Monitoring Software for Remote Employees

This week, Wayne and Marisa continue their previous conversation about micromanaging by discussing employee monitoring software. What it is, why some companies may be using it, how it can impede trust, and how many are getting around it. 

Question of the Week:

Should we be using monitoring software on the devices of remote team members?

Additional Resources:


Wayne Turmel: Hello, everybody. Greetings. Welcome to the Long-Distance Worklife Podcast. My name is Wayne Turmel from The Kevin Eikenberry Group and the Remote Leadership Institute. With me is Marisa Eikenberry.

Marisa Eikenberry: Welcome back, everybody.

Wayne: And we are going today to do what we promised. I mean, the thing about this show is we are talking about remote work, technology, leadership and generally surviving the whole long-distance virtual hybrid workplace. And Marisa, we started talking about something in our last you and me episode.

Marisa: Yes.

Wayne: That I think we're going to continue. So you want to tell them kind of where we are and what we're going to do?

Marisa: Sure. So on our last episode, our last Q&A episode, we talked about micromanaging and especially on remote teams and how we can try to avoid that. And you gave us some tips to kind of help, but we did determine that there was still a lot more to that conversation. Things about like monitoring software, for example, and how that's used and what we think about it that I thought would really be helpful in this episode.

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Wayne: Yeah, it's interesting about this topic because if you've read The Long-Distance Leader and if you haven't, what the heck is wrong with you? But if you've read The Long-Distance Leader, you know that the leadership model basically presumes that leading a remote or a hybrid team is primarily like leading any team, right? Micromanaging is probably not great regardless of whether you're in the same location or not.

But this is where leadership and technology and the realities of remote work and everything. This is where the rubber meets the road is this kind of thing. And this is what freaked people out the most, I think, about the sudden transition to remote work is if you were a micromanager, it is impossible to micromanage by distance. You cannot do it.

Marisa: But they're going to try.

Wayne: Well, you can make yourself and everybody else crazy in the process.

So where does that come from? Right. Is that a leadership problem? Is that a technology problem? Is it? Yes. The answer is yes. To all of those. So where where should we pick up in our last discussion? Where do you want to start?

Marisa: I think one of the questions that we really wanted to get to in this conversation we didn't have time for was about monitoring software on people's computers. You know, I know that I've heard about people all the time. Saying that, "Oh, yeah, I've got this monitoring software. It makes sure that I'm still online." And and with that, I actually saw a TikTok a few weeks ago where somebody had this software installed on their computer.

They had to get up and go do something, whatever it was. So they put peanut butter on their mouse, set it on the floor, and their dog licked the mouse so that way they would still look like they were there. Like, people are finding really creative ways around this monitoring software. But I think the bigger question is, should it be installed at all?

Wayne: Yeah, I think that's a reasonable question. And while the idea first of all, there are three things in what you said there that you know, make my head want to explode. Number one is "I saw a TikTok."

Marisa: I mean...

Wayne: Which is usually a source, a media source that I wouldn't think of. And I don't in my old head, I do not apply great credibility to. But apparently there's stuff going on that I-

Marisa: Believe it or not there's a lot of stuff to learn on there. And more than people think, it's not just dance videos, but that's a different conversation.

Wayne: And number two, I think, is this notion that you can put in all of the stopgaps, monitoring spyware or whatever that you want, and it's going to encourage people to find workarounds.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: Like, if you start with the premise that we must monitor this, people are going to find ways to get around it.

Marisa: Right.

Wayne: And what does it say as an employer or a manager, that that's important enough that you feel like you need to do it now. In defense of organizations there are legitimate reasons if you are being paid by the hour, if you are a contractor, a lot of places with collective bargaining agreements, unions, situations where both sides need to trust but verify that people are that people are working, that you are, in fact, taking X number of calls a day if you're in a call center.

And that's the expectation. Unless we're tracking how many calls you make, how do we know how many calls you make? Right.

Marisa: Right.

Wayne: So there is some legitimate reason for monitoring activity but I'm always intrigued by how that gets position. I remember I was talking to a pretty well-known organization, pre-COVID, and I was like, Use your webcams, why won't you?

And they were like, no, no, no. They only want us to use webcams to make sure that we're working.

Marisa: I've heard that, too. It blows my mind.

