HiBob and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently commissioned research for a report entitled Technology, the Workplace and People Management that looks at the perspectives of  HR professionals and business decision makers on the evolution and use of advanced HR tech for people management. 

The report examines the views of more than 2000 UK employers’ and HR professionals’ views on what they think are acceptable monitoring practices for remote workers, and what is practised in their organisations. The study approaches this first standpoint  from the premise that today’s workforce now expects flexible work models including hybrid, remote, and everything in between.  

Findings show that opinions of what’s acceptable are influenced by management level, the percentage of hybrid workers, and whether similar monitoring practices already exist in their organisations. The study also shows that 40 percent of bosses are uncomfortable with collecting more personal information than is necessary for monitoring their people’s performance and wellbeing. 

HR and business leaders have differing opinions around acceptable monitoring practices of remote workers

The benefits of flexible work models for both employees and businesses are well established:  They range from markedly improved work–life balance for employees to uplifts in productivity for organisations.

Of course, hybrid and flexible work models mean leaders have had to adapt to managing distributed and remote teams. A lot rides on getting this right. Company culture and success are at risk if people and managers working across dispersed global teams can’t adapt to work structures that require connecting and collaborating from different locations. 

Equally, attempts by both HR and business leaders to effectively monitor and manage people working remotely need to be measured, as the research shows stark differences of opinion between the two groups.  For example, 41 percent of HR respondents said they were not comfortable using technology to monitor employees compared to 70 percent of senior business leaders who found these types of measures acceptable.

Respondents found some practices acceptable and others unnecessary and intrusive. So, what do bosses think are acceptable ways of managing people who work remotely, particularly those working on laptops or other electronic devices? What do various organisations practise? These are some of the questions the study explores.

Four in ten don’t think it’s acceptable to monitor remote workers 

We asked bosses who responded to our survey to select examples of methods they felt were acceptable for collecting information about people working from home, whether on their laptops or other electronic devices (see Figure 1).

The data showed a spectrum of opinion. At first glance, it appears the largest proportion (39.2 percent) felt that none of the measures were acceptable, while 5.6 percent said they didn’t know. 

However, over half (55.3 percent) agreed with at least one of the eight measures in Figure 1, despite not having a strong preference for a particular example (Figure 2). Even when asked to think specifically about people working from home on laptops, bosses were divided.

When asked whether it’s acceptable to randomly record screenshots of people’s screens throughout the day, 8.4 percent of bosses at organisations where no one works from home agreed compared to only 3.0 percent of those where over three-quarters of the workforce regularly works from home.

HR respondents were less comfortable than non-HR respondents about using technology to monitor people working remotely from home (41.3 percent vs. 35.7 percent said none of these measures were acceptable). 

The three most accepted measures (selected by 44.8 percent of respondents) relate to how much time people spend on their laptops and identifying things like risk of burnout. Some leaders seemed keen to try to duplicate existing practices in the office for people working from home, possibly looking at recording time spent on laptops as a replacement for using key cards to track attendance in the office.

The three least accepted measures relate to recording screenshots and randomly recording activities. Most were uncomfortable with the idea of randomly collecting more information than needed to assess their people’s performance or wellbeing.

Acceptance of performance monitoring is higher where similar measures are already in place 

Those at organisations where no one works from home appear less likely to trust their people to work productively when they’re not in the office. They were more likely to agree than those with over three-quarters people regularly working from home that it’s fine to record screenshots or track how long people use their laptops.

Leaders at organisations that use one or more types of software to monitor the performance of people working from home were more likely to find the measures listed in Figure 1 acceptable. Among those at organisations that use task management software, time tracking software or check people’s work in cloud folders, four-fifths (81.6 percent) agreed with the measures in Figure 1. However, only about half agreed (47.0 percent) with this among those that come from organisations that don’t use software to monitor productivity.

In fact, 54.8 percent of  mid-manager level bosses compared to 70.2 percent of senior leadership (including owners, partners, and CEOs) are less likely to agree that the measures are acceptable. More HR respondents (41.3 percent) than non-HR respondents (35.7 percent)  said none of these measures were acceptable to monitor people who work remotely.

Respondents with more than three quarters of their workforce working remotely appeared to be more concerned about tracking billable time for clients and identifying team members at risk of burnout. Three in ten (29.4 percent) agreed that it’s acceptable to track time spent on billable tasks for clients compared to only 12.6 percent at organisations where no one works from home.

Six in ten bosses with home workers said they don’t use software to monitor employees

We then asked the bosses with regular remote teams about the types of software used to measure their productivity (Figure 3):

  • The majority (57.7 percent) said their organisations don’t use software to monitor the productivity of people working remotely, while 12 percent said they didn’t know.
  • Three in ten (28.0 percent) said their organisations use task management or time tracking software.  Some said they check people’s work saved in a cloud folder.
  • Those working in private sector services were more likely to say they use task management (20.6 percent) or time tracking software (14.6 percent). Within private sector services, our sample shows that these are most used in the information and communication services industry (34.3 percent use task management and 27.4 percent use time tracking software). It’s possible that these measures are more prevalent in other industries such as administrative and support services (includes call centres and office support), but our survey did not collect enough samples from each industry to confirm this.

Monitor only what’s relevant and necessary, and be mindful of context

What’s clear is that many people are uneasy about increased monitoring at work. 

​Ultimately, how a business decides to measure performance, growth or company success will reflect on that organisation’s culture. Progressive businesses understand that a healthy culture based on transparency, communication, and flexibility drives sustainable growth and positive business outcomes. Business resilience is intrinsically tied to being able to attract and retain the best talent. Survey findings bear this out, with HR decision makers placing company culture in the list of top five business focuses for the next 12 months. 

It’s understandable for businesses to want to gain insight into what their staff spends time on or how long anything takes them to do, but collecting more information than is needed to fulfil any audit purpose could undermine trust and impact the relationship between staff and employers, irrevocably damaging employee engagement—the cornerstone of any HR strategy.

If you need to introduce new a monitoring measure:

  • Tell your people what you’re monitoring and why 
  • Check with team members to make sure measures are relevant and necessary for the purpose 
  • Beware of culture context—what’s acceptable in one setting might not be in another.

It’s clear the way we lead and manage people has changed since remote and hybrid work became so widespread since the COVID pandemic. For businesses to thrive, people management strategy must continue to evolve in line with a shift in focus from pure financials to creating cultures aligned with values.

New management styles, more diverse teams, and democratic outlooks are on the horizon with many organisations evidently moving towards a digital-first, hybrid working model centred around people. This research will do much to inform employers, business leaders, and policy-makers on how best to negotiate this rapidly shifting landscape.

Natalie Homer

From Natalie Homer

Natalie is a B2B PR and corporate communications expert specialising in running global press offices. A fitness fanatic and vintage junkie, when she isn't pitching stories to journalists, she'll either be at the gym or treasure-seeking in thrift stores.