The Ethical Complexity of Remote Workforce Monitoring

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Remote workforce monitoring is a complex and delicate issue. Implementing ethical remote workforce monitoring measures is a balancing act that must take into account questions of privacy, legality, consent, and fairness. On the other side of the equation, monitoring of this sort may be important not only for business reasons but to maintain ethical working conditions such as fairness throughout all segments of the workforce. Below, we have five key insights around the ethics of remote monitoring, considering the issue from multiple angles and on several levels.

1. REMOTE WORKFORCE MONITORING, IF IMPROPERLY IMPLEMENTED, CAN REPRESENT AN INVASION OF PRIVACY

Employers that employ remote workers often need to implement some form of remote workforce monitoring, principally for some combination of “maintaining data security levels and assessing employee productivity.” However, some forms of remote monitoring can invade the privacy of workers. These may include the installation of keylogging software on the remote worker’s computer, or installing remote access software on the computer and instituting random check-ins. 

While these measures may not be illegal, they present the potential for abuse, and may unethically restrict the privacy of employees. Ethical monitoring measures include software that prevents users from stealing proprietary or sensitive data, routine check-ins (without the assistance of invasive remote access software), and strict guidelines regarding the volume of work that should be completed by remote workers. 

2. LEGALITY AND CONSENT PLAY KEY ROLES IN THE ETHICS OF REMOTE WORKFORCE MONITORING

In some cases, consent and legality go hand-in-hand. Depending on where a business operates, certain types of remote workforce monitoring may be entirely illegal. For example, in California, the law bars the tracking of “any moving thing,” encompassing vehicles as well as portable devices like mobile phones or laptops. Instituting a remote workforce monitoring policy that included tracking vehicles or devices under such conditions would be unethical beyond questions of privacy. 

Similarly, monitoring employee “emails, texts, and other types of electronic communication” is illegal in Connecticut and Delaware, although surprisingly this is legal elsewhere in the United States (though it would almost certainly constitute an unethical invasion of privacy). When the law doesn’t forbid a given form of monitoring, consent largely governs the ethics of that practice. “Gaining your employee’s consent before undertaking monitoring activities” is an ethical imperative and must be done whether or not the monitoring technique could reasonably represent a breach of privacy. 

3. REMOTE AND ONSITE WORKFORCE SEGMENTS SHOULD BE TREATED FAIRLY

One potential ethical problem with a remote workforce is that remote workers may be “unfairly considered ‘out of sight, out of mind.'” In this sense, ethical monitoring practices are doubly responsible, as they prevent remote workers from being neglected or forgotten. 

As Teramind chief technology officer Isaac Cohen writes, “employee monitoring is just as important in the office as out of the office.” While remote workforce monitoring can serve important ends, the ethical employer should seek to ensure that remote workers are not unfairly targeted for monitoring to which onsite workers are not subjected. 

Ethical employers need to set clear “expectations for work hours” for remote workers as well as onsite workers, and remote workforce monitoring serves as a way of enforcing these expectations, thereby treating both segments of the workforce evenly and fairly. 

4. EMPLOYEES' ELIGIBILITY AND QUALIFICATIONS FOR REMOTE WORK SHOULD BE CONSIDERED

As Rice University’s educational material on telecommuting (i.e., remote working) states, “it would be unethical to place workers without assistance in a new situation in which they can easily fail.” Ethical employers must ensure that workers are capable of effectively performing their jobs remotely and that the jobs themselves are conducive to remote work, before allowing a worker to telecommute or hiring a worker for a remote position. 

Ethical employers should, as necessary, provide training “in time-management skills so [new remote workers] can maintain their productivity in an environment that may have more or different distractions than a traditional workplace and may make different demands on their time.” 

Without proper training, and proper discretion in hiring or in doling out remote working privileges, remote workforce monitoring would simply reveal shortcomings that employers have an ethical responsibility to weed out, at least to the best of their ability. 

5. REMOTE WORKFORCE MONITORING CAN HELP ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY

The most important aspect of creating an ethical workplace is promoting a “culture of accountability.” This can be done in a variety of ways, but in the context of a remote workforce, monitoring can be one important element. 

Accountability can take many forms — for example, one form of accountability concerns “the time [a remote worker’s] team spends on client projects.” Monitoring in this context can “maximize billing,” but can also ensure that the company is not unethically overbilling clients if remote workers claim to spend more time on a project than they do in actuality. 

One way of encouraging this ‘culture of accountability’ amongst the entire workforce is for employers to share their “time sheet and activity levels with your staff, and encourage the sharing of timesheets among [their] remote teams.” 

IMPLEMENT ETHICAL PRACTICES AND POLICY COMPLIANCE THROUGH REMOTEDESK

A common denominator in all these insights is workforce monitoring. An effective monitoring solution is an absolute must when it comes to supervising policy compliance and securing crucial data. Remotedesk brings visibility and control within the organization. It ensures conduct and integrity by making sure that only authorized agents to gain access to critical data. It is a fully automated solution that mitigates risk and has utility for the healthcare, government, technology, retail, education, financial services, and other sectors. 

Through a sophisticated facial recognition software, the application automates monitoring for work at home policy compliance. Remotedesk identifies various levels of deceit and misconduct based on the guidelines defined by the corporation and the manager. It is the most effective solution in the market and brings the most value as a remote workforce monitoring partner. 

Future projections for remote working are very promising and with an ever-increasing demand for remote jobs, telecommuting will become a prerequisite for organizations. Ethical practices, in conjunction with a capable monitoring tool, can ensure that all segments of the remote workforce are held accountable and managed effectively. 

Remotedesk delivers remote worker management, while providing clear transparency, accountability & risk management for outsourcing initiatives.