Wayne: If that is your default. Oh, the we don't want to use webcams because it makes work more fun to actually see the people we're talking to. And and it's richer communication, and we know we don't want to use them for that reason. We want to use them to make sure those weasely hourly people are doing what they're supposed to do.

Your organization has way bigger problems.

Marisa: Right? Well, and I'm sure from an employee's perspective, to the trust issue, yeah, you already don't trust me. So what can I do now to fulfill that thought process, I guess.

Wayne: Yeah. And that lack of trust is the default position.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: Like, it's not. We want to help you work. We want to have you. We want to make sure you're working the assumption being that you won't if we don't.

Marisa: Right. Which is so silly, because we know I mean, yes, there are exceptions to the rule for sure. There are people that if you don't monitor at all, they are going to be watching Netflix or something and not doing anything at their job. That is true. But I feel like for the majority of people, they know that they have to get their stuff done so that they can get paid.

So they would do it without monitoring software anyway.

Wayne: Yeah, I think a lot of it boils down to how things are positioned.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: Right. If you are in a collective bargaining situation, if you are in a place where the job expectation is that you are engaging in this level of activity and let's be fair, there are jobs that do that. If you are an I.T. support person. Right. Right. You need to be there. You need to solve tickets. You need to do what you need to do, because that's literally the job if I'm a coder.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: As long as code is getting written and getting to QA in time, whether I do that at 10:00 at night or two in the morning or I do it from Starbucks is kind of irrelevant, right?

Marisa: As long as a job is getting done.

Wayne: As long as the job is getting done. So in one situation, having an activity documenting type of system, we'll call it that rather than monitoring. Okay. Makes logical sense.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: But I think the way that it's position when you start from a position of we are going to monitor you.

Marisa: Right. Or even just we're installing this software even if they're not. Because this is this is something that I think about too and I feel like I've heard people say this before. Yes. There's monitoring software on your computer. Well, we're not actively looking at it, but does that really matter? The fact is it's still there. And we're talking like for your basic normal office worker that, you know, some of those metrics that you're talking about, they don't matter as much. They're just monitoring are you on your computer at all?

Wayne: Yeah, and it's the equivalent of you get a good performance review because at 8:59, you're at your desk and you don't leave until 5:01. And therefore, you're a good employee.

Marisa: Which is ridiculous.

Wayne: Which is ridiculous. But if you're always 5 minutes late and you sometimes skip out early to catch the train or pick up your kid from daycare, you're obviously not as good an employee as that person that sits there. And it goes back to something Kevin has been writing about in Remarkable Leadership for a billion and a half years, which is are we measuring activity or are we managing productivity?

Marisa: Yeah, I was just thinking about that. I actually think I have a Post-it on my desk at work that somebody else in the company wrote before I even got there. But it says something along the lines of activity does not determine productivity. You know, I can be super active on something, but my project may not move 1% forward.

Wayne: Yeah. Now, this is a bigger problem when you have hourly employees. This is an absolute fact.

Marisa: Absolutely.

Wayne: Where there are unions involved in collective bargaining agreements and things where it the whole mood is about compliance and verification rather than just getting on with the work.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: And all of these things boil down to something that you said, which is around trust.

Marisa: Right.

Wayne: So you want to you want to kind of go there?

Marisa: Yeah. I mean, we can so I mean, I guess if from my perspective, so I've never been a manager. I mean, I've led projects and stuff, but I've never been a manager. And so to me, the idea of being told, hey, we're going to add we're going to have the software on your computer to be able to monitor you. I mean, like I said earlier, it instantly tells me you don't trust me.

They may not really be saying that they you know, it's something that's being pushed across the board. Everybody's got it. It's not something directly isolating to me or picking me out of a lineup or whatever. But that's that's how I'm going to feel about it. And so how does that now change how productive I am? How does that change my attitude about the work that I'm doing?

Because, again, in my head, I'm always going to be thinking, well, they don't trust me to do this, or am I now going to try to burn myself out on stuff because I want to make sure that they know I'm doing my job. And that's not healthy either.

Wayne: And all those things are true. I think, again, maybe it's the writer in me. I keep coming back to the words that we use.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: And I think this really matters keep track of sounds different than monitor in my mind. Right.

