NEW YORK — Most remote workers may not have as much privacy as they might think while doing their jobs from home.
At the start of the pandemic, when virtually all white-collar professionals were sent home from corporate offices, many employers — leery of workers' self-discipline — invested in monitoring software to track their every move, lest they engage in personal activities while on the clock.
Three years later, employee tracking via tools like video feeds and keystroke monitoring software are in fact the norm, according to a new survey of 1,000 companies with remote or hybrid workforces.
The most intrusive form of employee monitoring is via an always-on, live video feed. More than one-in-three employers (37%) said they require employees to appear on a live video feed when they are not in the office, according to the survey from ResumeBuilder.com, a professional resource site.
People who are dedicated video feed monitors typically spend between two and four hours a day monitoring those feeds, according to ResumeBuilder.com.
Few employers — just over 5% — keep an eye on these video feeds all day long.
Keystroke logging: careful what you type
The most common forms of employee monitoring, however, don't rely on cameras to spy on employees' behaviors while on the clock.
Employers most commonly track workers' web browsing activity and app use (62%), or limit workers' access to certain websites or applications like video streaming platforms (49%), for example.
Additionally, companies track workers' attention using biometrics, by capturing random screenshots as well as logging their keystrokes, which in theory can reveal whether the workers are engaged in work or personal activities.
While these measures are meant to ensure workers' performance meets expectations, at least in terms of their focus on work-related matters during the defined work day, they can backfire, simply because many workers don't appreciate being surveilled all the time.
Nearly 70% of companies said they've had employees quit over monitoring concerns, according to ResumeBuilder.com.
"It is not surprising that many employees do not want to feel like big brother is watching them daily when they are good employees and working hard for their organization," Resumebuilder.com chief career advisor Stacie Haller said in a statement.
Over 70% of companies have also used data collected through monitoring to dismiss workers they deemed unproductive.
Time spent not working
The data collected through companies' monitoring programs also reveals how many hours, on average, employees spend doing things other than working during the day.
One-in-three companies surveyed said workers spend an average of three hours per day on non-work activities — a phenomenon commonly referred to as "time theft."
A Canadian company successfully used spyware to prove that an accountant it employed was performing personal tasks while she claimed to be working.
A court subsequently ordered her to repay some of her wages to her employer for slacking off on the job.
Most often, these non-work activities include online browsing and social media use.
While the remote work era ushered in the widespread use of monitoring tools, companies use them to track in-office personnel, too, according to the survey.
Tracking will "hopefully become antiquated"
Haller expects that as more managers become comfortable and more adept at managing hybrid workforces, they'll become less reliant on employee monitoring software that makes many workers uneasy.
"As managers become more comfortable in managing a remote workforce, and as younger workers become managers and have been working more of their career remotely, software monitoring will hopefully become antiquated and the focus will be on results and not the amount of time worked," she said.
She also said it's only ethical for companies that monitor employees digitally to be upfront about their practices applicants, allowing them to withdraw their candidacy should they not want to be surveilled.
Companies may also wind down monitoring if it hamstrings their recruiting efforts.
"If companies are having difficulties attracting talent if they are monitoring them, then we may also see a change in the prevalence of this technology," Haller added.