Privacy, Productivity, Compliance: 3 Considerations When HR Adopts Employee Monitoring Software


Employee monitoring has become more commonplace now that more employees are working from home. This practice has important implications for business and HR leaders. Prioritizing the right aspects of monitoring ensure effective implementation at a critical time, writes Isaac Kohen, Teramind  

It’s increasingly clear that remote work and distributed teams will comprise a significant portion of the workforce for the foreseeable future. Recently, Google announcedOpens a new window that its voluntary work-from-home arrangement would continue through June 30, 2021, following other major tech companies – including Facebook, Twitter, and Square – that have reversed course and embraced remote work during the coronavirus pandemic.   

Silicon Valley isn’t the only one making the moves. More than 50% of SMBsOpens a new window are preparing to accommodate a hybrid workforce of on-site, remote, and distributed workers.

This rapid transition has prompted widespread adoption of employee monitoring software, which produces metrics and actions related to employee engagement, workflow optimization, cybersecurity, and compliance support.

3 Considerations for HR Departments Deploying Employee Monitoring Software

Employee monitoring isn’t new, but it’s receiving renewed scrutiny from media outlets and workers who view it as antithetical or antagonistic to a healthy workplace. In this environment, avoiding the pitfalls of employee monitoring is essential for employers who understandably want insights into their employees without compromising on other fronts.

To achieve this, here are three priorities that HR departments should consider as they implement employee monitoring software.

1. Employee privacy

Employers have wide latitude when it comes to overseeing workers’ digital activities, primarily when employees use company-provided devices like smartphones and laptops. 

This task can be rather rudimentary, including assessing data movement, customer interactions, and app engagement. It can also become far more invasive when companies collect and store webcam footage, browsing histories, and private messages.

Regardless of the approach, employees don’t entirely lose their privacy when they are working, and HR professionals should take steps to implement a privacy-first approach to monitoring.

Specifically, this means optimizing privacy-focused software features, including:

  • Suspending monitoring and keystroke logging when users access personal platforms like banking websites or email accounts
  • Using automation and smart blackout features to redact personally identifiable information (PII), personal financial information (PFI), or personal health information (PHI), or other private information.
  • Restricting internal access to collected information
  • Anonymizing data whenever possible

Collectively, these measures protect employee privacy without depriving companies of valuable data. For example, anonymized data can provide insights into bottlenecks, communication breakdowns, and workflow efficiencies without personally applying those metrics to individual employees.

In general, just because you can monitor something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should, and employee privacy must be top of mind, especially when deploying monitoring software in a remote or distributed work arrangement.

Learn More: How HR Can Manage the Evolving Data Privacy Landscape

2. Productivity metrics

Many companies are using employee monitoring software as an accountability tool to ensure that their employees remain productive while working from home. This impulse is understandable, and, in some ways, justifiable.

However, there is significant evidence that employees are both working more hours and achieving better outcomes while working remotely. It’s estimated that remote workers are logging more than three additional work hoursOpens a new window each day, amounting to significantly more employee engagement and much less work-life balance.

As a result, HR personnel should consider using employee monitoring software to ensure that their employees are striking the right balance and optimizing their workers’ time.

For instance, Microsoft analyzed dataOpens a new window from its monitoring initiatives and found that it needed to shift personnel resources to its management teams, which were experiencing a 100% increase in the number of calls and communications they were receiving. Also, the company learned that employees were most productive between 8 AM and 11 AM, allowing them to move meetings to the afternoon to optimize workers’ best hours.

To best assess productivity, consider implementing an outcomes-based assessment of productivity. Rather than counting keystrokes or mouse movements, measure specific, predetermined outcomes that allow employees to flourish in their positions rather than be inundated with arbitrary metrics that don’t inherently move your business forward.

Learn More: Time Tracking and Screen Monitoring: Are You Having Trouble Trusting Remote Employees?

3. Regulatory compliance 

Data privacy regulations are quickly becoming ubiquitous. While these laws most prominently apply to customer data collection, many extend to employees as well. HR personnel will be tasked with parsing these obligations, which could become more complicated when remote employees work from different states or even countries.

For example, California’s Consumer Privacy Act, one of the most recent privacy regulations, enshrined employee privacy into lawOpens a new window . While employees can’t request the information be deleted until 2021, they are afforded the same protections as customers, including the right to know what data is collected and the purpose for collecting that information. Broadly, this means that companies should minimize data collection and carefully secure the data they do receive.

To ensure compliance, monitoring initiatives must be commensurate with the data risks and purpose. Before implementing a monitoring initiative, companies are encouraged to conduct an impact assessment that examines:

  • any adverse effects of the monitoring arrangement
  • alternatives to monitoring
  • the obligations that accompany monitoring
  • the legitimacy of monitoring purpose

Learn More: What Is HR Compliance? Definition, Checklist, Best Practices, and Key Issues

4. BONUS: Communication standards

While it’s tempting to survey employees’ digital habits secretly, in most cases, clear communication about employee monitoring practices and purposes will maximize the benefits while mitigating potential negative consequences.

For example, an undisclosed feature of the popular video conferencing platform Zoom allowed for “attention tracking” that notified hosts if meeting attendees maneuvered away from the presentation window. Because this feature wasn’t explained, employees reported feeling spied onOpens a new window , leading Zoom to discontinue the feature. 

In contrast, employees reportOpens a new window feeling comfortable with monitoring initiatives when companies are transparent about the purpose and process for the oversight.

Monitor Employees Ethically

As remote work becomes ever-more prominent as companies go through a global pandemic without end, employee monitoring software will continue to play a central role in that process.

It’s up to HR professionals to ensure that this software implementation is effective, something best achieved when it’s enacted with intentionality and planning. These priorities are the first steps for HR departments to consider as they begin monitoring for the first time or as they retool their efforts to meet their employees, customers, and business needs in this environment that we understand as the new normal.

How do you monitor remote teams? Which best practices have you considered? Tell us on LinkedInOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , or FacebookOpens a new window .