Successfully maintaining a high-performing distributed team requires extra communication and organization. Since the abrupt transition to remote work in early 2020, a new market has emerged to assist leadership manage remote team member productivity: employee monitoring software.
Employee monitoring software, also known as tattleware or bossware, provides a literal view into what employees are doing at home, and has raised concerns about privacy, boundaries, and micromanagement in a remote workforce. In a study commissioned by ExpressVPN, research showed that even though 83% of employers had ethical concerns with tattleware 79% continue to use it.
Not only does this data highlight the growing pains felt by companies to lead remote teams, but also the reluctance to embody a key ingredient to successful remote teams: adaptive leadership.
In this article, we’ll discuss why monitoring performance instead of screens is better for your remote team, what it means to establish a people-first remote work culture, and alternatives to tattleware to improve team performance.
Tattleware can be minimal like browser tracking and keyloggers, which log web history and keyboard activity, to more robust micromanagement like user behavior monitoring, random screen captures, and geotracking.
The meticulous monitoring of what employees are doing, where they’re at, and how they work at home reiterates a stale “butts-in-the-seat” approach that has continued to dominate the American workforce for decades. One of the primary reasons these approaches fail are because of the explicit monitoring theory, which suggests that compulsive behavior is bred from being watched, and therefore, one performs lower.
Though these features are intended to detour the careless employee, who they impact the most are team members whose remote work lives do not fit into perfect boxes. This type of surveillance limits some of the most compelling benefits to remote work, like inclusivity, accessibility, and flexibility, because of the problems outlined below:
Not only can tattleware be installed without user knowledge, but platforms like Workpuls and Sneek can take screen captures into employees’ homes as frequently as a minute-to-minute basis.These frequent screenshots also have the potential to capture personally identifiable information (PII) of an employee or client or simply will take a picture of someone who does not want their picture taken.
Micromanagement is excessive control over behavior, tasks, and workflow. This is why the use of software like ActivTrak, Teramind, or Hubstaff that track user behavior, web browsing history, or even geolocation is extremely inefficient. This approach focuses on tracking and changing an individual’s behavior, as opposed to the individual’s work flow or productivity process. Though it may appear helpful, micromanagement is a key reason why people quit jobs and utilize options to circumvent monitoring software.
Operating a remote team successfully requires adaptability, and respecting your teams’ boundaries is a critical part of that. Being mindful of boundaries looks like this:
Being aware of each person’s capacity
Noticing symptoms of underperformance or burnout
Respecting a work-life balance
Leaning into what works for the majority
The workforce struggles of 2021 and 2022 highlight the unhappiness of an underpaid, overworked, and overmanaged workforce. The pandemic taught employees that flexibility is possible, and there is a way to establish a better work-life balance. As we transition into our new normal, it is important to keep employee privacy and work/life balance at the forefront, and find a way to better manage and incentivize a remote workforce; rather than monitor and micromanage them.
The employee monitoring software market has seen a huge influx since the COVID-19 pandemic, but has raised many questions about how well it is solving the remote performance problem. What does the future of remote work look like, and how do employers and employees move forward beneficially? Many of these questions are yet to be answered, but in the meantime, here are some remote leadership tools to use as tattleware alternatives:
Instead of using screenshots and web browsing history to determine whether or not an employee is working, use key performance indicators (KPIs) to fairly evaluate whether or not an employee’s performance is meeting expectations.
Quantity: How much is someone producing?
Quality: How good is the work someone is producing?
Speed: How fast is someone producing?
Cost: How much does it cost for this person to produce the work they do weekly?
Conduct weekly shout-outs
Build opportunities to connect more frequently
Reward positive results
Conversations are critical. In a remote work environment where face-to-face interaction is minimal, over-communication is a necessity.
Overcommunication looks like this:
Asking what your employees need
Addressing concerns in a quantitative way
Reaching out directly
Being an active listener
In the book Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership, this concept is described as building a team that shares a common goal where everyone feels a sense of purpose and belonging.
“Policies are put in place to support people but an organization that constantly puts policies ahead of people can breed a toxic work culture.”
Building Remote Work Into Your Business, Verizon Small Business Digital Ready
Not only is tattleware invasive, but it dismisses the people-first approach that demands communication and puts policies over people. Verizon’s learning module “Building Remote Work Into Your Business” stated it best with the quote, ““Policies are put in place to support people but an organization that constantly puts policies ahead of people can breed a toxic work culture.” People-first means amping up the conversations, time management, and collaboration, and trusting that you put together a comprehensive team of experts - not children.