How to strike a balance while monitoring performance in a hybrid working era How to strike a balance while monitoring performance in a hybrid working era
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How to strike a balance while monitoring performance in a hybrid working era

How to strike a balance while monitoring performance in a hybrid working era

Where do we draw the line between activity-based monitoring and meaningful performance-based measurement? 


How many times did your fingers touch your keyboard today? How many hours did you sit in front of your computer screen? How many emails did you send? Which websites did you visit on your company computer or mobile? If you knew these numbers, do you think they would accurately represent your working day, what you achieved and how productive you were?

I am not sure, for example, how monitoring tools such as key logging software or video surveillance, would accurately reflect the value and output of a strategy session I had with my team last week. This is the big debate currently raging among workers and their employees. How to measure performance and productivity now that people are working from ‘home and away’. It’s erupted for the simple fact that unlike the digital workplace tools that now enable employees literally to work from anywhere, how bosses manage teams in this distributed world have possibly not adapted as quickly.

But with Global Workplace Analytics predicting that 70 per cent of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month by 2025 and the corresponding rise in ‘anywhere working’, we must rethink how we’re measuring people now. We’ve already seen some memorable examples of what not to do.

Amazon’s network of security cameras and hourly productivity goals for moving packages, which triggered headlines with words like ‘dystopian’, ‘violation’ and ‘spying’, is one.

UK bank Barclay’s use of software that allowed managers to measure the length of time employees were away from their desks and time taken to finish tasks is another. The bank is now facing a $1.1bn fine if found to have breached privacy laws. Monitoring isn’t necessarily the issue here. Our recent research shows that 83 per cent of employees in the UAE recognise their organisation has had to develop new ways to measure productivity as part of the move to hybrid working, where employees can work both in the office and remotely.

The real issue is that surveillance is not the same as performance management or monitoring an employee’s contribution to the business. There’s a real lack of transparency around the remote monitoring of work and why it’s happening at all, so much so that, according to our research, the trust established between boss and employee risks being compromised. In fact, 46 per cent of companies in the UAE have already implemented device monitoring, and 64 per cent of companies who are currently in the process of doing so, are already in fact seeing ‘drastically increased’ or ‘increased’ levels of employee turnover.

With many organisations shifting permanently to hybrid work models that don’t require knowledge workers to be office-based all the time, they need to find solutions – beyond presentism – that can meaningfully assess employee performance in a way that works for them and for the business. How can this be achieved?

Where do we draw the line between intrusive activity-based monitoring and meaningful performance-based measurement?

Companies are citing everything from compliance and security to tracking indicators of bullying, discrimination and harassment as reasons to monitor employees. All valid reasons. But there are other, darker motivations that are making headlines, such as the examples I referred to earlier. In general, it feels that the world of management hasn’t moved forward, when time at the office desk simply gets replaced by time at the laptop.

Monitoring shouldn’t be about spying on staff, but about understanding how bosses can provide employees with the best tools and experiences and the flexibility of being able to work in the office and remotely. This is the on-ramp to greater productivity and employee happiness. And it’s not so bad for the bottom line either.

Surveillance and performance are two different things. They can work together, but it’s clear from our research that those companies using surveillance tools are seeing talent leave.

Measuring output will prove far more useful to employers and is likely to sit better with employees. In fact, three quarters of respondents from our research say that moving to a distributed working environment has meant that their performance – and not the traditional metrics such as time spent in the office – is being valued more by their employers. This is reflected in the new, but growing shift away from service level agreements to experience level agreements in recognition that companies need to get better at measuring the overall user experience, not just at an IT level or from an HR perspective but through the lens of the whole business.

Using employee engagement measuring tools, backed with machine learning capabilities, organisations can now gauge how employees are feeling over time and not just on the day the employee questionnaire lands in their inbox (when they might have had a disagreement with a colleague or boss which plummets their happiness scores on that one day). This is a much more valuable pool of data, in conjunction with output, as an indicator of someone’s productivity and how to support or improve it than simply the number of emails they’ve sent.

Of course, the big question is how should this output be measured? Let’s start with how it shouldn’t be done. Employee surveillance measures range from monitoring emails, web browsing and collaboration tools as well as video surveillance, attention tracking via webcams and keylogging software. It’s these types of methods that employees are increasingly objecting to and for which companies across Europe are
landing themselves on the wrong side of regulators.

The former CEO of IKEA in France was recently served with a suspended, two-year prison sentence for “excessive and unlawful staff surveillance and data collection”.

With a groundswell of anywhere working, monitoring productivity needs to adapt in the same way that the digital tools, which enable people to have applications and tools securely on any device of their choosing, continue to adapt. We should be looking to measure performance using performance-focused metrics, transparently with employees and above all, avoid replicating previous approaches which measured value by hours, instead focusing on what they bring to the business.

This will be particularly important when trying to attract Gen Z workers who want to be valued for their contribution and can’t understand why going to an office or being ‘monitored’ isn’t a thing of the past.

For example, regular catch-ups with managers to discuss workloads: how that person is managing that workload and where they might need help; assessing output against agreed objectives and deliverables helps both the employee and the manager celebrate achievements but also understand where and why certain objectives aren’t being met. Is there a need for training? Or an opportunity to improve process or technologies? The meaningful monitoring of work, what it reveals and how that information is used needs to be a collaborative effort between employers and their staff. Only through collaboration will it deliver value.

If you keep employees in the dark about any new measurement or monitoring tools you put in place, then you can guarantee that trust – which is fundamental to the success of a distributed workforce – will be
eroded. Currently, a quarter of employees don’t know whether their organisation has implemented device monitoring systems to monitor their productivity.

Employers need to be open with employees about why they’re monitoring and how they’re doing it. Of course, it’s a legal requirement across much of the world, to stay in line with country or state-wide privacy laws such as the general data protection regulation (GDPR), or employment law regulated through workers’ councils. There are cases where surveillance is vital for health and safety, but this must be on a job by job basis with full buy-in from the employee.

The shift to more distributed workforces is the perfect opportunity for organisations to reconsider the nature of work and our traditional perceptions around what constitutes productivity and performance. We know that just because someone is sitting at an office desk doesn’t mean they’re working productively. Equally, brainstorming with pen and paper is not an activity that can be monitored but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.

The digital workplace tools that we have today mean that we can leave these perceptions behind and be more flexible about where and how we work, and how that output is measured. It’s a new reality that we’re settling into, with employees finally feeling valued for their work and not for irrelevant metrics that simply quantify their working day, without any real link to the contribution they make to the business.

That challenge is finding that careful balance and recognising that surveillance and performance are two very different things. Get the balance right and you will create a connected, productive workforce
– wherever they are. This is your opportunity not to be just another cautionary tale of deceit and hidden agendas, but a positive example of a modern, performance-based approach in action that complements
and supports employees to be their most productive selves.

Ralf Gegg is the vice president – End User Computing at VMware EMEA

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