One of the most worrisome trends to come out of the mass switch to remote and hybrid work is the increase in employee surveillance software. 

In some ways, it’s understandable that companies jumped to monitor their employees once they weren’t working from the office every day. Organizations were used to having eyes on their employees to ensure work was being completed. How could they make sure employees were doing their work if they couldn’t see it happening? (Spoiler, we’ve got a great answer for that below). 

The answer, for many companies, was employee surveillance software (also known as workplace monitoring software). In fact, the practice has become so widespread that recent reporting from The New York Times revealed that eight of the 10 largest employers in the United States are currently using workplace surveillance software to monitor employee productivity — many of them in real time. 

This is a never-before-seen level of workplace monitoring. These employee monitoring products can monitor web browsing, record the amount of time spent on an application, track internet activity, count keystrokes, use GPS to track an individual’s location, and even access your webcam. 

And these workplace monitoring products are ruthless: Workers are also now experiencing docked pay when they don’t meet the productivity expectations set by their companies and checked by the workplace monitoring software. So if you had to get up to go to the bathroom or answer the door at the exact time the workplace monitoring software checked in to see if you were on a particular app or even took a photo from your webcam, you could be docked pay for that time. 

Through the first two years of the pandemic, productivity increased for those working remotely, but the scene is shifting: The US Labor Bureau found that productivity decreased by 2.4% from Q2 2021 to Q2 2022, marking the most significant decline in nearly 75 years. Meanwhile, research has shown that workers are increasingly stressed and disengaged from their work. “Quiet quitting,” or putting in the bare minimum at their jobs, has become the buzzword of the season. 

Additionally, the Harvard Business Review found in June 2022 that employees who are being actively monitored by their employers are significantly more likely to break the rules: “Our studies showed that monitoring employees causes them to subconsciously feel that they are less responsible for their own conduct, thus making them more likely to act immorally.” Employees taking part in the survey who were being monitored were more likely to blame a poor decision on their manager, whereas those who weren’t being monitored were more likely to take responsibility for their actions. 

We recently completed our own research into the Dark Matter of Work, or the work that falls through the cracks when employees are working via inefficient processes. What we discovered is that employees are increasingly frustrated, exhausted, and disengaged from their work. They’re working across over ten apps a day, duplicating work unnecessarily in different tools, and they don’t have a clear connection to why their work matters to the organization’s objectives. 

So we’ve got a huge drop in productivity despite an all-time high in employee monitoring, monitored employees more likely to break the rules, and up to 50% of the workforce engaged in quiet quitting. 

We’d venture to say that more employee surveillance isn’t the answer. And in fact, we’re confident that we do have a solution: work management software. Now, we’re obviously biased because we’re a work management software company. But we also use it every day for our own roles, and we know it works. So here’s what it solves: 

  • Increased productivity: Truly, our clients report that work management software saves them time every single day, in a whole range of ways. Most importantly, we cut out the Dark Matter of Work by bringing all those apps into a single platform so that you can stop searching for passwords and duplicating work. We also increase communication between team members, automate repetitive tasks, and cut out hours of meetings — all so employees can focus on the work that matters most.
  • Increased employee engagement: When you remove those day-to-day struggles with inefficient processes, employee engagement increases. Employees are simply less discouraged by their daily work and feel more freedom to complete work that has an impact on the organization. Engaged employees are less likely to quiet quit or really quit, and we know that quiet quitting and employee churn are costly outcomes for companies.
  • Increased employer visibility into employee productivity: Work management software also increases visibility by allowing managers and C-suite execs to get a full picture of what work is in process, overdue, or completed — without taking screenshots of their employees every ten minutes. As a manager, you assign the work, the employee completes the work, and you have full visibility into every step in a way that’s collaborative rather than punitive.
  • Increased employee visibility into company objectives: Increased visibility brought by work management software also benefits employees. They spend less time digging for information on the tasks they need to complete because it’s laid out in a single location for them. And that increased visibility can also connect employees to their value to the company. Work management software with a clear task and folder hierarchy can clearly show employees how their work connects to the company’s greater goals, giving them pride of purpose in their role. 

So our response to the original question we posed: How could employers make sure employees were doing their work if they couldn’t see it happening? Work management software. It helps employers gain a 360-degree view of the work happening within their organization — without having to resort to treating their employees like they’re grounded high school kids who can’t be trusted. 

Work management software gives employers the information they need about what’s being achieved (and we didn’t even get started on how it can hep prevent bottlenecks and delays!), and it gives employees the resources they need to succeed and excel at their roles. 

In short, work management software is far less creepy and invasive than employee surveillance software. It allows employers and employees to build a trust-based relationship that leaves employees feeling valued and integrated and employers feeling confident in the work being achieved. It’s a win-win.

To discover just how Wrike can transform the productivity of your team, start a free two-week trial.