Should employers be watching over the shoulder of their employees during “Work From Home”

Oh yes, today I am getting into a completely new area, an area which I have never written about.

Though writing about the corporate world is not in my area of interest (despite being in the corporates for my entire working life, 35 years to be precise), however, when I read about this, I felt that given that the impact of such seemingly small thing is huge, and it is something which is and will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, I changed my mind and decided to write about it.

Hence the sudden interest to write…so as always, please do read, like (hopefully), give your comments and share….. 

Let me first set the stage, one of the consequences of Covid 19 has been that there has been a worldwide lockdown.  Offices have closed but since the business cannot stop, employees have been asked to “Work from Home” (WFH).

Sounds quite harmless…but this simple small looking thing has many many issues hidden under it.

So, here goes:

If you are the employer or the boss your response to the topic, most likely, will be sort of as follows:

Of course, I pay them money…shouldn’t I am allowed to know what are they up to and in my experience, if I don’t watch and monitor them they will have a grand time doing nothing and collecting fat paycheques.

On the other hand, if you are an employee or the junior, your stance would be:

I hate it, I feel used, bl……. Hell….as if my boss does not waste his time at all

Recently, I was reading somewhere that one of the big fours has been in the news due to their installing of software on their employee machines for not only monitoring their employees but even recording their videos.

BTW (for people who are not very tech Savy), there is software available, which, once installed, can track what websites employees are visiting, measure mouse movements, and even monitor keystrokes.

Nowadays companies are even using software’s which take continuous screenshots of employees’ computers, producing a video of everything they’re doing, they also monitor for specific keywords on employees’ screens, to check if they are looking for a job, mishandling confidential information etc.

It’s like the Big Brother is watching you, not only during the working hours but during non-working hours also if you happen to use the company laptop etc.

Let’s first try to understand why this happening:

  • For managers who are used to walking past their employees’ desks, monitoring software restores some access to what their workers are up to.
  • An average Manager tends to manage his/her team by inputs things like, how much time did the employee spent in the office, out of that how much time did the employee spent working and how much away from desk etc.
  • The situation has come to a stage where software’s are being used to give scores to employees on a daily basis.
  • The root cause here is that a lot of managers are deeply insecure about whether employees are going to rip them off if they stop swinging the whip (these software are the feeder to the whip)

While the discussion has been on for many many years that is input based management the right way to manage or output/result based managed the right way. For whatever reason, when it comes to discussions more and more managers have started to agree that output-based management is the right way but when it comes to doing it in practice they still prefer input based command and controls. Even when it comes to appraisals and their structure very heavy focus is on inputs rather than outputs or results.

While this discussion used to come and go and somehow never became very serious but, like many other things, have become very serious in this era of Work from Home (WFH) and Covid 19.

The fact that the employees are not in front of the Manager’s eyes is a reality. They are also not with their peers is also a fact. Therefore to some extent, this feeling of insecurity is understandable and justified.

However, this approach has some serious implications. Many pieces of research, in the past, and done recently have begun to show the downsides of this approach of continuously looking over the shoulder of the employees.

The reason why Managers do that because most of them have still not learnt to do output or result-based management.

Let’s have a look at the other side of the coin:

  • Researches are clearly showing that this approach is highly counterproductive, it is showing to be causing the sinking of employee morale
  • Although there are a few managers who may only be interested in information in broad strokes but there are quite a few (as we have bad employees, we also have bad managers) who use the information gathered to take advantage of the employees.
  • A manager that’s only able to monitor inputs is incompetent. Good managers measure outputs, whether that happens from the office or home.
  • Employees start feeling that they are being treated with suspicion by default. There is nothing worse than that.

Evidence is beginning to show, that surveillance software is beginning to cause:

  • Likelihood of quitting their jobs
  • Greater employee tension and less job satisfaction
  • Higher turnover intent.
  • Reduction in their intrinsic work motivation, which in turn could harm creativity.
  • More importantly, employees are less willing to go above and beyond for the company when they start losing trust and motivation.

On one side, there is the very real issue of how does one monitor an employees work when you can’t see him, can’t meet him and he is at home. On the other side are the issues of motivation, initiative and feel-good feeling.

