Remote Work Monitoring – What are Your Options?

As the global coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, companies are being challenged with how to adapt to the “new” normal. Part of that adjustment has been to embrace remote working. This includes a new scope of activities, including workers that have traditionally only worked in the office, service providers, and educators. The level of change we are going through now is unprecedented. So too is the learning and innovation required to keep up. As employees learn to juggle competing priorities under quarantine, managers must learn how to manage their teams while maintaining productivity. As a manager, what is the best option on how to best manage your remote workforce?

Predictably, as we enter the third week of “Shelter-in-place” and “Stay-at-home” orders across the US, new vendor offerings are hitting the market with different ideas on how to manage this changing workforce. It is tough to figure out what approach is best, given the traditional approach to adopting new technology or processes is best done over an extended period.

For one example, back in 2017, it was entirely reasonable to conduct an analysis and evaluate remote-working by viewing the transition as moving along a “remote working maturity curve,” as explained in this article: How a Remote Working Maturity Curve Can Assess Competitive Risk. With this research, it was possible to map out a migration to remote working that was well thought through and strategic. Today, unfortunately, we’re in a different position.

The Spy Software Approach

Polly Mosendz and Anders Melin recently published an article on Bloomberg, “Bosses Panic-Buy Spy Software to Keep Tabs on Remote Workers.” The article is a good example of the “knee-jerk” reaction some are taking on how best to manage a remote workforce.

Using the maturity curve example described above, this group could be defined as “Skeptics” or maybe they’re just uneasy about being in an entirely new work environment. Those managers likely didn’t see a need for remote working before today’s conditions. Now, being forced to pretty much become an “Innovator” overnight, is causing stress, concerns over lost productivity and apprehension over how best to proceed. This is to be expected. After all, it was defined as a “maturity curve” because it is something learned over time, as a way to slowly embrace technology and process improvement innovation. But alas, that option doesn’t exist today!

In line with a quick-thinking approach, some are purchasing keylogging or time management software programs to let employees know Big Brother is watching, and for managers to try and feel more in control in “getting a full day’s work” out of their staff.

This approach seems short-sighted.

Do Scare Tactics Really Motivate Employees?

We’re all facing a new normal – both personally and professionally. Employees and managers have been forced to work from home under less than ideal conditions. Not only are we all dealing with getting a crash course in remote working, but also having to do that in a climate of fear and anxiety about the coronavirus, the economy, and when this will all end.

Introducing Big Brother now seems counterintuitive. A better approach is to do things that help employees feel good and that suggest their employer cares and will take care of them. Now is the time to lean in and get excited about work to help make it through this crisis. Implementing a program that tracks keystrokes will have just the opposite effect, and quite frankly, will contribute by only adding to the anxiety and fear already present.

Total Time Working Doesn’t Mean Higher Output

What happens in the office happens at home. In this case, just because you are sitting at a desk in the office doesn’t mean you are being productive. The same is true while working at home.

Everyone has a smartphone, so it is easy to keep in touch with friends via social media or to shop online. These activities can be done from anywhere – in the office, or at home. In the office, add time to chat with co-workers, take lunch breaks, and attend a lot of meetings. At home, different distractions exist, such as tending to other family members or household tasks.

The point is that quality is often more important than quantity.

Spy software has no way to differentiate these two types of activity, limiting its effectiveness.

Alternatively, if an employee’s job is in a support type of role, responding to online inquiries or phone calls, then perhaps total time working is a good proxy for measuring the completion of a full workday. In these cases, however, I would suspect there is already an application that tracks how many phone calls have been answered, so the need to implement spy software is redundant.

The Goal is to Be Productive

One of the most powerful impacts of remote working on productivity is the ability to set one’s schedule. It might be you have young kids that now need to attend remote schooling. Maybe this is something you do every morning until say 11 am, at which point you can then be fully available to work.

Offering employees flexibility will be appreciated now more than ever, and gives them the opportunity to be highly focused when they are working. Spy software that simply tracks what is done during working hours will hardly drive greater productivity. More importantly, it won’t give you any intelligence on how to help staff improve effectiveness.

Learn Through Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Analytics

The best way to understand how people work – and how to build more productive teams – is to regularly share how productive everyone has been. This is a comparative measure, not a simple tally of minutes worked. Take Prodoscore, for example. Time spent doing everyday sales tasks is captured and aggregated to learn what makes sales professionals close more deals. This intelligence is then summarized and shared as a daily score based on insights of who is working smarter vs. just being on their computer longer.

Imagine the impact of giving every team member visibility into each other’s scores, including a running total for the prior week or month. Just as social media quickly allows us to communicate with each other, so too can this type of approach lead to improved performance. From a leadership standpoint, the implications are endless - consider the opportunity to coach lower performers, replicate top performers, better predict revenue results, reduce time to peak performance for new hires. Add gamification into the mix, and it should soon be apparent there is much more to managing a remote workforce than installing spy software.