Recently, an Australian woman lost her position after having devoted 18 years to her job! Why? As a remote worker, her productivity had raised doubts. When her computer usage was monitored over a period of 49 days, habitual tardiness, early exits and even complete absenteeism were uncovered. Her activities — which included crafting insurance documents and ensuring adherence to guidelines— were tracked using technology, only to reveal that her performance had dropped significantly. Although she claimed to have used other devices, her productivity was questionable. This incident highlights the responsibility of remote workers to meet performance expectations and underscores the influential role of technology in shaping employment decisions.
The rise of remote work has introduced unprecedented flexibility and convenience, but it has also brought forth new challenges for employers, with time theft being a prominent concern. Time theft refers to the misuse or misappropriation of working hours by employees, which can lead to decreased productivity and ultimately affect an organisation’s bottom line.
In a remote-work scenario, benchmarks for performance can be tricky to establish, explains Emmanuel David, senior HR leader. “For instance, tracking the time spent working, when exactly an employee logs in or out, or even leaves early, can create a sense of doubt and discomfort. This mode of monitoring doesn’t always capture the complete picture of an employee’s productivity or contribution,” he adds.
“Trusting employees to deliver results without constant oversight is crucial. While meetings are necessary, an excess of mandatory meetings can hinder productivity”
Emmanuel David, senior HR leader
He further points out that while managing remote teams, focusing on outcomes rather than micromanaging individuals seems to yield better results. Leaders and managers can assign tasks making employees accountable for delivering results. However, the challenge lies in ensuring this accountability without resorting to intrusive monitoring.
That is why, David emphasises that building trust within remote teams is essential. “Trusting employees to deliver results without constant oversight is crucial. While meetings are necessary, an excess of mandatory meetings can hinder productivity,” says David.
Ganesh Chandan V, CHRO, Tata Projects, admits that after the pandemic, remote work has become increasingly common, posing challenges for employers in monitoring employee productivity. He feels it is crucial to strike a balance between tracking and respecting privacy. And therefore, he suggests,
“Employers can contemplate utilising monitoring systems that safeguard productivity data while preventing time theft and respecting personal privacy. For senior personnel, besides addressing financial factors, optimising communication channels and streamlining workflows can effectively fortify their contribution against time theft. This not only pertains to monetary aspects but also underscores the value of their guidance. It’s pivotal to maintain clear communication while avoiding inundating them with excessive information,” Chandan V suggests.
So, what are the ways to prevent time theft?
Set clear expectations: Establishing transparent expectations is fundamental to preventing time theft. Clearly outline work hours, deadlines and communication norms. When remote workers have a solid understanding of what’s expected of them, they are more likely to manage their time responsibly.
Adopt goal-oriented approach: Shift the focus from tracking hours to assessing results. Set measurable goals and objectives for remote workers. This approach encourages employees to concentrate on accomplishing tasks efficiently rather than just fulfilling their time quota.
“Employers can contemplate utilising monitoring systems that safeguard productivity data while preventing time theft and respecting personal privacy”
Ganesh Chandan V, CHRO, Tata Projects
Implement time-tracking tools: Introduce non-intrusive time-tracking tools that help employees log their work hours and activities. Opt for tools that emphasise recording tasks completed rather than constant real-time monitoring. This empowers remote workers to manage their schedules while maintaining a sense of autonomy.
Check in regularly: Schedule regular check-ins with remote workers to discuss ongoing projects, address challenges and offer support. These meetings foster open communication and allow managers to gauge progress without relying solely on technology.
Embrace flexibility: Recognise that remote work is built on the premise of flexibility. Allow employees to set their work hours to accommodate personal obligations, provided they fulfil their responsibilities. This trust-based approach fosters a healthier work-life balance and reduces the temptation for time theft.
Promote positive work culture: Cultivate a work environment where employees feel valued and engaged. When individuals are motivated and enthusiastic about their tasks, they are more likely to devote their time genuinely to their work.
Impart time-management training: Offer training and resources on effective time management. Provide remote workers with the tools to organise their tasks efficiently. This can minimise time theft due to poor time allocation.
Focus on confidentiality and data security: Assure remote workers that any data collected is solely for work-related purposes and will be treated with the utmost confidentiality. Emphasise the organisation’s commitment to safeguarding their privacy.
Periodic reviews: Conduct periodic reviews of time-tracking data to identify patterns and trends. This helps recognise potential time-theft issues and address them promptly.
Lead by example: Managers and leaders should exemplify responsible time management. When employees see their superiors valuing and respecting their time, they are more likely to emulate this behaviour.
Udbhav Ganjoo, head-HR, Viatris, draws attention to the fact that tToday’s employee-monitoring technology goes beyond traditional methods. It’s not solely about observing remote employees through their computers or laptops. There are a range of techniques, such as keyboard tracking, webcam monitoring and even facial recognition. While these tools have proven beneficial, they’ve also faced resistance, leading to the question of consent. Instances have emerged where employees feel uncomfortable being constantly monitored.
“In the context of hybrid work models, where both remote and in-person elements coexist, understanding the boundaries of employee monitoring is crucial”
Udbhav Ganjoo, head-HR, Viatris
“In the context of hybrid work models, where both remote and in-person elements coexist, understanding the boundaries of employee monitoring is crucial,” he emphasizes and goes on to suggest using “intermittent monitoring that respects personal space and privacy.”
According to him, “Video-based monitoring, although significant, should be undertaken mindfully to foster healthy relationships. The nuances of non-verbal communication can be pivotal in creating a conducive work environment.”
Ganjoo strongly believes that organisational culture plays a vital role in dictating the extent to which surveillance is embraced. This shift is in line with the evolving landscape of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, which is shaping the very approach to work.
Balancing accountability and privacy in a remote-work setting is possible. By cultivating a culture of trust, setting clear expectations and utilising technology wisely, employers can prevent time theft while empowering their remote workforce to excel.