The reason why one needs to think is because:

  • It is such an important issue that if not handled well can result in seriously damaging a company’s ability to sustain itself (it’s all about people after all).
  • This Covid 19 situation has developed so fast that no one got time to plan, think and prepare for how to manage it…delicately and effectively.
  • It is also expected that this situation will last for a long time (till the time vaccine comes, becomes available everywhere and people are inoculated). We are talking about WFH continuing for more than a year at least (if not more)
  • Since suddenly businesses have realised that this is a great way to build cost efficiencies into the business (by cutting rentals, real estate and administrative costs) many may like to see this continuing, at least partially.

However, things cannot go on like it is happening today (the big brother approach).

Where is the balancing line? Here are my recommendations (would love to hear yours):

  • Discourage out of working hours including weekend working (give confidence to the employees)
  • Do understand the employees are human and not machines. Many studies have shown that in any working day, typically people work (billable or productive work) for not more than 70 to 75 % of the time. It is impossible to work beyond that I would hazard to say that is in-human to expect people to work beyond that.
  • Treat them well, don’t start by doubting everyone. Remember they are not working from home by their choice, the business or the circumstances have forced them into it. In other words, stop the Managers should STOP thinking; oh they are having a “good” time due to this WFH. Remember, they didn’t choose it. The Manager (due to the company policy) asked them to.
  • The Manager may choose to watch some people more than others based on performance and results and NOT because they are WFH.
  • Management by Objectives was a buzz word long time back, and then it lost its sheen. It’s time for it to make a comeback in a modified version. Set goals of everyone from top to bottom (measurable) and measure their work against them.
  • Learn and train your Managers to look at the quality and quantity of work that your employees are putting out rather than watching every keystroke on the computer and the time spent in front of the computer.

Of course, not every company cares about treating their employees well and compensating them fairly—in which case, surveillance software is just a symptom of larger problems. I am not talking about such companies here.

Over time, though, companies would be wise to wean themselves off the Big Brother approach and find ways to measure employee performance in other ways.  

It might seem difficult at first, but there’s always a way.

If you start with the premise that you don’t trust people, then you have already lost the battle

Well, those were my thoughts and solutions. Please do give yours, I like to learn from diverse opinions. 

And yes, please like, share and popularise it amongst your contacts and friends…. God Bless you.

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Journalism, Journalists and Media – Are failing us, MOSTLY

That’s a strong statement to make, isn’t it…Yes, it is…I will tell you why

Let me tell you a real story…it was around 10 years back, I was sitting with a very senior and respected Indian journalist of his times (his times because he was retired by then).

I asked him, how has journalism changed over time in India? He gave me a beautiful short statement which hit the nail on the head…here is his exact statement:

“Earlier Indian journalism was heavily influenced by British style of journalism, “Newspapers are for news, and if they make money too it is great. Nowadays, journalism is influenced by American style of journalism, Newspapers are a business, their primary job is to make money, if they have to give some news towards that purpose then so be it”.

(Now, my American readers may feel a bit upset to let me give a disclaimer here, his use of the word American was more of a way to describe two approaches rather than bad mouth any country).

Let’s go back to his statement and analyze it in today’s context.

Open any newspaper/TV Channel/Web Newspaper these days and here is what you see in 80 % of the newspaper (either in larger columns or Bold Texts or Videos):

The headline on the front page of the newspaper will, typically, have things like:

  • Bomb explosions
  • Political Fights
  • Terror Attacks
  • Diseases etc.

If you go to the inside pages, you will see news items like

  • Crime committed
  • Accidents,
  • how poorly the economy is doing
  • Religious divides
  • Racial discriminations

If you go to features page and/or editorial page, the main theme that comes across is what is wrong with the world and how it can be fixed!!

Now, even in the entertainment and sports pages, the news is mostly about who has broken up with whom, who has been sacked from a team and wherever you read an article on a game that happened yesterday, the article is full of the writer’s opinions and no facts. If there was no scorecard published at the bottom one would not even know what the result of the game was.

Now, one could argue that if one has only facts in the newspaper it would read like a statistician’s page.

