Employee monitoring is a controversial subject. While most don’t care or understand the need for it, some passionately hate it.

The question is: does it really have to be that different from working in a physical workplace?

We don’t think so. In a traditional office, people can see you working and being involved in discussions. In fact, it’s been part of our business since the early stages.

This is because monitoring is a two-way street. It not only offers accountability and helps to reassure the employer that they made the right decision in bringing someone on board. It also helps offer proof of work and some level of security to the employee.

Basically, it backs them up if there’s a concern or dispute.

In an ideal world, everyone would work as promised and be honest about their work hours. Sadly, not everyone’s a team player.

We’ve had our fair share of being ripped off and conned by remote workers. There’s always going to be the odd bad egg.

We’ve had ex-team members watching hours of NSFW content, photoshopping deer heads onto their friends, playing video games for hours, running side businesses, buying new Michael Kors handbags. The list goes on. We’ve seen all kinds of stuff and heard all kinds of ridiculous excuses for that kind of behavior, too.

So, what do I mean by this?

Well, for some people, it just starts out as a small bad habit. Two minutes on Twitter, ten minutes on some news site.

But, when left unchallenged, this turns into hours and even days over the course of a month and year.

Others (the bad eggs) see an opportunity to milk the benefits of being remote and simply cheat and steal as much as they can.

We’re only considering bad habits and time theft so far, but unfortunately, it gets worse.

We have witnessed staff members that have access to financial systems and customer data neglecting to care about privacy and security. It would be irresponsible for a company to not do their utmost to monitor people capable of this level of power abuse.

One person we hired had high-level access to our systems, APIs, and basically the keys to the castle. We found this person was working a second job, which also tracked and took screenshots for the other employer.

To our surprise, both applications were being run at the same time and access to our security keys was potentially shared. Luckily, we noticed quickly and off-boarded that person, changed the keys, and did a full system audit. Nothing untoward had been done, no systems accessed, but the potential was there.

If you’re in charge of remote staff, especially those accessing your customer data, your systems, billing platforms, and payment gateways, you have to ask yourself whether you’re doing enough to protect your team, your customer, and your company.

Monitoring isn’t the end-all, be-all

All that being said, this can’t be a tool that is abused either.

It’s simply one piece of a much larger puzzle that can streamline the daily work of your people.

If you want to go all Big Brother and run things like a dictatorship, using this as proof that people are not always working, you’re going to have a culture of fear…and most probably a huge turnover of staff.

People will not be happy, and that’s a sure-fire way to lead the company to self-destruction.

How do we use employee monitoring?

We like to think of ourselves as a family. We have each other’s backs, so there needs to be some level of trust.

If someone goes off the tracks, we discuss it like human beings first. People do make mistakes, and you know what? That’s ok.

What matters is how we handle those mistakes and how we better ourselves to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

This kind of setup has also helped us identify people that are struggling in life for one reason or another. It’s enabled us to support our people better, to help train them, to help them understand they don’t need to struggle alone. I’m talking not just professionally, but personally and emotionally, too.

For us, we use it while people are in their trial period.

The rest of the time, we generally only check it when there is some other cause for concern or a red flag. Maybe it’s a drop in quality and performance, or maybe there’s been a report of some kind. We also run random periodic reviews.

We don’t mind people spending some time on social media or reading an occasional article. Maybe they’re picking a song to listen to. Providing it doesn’t get out of hand, you can’t be too harsh.

This is how Hubstaff helped us.

We started using it years ago, first as a monitoring and tracking tool. Now, we are taking advantage of more features like PTO requests and balances. We’ve also implemented different payment methods, which makes it convenient for our staff.

Use more than a tool

The WPMU DEV team

If you want more from your people, you have to be a leader and you need to inspire — not just be a boss.

Reach out, listen, be there.

Allow people to make their own mistakes, but also gently push them to create their own solutions, too. Encourage them to act independently of micromanagement. If you really need to micromanage everything, there’s probably something wrong somewhere.

When making decisions, even when as a manager, a leader, a COO, or even a CEO, you sometimes need to make tough choices that not everyone will like.

This is where you need to have the involvement of your people; you can’t always make unilateral decisions.

If you can’t cultivate a supportive team, how can your customers be expected to have faith in your products or services?

One of the biggest compliments I always get at conferences when people realize which company I represent is how amazing our support and products are. They often comment on how our company culture really shines through and makes them believe more in what we’re doing.

Our team turnover is pretty low in comparison to any other job I’ve worked before. While you can’t always please everyone, we still have amazing relationships with most people who’ve left us and gone on to do other things.

Have you faced any challenges in remote team management? Do you use any tools to monitor your team? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author

Tim Bowers is a pigeon and WPMU DEV’s COO. Before joining the team, he was the first WPMU DEV member to get enough membership points to secure a free lifetime membership.