal amount of sales leads arriving to its website since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

One way organizations use the technology is to track the time remote employees spend in productive versus unproductive or “nonwork-related” applications or websites, The tools have the ability to gauge active versus idle time spent in targeted areas.

Teramind gives workers an option to periodically log out of the monitoring software to briefly complete personal tasks, such as checking personal e-mail. “It allows them to regain their full privacy, which is well-suited for today’s work-at-home environment,” Sutton said. The technology also can be automatically disabled if employees access sensitive websites, Sutton said, such as a health care portal or a personal bank account.

ActivTrak is another company offering technology that can give HR and line leaders greater visibility into how employees spend their time at home.

ActivTrak also helps ensure remote employees are using good data security practices. For example, if workers are saving files to storage areas not authorized by the company or using apps not approved by the organization, automatic alerts can be sent to managers to follow up on such practices.

Legal Implications of Monitoring

Employers using monitoring technology for remote workers face the same legal guidelines as when using such technology in the workplace, legal experts say. But there are special legal considerations when employees use personal devices for work purposes at home.

When an employee’s personal device is connected to a corporate network or virtual private network (VPN),companies do have a legal right to require employees to agree to data security monitoring measures in those situations.

“Some states have wiretapping laws that restrict employers from recording their employees’ voices or images without their consent,”

Forward-Thinking Uses of Productivity Monitoring

Some organizations are using the data they gather from monitoring not only to keep tabs on remote employees but also to help plan for an eventual return to the workplace.

They found that some people had a faster claims processing speed and lower error rate earlier in the morning and others performed better on those metrics in the afternoon.Some also were doing their best work later at night.

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