Telecommuters are among the luckiest employees out there: we can eat donuts during conference calls (use the mute button, please!), lay our heads on our desks when the mood strikes, and can show up to work in a canary-yellow caftan and no one is the wiser. That is, unless your employer suddenly decides to turn the hairy eyeball of technology on you.
ITtoolbox's Nari Kannan writes about a somewhat disturbing story that's recently made it to syndication from the Wall Street Journal. It details the lengths some employers will go to in order to keep tabs on employees who telecommute, including computer monitoring applications that count keystrokes or grab random screenshots, and sophisticated listening devices designed to detect unwanted background noise.
Kannan suggests companies that need to take steps like this to measure employee performance have bigger problems than whether its staff is playing Super Mario Ball instead of making customer calls. "If you cannot trust your employees to do the right thing, and work on stuff they are supposed to, when they are supposed to do it, you may already be seeing the results anyway," he says.
I agree. If your business model relies heavily on telecommuters and you don't have methods in place to hire trustworthy people, using spycams on your staff is nothing more than a band-aid covering symptoms of a larger issue. There are plenty of ways to make sure work is getting done, the most obvious being that you are getting results and your staff is meeting deadlines.
Furthermore, even though the idea makes a modicum of sense if you're trying to track the behavior of hourly employees, it's completely unreasonable if you contract your workers on a per project basis. As long as freelancers meet prearranged deadlines, it shouldn't matter when, where, or how they get work done.
Would you work for a company that used this approach to track worker behavior? Are you a business owner that does?