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Employee Surveillance Tech: A More Effective (And Ethical) Alternative to Employee Surveillance

1E partnered with Wakefield Research for a groundbreaking new report on one of today’s most controversial corporate practices: employee productivity surveillance technology (EPST).

The survey of 1,000 IT managers and IT employees found that while most companies use employee productivity surveillance tech (EPST), IT professionals have serious concerns about their role in the harm such technologies cause to coworkers, teams—and, counterintuitively—companies.

In part 2 of our EPST-focused webinar series, Tim James and Riaan Venter of sustainableIT joined us to discuss the pervasive issue of surveillance in IT and how to adopt a more productivity-minded approach. In this blog we’ll recap some of the key takeaways.

What is EPST?

For context, we’ll start with a brief overview of what EPST is and how this definition informed the research. Employee productivity surveillance technology (EPST) refers to a range of tools that companies use to monitor employees’ productivity; monitoring web activity, logging time spent using platforms, key/click-logging, video recording, and audio recording. Current research into this area of workplace tech has looked into growth and prevalence, employer motivation, the sentiment of surveilled employees, and the ethics/law around such practices. But we noticed that a key perspective was missing: IT teams. That’s where our 2023 survey comes in.

Key findings

Some of the key findings from the research discussed during this webinar include:

  • 73% of IT managers are uncomfortable instructing their staff to deploy productivity surveillance tech and monitor their colleagues
  • 52% of IT workers would turn down an otherwise desirable IT position if they knew the company used EPST
  • 87% of IT managers and 84% of IT workers at companies using productivity surveillance tech have seen negative impacts since its introduction
  • 95% of IT managers and 89% of IT workers are more comfortable with productivity surveillance technology if the company is transparent about it

What motivates IT departments to put employee surveillance measures in place? 

Although we’re seeing a move back toward office work post-pandemic, many organizations are embracing hybrid work in some way, which creates new challenges around understanding what staff are doing. Here lies the answer to questions about what motivates the introduction of EPST measures and what problems they are trying to solve.

During what Tim described as the “honeymoon phase” of remote working, many organizations initially saw improvements in employee productivity. But once that introductory period began to wear off, this began to change, prompting the drive for leaders to better understand remote working. Coupled with this, there’s a huge drive toward measuring productivity due to the economic downturn currently facing many of us. In the face of a challenging business landscape, getting the most out of staff and better understanding how to do so is critical.

Riaan additionally highlighted that such surveillance measures may also be implemented to ensure compliance. There’s a security aspect to this that’s driving motivation around EPST too.

The wins and losses of EPST

There are both wins and losses associated with employee productivity surveillance tech (EPST) that Riaan described at a high level. On the one hand, this tech enables you to make informed decisions and secure your environment as you can see what people are doing (and if it’s something they shouldn’t be doing!). On the other hand, your people will know you’re watching them and this will have knock-on effects on morale and loyalty, etc.

Tim elaborated on this, explaining that we can’t lose sight of the fact we’re in a world with scarce resources. If you want top skills, they might not be readily available, and if they are, may well cost you an arm and a leg. Given the choice between an organization that’s proactive and provides flexibility and great DEX vs an organization that’ll surveil them, it’s clear where their preference will lie.

What are the alternatives to employee surveillance software? 

Are there other (more ethical) ways to help improve employee productivity?

Riaan suggested that employers need to focus on motivating their people through clear expectations, flexibility, and recognition:

  • Make sure you have KPIs that are up to date and flexible so staff feel motivated and empowered—though be mindful not to put them in a position where they feel they’re being surveilled and must account for every second of the day.
  • Offer flexible work arrangements, where—depending on the position and responsibilities of an employee—they may work outside normal hours.
  • Learn and coach, instead of playing big brother. Seek to find out and understand what challenges employees face, and recognize your employees’ experiences.

Tim elaborated by encouraging us to consider the tech element of employee productivity. Are you giving your people the best device for the job they’re doing? Is it healthy? Is the device patched? etc.

If you have devices that take five minutes to boot up in the morning, or your employees are losing 30 minutes to a patch cycle during the day, that’s hugely disruptive. To be productive, employees need a device that they can do their job with. Failure to prioritize DEX, especially in a remote setting, creates challenges.

We should be giving staff the best opportunities possible to do their jobs and be productive. And, according to Tim, DEX is far more of a sound investment than surveilling someone — “you can surveil someone as much as you like, but if they can’t do their job, they can’t do their job.”

Are you keen to learn more on this topic? Watch the full webinar on-demand here for more insights. And—if you haven’t already—you can download the 2023 survey report here.


The FORRESTER WAVE™: End-User Experience Management, Q3 2022

The FORRESTER WAVE™: End-User Experience Management, Q3 2022