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.