Productivity, Not Activity


Digital Data Can Be Misleading


Data is everywhere. Data is everything. Data can’t help but reveal the truth. Data lies. It’s all about the data. The opportunities for data collection are endless. The morality of collecting all this data can be questionable. The ethical use of this data is, unfortunately, in the eyes of the keeper of the data.


The latest Gallup survey in June of this year estimated that 34 million people worked in hybrid environments, a mix of office and home. Additionally, 36.5 million people in the U.S. worked remotely at least five days a week as of early August, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.


As we discussed in this newsletter last week, employers have been seeking new ways to manage these workers and ensure productivity. One obvious method is the use of surveillance software. However, the usefulness of this data must be carefully considered.


It should come as no surprise that the global demand for employee monitoring software jumped 65 percent from 2019, according to internet security and digital rights firm Top10VPN. With this many employees working in the digital shadows, it may be tempting for managers to utilize the digital surveillance tools available.


However, it behooves managers to know what they can and can not do. Some states, such as Delaware and Connecticut require employers to provide a written notice to workers if their electronic activity is being monitored.


Common business software such as Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Office, Trello, and Google Workspace allow employers to:

·     Track the number of video meetings an employee attended

·     Determine whether their camera and/or microphone were on

·     Monitor online chat time with co-workers

·     See the number of documents saved to the cloud

·     Determine the number of emails sent and received

·     Count keyboard strikes

·     See internet sites visited


Other monitoring tools including Teramind, InterGuard, ActivTrak, Hubstaff and TimeCamp gather keyboard and mouse activity to see when employees are “active.”


However, all these monitoring tools are simply snapshots of the real picture. They are not an accurate representation of the amount of work being accomplished.


According to Danialla Abril, writing in the Washington Post, “To be sure, several software companies say their reports are not for employee evaluation and surveillance. Microsoft has stated that using technology to monitor employees is counterproductive and suggested that some managers may have “productivity paranoia.” In the help section of its website, Slack states that the analytics data it offers should be “used for understanding your whole team’s use of Slack, not evaluating an individual’s performance.”


Brian Elliott, Slack senior vice president and executive leader of the Slack-led consortium focused on the future of work, said using activity-based analytics to gauge productivity doesn’t account for people’s various communication styles. And incentivizing this kind of activity versus actual outcomes may increase stress and erode worker trust. He adds, “Measuring productivity based on surface-level activity like ‘messages sent’ gives us an extraordinarily limited view into a person’s contributions to their organization,” …Not only is it arbitrary, it’s usually counterproductive.”


Workplace experts agree that the data doesn’t properly represent a worker’s productivity. It totally misses in-person activities such as mentoring, taking time to brainstorm with others, or the moment when inspiration strikes and ideas are jotted down on the back of a napkin during lunch.


Simply measuring quantity can often discount the quality of an employee’s work. According to Bart Willemsen, Gartner vice president and analyst focused on privacy and technology, “activity does not equal productivity – productivity should equal outcomes.”


Workplace experts also warn that should employers use this incomplete data-picture to evaluate workers, it can have a negative impact on company loyalty and encourage people to work solely on meeting monitored metrics rather than using their education, experience, and insights to push themselves and the company forward.


If you are struggling with any of these issues, our professionals at ASN would love to talk with you. Just give us a call.