Research would seem to back this up: a report by Spherical Insights & Consulting
valued the global employee monitoring software market at US$1.12bn in 2021 and predicts that it will reach US$2.1bn by 2030. In the UK, according to research commissioned by compliance training firm Skillcast
, 12% of companies use online software to track their employees, rising to 16% at larger organisations.
On the face of it, systems and software that measure presence, punctuality, and productivity might seem like a good idea, providing managers with useful and unbiased metrics to assess performance, particularly when a workforce is remote or hybrid. As Eyal puts it, “The rise of remote work has made corporate leaders paranoid, thinking they must monitor their employees’ every digital move.”
And monitor they can – a round-up in PC Magazine
sets out the functionality offered by ‘bossware’ tech, including optical character recognition that can analyse text on screen and within videos and provide ‘deep monitoring’ on employees’ usage of desktop and web apps, and systems that monitor team communication apps for keyword triggers and even access employees’ webcams.
Who’s watching Big Brother?
The higher uptake of such technology in the US can partly be explained by a more liberal regulatory landscape. Although a 2022 national survey by Morning Consul
t of 750 tech workers finds that about half would leave their jobs rather than be recorded or videoed by their employer, there is no legal obligation in the US for employers to inform staff they are being monitored. According to a Forbes article
by career coach Caroline Castrillon, “monitoring employee activities during work hours is completely legal”, and “most state and federal laws allow organisations to investigate anything that happens on company-owned devices”.
In the UK, the situation is somewhat different. The Data Protection Act 2018,
which incorporates the provisions of the EU General Data Protection Regulation
(GDPR), obliges businesses to be fully transparent about how their employees’ data is collected and processed. That protection extends beyond the staff member to their family or cohabitants who could be, for example, recorded or captured on a webcam without their consent – a point made in an article in People Management
by Simon McMenemy. “Managers should ask whether the scrutiny is really necessary and worth the possible risk of offending privacy laws,” he advises, while a blog post by the Information Commissioner’s Office
recommends that companies “should consider whether [staff oversight] is necessary and proportionate and whether it could intrude on employees’ personal lives”.