HR Management & Compliance

What Is Productivity Monitoring?

Productivity monitoring is a method for watching employee productivity levels throughout the workday. It has gained attention in recent months as a greater percentage of the workforce has begun working remotely, thus prompting employers’ desire to have more visibility into remote employees’ activities are during the workday.

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Employers want to implement productivity monitoring typically because they feel they don’t have control over how much time employees spend on nonwork activities when the workplace is their home and there’s no supervisor around.

Despite the fact that remote work is the only viable option for many employers during the coronavirus crisis, this fear and loss of control have created some hesitation among employers to allow remote working. As such, a lot of employers have utilized productivity monitoring options to alleviate some of the apprehension.

Here are some examples of employee productivity monitoring:

  • Assessment of clock-in/clock-out times or log-in/log-out times for employee software programs;
  • Automatic screenshot technology that takes screenshots at either set or random intervals to assess what program is open on the user’s screen;
  • Technology or monitoring that assesses how much time is spent on nonwork websites or programs;
  • Key-logging technology, which monitors when a keyboard is inactive for a set period of time; and
  • Computer cameras or other video surveillance that can capture how often an employee is at or leaves his or her workstation.

Like other forms of employee monitoring, productivity monitoring comes with pros and cons. Any type of employee monitoring has the risk of alienating employees, who may feel like they’re not trusted, which may negatively impact morale and employee satisfaction levels.

Employees may be especially sensitive to monitoring efforts that intrude on personal equipment they’re using while working from home, including their own smartphones and/or laptops.           

Productivity monitoring also has legal ramifications. While employers do generally have the right to monitor employees, there’s a lot of variability on what is acceptable at the state and local level. In any case, it’s clear that monitoring should not be used to target specific groups.

Regardless of what type of monitoring an organization opts to implement, it’s critical to communicate it to employees so no one feels blindsided. And employers should remember there are plenty of traditional ways to measure employee productivity that do not require electronic surveillance.

Measuring results, having frequent check-ins, and giving frequent feedback can all go a long way toward ensuring employees are staying productive, without having to use other means to check up on them.

It should also be noted that any productivity monitoring should be used carefully and thoughtfully. Just because you discover an employee spent a lot of time away from his or her workstation does not necessarily mean the person was not working, for example.

He or she may have been on the phone or planning the day or any number of other appropriate work-related things. The key is not to make assumptions and, if using productivity monitoring, to only utilize it as one component in the bigger picture.

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.