I am not advocating that.

What I am talking about is using the same data/information and giving the positive side of things also. I am advocating balance not just finding out negativity in everything.

Let me give you some typical headlines (actually taken from various news channels) these days, their impact and the same data presented differently and their impact:

S.No.Typical HeadlineImpactSuggested revised Headline using the same dataImpact
1.India crosses 100,000 Corona cases. No solution in sight.a. Fear
b. Pessimism
c. Negativity
d. Govt. is useless
India crosses 100,000 Corona cases, 52000 recovered, low death rate and high recovery rate gives hopea. Caution
b. Morale Boost
c. Belief in what the Govt. is doing
d. Optimism that even without vaccine we are fighting it well
2.India-China Standoff – Is our Army ready for a war?a. Doubts about our Army
b. Negativity
c. Are we good enough?
d. Fear – How will it impact me?
India-China Standoff –Leaders from both sides to talk. Army increases vigilancea. Confidence
b. Hope (things will get resolved)

Let me point out something in the above table. In both (actual and proposed), the data/information used is accurate but look at the impact they create.

Now, before you misunderstand me, I am not saying that news should not be reported and only distorted positive spin to everything should be done.

What I am saying is that the news reporting should be balanced, give facts, then give both sides, positive and negative. Let people make their judgment, their conclusions.

Time for another story, I was talking to another very senior journalist of today’s world.

I asked him a question…I said, tell me what news is? His reply shocked me a bit….he said

“When a dog bites a man, it’s no news (it doesn’t sell), but when a man bites a dog, its news (people read it and it sells)”. Parentheses are my own.

With this attitude of journalists, is it not a surprise that today all the methods of news carriers are only focusing on fear-mongering and painting a pessimistic picture of the world.

Now, why am I writing this on Press, Media and Journalists?

Simple, they have the biggest reach, biggest influencing power, and therefore the biggest accountability/responsibility for doing their job in a sensible, mature and responsible manner.

Just in case you are thinking that I am arguing for only painting a pretty picture, let me answer it upfront, I am not…

The picture is not always pretty and so there is no need to paint it that way.

Do tell us what has happened, good bad ugly but don’t make it worse or uglier just because it sells more.

The worst part is that in all these “news items”, only 25 % are facts rest all are the opinions of the journalist writing and for some reason, most of the journalist likes to sensationalize the happening as if the sky is falling.

Now, the solution and/or recommendation, will the media be willing to put the following principles in place for themselves:

  1. In every newspaper, news channel, digital channel etc. there will be one page/program devoted to what good things happened in the world today for example stories of people who went out of their way to help people suffering due to the pandemic, soldier or policeman who risked their lives to save someone, an ordinary man/woman who teaches poor children to help them build a better life for themselves….heroes are not in movies there are only in real life.
  2. In every article or news item, 50 % of the coverage should be pure verifiable facts and that no journalist will be allowed to do fear-mongering in the rest of the article/program but give a mature point of view (both sides, balanced, positive with negative etc.).

Let me reiterate here, no one is asking media people to suppress news, no one is asking them to only be goody two shoes, no one is asking them to give only one side of the story.

What is being said here is that, please be responsible, matured and decent about things that you do, say and write.

You have a huge reach, don’t misuse it.

You can influence and/or change the world, don’t take it lightly.

And yes, let me rewrite my version of what the retired journalist had told me….

Newspaper is for news, it needs money to sustain itself and make reasonable profits for its stakeholders. Profits made thru selling subscriptions and advertisement AND NOT by selling news, news columns to the highest bidder!!!!

One of my friends has stopped reading newspapers, watching TV (news channels) and stopped subscribing to digital news channels.

Because it sounded a bit much to me, I asked him why? His reply was deep and poignant…

He said, if a highly intelligent and evolved set of aliens come to earth today and to know about this blue planet and they accessed all our media to get to know us, they will say…let’s go somewhere else, we have come to a hellish planet, there is nothing good happening here, it’s falling apart. Let’s not waste our time…they will then engage warp drive and fly away…..

Media people….are you listening?

Readers, as always, please like, share and comment. Your thoughts enrich me.

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