Will Monitoring the Workplace Improve Productivity?

Thanks to the rise of hybrid workplaces and data-driven businesses, a question that is getting a lot of attention is whether tools for monitoring the workplace’s productivity are either necessary or effective.

Richard Hay, Senior Content Producer

September 24, 2021

4 Min Read
Will Monitoring the Workplace Improve Productivity?

Choosing to implement any tools and services for monitoring the workplace in this age of hybrid work is not a simple yes or no answer. To inform the decision, let’s look at whether hybrid and remote workplaces really have seen a productivity hit, examine if there’s any reason beyond surveillance to use productivity-monitoring tools, then get into the best practices for boosting productivity before sinking time and money into tools for monitoring the workplace and the people in it.

Statistics Show Working from Home Is Already Productive

According to technical talent recruiting company Apollo Technical, here are a couple of key research findings about remote workers and productivity:

  • A Stanford study of 16,000 workers over a nine-month period showed a performance increase of 13%

  • A survey by ConnectSolutions showed an increase of 77% in productivity for remote workers. Of those surveyed, 30% indicated they do more work in less time when remote while 24% doing more work during their work hours.

In other words, “If I can’t see what you’re doing, you’re not productive” is not a research-supported position for monitoring the workplace. But there are reasons why employers would want to roll out productivity-monitoring tools for their workers.

A Good Reason for Monitoring the Workplace

According to experience-management vendor Knoa Software CEO Brian Berns, monitoring employee productivity can be a method to identify workflow issues.

Rather than monitoring everything the employee is physically doing on the device, user experience management (UEM) uses baseline data on the workflow process and identifies bottlenecks, slow-downs, and other hindrances that disrupt the workflow such as poor user interfaces or system errors.

Using this data, organizations can then identify the cause of those disruptions whether they be related to training, a backend issue, or some other issue around the workflow.

“As we are trying to monitor remote employees it creates a whole series of issues. You are not sitting in the office to look at body language or catch someone as they are in the office to check with them about why they are frustrated”, Berns said. “This process of UEM provides insight into each of these potential issues and allows them to be rectified.”

That’s not to say there isn’t also the type of employee monitoring that’s focused less on workflow optimization and more on employee surveillance -- recording keystrokes, app usage, and other system data to verify the employee is in front of their computer during the times they are on the clock. This is the type of monitoring the workplace, whether remote or in an office building, that creates distrust plus privacy and legal issues.

Pros, Cons, and Ideas Around Monitoring the Workplace

Based on the descriptions of the two types of employee monitoring discussed above, when pros and cons are listed out, they tend heavily towards negative impacts. However, following those lists, our research resulted in several good ideas to be proactive with remote employees. We surveyed nearly 50 different employers; their feedback reflected the following broad arguments.

Here’s what respondents said in favor of using employee-monitoring tools as a way to maintain or boost productivity:

  • Respondents said these tools can be useful for identifying any workflow issues that slow employee productivity.

  • Respondents also agreed these tools can be useful for ensuring employees are actually working during agreed-upon work hours.

However, the respondents also had concerns about the impact of using employee-monitoring tools in the name of productivity:

  • Respondents pointed out that the tools could negatively impact employee morale, as any level of monitoring can lead to distrust, job dissatisfaction, and employee turnover. 

  • Implementing the monitoring tools can also impact the company’s reputation in its field and affect its ability to attract employee talent.

  • Installing employee-monitoring tools means that someone has to review all those monitoring reports and act on them – and that could actually hurt the productivity of the supervisors and managers who have to do that.

  • There are massive privacy-breaching implications – can a company install these tools on employees’ personal devices? And what safeguards have to be put in place to ensure that coworkers are not seeing each other’s data?

Our pool of respondents also pointed out that there are a number of good managerial practices that can be implemented before resorting to productivity-monitoring software. These include:

  • Asking employees/teams for daily progress reports instead of using monitoring software. This is less intrusive and helps supervisors and managers to remain up to date on employee task progress. 

  • Before jumping to a monitoring software or blaming the employee when a slowdown in work progress is noted, connect with the slower worker, and discuss what is happening to identify what might be hindering productivity on the employee's side.

  • Schedule weekly or bi-weekly meetings to connect with employees proactively for work progress and personal wellbeing check-ins. 

If productivity monitoring software is the best option after all other efforts have failed, the employers we surveyed recommended these best practices:

  • Research the legal implications and limitations of monitoring employees to protect their rights and limit employer liability.

  • Issue employer-provided laptops, phones, and tablets to avoid any complications from trying to install monitoring software on people’s personal devices.

  • Communicate to the employees what will and will not be monitored, and why the monitoring tools are to be used.

About the Author(s)

Richard Hay

Senior Content Producer, IT Pro Today (Informa Tech)

I served for 29 plus years in the U.S. Navy and retired as a Master Chief Petty Officer in November 2011. My work background in the Navy was telecommunications related so my hobby of computers fit well with what I did for the Navy. I consider myself a tech geek and enjoy most things in that arena.

My first website – AnotherWin95.com – came online in 1995. Back then I used GeoCities Web Hosting for it and WindowsObserver.com is the result of the work I have done on that site since 1995.

In January 2010 my community contributions were recognized by Microsoft when I received my first Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award for the Windows Operating System. Since then I have been renewed as a Microsoft MVP each subsequent year since that initial award. I am also a member of the inaugural group of Windows Insider MVPs which began in 2016.

I previously hosted the Observed Tech PODCAST for 10 years and 317 episodes and now host a new podcast called Faith, Tech, and Space. 

I began contributing to Penton Technology websites in January 2015 and in April 2017 I was hired as the Senior Content Producer for Penton Technology which is now Informa Tech. In that role, I contribute to ITPro Today and cover operating systems, enterprise technology, and productivity.


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