Thoughts on Using Tracking Software for Work at Home Employees

As we move towards a largely remote workforce, employers are starting to explore software that monitors employees’ activities on their computers. There may be several reasons for this: making sure employees do not violate any harassment policies, cybersecurity concerns, or productivity and performance management. There are a few things to consider before implementing tracking software.

First, ask yourself why you want it. If it is for harassment or cybersecurity, be sure the software you install is specifically tracking those; anything that utilizes a computer’s camera or follows keystrokes may not fulfill that need.

You will have to make sure you understand privacy rights around technology. There is a misconception that if the technology and the network are owned by the company, everything that happens on the device or network belongs to the company. While employee monitoring, when done correctly, may be legal, there have been cases where employees were able to prove there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, even on a work computer. If an employee is using their own devices for remote work, things get even more complicated. Employers will also need to be sure that they are using the software for all employees, and being consistent and even with any discipline practices.

Federal laws, like the National Labor Relations Act, protect employees’ concerted activity, like discussing working conditions. State laws around notification of tracking systems and employee privacy differ, so you would definitely want to work with legal counsel before implementing a tracking system. You would even want to consider a policy.

From an HR standpoint, I push you to explore what business advantage you would get from a tracking system—for example, culture. Employees who know their every move is being watched, are not likely to feel trusted and are therefore likely to be less engaged and probably less productive. In our new age of remote management/hybrid management, we will need to find more ways of holding people accountable to meeting expectations and goals, and fewer ways of trying to manage their time. One of the conversations we’ve been having with Council members is that instead of trying to make working from home the same as working at the office, we should be looking at how we replicate our communication and culture systems virtually. There will be more and more software that will allow us to “pop in” to an employee’s office, or allow for spontaneous conversations among employees. So back to the tracking point, I challenge any employer to explore if they are trying to use tracking as a performance management tool, and if so, are there more personal ways to replicate feedback conversations?

Finally, technology. Be sure you do the same due diligence with any technology provider you are investigating, as you would do with a payroll system or HRIS. Are they aware of the laws in the states in which you operate? What are their privacy measures? How do they report data? What implementation, training, and continuing support will they offer? Employers Council can help; please contact us with questions.