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  4. Should employers monitor staff performance working from home?
Illustration of a man using a computer while sat at a desk with a large printer to his left, on his right is a female employer remotely managing in an office environment through the cloud

Should employers monitor staff performance working from home?

With many now remote working, there's a debate around the ethics of monitoring staff.

It’s all well and good for staff to say they feel happier and more productive with the flexibility and freedom of working from home, but how can employers know for sure? And on the flip side, will employees feel they are not being trusted and sufficiently empowered if their organisation brings in digital monitoring tools to check up on them?

Managers have traditionally relied on old fashioned observation to keep an eye on productivity in the office, while IT departments have been tasked with monitoring online activity. However, the new age of hybrid and home working has created new and unprecedented issues between employers and staff. As we move forward in a new era of hybrid offices, more organisations will be asking whether they should monitor the performance of staff working from home.

How can you monitor staff when working remotely?

Monitoring staff performance is a normal part of working life. It has taken place for as long as jobs have existed. It’s important for maintaining productivity, identifying and reducing inefficiencies, spotting and resolving problems before they arise, and checking that IT equipment is working and being used appropriately. Staff monitoring is also vital for celebrating successes and rewarding good performance, which is a key aspect of helping your workforce feel valued.

This is arguably more important than ever in the age of hybrid working when managers and their teams may no longer be in the same physical space. Naturally, this does provide a challenge when it comes to monitoring a workforce distributed between the office and home, but there are a number of software solutions and tools available. It’s also worth noting that there is no data privacy law in the UK for employee monitoring, although it does cut across several pieces of legislation, as we’ll explain further below.

One method for monitoring staff performance from home is using Managed Print Services (MPS). Managed Print Services are programmes offered by print providers to manage your printing devices, including scanners, faxes and copiers. While MPS was introduced prior to the pandemic, the programme is not limited to simply monitoring traditional office environments and is ideal to help oversee decentralised resources.

MPS help organisations improve their efficiency, productivity and information security, typically by monitoring usage, replacing consumables and meeting the organisation’s printing needs. This monitoring works wherever a printer is located regardless of whether that’s in an office or at home so it’s an ideal way of ensuring company devices are being used appropriately. This includes making sure employees are only printing material for work purposes and ensuring document security.

Using a Brother printer with MPS and integrated software allows organisations to monitor printer usage with the option to place a cap on print volume as required and offers greater control and visibility over supplies replenishment. MPS isn’t a one size fits all programme either. Brother works closely with businesses and organisations of all sizes to design and implement a tailored MPS solution that's as individual as you are.

Is it legal to monitor staff working from home?

As we mentioned above, UK data privacy law has no section on employee monitoring, unlike other countries, but several other pieces of legislation should be considered before going ahead in order to get the balance right, especially when it comes to monitoring home workers. For example, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the Human Rights Act details the right to ‘respect for private and family life’. Other relevant legislation includes GDPR and the Data Protection Act, The Equality Act 2010, the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the Telecommunications Regulations 2000, and others. However, despite all of these considerations, in answer to the initial question, it is legal to monitor staff working from home.

What can employers monitor for those working remotely?

Since the pandemic, a wave of new third-party software has become available to help employers monitor the IT activity of staff working from home. Using this software, organisations can check everything from work emails, messages sent via platforms such as Teams or Slack, and internet history, to Zoom calls, mobile phone contracts, and more. There are also analytic monitoring tools, such as Microsoft’s Workplace Analytics and Google’s Work Insights, with metrics to benchmark performance, which staff can use themselves.

The main purpose is to maintain productivity while ensuring company technology and resources are being used appropriately, but the growing number and sophistication of these monitoring tools has raised questions around employee privacy and trust. While the likes of Brother’s MPS is clearly focused on boosting productivity, eliminating inefficiencies, saving money, and reducing the amount of time staff are side-lined with IT issues, other software can be more invasive, such as screen recording, key logging, or live video feeds of staff recorded via their webcam.

Do staff have to give consent to allow employers to monitor you?

In a traditional office, staff have long since accepted the fact that their IT behaviour may be monitored to ensure they are using hardware and software appropriately. Similarly, work calls may be recorded for training and safety purposes and any devices used around the office or taken home, such as printers, scanners, laptops, or work mobile phones, may have monitoring built in. Consent to do this is often written into or implied in the duty of trust and confidence sections of standard employment contracts, but there are situations where organisations can monitor staff without consent.

The Telecommunications Regulations 2000 gives employers the right to carry out surveillance without a staff member’s knowledge in specific circumstances, such as a suspicion that criminal activity is taking place. However, while it is possible for employers to monitor staff without their knowledge – whether they are in the office or based at home - it is not recommended as it could lead to claims of unfair dismissal. They could also fall foul of GDPR. Employers are advised to seek guidance from the Information Commissioner’s office and the Data Protection Code of Practice if in doubt.

Summary

While monitoring staff working from home may be a sensitive issue, it can also be a positive and necessary measure to ensure remote workers are sufficiently supported and to celebrate success – it’s definitely not just about checking up on people. There is also the important issue of making sure IT equipment such as printers, scanners, all-in-one devices, are working correctly. Brother’s MPS programme is ideal for this with the added benefit of improving device security, saving money, improving efficiency, and work monitoring.

Brother has introduced short-term MPS home working contracts specifically to help organisations transitioning to hybrid offices. We know it can be difficult to secure buy-in for wholesale changes to business processes, particularly when they come with lengthy contractual commitments. As a result, Brother is now offering all the advantages of a MPS contract on a 12-month home working contract; allowing you to only pay for the pages your homeworkers print. If your organisation is considering staff monitoring for home workers, then this could be a non-intrusive way to go about it that also has a wide range of business benefits for everyone involved.

 

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