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Features Working Remotely
Productivity problems? Remote monitoring options may help

Tech solutions can keep employees engaged while working from home


July 7, 2020
By Jack Burton

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(Chaay_tee/Adobe Stock)

While all leadership roles require a sense of capability and comfort when dealing with uncertainties, the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the workplace run deep enough to affect even the most assured decision-makers.

The journey of exploring the best ways to adjust to the new, indefinite reality of the remote workforce is not only a challenging process, but also a constantly changing one.

An emerging field of technology solutions may lend a hand to this chaotic transition.

These solutions can be described in a variety of ways — employee monitoring software, productivity tools, task management technology — but they all offer the same promise: a tool to help employers build a more efficient and engaged workforce.

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Benefits of monitoring tools

HubStaff CEO Dave Nevogt clarifies that his company’s software isn’t just about keeping tabs on employees in the hopes that they’ll stay on task, but is rather focused toward allowing employers to observe and cultivate data on the way teams work, so they can be better equipped to make decisions on what needs to be paid attention to.

“Owners and managers can see data and get insights into how productive individual team members are, without being in an office,” says Nevogt in Indianapolis, noting the benefits of this information goes both ways.

“Team members can understand how they are spending their time — this one aspect alone usually has a huge impact on how time is spent, because many organizations do not track time at all.”

These solutions existed before remote workforces suddenly became the norm for the time being, but their features make them uniquely equipped to address the difficulties that come with entire teams having to learn on their own how to best relate to one another, operate and prosper in this new working reality, he says.

Nevogt believes that technology such as HubStaff allows workplaces to overcome this issue by streamlining the process of communicating goals and progress.

“With this technology, managers and owners can confirm that the right priorities are being worked on,” he says. “(This is) something that is very hard to manage in a remote environment.”

Communicating through COVID-19

Of all these difficulties, one aspect most disrupted by this shift in work environments is communication, according to Cissy Pau, a human resources consultant with Clear HR in Vancouver.

This is doubly so for when it comes to communicating expectations, since the unpredictability of the current situation means that they are changing frequently, she says.

Unfortunately, as communication continues to become more difficult, due to the current state of flux when it comes to goals and expectations, it has also become more necessary than ever.

“(As your employer), I don’t see you every day in person,” says Pau. “There absolutely needs to be really clear expectations and really good, diverse types of communication.”

Pre-pandemic, the flow of communication “came out naturally, just from proximity,” she says.

“In an office, you can hear each other’s communication, you know who’s having a good or bad day, you hear all those things whether it’s purposeful communication or not.”

Now, the challenge with remote workplaces is that “the communication is not as natural, or based off of casual contact,” says Pau.

“You now need to make a point to reach out when you want something.”

The intentional, non-casual style of communication necessitated by the limitations of remote-work environments adds a whole new dimension to managing the operations and workflow of one’s team, she says.

Yet the very nature of a technology that operates by keeping an eye on one’s team comes with considerable baggage. For employees, it’s possible for them to perceive the introduction of productivity monitoring software to their work environment as implying a lack of trust when it comes to their capabilities and integrity as a team member, says Pau.

Mindful implementation urged

The potential of this software to leave employees feeling alienated means that it’s the company’s responsibility to provide them with both considerable information and input before introducing it to the workplace, according to Chris MacDonald, an associate professor and chair of Ryerson University’s department of Law and Business in Toronto.

“If you can convince employees that you’re actually solving a problem, they may be more open to it,” he says.

“More generally, engage them in the conversation. They may well have their own suggestions as to how to monitor and maintain productivity.”

MacDonald also urges that any conversations with employees about introducing this software occur on the basis of respect for the consent and autonomy of one’s team: “Employee consent doesn’t eliminate the privacy concerns … for consent to be ethically legitimate, the employee has to have a real choice.”

“If the options are to submit or to find a new job, few employees are going to experience that as a real choice,” he says.

This technology certainly seems to impact the workplace, but the question is whether or not the potential impact can be wholly beneficial.

The answer, according to Detry Carragher, the owner of Prince Edward Island HR firm Carvo Group, points to yes — but she is sure to clarify that the implementation of this software into the workplace must still be done mindfully.

A number of Carragher’s clients have noted that “implementing such software has actually boosted productivity” in their remote workplaces.

She believes this success comes from the impact it can have on smoothing out communication in a work-from-home environment.

“Making the transition from an active workplace to one of isolation can be difficult for some staff, so collaborative workplace tools can be helpful in bridging this transition,” she says.

Transparency matters

Even having witnessed firsthand this software’s positive impact on productivity, Carragher reminds those interested that “accountability and transparency matter in remote employer-employee relations.”

She echoes MacDonald by reminding employers “to be clear about their reasons for using such software and what data they intend to collect.”

Failure to do so, she warns, “could lead employees to develop distrust and resentment toward their manager.”

If discussions with one’s team lead to the conclusion this technology isn’t the proper fit for specific workplace solutions, employers should know that a productive remote-work environment is still attainable, she says.

Any path to productivity is the correct one, says Carragher, so long as it’s one that allows for communication to flow and employees to remain engaged.

She doesn’t see this technology as a necessary feature of the ideal remote workplace, but rather one of many options employers have for getting there.

“A healthy and productive remote workforce requires that managers and peers check in with each other, whether it’s through scheduled online meetings or other means,” says Carragher.

“Engagement is key to remote working arrangements. It’s also key to the long-term retention of these same employees.”

Jack Burton is a freelance journalist in Toronto.