The B Side of Working from Home

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Sue Shellenberger explores the expanding use of monitoring technologies that allow employers to electronically snoop on their at home employees. Many employees are accepting this level of inspection (some would say intrusion) as a tradeoff for avoiding long commutes and high fuel costs while enjoying the freedom to work in their jammies. At one of my former employers, we had a large (1200+ employee) virtual workforce who worked from home essentially performing quality assurance work. They were paid for speed and quality, and were electronically monitored and audited to calculate what they were owed. As you might imagine, the highly productive workers welcomed this system, while the low performers didn’t. The company benefited from being able to pay very precisely for productivity.

This summer, my 20 year-old daughter has been working from home in an electronically monitored environment. The following are her thoughts about working on an electronic leash:

While I can understand a company’s desire to keep track of just how its virtual employees are spending their paid hours, the surveillance practices mentioned in the blog (some of which my employers use to track myself and other at-home workers) certainly don’t encourage a feeling of trust between employers and employees. Ensuring there is as little background noise as possible on a phone call is important; tracking key strokes to ensure everyone is being the busiest little bee they can stresses employees and reduces them to the quantity of their typing. While there are certainly workers who might need to be tracked, if responsible virtual workers don’t feel they can be trusted to do their work, they won’t trust their employers and they most likely won’t choose to truly commit to that position or, if they are temporary workers, to return. Perhaps these surveillance methods might be better utilized if they were targeted at workers who already seem to be underperforming, whose productivity is below-average or non-existent. Targeting all workers indiscriminately subjects them all to the indifferent eye of Big Brother.

Now excuse me, I have to schedule a bathroom break.

What’s your perspective on this trend? Is it a reasonable tradeoff for the freedom of working from home or is it overly intrusive?

2 thoughts on “The B Side of Working from Home

  1. Perhaps this works for the QA work you describe, but I tend to agree with your daughter that all this monitoring does not encourage trust. It goes against the whole ROWE theory ( and I don’t think it’s appropriate for knowledge workers and ultimately could lead to workers feeling bitter about being watched so closely. From what I read about Gen Y or Millenials or whatever we want to call them, I don’t think this will work for them as it takes away their sense of empowerment. Shouldn’t it really be about the work results anyway?

  2. In his article “Trust Is a Competency”, (Chief Learning Officer, May 2008), Stephen M. Covey wrote that trust is “…a critical, highly relevant and tangible asset”. He goes on to state that “…trust affects everything within an organization, every dimension, activity, decision, and relationship and that it is quite possible the single most powerful and influential lever for leaders and organizations today”.

    Here is the clincher, a 2002 Watson Wyatt study showed that high-trust organizations outperformed low-trust organizations by 286 percent in total return to shareholders!

    I’m not saying don’t monitor employees. I am saying that a little goes a long way.

    ’nuff said.

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