How to Monitor & Manage Remote Workers Without Sacrificing Privacy 

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When using employee monitoring as part of a remote workforce management strategy, employers need to strike a balance between the privacy expectations of their remote employees and the business’s need to manage and monitor productivity levels. In this article I will provide key tips for using remote employee monitoring software while respecting the privacy of remote workers.

Privacy Concerns of Monitoring Remote Employees

Employers that want to use software that monitors remote employees as part of their remote workforce management strategy need to be aware of the potential privacy concerns that their employees may have. These are common objections and concerns of employees that are being monitored while working from home.

Misuse of Monitoring Data

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Data collected by remote employee monitoring software can help you manage your remote workforce. Try to avoid micromanaging time and instead use the insights to make informed productivity management decisions. Photo by Lukas from Pexels

Employees that are being monitored while working from home are often concerned with how the monitoring data is used. They are likely to be concerned that having their productivity measured by employee computer monitoring software may not provide the full context into how well they are performing. 

  • Still Working: Computer usage monitoring produces plenty of raw data about how remote employees are using the internet and computer applications on their devices, but depending on the nature of their roles and their work style they could be spending time away from their computers while still being productive. Employees may also need to take short breaks to manage their energy throughout the day and they may worry that their managers will see these pauses as a definitive sign of disengagement.
  • Non-Computer Work: Employee monitoring software cannot determine when remote workers are engaged in tasks that don’t require using the computer, such as phone calls and problem solving. Small periods of computer inactivity are normal throughout the course of the workday and remote workers may be concerned that their managers will misuse monitoring data to micromanage short periods of inactivity.
  • Data Protection: Internet usage activity that is captured by monitoring programs captures potentially sensitive browsing history that could be leaked in a data breach. Employees may not be confident that their employers are taking the appropriate data loss prevention measures to protect sensitive employee data.

Employers that use monitoring software for remote employee productivity tracking need to understand that raw internet usage data is not the only indicator of productivity and that automated decision making should not happen solely based on internet monitoring reports. Instead, internet usage monitoring data should be used to identify actively disengaged employees that are misrepresenting their contributions and to provide managers with data that they can use to make informed productivity management decisions. 

Overly Invasive Monitoring of Remote Employees

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Even on company-provided hardware, employees may become disengaged when monitoring is too invasive. Be certain to discuss privacy concerns with your employees before monitoring takes place. Photo by Travis Saylor from Pexels

The use of monitoring software can be considered too invasive for remote workforce management when employers attempt to use computer spy software that tracks employees without their knowledge or when they collect more data than the employees consider necessary. 

  • Stealth Monitoring: Remote workers may be concerned that employers will attempt to monitor their computers without them knowing by using computer spy software that stealthily monitors their day-to-day computer activity without their consent or knowledge. 
  • Personal Devices: With the use of personal devices being incredibly common among employees that regularly work from home, remote workers may worry that their personal computer usage will be collected alongside their work activity.

Employers that use remote spying software to secretly track browsing history are not only likely to be violating data privacy laws such as GDPR and CCPA, they will lose the trust of their employees by hiding the intent behind tracking the computer usage of their employees.

To reduce the invasiveness of employee monitoring, consider the transparency and proportionality of the measures taken.

  • Proportionality: When remote employee monitoring software will be used, employers need to clearly define the goals of the monitoring and ensure that they are only monitoring what is required to meet that goal without causing undue harm to employee privacy. 
  • Transparency: Employees that are working from home should be made aware that monitoring activity is taking place. Having them sign an internet use policy that clearly states the activities that will be monitored will help increase the transparency of employee monitoring. 

Employees That Work From Home Not Feeling Trusted

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When computer monitoring is used to manage remote workforce productivity, some employees may feel not trusted to perform well at home. Be certain to outline the goals and benefits of remote employee monitoring and highlight high-achievers. Photo by Prateek Katyal from Pexels

Employees that are being monitored while working from home may feel that the use of computer monitoring software is a sign that their managers do not trust them to be productive without direct supervision. This feeling of a lack of trust can ruin employee morale and cause even the best employees to begin to feel resentful, resulting in – ironically – a decrease in their productivity!

