Bosses spying on workers at home
Exclusive: Some Aussie workers are being given two options: go back into the office or install intrusive surveillance software that will issue a full report into your daily "productivity".
The employee-monitoring software is not only designed to measure how much time workers spend at their desks but how long they spend using the web, how many keystrokes they make each day, can capture screenshots of their activities and gives each worker a score out of 100.
But human resources experts warn remote surveillance could erode trust with employees, and the moves come after a Forrester study found 56 per cent of workers reported being more productive while working from home rather than an office.
Many Australians began working remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year and, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, two in five people were still working from home at least once a week in February this year.
Figures from Roy Morgan also show Australia's biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, are still less than half as busy as they were before the pandemic, with movement in Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart CBDs closer but still significantly below "pre-COVID normality".
Institute of Management WA chief executive Gary Martin said it was little wonder that some companies were now encouraging workers to return to offices but he called the introduction of surveillance software on those who chose to work from home "a retrograde step".
"It fundamentally says that managers and companies don't trust their employees when they put in place a system that monitors their every move," he said.
"You might as well place a video camera in their home and monitor them all day."
Mr Martin said companies would be better off measuring employees' productivity against what they actually achieved at work, and managing those who didn't meet their goals, rather than relying on software that could be "gamed".
News Corp understands large Australian firms, including some in the finance industry, are mandating the use of employee-monitoring software for home workers as part of their 2021 plans.
The move comes after Hubstaff reported a 200 per cent spike in trials of its surveillance software in Australia, WorkTime saw a 300 per cent jump in inquiries from local businesses, and as The Insight Partners forecast the use of employee monitoring packages to increase 85 per cent over the next six years.
Talenting managing partner Jonathon Woolfrey said it was easy to see why software that measured an employee's keystrokes, screen time, and even their location was tempting for employers seeking a "sense of surety" about their workforce.
But he said surveys had shown that productivity in Australia had remained high even during lockdowns "in some cases has actually increased," and there were better ways to manage staff.
"I say to employers, if they were a good employee in the office, they'll be a good employee at home and if they were crap at work then they'll probably be crap at home," he said. "It's complicated but there's a real danger here in fracturing a relationship with employees who already want to do the right thing."
Gartner human resource adviser Aaron McEwan said using software to monitor employees was a particularly "bad idea" in Australia, where new research showed one in four employees was looking for a new job, with "respect" one of the top three reasons for leaving their current roles.
Melbourne-based Sagar Sethi, who founded the digital marketing firm Xugar, said the company began to rollout employee-monitoring software last year but ultimately decided against the move.
Mr Sethi said after an initial downturn in business, the agency actually signed new clients while employees were working from home and decided that regular check-ins were more effective than a software package.
"We're a digital agency but if someone takes a phone call with a client, they might look away from their screen or walk around the room and it will show that they're not working," he said.
"I'd rather depend on a process rather than being big brother and trying to scare employees into doing the right thing. I'm not that kind of boss."
MOVEMENT IN AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL CITIES VS PRE-COVID LEVELS (100 per cent)
Adelaide: 72 per cent
Brisbane: 63 per cent
Hobart 61 per cent
Perth: 53 per cent
Sydney: 48 per cent
Melbourne: 43 per cent
Source: Roy Morgan and UberMedia, April 2021
Originally published as Bosses spying on workers at home