The rise of virtual surveillance software

When the UK’s workforce was told to ‘stay home’ back in March many companies happily supplied their staff with relevant equipment loaded up an online conferencing platform and adapted confidently and securely to the change.

Some, however, seemed to have struggled with the transition and the idea of their staff working outside of the normal workplace. This uncertainty over their staff has lead them to turn to virtual surveillance software and this trend appears to be gathering momentum with Vox.com stating that ActivTrak has seen a threefold increase in their sales since March 2020 (vox.com, 2020).

With the software being able to track anything from logins, active times and websites visited to taking regular screenshots of employees laptops at any given time, as well as some managers insisting that webcams be switched over the entirety of the working day to view how often they are sat at their desks, there appears to be somewhat blurred lines between a cautious boss watching over his staff and productivity to an invasion of the employees privacy.

Employers do, it can be argued, have the right to ensure that  employees are working during their working day, they are not being paid to binge watch their favourite TV shows or top up their tans in the garden. In installing surveillance software managers and company owners are merely ensuring that work is being done and productivity is as high as it would be in the office. In using the software, many believe that they are creating an environment of honesty within their workforce and ensuring the long- term success of the business.

For the employees however, the constant watching of their every move is seen  in a very different way. Whilst working within their homes many feel they are the victims of an invasion of privacy – feeling untrusted and micromanaged by their superiors which in turn can lead to serious down- turn in productivity from a seemingly oppressed workforce and completely destroying company culture that could have taken years to achieve.

So, is there a middle ground where employers can feel confident that their staff are being productive, and staff can feel that they are respected and trusted to do their job regardless of their environment?

Well, the simple question would be to ask the employers why they employed their staff in the first place? Where they employed because they were competent? Trustworthy? Hardworking? Knowledgeable? Skilled? If the answer is yes, then why would they be any different working within a remote environment? Yes there will always be a very small percentage of employees that will take advantage of the situation, but it is likely that these people were already known to be this way before the remote working boom in March – so why judge the whole workforce based on the behaviour of a rouge employee? Address any concerns with the employee in question, do not penalise the whole workforce.

It’s also reasonable for employers to want to know what their staff are doing, but instead of constantly ‘looking over their shoulders’ employers could instead request morning meetings to discuss their employees plans for the day and create reasonable deadlines for the work to completed and progress reports on current projects as was common place within the office environment. Rather than tracking how much time the employees are sitting in front of their laptop each day tracking the completion of projects on time and to a high quality would be a more reasonable and successful way to manage remote employees.

This more flexible and employee friendly approach was taken by SearchDATA Group when lockdown was enforced in March. Managing Director, Richard Deas had this to say;

“SearchDATA Group went fully remote in March. We set up a morning meeting call to ensure everyone had a plan for the day and knew what was expected of them. By giving our team more ownership over their work we actually saw more buy in and commitment from them. We continue to use parts of this strategy today. “

 As the world adapts to a new way of working, which looks sets to stay, companies and managers are faced with difficult decisions on how to successfully engage with, motivate and monitor remote teams. Finding the correct approach will determine the long- term effects on teams and businesses as a whole.

Keeli MacMillan

Digital Marketing Executive