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On the Clock: Work Hours and Expectations for Remote Employees

The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to a rise in the amount of remote workers, who were already starting to become a larger part of the modern workforce prior to 2020. Employers who allow employees to work from home and those who hire remote workers exclusively enjoy a wide range of benefits, from overall lowering of operational costs to the ability to onboard workers from locations throughout the world. However, one challenge that’s common in many employer/remote employee relationships is navigating the thorny issues surrounding employee monitoring. 

 

In a perfect world, employees at home would perform their duties in the exact same fashion as if they were in an office, but the reality is that working in home environments can sometimes lead to distraction. From children in need of attention to home maintenance issues and noisy neighbors, these interferences often make for imbalanced workdays.

 

While employers can’t be expected to physically monitor their remote staff from 9am to 5pm each workday, there are solutions that can be easily implemented to manage employees from a distance. Keep reading to learn about remote employee tracking and other practices to help ensure workers stay on task. 

 

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Employee monitoring tools

In most cases, employers and supervisors are busy handling their own workloads throughout the workday, which can hinder their ability to monitor their staff on a consistent basis. Fortunately, tracking employee performance has become a lot easier in today’s world with the help of software and computer programs.

 

  • Time and attendance tracking software. Time and attendance tracking systems can be easily implemented into remote employee PCs and laptops through simple downloads. Basic systems utilize timers that employees must toggle on when they start their workdays or when they begin assigned tasks. The timers record the hours worked, and employers access the system from their own computers.
  • Website activity employee tracking software. One of the biggest distractions for remote workers is the internet, as it takes just seconds to jump from working on an assignment to scrolling through social posts and news feeds. Apps and software that track website activity automatically recognize sites that are considered non-productive, such as social media and video streaming sites. Some software allows the administrator to create customized lists of approved or unapproved sites. When a worker visits an unapproved site, a pop-up message appears to inquire if they are still working. In most cases, this small reminder is an easy way to point distracted employees back to the tasks at hand.
  • Inactivity tracking. Many systems include inactivity tracking tools that indicate when a remote worker has stopped working. This employee tracking tool works by monitoring keyboard and mouse activity and noting when activity ceases for a specified number of minutes. It’s important to note that employers should allow time for mandatory employee breaks when using this feature. Further, virtual meetings, phone calls or workshop videos may limit digital activity, so it’s important to use discretion.
  • Project management apps. A project management app is a helpful tool for delegating tasks and managing remote employees. These apps help supervisors and managers to organize and assign tasks through shared platforms. Assignments are listed in the app interface, and employers can sign into the app throughout the day to monitor activity. The interface shows when assignments are completed, which allows supervisors to delegate additional tasks when workers have remaining hours left in the day. 

Regular communication

In addition to technological solutions, employers can successfully monitor and improve remote worker productivity by requiring employee check-ins and communication with supervisors and colleagues throughout the day or workweek. Here are some examples of required communication: 

 

  • Self-reporting. Self-reporting is a common practice utilized with both remote workers and employees who work late-night shifts. Specific instructions vary based on employer requirements, but a self-report typically consists of an email sent by the employee at the end of each shift that details the work they completed. Supervisors can then verify the reports before the start of the following workday. 
  • Scheduling mandatory video meetings or conference calls. Requiring that all remote employees attend daily or weekly mandatory meetings is a helpful way to ensure all staff members are on the same page. Video platforms such as Zoom and Skype allow for multiple workers to attend virtual meetings at the same time, which makes it easy for supervisors to delegate tasks and personally check in with each worker.
  • Implementing virtual team-building exercises. In office environments, team-building exercises offer a fun break from day-to-day tasks and help employees communicate openly with one another. With so many workers transitioning to remote positions in the modern economy, virtual team-building activities are growing in popularity. A few examples include online office games, virtual dance parties and weekly virtual lunch potlucks. 

