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Ralf Gegg, Vice President EUC, VMware EMEA

How many times did your fingers touch your keyboard today? Do you think this would accurately represent your working day and how productive you were? The debate on whether monitoring tools accurately reflect the value and output of a day’s work is erupting for the simple fact that, unlike the digital workplace tools that enable employees to work from anywhere, how bosses manage distributed teams has not adapted as quickly.

We’ve already seen some examples of what not to do. Amazon’s network of security cameras and hourly productivity goals for moving packages, triggered headlines with words like ‘dystopian’ and ‘violation’, for one. Yet monitoring isn’t always necessarily the issue. VMware’s recent research shows that 59 per cent of employees recognise their organisation has had to change how they measure productivity in line with hybrid working. The real issue is that lack of transparency around remote monitoring is hampering trust between bosses and employees. In fact, 39 per cent of companies that have already implemented device monitoring, and 41 per cent of companies who are in the process of doing so, are already seeing “drastically increased” or “increased” levels of employee turnover.

With many organisations shifting permanently to hybrid work, there is a need to find solutions – beyond presentism – that can assess employee performance in a way that works for them and for the business. But where do we draw the line between intrusive activity-based monitoring and meaningful performance-based measurement?

Understand why you’re measuring

Companies are citing everything from compliance and security to bullying and racism as reasons to monitor employees – all of which are valid. But, reflecting on the examples above, it feels that management practices haven’t progressed much. Monitoring shouldn’t be about spying on staff but understanding how bosses can provide employees with the best tools and experiences to work effectively between the office and home. This is the on-ramp to greater productivity, employee happiness, and it’s not so bad for the bottom line either.

Measuring output will prove far more useful to businesses and is likely to sit better with employees. In fact, three quarters of respondents from our research say that moving to a distributed work environment has meant that their performance – and not the traditional metrics such as time spent in the office – is being valued more by their employers. Using employee engagement measuring tools, backed with Machine Learning capabilities, organisations can gauge how employees are feeling over time to support and improve productivity.

Look at solutions that represent output

Employee surveillance measures, from monitoring emails and web browsing tools, are increasingly being objected to by workers and for which companies across Europe are landing themselves on the wrong side of regulators. The former CEO of IKEA in France was recently served with a suspended, two-year prison sentence for “excessive and unlawful staff surveillance and data collection”.

Focusing on what employees bring to the business will be particularly important when trying to attract Gen Z workers who can’t understand why going to an office or being ‘monitored’ isn’t a thing of the past. For example, regular catch ups with managers to discuss how that person is managing their workload; assessing output against objectives and deliverables helps both the employee and the manager celebrate achievements but also understand why certain objectives aren’t being met. Is there a need for training? Or an opportunity to improve process or technologies?

Work with employees, transparently

If employees are kept in the dark about any new measurement or monitoring tools, trust will be eroded. Currently, a quarter of employees don’t know whether their organisation has implemented device monitoring systems to monitor their productivity.

Employers need to be open with employees about why they’re monitoring and how they’re doing it. Of course, it’s a legal requirement across much of the world, to stay in line with privacy laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or employment law regulated through Workers’ Councils. There are cases where surveillance is vital for health and safety, but this must be on a job-by-job basis with full buy-in from the employee.

Find a delicate balance

The shift to more distributed work is the perfect opportunity for organisations to rethink traditional perceptions around what constitutes productivity and performance. Digital workplace tools help us to leave these perceptions behind and be more flexible about where and how we work, and how output is measured. Our new reality is that employees are finally feeling valued for their work and not for irrelevant metrics that simply quantify their working day. Getting the balance right will create a connected, productive workforce – wherever they are – and modernise a performance-based approach that supports employees to be their most productive selves.

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