With hybrid and remote working here to stay, many companies are turning to technology to track remote workers’ performance, measure billable hours and keep an eye out for employees’ well-being. However, organizations should think through plans to ensure they are transparent and compliant when monitoring their employees.

Employee Monitoring Trends

According to CIPD research, only 28% of UK employers currently use technology to monitor their remote workers’ behavior. Still, 55% cited at least one measure to collect on home workers as acceptable. For example, 24% said tracking the amount of time that is spent on billable tasks for clients is acceptable. This suggests that monitoring can be necessary for contingent workers who need to calculate their billable hours.

Furthermore, home monitoring technology enables employers to track attendance and work hours for many contingent workers who are on skilled worker and temporary worker visas, if necessary, to ensure that the work visa requirements are met.

Tracking activities that can alert companies to possible burnout were also cited as acceptable by surveyed managers, such as observing email-sending behaviors but not content, 24%; recording how much time employees use their work laptop each day, 22%; and alerting managers if employees work outside normal working hours, 18%.

Hayfa Mohdzaini, senior research adviser at the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, advises organizations to look for the least intrusive and least resource-intensive approaches to monitoring that would fit their organizations and workers. Indeed, CIPD’s research shows that most UK managers believe intrusive forms of monitoring are unacceptable. Less than 5% of managers who responded to the organization’s survey said that it is acceptable to randomly record screenshots of an employee’s screen throughout the day.

CW program managers and their staffing providers should be well-informed of how monitoring technology could be of benefit and should share that knowledge with their contingent workforce. “If you’re introducing a new monitoring measure, tell workers what you’re monitoring and why,” Mohdzaini says. “Check with workers to make sure measures are relevant and necessary for the purpose, and beware of culture context — what’s acceptable in one setting might not be in another.”

Considerations. UK law requires employers to tell their employees about when monitoring — covert or not — might take place. This is typically done in the form of a policy set out in the employee handbook.

“Monitoring employees should only be done as long as the employer has a lawful reason for doing so and can justify it. If the same results can be achieved by less intrusive means, such as training and regular performance reviews, or limited to specific areas of the business, this may be more acceptable,” advises Fiona Coombe, director of legal and regulatory research at SIA.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently published draft guidance that aims to provide practical guidance about monitoring workers in accordance with data protection legislation and to promote good practice.

Olivia Sinfield, partner at UK law firm Osborne Clarke, says the ICO’s publication of this draft guidance indicates how important and relevant the topic of employee monitoring is.

According to Sinfield, the draft guidance will be a crucial point of reference for employers engaging in monitoring practices as it explains when it can be done lawfully (and how to do it) and addresses specific considerations relating to, for example, email monitoring, use of dashcams and use of biometric data for time and attendance monitoring.

“With ever increasing investment in new and varied monitoring methods to track remote workers’ behaviours, activities, productivity and health with the ability to give a constant window into workers’ homes – this is set to be a continually evolving area in terms of data protection legislation and is definitely a ‘watch this space’ going forward,” Sinfield said.

“This may prove to be the most delicate balancing act yet in the data protection world – balancing an employer’s need to monitor and supervise remote workforces (particularly in regulated professions) with an individual’s data protection and human rights in respect of privacy at home,” Sinfield added. “With unions calling on the ICO to ensure workers get a say in the introduction of new workplace technologies and to ensure transparency in the way those technologies are used, we anticipate further developments beyond this draft guidance.”

Meanwhile, US organizations must also be aware of privacy implications of such monitoring. For example, in a recent memo, the general counsel of the US National Labor Relations Board expressed concerns over how electronic monitoring could impede workers’ rights to organize. In addition, the US Department of Labor lists this form of monitoring as a factor indicating control over workers and, thus, possible employee status.

“Monitoring, whether electronic or not, is a form of management control,” Mohdzaini says. “Having a catch-up with your manager online or in person [and] recording billable hours manually or automatically are all forms of monitoring and therefore forms of management control.”

She also notes, “The problem is some forms of monitoring, as the US government has highlighted, are so intrusive that they impede workers’ rights to organize.”

Knowing the reasons for home monitoring and being transparent about these reasons is vital for the contingent workforce manager and staffing partners in ensuring a smooth home working experience for the workforce.