And it's the same thing when you become involved in a work situation where it's all about compliance and meeting minimum standards. And that is the definition of success.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: What you get is compliance and meeting minimum standards, and you get a lot of grudging compliance. Right. You get a lot of I will do exactly what you have asked me to do and no more.

Marisa: Yeah. There's no rock star teams over here.

Wayne: No, absolutely. And so, you know, when we're setting expectations. Yes. You have to set minimums, right? There's a floor. If you are not achieving this level, you ain't getting the job done.

Marisa: Yeah. Goals are still important.

Wayne: Goals are very important.

And what makes people what drives people to me, goals and this is an entirely different conversation because I know we were getting to trust but this is part of it, right? If I am putting in discretionary effort, do I believe that that will be recognized? Do I believe that I will be rewarded for that work, whether that's financially or just with recognition or opportunities.

Marisa: Yeah, kudos or whatever.

Wayne: Promotion, whatever that is you know, what too often leaders do is when there are those minimum standards in place and there are metrics that absolutely tell you where those are. What very often happens in this happens regardless of where people are working, is managers spend all their time on their problem children getting people to meet that minimum standard.

Marisa: Yes. Yes, I, I actually think I just read you talking about that in a blog post recently. I have to find it and put in the show notes. But yeah, it's just you're focusing so much on your problem children do you even notice you're quote unquote rock stars?

Wayne: And it's funny because for a lot of managers, we think, oh, they're doing a great job. They don't need us in their face. They don't need the attention. Just keep doing you know, you keep doing you, and it's all good. But those people want coaching. They want recognition. They want some of the managers mindshare.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: Yeah.

Marisa: Yeah. They want to know what they can do better to increase their productivity, increase whatever.

Wayne: Or just that their work is appreciated and it doesn't go unnoticed.

Marisa: Absolutely.

Wayne: And so when you are in a remote situation, you have to be mindful about how much time are you spending with each member of your team because you're not going to have those walking through the cube farm and your star performer is beating their head on their monitor.

Marisa: Right.

Wayne: Right. Because if you just look at the they know they're making the right number of calls. They're handling the right number of tickets. They're doing just fine.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: But they're not doing just fine.

Marisa: Yeah. You have no idea.

Wayne: If you manage by the- and this is unfortunately where I think we have to wrap up today. If you manage through these metrics and that is your only thing is what the machine tells you is happening you are not picking up on the human things that may be going on. You don't know that Marisa is experiencing problems until her numbers fall.

Marisa: Mm hmm.

Wayne: And then it's too late.

Marisa: Right? Yeah. There was an opportunity to check in way ahead of time, and you missed it.

Wayne: And by the time things get bad enough that they show up in the monitoring software, it may be a reparable.

Marisa: Right? Absolutely. And as we talked about earlier, too, sometimes what that monitoring software is, is tracking what you think you see may not be accurate. People are, you know, having their dog lick their mouse to show that they're active. They're opening up an email and having a book sit on their spacebar. So that way it looks like they're writing an email for 15 minutes.

People are doing this.

Wayne: I am a little concerned that you have a master list of all the things you can do to beat these things, because none of this would have occurred to this old man. But we are not going to go there because our time is up. Perhaps another discussion for another day.

Marisa: Yes, indeed.

Wayne: Marisa, thank you so much. This is a great topic and I'm really glad and thank you for your insight. We will be back in a couple of episodes with more of our Q&A sessions. So please, if you enjoy the podcast, first of all, you can find the show notes at Along with that, you will find a place on the home page to submit your questions.

We want your questions. What do you want to know? What do you want to hear us talk about? Of course, this being a podcast and you being experienced podcast listeners, you know that we also would love you to like subscribe. These are early days for the Long-Distance Worklife Podcast. And once again, the whole purpose here is remote work, technology, leadership, and just surviving this world of work.

So, Marisa, thank you so much as always.

Marisa: Thank you so much, Wayne, for answering our questions today.

Your Hosts

Wayne Turmel

Master Trainer and Coach for The Kevin Eikenberry Group, co-author of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership and The Long-Distance Teammate: Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere, and trainer of remote teams for over twenty years.

Marisa Eikenberry

Web developer, podcast editor, and technology support specialist for The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Has worked on a hybrid team for over 9 years.

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