Electronic monitoring in your small business – is it a good idea?
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As many small businesses commit to hybrid working long-term post-pandemic in the UK, and other forms of remote working, electronic monitoring employees’ activities while working remotely has become an increasingly hot topic as employers try to keep track of tasks, and maintain performance levels.

Many small businesses across the UK will be increasingly familiar with hybrid working However, as we keep hybrid working as part of our working lives, it’s important to look at ways to stay on top of workloads and encourage employees to be productive when they are away from the office.

So, how can you monitor whether your employees are working effectively and know they aren’t spending their working hours putting up their Christmas tree or baking seasonal biscuits? Do you need to go down the route of remote electronic monitoring or are there other ways to consider? And what do you need to be careful of?

What do you want to monitor and why?

A good place to start is to think about what your key performance metrics for staff are, and what is the best way to measure those?  For example, do you need an employee to be able to answer customer calls between set times each day, or can their working hours be a bit more flexible? If one of your team is working efficiently at home and producing the quality of work you are asking of them and meeting target deadlines, does it matter to you that they will occasionally start later, or that they will sometimes take a break mid-afternoon to pick up the kids from school?

What alternatives are there to electronic monitoring?

Even though your staff may be working remotely for some or all of their working week, you may well still be able to use existing performance management tools like regular one-to-ones and catch up calls and meetings.  Increased use of electronic communication through instant messaging and emails, perhaps agreeing specific work targets and deadlines, and following up on these, can also give you confidence that you’re on top of productivity rates.  Collecting data on work outputs from across your teams, and giving regular feedback based on that, can all help too.

Being able to make existing performance management tools like this work to keep you on top of progress can also save you the added cost of looking at additional electronic monitoring. 

What is electronic monitoring and who is doing it?

Electronic monitoring refers to the computerised recording, tracking, and reviewing of work done by your employees when they are working outside of the workplace, for example when working from home or from a different working location.

There has been a spike in the last 6 months in electronic monitoring in the UK, with one in three (32 per cent) of employees reporting being monitored at work in October this year according to research carried out by Opinium. This is up from a quarter (24 per cent) in April 2021.

Electronic surveillance has also become more prominent among some companies, 12 per cent of which were already monitoring their workforce, while 11 per cent have plans to introduce monitoring.

While the technology for electronic monitoring exists and is developing fast, we think it’s important to think very carefully before using it, to identify if it’s necessary or proportionate to do so.  Are there other ways of checking progress and activity which may build more trust and avoid potential ill-feeling?  It can be a tricky balance to get right.

How can you maintain a culture of trust if you do have remote electronic monitoring?

If you do decide that some electronic monitoring is necessary and proportionate for monitoring your team’s work activities, then open and honest communication about it can help to maintain trust and confidence..  We think the best way to achieve this is with a transparent, collaborative approach.

Try to be clear about any data that is being collected about, for example, your staff’s usage of IT systems and how it will or will not be used. Let them know how and why you will be monitoring any remote activity.  For instance, will there be any recording of calls or meetings or any tracking of work electronically?  Will you be monitoring their emails, and how?

It is often best to set this out clearly in any employment policies dealing with the use of IT and communication systems, so that your staff can see the detail.  This will hopefully show your employees your wish to be transparent. It’s also important to ensure that your employees know how to voice any grievances if they believe data is misused in any way.

Employees are probably familiar with having to provide information about their actions, especially after the lockdowns of last year, and, with this approach, they’ll hopefully  understand how and why they are being monitored.

What privacy rights should you be aware of?

Monitoring is subject to laws regarding employee privacy.  An employer will need to be able to make a legal justification for the use of monitoring technology under data protection laws. Staff need to be notified that they are being monitored to avoid legal and HR pitfalls down the line.  You can do this in relevant parts of your staff handbook, and also through your GDPR data protection and privacy policies and privacy notices.

What should you do if you suspect employees to be making their Christmas pudding instead of working?

If you do suspect low productivity from an employee, it is well worth investigating that early before it escalates.

Try and raise your concerns in a one-to-one, or another confidential environment.  There may be some very good reasons why someone’s productivity has dipped that you need to explore in more detail.  It can usually help to set clear expectations of short-term deadlines or other goals you would like to achieve, getting the employee’s agreement up front.

Encourage your staff to let you know anything that might affect their working patterns, especially over the busy Christmas holidays, so that you can see if you can be additionally flexible.

How can employment policies help?

Making sure your employees have the information about monitoring is a key step to implementing monitoring in your day-to-day work, and this can be done in your staff handbook.  You can do this in any Remote Working Policy you have as well as your GDPR data protection and privacy policies and any policies on the use of IT and communication systems generally.

This will help to minimise any grey areas and mean that your staff have something to remind them if they ever become unsure about what you have put in place. Keeping these policies under regular review, especially if you make changes to your IT systems, can also reduce any ambiguities and hopefully help reduce any grievances raised around privacy and working from home.

Keeping your hybrid working model under review

Creating a hybrid working model that works well for your team can be a difficult task, especially given the frequent changes to government restrictions and advice. A model that worked for you this time last year, may not be suitable for your team now. You may have taken on new starters or had team members leave since returning to the workplace, so you may need to factor into your model how to integrate new members of staff effectively, and whether that might, for instance, involve more time in the office for them, at least initially.

As you and your team try different strategies it may well become clear what does and doesn’t work for you.  This may be slightly different over the Christmas period as staff look to take more holiday, so you may want to look again at your model after the festive period to get a better idea of the longer-term picture. And keeping your team in the loop about any changes you’re considering will also help.

 

Here at citrus HR, we can support all our HR Service customers with any HR advice or guidance that you may need, and help with creating, reviewing or amending your relevant employment policies, and help you keep everything transparent for your staff.

Our cloud-based HR software and support offers guidance for flexible, hybrid, and remote working patterns, including policy support and much more. Get in touch today for a demo or try it out yourself with our free trial.

The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please contact 0333 014 3888 or email info@citrushr.com.

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