WFH: the rise of monitoring software

It can be difficult enough trying to complete a task with someone peering over your shoulder. But as you work from home, how comfortable would you feel knowing that your boss is using monitoring software to track your cursor movements, and even take screenshots of what you’re up to? By Michael Delaney.

Always watching

With more of us than ever working from home, there has been a spike in demand from employers for surveillance software.

US-based ‘Hubstaff’ says its number of UK customers is up four times year-on-year since February.

The tech allows employers to monitor an employees work time, their mouse movements, cursor clicks and website wandering. It can also be set up to take screenshots at set intervals.

Using monitoring software to track out movements reminds us of Roz from Monster's Inc - always watching.

Don’t forget to say cheese

Oh, and it gets worse.

Another company, Sneek, integrates with the device’s webcam and can take regular photos of the user as often as every minute.

Sneek describes itself as a communication platform and says “everyone on the app has the same experience whether they are an employer or an employee”.

Great marketing spiel 👏 but calling the company ‘Sneek’ seems to contradict this blandly innocent mission statement.

Its co-founder, Del Currie, told the BBC that it had seen a five-fold increase in its number of users during lockdown, taking the firm to almost 20,000 in total. Let’s hope all 20,000 were aware of the app and adequately dressed…

What do the academics say?

A study between Cardiff Uni and the Uni of Southampton found that employers initially feared that “without physical oversight employees will shirk and productivity will fall.”

However, what the study uncovered was that there was very little difference between people’s productivity while working from home.

Additionally, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that workplace surveillance can damage trust. This is something that can have a far greater impact on one’s productivity than someone browsing the web while they wait for their zoom-conference-call to start. In fact, it could have the adverse effect of pushing your workers to burnout – something that has impacted 69% of WFH employees since the start of the pandemic.

Avoiding zoom call faux-pas

Here are some tips for your next video conference.

  1. Treat it like a normal meeting. Be presentable, on time and prepared.
  2. Mute your mic when you’re not talking. Some of the platforms out there will mute other participants when it detects a louder sound. That siren outside, or your loud slurping of a drink, could be cutting someone off.
  3. Turn off your notifications – that ‘ping’ can be deafening.
  4. Private chat isn’t so private. The host of the meeting will get a transcript of all the chats. Make sure you keep it professional.
  5. Your host can know if you’re doing something else. Beyond watching your eyes wonder, zoom also has a function called “attendee attention tracking” and it alerts your host that you may be up to other things.