Create a remote work policy

Whether you’ve recently transitioned your employees to remote status or you’re in the process of starting a new business with strictly remote workers, consider creating a remote work policy. Remote work policies go hand-in-hand with employee monitoring, as they establish guidelines regarding what is expected from remote employees and state any potential consequences employees may face if they don’t follow the guidelines. Your remote work policy should include:

 

  • OSHA guidelines for home office set-ups
  • Specific guidelines regarding confidentiality and internet security
  • Purpose of implementing a remote work policy
  • Employee pay rate and pay dates
  • Contact information for IT and management
  • Work schedule, if applicable

Benefits of remote employee monitoring

Managing remote workers can be challenging due to the difficulty of effective collaboration. Employee tracking and monitoring systems are beneficial to both employers and workers, as the programs ensure workers are accountable for their conduct throughout the workday and allow employers and supervisors to focus on their respective workloads. Additional benefits of remote employee monitoring include:

 

  • Effective time management. Work-from-home environments can allow workers to become easily distracted, which can manifest in taking one too many coffee breaks or dipping into extra-long internet browsing sessions. When employees are aware that their activity is being monitored, they are more apt to manage their time in their home office environments in the same fashion as they would at a brick-and-mortar office. 
  • Increased productivity. Employee tracking software that breaks down the overall productive hours of each employee helps ensure workers remain focused on their tasks throughout each workday. This in turn allows for an overall boost in productivity, as employees can view their progress through the software or app and set realistic daily goals. 
  • Security. Many employers who transition workers to remote positions are entrusting them with confidential data ranging from secure files to personally-identifying information. Tracking employee behavior and implementing software to monitor day-to-day tasks helps employers keep sensitive information secure and prevent potential fraud. 

Potential challenges to remote employee monitoring

While employee tracking systems offer a wide range of benefits when it comes to monitoring how workers utilize their time, these programs can also pose a number of challenges. Remote monitoring software can be limited in the amount of information it provides; employers should also be aware of potential privacy implications when tracking the actions of remote staff. 

 

Regardless of whether your employees are working from home or in an office setting, they should expect a certain amount of privacy as they go about their workday.  There are several versions of employee tracking software with features ranging from basic time tracking and task delegation to keystroke monitoring, webcam access, and live feeds of employee computer screens. 

 

Limited software programs may not provide enough data for successful employee monitoring, while advanced systems may provide a massive amount of information. Excessive monitoring can lead to complaints filed with human resource departments; it can also quickly erode employee morale. In a worst-case scenario, workers may choose to resign outright rather than work under monitoring they perceive as onerous.

 

How to avoid employee conflict when implementing monitoring systems

When setting up remote monitoring software within your office system, you can avoid challenges by being as transparent as possible with your employees. Here are a few ways to ensure the transition goes smoothly and preserve employee trust.

 

  • Full disclosure. Provide a detailed written disclosure that states exactly what type of information is being recorded and tracked through the remote monitoring system, as well as what kind of program is being utilized. For example, if your solution captures all keystrokes or gives the administrator access to your employees’ webcams, it’s best to tell your employees up front and in writing before they find out through other channels.
  • Explain the benefits. Let your employees know the benefits of utilizing an employee tracking system and what your company is hoping to achieve with this practice. 
  • Privacy options. Provide information on privacy settings within the monitoring tools that employees can activate at certain times of the day, such as when taking breaks or while on emergency phone calls.
  • Conduct regular reviews. Review the tracking software on a regular basis to ensure that the information gathered is not excessive and does not violate privacy laws. 
  • Limit data collection. Most tracking programs allow you to customize the level of data collection. Whenever possible, ensure the software collects and stores the minimum amount of data needed to efficiently monitor your remote workers. 

Provide an open forum for feedback. Allow remote employees to provide feedback on how they feel the system is affecting their productivity in both positive and negative ways. Honest conversations on the topic can help both employer and employee ensure their respective concerns are being met. 

 

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