How Companies Monitor Your Computer
Companies monitoring their employees’ computers is nothing new. But as the pandemic caused the massive shift to remote and hybrid work, an increasing number of employers have begun monitoring remote workers in some shape or form, and sometimes with more advanced software.
A recent survey by Digital.com found that 60% of U.S. employers are monitoring work-from-home employees. Companies are doing this with monitoring software that tracks web browsing and application use, logs keystroke, captures random screenshots, and more.
The kicker for employees is that, legally, many employers can do this without notifying you. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act allow companies to monitor employees without their notification, but state laws narrow down what can and can’t be done.
Empire Resume will delve into how companies monitor your computer, the benefits and disadvantages of doing so, and the legality of the practice.
The Different Types of Monitoring
Company monitoring of employees comes in many different forms, and new technology has enabled employers to track employees in new ways.
One common way employees are tracked is through software that shows what websites they are visiting. Companies keep tabs on whether you’re wasting time surfing the web or visiting inappropriate websites by monitoring the websites and apps used. They do all this mainly to keep up productivity.
For years, employers have also tracked workers’ emails and email messages. This one is a given, and many employees probably suspect this is happening. A Gartner survey revealed that half of large companies track employee emails. The reason they do this is to ensure employees aren’t leaking company secrets, they’re complying with company policies, and they’re not engaging in illegal activities.
Other common things companies track include:
- Collaboration tools. Recently, tools like Slack for instant messaging have become more prevalent in the workplace. And guess what? If you’re sending messages on Slack on a company computer, it’s all subject to monitoring because, like emails, it’s considered a part of ordinary business.
- Geolocation tracking. For employees that use company smartphones, vehicles, or other devices, there’s a very good chance the company is tracking your coordinates via GPS.
- Keylogging. This is one of the most controversial forms of monitoring, but some companies do it. Keylogging software tracks what employees type into their computers. Some people question the legality of this software because employers could potentially learn sensitive private information of employees, like passwords and bank information.
Pros and Cons of Monitoring
Companies monitor employee computers for several reasons, and they’ve been doing it for a while. A survey as far back as 2007 from the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute revealed that 73% of companies monitor their workers’ computers.
Some of the reasons and benefits of monitoring include improving productivity, measuring how workers spend their time, evaluating remote staff, and protecting the company from data theft or illegal activities.
Companies track employees to prevent too much internet surfing, which can be an immense waste of time for businesses. They also want to check employee productivity and ensure workers are actually getting things done, especially people working from home. Lastly, employers need to protect themselves from the leaking of proprietary information or trade secrets.
But all this employee monitoring comes with a cost. If monitoring feels intrusive, workers can harbor feelings of resentment and distrust of the company. In terms of employee retention, this is the last thing an HR manager would want. The extra monitoring data could also end up in the wrong hands, such as a case where an employee gets a hold of other workers’ sensitive personal information.
Legal Issues in Employee Monitoring
You may be surprised to learn that employee monitoring in the U.S. is not only completely legal, but the federal government doesn’t require companies to disclose to workers they’re being monitored. Only two states – Connecticut and Delaware – require that employers notify employees of monitoring.
Most federal and state laws allow companies to monitor just about anything sent and transmitted on company devices. It’s also legal for employers to monitor keystrokes typed on company computers through keylogging software. So, the bottom line is if you’re using a company computer or device, you should expect you’re being monitored to some extent.
Companies must have legitimate business reasons for employee monitoring, but they are given a lot of leeway. Employers can also monitor phone calls on company devices, though each state has its own laws on how many parties must provide consent for a phone call to be recorded. Most legal experts advise companies to establish written policies regarding employee monitoring and outline what will be monitored and how it’ll be done.
Just because monitoring is legal in most cases doesn’t mean it’s always ethical, though. Even if the law doesn’t require it, many companies are advised to be transparent and forthright about their monitoring practices. Good employers will probably disclose their monitoring practices and explain how it helps the business. Bad employers, on the other hand, may be more deceitful about it.
Monitoring Increased During the Pandemic
As more employees work from home, many employment experts said it’s led to a boom in workplace monitoring. Companies are also using more advanced software like Hubstaff and Time Doctor to track workers’ computers on a granular level, track keystrokes, take screenshots, and more.
Hubstaff, the monitoring software, claims demand for its services have tripled since the pandemic began. This raises significant privacy questions, as working from home means the lines between work life and personal life have blurred. Employees working at home are often very uncomfortable with remote work monitoring, as it extends surveillance software into their own homes and private spaces.
A Brookings Institute Report on employee monitoring says companies should do a better job of notifying employees that they’re being watched, and they should also clarify monitoring rules when workers are remote. People working from home are more likely to work nights and weekends, and if they take breaks on company laptops to check personal information, it should be off-limits for monitoring.
Employee monitoring of computers is nothing new, as companies have been doing it for a long time. But the practice has increased and become more sophisticated during the remote work revolution. Companies gain certain benefits by monitoring their employees’ computers, but they should do so carefully. The advantages must be weighed against the drawbacks of lower employee morale and engagement, and they should show respect for employee privacy.
Stay tuned to Empire Resume’s blog for more insights on careers and employment, such as articles like LinkedIn Profile Tips for When You’re Unemployed, Working with Millennials, and Recession Proof Careers.
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Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.