When addressing these concerns, it’s important that the employees are recognized for their contributions and that they understand that the use of the monitoring software is not due to a lack of trust between the employer and the employee. It helps to emphasize the other uses and benefits for employee monitoring such as data loss prevention, providing managers with clear indications that their employees have everything they need to work effectively, and highlighting employees that are doing amazing work.

Steps You Can Take To Respect The Privacy of Remote Workers

Make a Remote Employee Monitoring Policy

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An employee monitoring policy is an important tool for communicating the how & why of using internet monitoring software as part of your remote workforce management strategy.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

A clearly defined policy that outlines the organization’s employee monitoring goals and the methods used to collect data will greatly help to increase transparency. By being open and honest about monitoring activities prior to their implementation, remote workers are given the opportunity to voice their concerns and learn the extent of how remote employee monitoring will be used by the company.

While an employee monitoring policy allows employees to be informed of monitoring in the workplace, it does not necessarily constitute as informed consent in the legal sense – the inherent power imbalance of an employer/employee relationship may mean that consent cannot be relied on as the legal precedent for employee monitoring in relation to data privacy laws such as GDPR and CCPA.

What to Include in Your Employee Monitoring Policy:

  • The exact data that will be captured and how will it be used
  • The technology that will be used to track employees
  • How the company will protect the data that is captured
  • Who will have access to monitoring data
  • Who employees can voice their privacy concerns to
  • What level of personal use is permitted on company devices

As part of your employee monitoring policy, consider giving monitored employees access to their own productivity reports so they can see exactly what data is being captured. Any available opportunity to increase transparency will help build trust in the intentions behind the monitoring that will be taking place.

Avoid Monitoring Personal Devices

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Personal devices are commonly used by remote workers. If you allow personal devices in your organization, you’ll be limited in the types of monitoring that can take place.
Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

If the company does not provide dedicated devices for remote workers to use or they have a formal Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy that allows them to use personal devices in the workplace, there are limitations to the monitoring activities that can take place. 

Should your remote employee give permission for their personal devices to be monitored, careful planning must be implemented to avoid inadvertently capturing personal information and sensitive internet history. If employees that are working from home have a designated schedule, schedule monitoring activities to only occur during working hours to avoid collecting personal usage data.

Don’t Monitor Remote Workers More Than Necessary

A barely visible man peeks through white blinds. Only his eyes and fingers are visible behind the blinds.
Monitoring more than necessary can cause employees to feel spied on. By limiting monitoring to only what is needed you can reduce the potential negative impacts on employee privacy.
Photo by Noelle Otto from Pexels

With the principle of proportionality in mind, clearly defining the types of data that is truly necessary to manage your remote workforce is key. The monitoring that will be taking place needs to be proportionate between its legitimate business use and its impact on employee privacy – if the impact on employee privacy is too great to justify, other metrics should be considered.

Examples of Invasive Monitoring:

  • Keystroke Monitoring: Employees that have their keystrokes tracked may have concerns that their personal information, private conversations, or login credentials may be captured and potentially leaked, causing undue anxiety and stress when using their workstations. 
  • Video Captures: While security cameras are a common form of workplace surveillance, using software to capture video feeds from an employee’s personal webcam is overly invasive and not necessary for tracking productivity. 
  • Sound Recording: Unless a business-use phone is being monitored as part of quality assurance in the context of a call center, recording sound is likely far too invasive and may even be in violation of wiretapping laws.
  • Location Tracking: GPS tracking is commonplace for certain roles such as truck drivers and in-field sales representatives, however for roles that are location independent the monitoring of location is likely to track more than necessary.

Conclusion

Software to track remote employees can play an integral role in remote workforce management, but only if employee privacy is respected in the process. By limiting the amount of monitoring that will take place, respecting the boundaries associated with personal devices, establishing a clear employee monitoring policy, and using employee monitoring data effectively, employers can effectively use employee computer monitoring software to manage their remote employees.

Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland is a Marketing Coordinator for CurrentWare, a global provider of endpoint security and employee monitoring software. Dale’s diverse multimedia background allows him the opportunity to produce a variety of content for CurrentWare including blogs, infographics, videos, eBooks, and social media shareables.