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Staff tracking apps: A vital tool or the death of trust at work?

Out of necessity more than anything, 2020 has become the year of remote work. Organisations across the board have spent the past several months adapting to this new reality.

One way businesses have responded to the increased prevalence of telecommuting is by using tools and apps that track employee productivity by monitoring behaviours such as clicks, moments of inactivity and time spent completing tasks or using applications. But employees considering implementing these tools need to evaluate the benefits and negatives of productivity tracking software and ask themselves "is there a better way"?

How productivity tracking software works

While our weekly check-in service works by having employees frequently answer a series of lightweight questions and fill in objective progress, workplace tracking apps work by autonomously collecting information about the way you work. Although these apps supposedly monitor productivity, their findings aren't actually based off the results an employee produces. Instead, they monitor things like log-in time, the time between clicks, and what programs are being used, to give managers an idea of what their employees are working on, and how long it's taking them.

Productivity tracking software can use that information to create a productivity score for each employee. Some forms of workplace tracking software present this score to employees each day, and even let them compare it to the scores of their immediate co-workers. Other apps emphasise discretion, and can even be installed invisibly on company hardware so that employees don't even know they're being tracked (that'd be a huge NO from us).

Some of these services even monitor keystrokes and mouse movements and even use your laptop's webcam to take pictures of you at regular intervals. No wonder these types of tools are often referred to as 'spyware'.

What workplace tracking apps aim to achieve

The main purpose of a productivity tracking tools is to give managers a means of monitoring their employees during times when they can't directly oversee them. In other words, they're a means for bosses to ensure remote worker productivity, an antidote to the fear that your telecommuters are actually just chilling on the sofa, watching binge-watching The Boys.

In theory, one of the main advantages of productivity tracking apps is the sheer volume of information they provide. The idea is that this influx of real-time data will help managers to be much more precise with the feedback they give. It's a fair enough goal, and one that we also strive for with our weekly check-in.

Getting a clear breakdown of how your employees are using their time also provides a greater level of transparency that can increase employee accountability. But we said we'd discuss both the benefits and negatives of productivity tracking software, so it's worth pointing out that the increase in transparency is only one-way.

By giving employees a productivity score, workplace tracking apps aim to drive their performance to new heights. Some services even allow employees to compare their scores against those of their co-workers to encourage them to compete and provide more discretionary effort.

The huge drawbacks of productivity monitoring software

Productivity monitoring apps, also known as "tattleware", have drawn flak from critics for a number of reasons, which include:

Micromanagement and a lack of trust: One of the main benefits of working remotely is that employees have a greater sense of control over their working day. But productivity monitoring apps are constantly measuring and assessing them, making it easy to feel micromanaged. Being monitored to such a degree also sends a clear message that your manager doesn't trust you to work unsupervised. Micromanagement is liable to cause distrust at work, and is often a sign of bad management.

Trust plays a major role in workplace productivity, as research shows that employees in high-trust workplaces are 50% more productive, three quarters more engaged, and 40% less likely to experience burnout than those in low-trust companies. Part of being an effective manager is building up a mutually trusting relationship with your employees, which it's hard to do if you're virtually breathing down the backs of their necks.

A lack of trust at work is also a quickfire way to lose employees with as many as 55% of people stating they left a job in 2019 partly because they didn't feel trusted by their managers.

The invasion of privacy: Since we're talking about the benefits and negatives of productivity tracking software, it's important to address the ethical issues they pose. While it's one thing to monitor an employee's use of company hardware, many remote workers are being asked to install tracking software on their home devices. The problem with this is that many employees are likely doing so out of fear of losing their jobs. As we noted earlier, the increase in transparency these apps provide is one-way, and employees may well resent being kept under virtual surveillance by their managers.

Productivity monitoring software doesn't focus on results: As we mentioned earlier, rather than focusing on the results an employee produces, productivity tracking software analyses clicks, keystrokes, mouse movements, and the amount of time spent on different apps and sites. While this can give you an idea of how long it takes an employee to do certain things, it doesn't necessarily translate to productivity. Just because someone has done a quick job doesn't mean they have done an effective one.

On top of that, the way these apps work risks discrimination against employees with particular disabilities or health conditions that prevent them from doing certain things quickly. Finally, boiling an employee's productivity down to a numerical score can create a shallow impression of their performance, even if it's derived from a lot of detailed information.

Pitting employees against each other just adds to their stress: There's nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, but matching an employee's scores against those of their co-workers every day may just end up another contributor to workplace stress. If a worker consistently lags behind their colleagues regardless of the results they produce, it can be a huge source of anxiety for them. 

While some competition in the workplace (promotions, sales targets, etc) is unavoidable, workplace competition is only beneficial for workplace culture when it's a source of excitement for the employees. Research shows that when competition elicits a fear reaction from someone, they are less likely to find innovative solutions, and more likely to engage in unethical behaviour. As such, over-reliance on this score may compel employees to find ways of gaming the system rather than working effectively.

So is there a better way to fire up productivity?

Well yes, we certainly think so. A big factor to how productive an employee will be tomorrow is how engaged they are today. Employee engagement has many benefits but one of the headlines people always hone in on is an increase in both discretionary effort and pride in their work. These two benefits combined add up to some pretty serious productivity and performance boosts, with the typical highly engaged worker being up to 60% more productive than their disengaged co-workers.

And 'spyware', well that kills employee engagement for most workers.

Instead of utilising tools fro tracking the behaviours of your people, why not focus on tools that are designed to grow trust, measure output as opposed to input and track and improve employee engagement? This is exactly what Weekly10 was built for and helps businesses across the globe achieve.

So those are the benefits and negatives of productivity tracking software. Ultimately, though, it's up to employers to decide if these tools are suitable for their business. To learn more about our service, or to read about the latest performance management tools, visit the Weekly10 blog today!

Weekly10 helps build a culture of trust through frequent, two-way feedback, employee recognition and performance tools. Why not check out a demo (or sign-up for a free trial) to see how we can benefit your business?