“To monitor or not to monitor employees’ computer usage?” This question will eventually come to the mind of any small business owner who has more than a handful of employees working for him or her. In the twelve years I’ve been an IT Services consultant, business owners have looked to me for a solution to find out what their employees are using their computers for during work hours.
Let me just say that, unless you’re one of the few small businesses with regulatory requirements to monitor all Information Systems activity, the decision to monitor your employees was probably difficult to make. As the business grows out of the startup phase and you’re forced to hand over more and more tasks and duties to your employees, there comes a growing sense that you know less and less about what actual work is being done in your company. That’s when you, as the business owner, may start to suspect that your trusted employees are doing something other than work during the day leading to productivity inefficiencies. The natural reaction, of course, is to want to better know what they’re doing and that’s how the topic of employee monitoring comes to my ears.
When this topic does come up between me (the IT consultant) and my client (the business owner), here’s what I tell him or her:
There are two chief methods of using technology to accomplish the monitoring of computer use by employees:
1. Recording Technologies
Recording technologies can record all of an employee’s computer activity. You can record every email, every IM, every website visited, every program opened, every key pressed and even down to taking periodic screen shots throughout the work day. Examples of this kind of software which record everything or maybe a subset of those listed are SpectorSoft, WebWatcher and TimeDoctor.
2. Business Process Technologies
Business process technologies such as Project Management software which track the workflow as tasks and jobs work their way through the company going from person to person until the job is completed. Examples of this kind of software are Biz6s.com, Microsoft Project, BaseCamp and Asana.
It may not be obvious at first glance, but both methods are trying to achieve the same thing: transparency within the company. When you know who is doing what and how much, you know where the company is at and where it is going.
Which method you choose depends on a lot on your management style and the kind of employees you have, but consider these following points.
1. Highly Productive Employees Won’t Mind
It shouldn’t come as any surprise, but employees are usually not warm to the idea of their computer use being recorded. However, it you push ahead with it, you’ll discover that the highly productive employees, while perhaps expressing displeasure at first, eventually don’t care that much at all. In fact, some will even become slightly happy that through this monitoring technology, you know just how much they contribute to your organization and how valuable you should consider them.
2. Less Productive and Non-Productive Employees May Be Discovered
The employees you will have difficulty with are the nominally-productive to non-productive ones. These are the ones who may have been trying to hide in plain sight, not getting much done, but because there was no visibility into the company’s operating processes, they figure they will never be discovered.
3. Is it Worth It?
So this brings up an interesting question. If the purpose of these two monitoring methods is to discover the nominal/non-productive employees so you can deal with them and if both methods succeed in uncovering them, then what use is it to possibly alienate your most productive employees by monitoring them using recording technologies?
As I was saying, unless you have regulatory requirements to record everything or if you suspect sabotage or espionage, why absorb the expense of monitoring people when monitoring workflow will yield the same results?
Therefore, if you have a choice in the matter, most small business owners should choose method 2 and use one of those technologies mentioned to gain visibility into the workplace by managing, tracking and automating the flow of work as it makes its way around the company.
4. Technology Can Only Do So Much
One final point to consider: Some of my clients have told me that they feel they must “spy” on their employees via the recording methods mentioned because they feel they can no longer trust their people to do the jobs they pay them to do. If that is truly the situation, then there is a management issue which cannot be solved using technology.
Technology can only ever do half the job to change people’s behavior. Without the human aspect of management doing their half, technological solutions to employee productivity problems will fail to live up to expectations. If there is no trust, no technology can fix that.
David Ho has been helping clients with their IT needs for over twelve years as an Independent Technology Consultant. His latest web tool to help small business owners automate the management of their employees, Biz6s.com, is an extension of his efforts to bring large business capabilities to small businesses.