Over half of business leaders believe there should be some form of monitoring for home workers, but HR organisations urge employers to be clear about what precisely they are scrutinising.
New research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and HR tech specialist HiBob shows that more than half of bosses (55%) agree with collecting information on regular home workers, including the amount of time spent on laptops each day and email sending behaviours to identify risk of burnout.
However, only three in 10 (28%) leaders reported that their organisations were using software to monitor the productivity of home workers. Where workplace monitoring is in place, the CIPD and HiBob urge employers to consider its purpose, and to be clear to staff about what is being examined and why.
The survey, part of the CIPD/HiBob series Technology, the Workplace and People Management highlights that workplace context, such as job level and sectors, can influence attitudes towards collecting information on home workers, and whether any monitoring software is used.
The survey of over 2,000 bosses found that 39% of bosses didn’t feel any measures to collect information on regular home workers were acceptable; 6% did not have a view; and 55% agreed with at least one measure.
Monitoring remote workers
These measures could include: tracking the amount of time spent on billable tasks for clients (24%); observing email sending behaviours, but not content, to identify if an employee is at risk of burnout (24%); recording how much time employees use their work laptop each day (22%); sending automatic alerts to managers if employees work outside normal working hours (18%); and passively monitoring website activities, for example, to gauge time spent on non-work-related websites (18%).
Senior leaders, such as owners and chief executives, were more likely to agree that collecting information on home workers was acceptable compared with senior managers.
Nearly a third of respondents (28%) said they used at least one type of software to measure home workers’ productivity, while over half (58%) say their organisations don’t use any. This falls to 53% of bosses in the private sector.
HR staff were less comfortable with these measures, than non-HR, the study revealed.
Hayfa Mohdzaini, senior research adviser at the CIPD, said the move to increased hybrid and remote working had fuelled the debate on employee monitoring practices and what was acceptable.
He said: “Depending on the context, collecting information on home workers can be a positive thing, supporting employee performance and wellbeing, by identifying signs of excessive workloads and burnout. And certainly, it can be necessary in specific roles and industries, for example where there are billable hours. However, when used without a clear reason it will likely be treated with suspicion by employees.
It can be necessary in specific roles and industries, for example where there are billable hours” – Hayfa Mohdzaini, CIPD
“We recommend that employers be transparent about what they’re monitoring and why, consulting with staff to make sure these measures are necessary and relevant to their role. Employers need to demonstrate how any monitoring software used can benefit employees, while also respecting their privacy and encouraging a culture of trust,” he said.
Ronni Zehavi, CEO and co-founder at HiBob, warned that trust could be undermined by heavy-handed use of monitoring: “It’s understandable for businesses to want to gain insight into what their staff spends time on or how long anything takes them to do, but collecting more information than is needed to fulfil any audit purpose could undermine trust and impact the relationship between staff and employers, irrevocably damaging employee engagement – the cornerstone of any HR strategy.”
“Ultimately how a business decides to measure performance, growth or company success will reflect on that organisation’s culture. Progressive businesses understand that a healthy culture based on transparency, communication and flexibility drives sustainable growth and positive business outcomes.”
Anne-Marie Balfour, legal director at Charles Russell Speechlys, said that while the bosses in this study appeared to have well intentioned reasons for collecting information on home workers, particularly around burnout risks, monitoring was a “legal minefield”.
She said: “Human rights, data protection, health and safety and unfair dismissal laws all intersect when considering how monitoring can be conducted lawfully. If the employee is working in another jurisdiction, that jurisdiction’s set of relevant laws will apply too.
“Employers would therefore need to consider and plan carefully before implementing any monitoring arrangements. The Information Commissioner’s Office this month published draft guidance for employers on monitoring, and is consulting on this at present. This may give employers a welcome steer in this difficult area.”