For many managers and bosses, the days of strolling through the halls to check on their employees are long-gone. Today, some 25 percent of all employees work from home or from customers’ business locations some of the time. More and more companies from airline reservation companies to professional service firms are switching entirely to a "virtual office" concept with most or all employees working from their homes.
Recent studies conducted by management consultants and by large corporations show that people who work off-site either match or exceed the productivity of their colleagues in the head office. Despite compelling evidence and the attraction of significantly lower over-head costs, many companies still waver. Many companies need some type of tangible measurement system to determine how individual employees or teams are performing. For these enterprises, the high-tech monitoring tools available today provide a variety of methods to review employee performance and productivity.
Perhaps the easiest workers to monitor are those with specific, measurable tasks performed during certain hours. This category includes: employees of call centers; employees processing insurance claims; and many others whose jobs center around data entry and handling phone and email inquiries from customers or employees. Several large software manufacturers including Avaya, Inc. (www.avaya.com)
offer quantitative programs that collect data and record employee telephone activity and their use of various software applications.
Some traditional "bricks and mortar" enterprises that handle a high volume of online and phone reservations--companies like JetBlue Airlines-- have made a successful transition to "virtual" reservation offices. However, it is interesting to note that companies comprised primarily of "knowledge workers" - executives who "sell" expertise, ideas and concepts--are most likely to permit employees to work from home.
Monitoring workers involved in more abstract tasks like technology consulting or preparing advertising concepts usually requires collaboration (shareware) software that allows managers to oversee how projects are developing and gather information on individual contributions. Check out www.intranets.com
to explore some options. These tools can be invaluable for business consultants who need to share input and ideas on a variety of far-flung projects with their colleagues.
Here are some highlights from the collective wisdom of managers who use monitoring technology:
- Don’t jettison traditional monitoring methods entirely. Hi-tech tools can give you excellent data. However, counting the number of tasks each employee completes gives an incomplete picture. It can’t help you assess the real quality of the work. Many companies back up quantitative data from high-tech tools with traditional "tried-and true" qualitative methods--methods that might involve supervisors monitoring service quality by taping and listening to some randomly selected in-coming calls.
- There is a crucial difference between monitoring and scrutinizing an employee’s every move. Bosses have a right to check that employees are performing appropriately and are not misusing their working hours or company equipment. Mutual trust and respect are precious commodities, and companies must avoid damaging them. Micromanaging can sabotage the benefits--including increased productivity-- that accrue when employees work from home.
- Companies that don’t see the need for full-scale employee monitoring often have concerns about unauthorized web use, or email or instant-messaging abuses. There are lots of web-blocking or web-monitoring programs available from vendors-many that can be customized to fit a variety of corporate guidelines. Check out www.spectorsoft.com for some idea of what’s available. You can vary access authorizations according to the individual employee’s job function, or only permit access to sites at lunchtime or after hours.
- Time lost because employees surf the web or conduct personal business online has become a mounting problem. In response, companies spent $270 million on filtering technology in 2002-- an increase of almost 30 percent over 2001.
- The news alone that monitoring activities are being implemented can act as a powerful deterrent. Information Technology directors report that unauthorized use of email and the Internet drops dramatically as soon as employees hear that monitoring is being introduced.
Finally, whatever course you take, be sensitive to concerns about employee privacy. Today’s technology puts powerful monitoring tools at your disposal. Business owners should use them thoughtfully and with prudence.