Many offices remain closed as cities (and citizens) navigate various levels of lockdown and social distancing across the continent. Businesses for whom working from home is a new practice might be worried about staff productivity outside of the office environment. Apart from infrastructure concerns – power and sufficient data connection – some employers wonder how much work their employees will actually complete. Many establishments are toying with the idea of surveillance software as a result and justifying it with arguments about paid property and time. Companies are fully within their legal rights to do so.
We would like to offer an alternative framework for company and team leaders. While it is true that the laptop might have been paid for by the company and the hours contracted in the form of wages or a salary, it is important not to forget the crucial role that trust and collaboration have to play in supporting company morale—especially at a time like this. Building a safe, open and collaborative culture might be a much better approach than resorting to surveillance as a solution. Managers should be able to engender collaboration and proper communication, hallmarks of strong teams, which will serve organisations well during and after the pandemic.
As an employer, you have a range of surveillance software at your disposal: you can track and log your employee’s mouse movements, keyboard keystrokes, web page visits and even download screenshots of your employees’ computer screens. If you want to, you could install the software that enables the computer webcam to take pictures of the employee on a timed loop whilst tracking their location via a web or mobile app linked to GPS. You could also go low-tech and insist that employees stay on video throughout the workday or simply monitor when an employee is online. Depending on how much foresight your company lawyers displayed, your hiring contracts might entirely permit the use of such tools with little to no limitations.
Ultimately, the argument for such surveillance is that it helps to improve efficiency and productivity. Surveillance can be an effective motivator and/or deterrent and the HR Daily Advisor website mentions a few conceivable uses including identifying when work needs to be redistributed. In so doing, you might minimise waste of company time, highlights bottlenecks as well as increase invoicing and billing accuracy. In fact, there are employee surveillance practices which we routinely accept and even expect. For instance, expect service industry players to record customer service calls to ensure customers are being addressed in a manner aligned with company policy and values. But also, in theory, for training purposes.
However, whichever path you take as a company, it important to implement with longterm team morale and company health in mind. Building a culture of trust and collaboration is important, especially if you intend for employees to demonstrate reasonable levels of autonomy and responsibility for their work. When surveillance of employees is not thoughtfully implemented and carefully managed, employees inevitably begin to feel resentment. Surveillance culture within a company can create volatile teams and lead employees to develop entirely transactional relationships with their employers and companies.
At Spurt! we care about organisations’ focus on building trust and collaboration alongside better communication because our view of entrepreneurship is for the social good. Entrepreneurs build businesses not just to print money, but to solve real problems. Teams that have low trust, faulty collaboration and wonky communications will not be successful in solving problems. Without trust and collaboration, you cannot leverage your people’s individuated efficiency to create synergies. To build truly impactful organisations that positively affect lives and livelihoods the whole must be a good deal greater than the sum of the parts.
Micromanagement and eroded team trust will inevitably undermine company growth as employees struggle to be personally invested and become increasingly apathetic. More than technical skill or knowledge, psychological pressures disturb team productivity. Design, recruit and train your team so that your organisation has minimal need for surveillance technology, even at a time like this. Given the issues of employability, we know that this is easier said than done. However, organisations must hire expecting and planning to upskill their staff whilst tapping into their ingenuity, creativity and grit.
As entrepreneurs and leaders, it is worth developing management styles and company cultures where employees understand the ‘why’ (and ‘what’) of their deliverables and are positioned to thrive. Within the context of the lockdown, there are a host of technological platforms centred around the promotion of collaboration and communication. Everyone already knows Zoom, and most are familiar with Microsoft SharePoint/Teams and OneDrive, so there is no need to rehash them here. However, employers might want to look into becoming familiar with software like Slack, Asana and Trello as well as with using the Google G Suite at the enterprise level.
These software packages still track workstream progress, but they do so without the inherent risk of creating problematic power dynamics or suggesting eerie surveillance dystopias. It is clear who is doing what and when, and you can still deploy them in ways that help employees prioritise the right work on schedule and at quality. We think that surveillance and micro-management mostly stifle freedom and creativity and have little positive impact on the long-term growth and sustainability of a business.
Organizational Psychologist and Professor at the Wharton School in the University of Pennsylvania, Adam Grant, tweeted: “Attention micromanagers: if you can’t trust people to work from home, you:
- Probably shouldn’t have hired them in the first place
- Haven’t done a good job motivating them
- Might be projecting your own work habits into them
- All of the above”
How are you building a culture of trust, collaboration and open communication in your firm? And if you need help, you can always reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristin Wilson & Oladoyin Phillips
Reach us at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments.