Workforce management and optimization technology has been a staple of help desks and call centers for some time. These tools help organizations with workforce scheduling, shift management, breaks, vacations and more.
With remote work becoming so prevalent, some employers are adapting the tech to the broader workforce and using it to create hybrid models that accommodate people working in the office, working at home or switching between both. Read on to find out how employers are dealing with thorny issues of monitoring remote workers by checking hours logged in and keystrokes. Where is the right balance between management responsibility and employee privacy?
Most workforce management, monitoring and optimization vendors had already transitioned their software to the cloud or were in the process of doing so when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, making it simpler for employers to track when and how their employees were doing their work at home.
TimeClock Plus (TCP), for example, is a workforce management vendor that is well along in the move from on premises to the cloud. Leslie Bodnar, chief marketing and product officer at TCP, said the company's latest version of software-as-a-service is now used by the bulk of its customers, who generally express a preference for the cloud.
To make working from home easier, TCP has added employee scheduling functionality following the acquisition of a company called Humanity. The company also has made its desktop and mobile clock software available to employees who work outside of the office. Employees and managers can perform functions such as clocking in, clocking out, requesting time off and checking schedules from their desktops or mobile devices.
Similarly, the workforce productivity and analytics suite offered by employee monitoring and time tracking software Workpuls includes on-premises and cloud options. The software allows users to seamlessly move between personal and work devices.
Ryan Fyfe, CEO of Workpuls, said when the pandemic drove a shift to remote work, his customers became less concerned about monitoring and more interested in baseline productivity and process improvements.
"Productivity insights can be segmented between home and the office to gain a deeper understanding of the best model for employees," he said.
New features in the pipeline will add more intelligence to reporting and timesheet automation, identifying whether individuals are at home or in the office to consider the nuances of the two environments for such tasks as payroll calculations. The features will allow factoring in such variables as flexible hours for working from home, different pay rates depending on where remote work is done and different taxes being applied depending on the state where the work is done.
Workpuls uses a number of signals to report on productivity and activity, and presents data on what employees are working on, how teams work and time management. Instead of tracking metrics in isolation, the goal is to build a broader picture of individual and team performance and improve processes. For activity purposes, actions such as keystrokes, mouse clicks, and website and app usage are monitored.
Employers, in general, are keen on this technology, Fyfe said, as it provides them with more control over employee discipline. When one company implemented monitoring software, for example, HR discovered that dozens of staff had not even opened their laptops for an entire workday. Clearly, there is a place for monitoring to ensure people are working and being productive, Fyfe said.
Security is another reason companies want to implement remote monitoring applications. A survey by network security firm NetMotion found that 64 percent of information technology (IT) and security leaders are not satisfied with their visibility of remote workers.
Most laws largely favor the employer when it comes to the right of a business to monitor its staff. But according to Chris Hoofnagle, legislative counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., studies on workplace productivity show that employee morale suffers and employee stress rises when workers are being heavily monitored.
There are various ways to mitigate this. Fyfe said his company provides best practices and communication support to customers to help them set up Workpuls in a way that respects employee privacy. "We recommend that our customers share data insights captured with employees for transparency," he said.
Brian Kropp, an analyst at IT consultancy Gartner, emphasized the need to communicate the results of monitoring in the workplace, how the results impact decision-making and the benefits to employees. "When employees start to see that this data is being used to create a healthier and better employee experience, they will be more accepting of these approaches," Kropp said.
Whatever level of workforce monitoring is done, HR should be involved, along with top management and IT, to ensure that the needs of employers and employees are met and legal and regulatory responsibilities are being followed.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer in Clearwater, Fla., specializing in IT and business.