Can My Boss Use a Webcam to Monitor Me at Home?
Many businesses concerned with productivity are considering using webcams to monitor their remote employees’ work habits. While it seems like a good idea, the biggest challenge is determining when using a webcam to measure productivity transforms into spying on your team.
Privacy Is Top Of Mind For Many Workers
This generation of workers is probably one of the most aware regarding issues of privacy. Whether it’s websites tracking your browsing habits, ads, and even social media, most people take their privacy somewhat seriously. It is no wonder many remote employees balk at the thought of their employer monitoring how they are working, especially when working from their own homes.
While there are essential protections such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) regarding personal privacy, many of these protections are situational, and the protections shift in regards to employment and an employer’s ability to protect their business.
Why Would a Company Monitor Employee Usage?
While there are several reasons a business may use to explain their need to monitor employees’ computer usage, there are really only two good ones: to track employee productivity and to protect the company from theft.
According to the American Management Association, computers are monitored in a variety of ways:
- 45% of employers track content, keystrokes, and time spent at the keyboard.
- 43% store and review computer files.
- 12% monitor the Internet (blogs and other sites) to see what is being written about the company.
- 10% monitor social networking sites.
Discussing the latest on workplace monitoring and surveillance from 2019, we note that almost half (48%) of the companies surveyed use video monitoring to counter theft, violence, and sabotage. In contrast, only 7% use video surveillance to track employees’ on-the-job performance. This tells us that despite the ability to use webcams to track remote worker performance, the overwhelming number of employers don’t. However, please note, this survey was taken before the current coronavirus crisis. This crisis has increased the need for remote working, and the first time many businesses are trying telecommuting.
My Boss Doesn’t Have the Right to Monitor Me.
Don’t be so sure. As we noted earlier, privacy protections can be situational. If your employer can show they have a valid reason to monitor your computer, you’ll be hard-pressed to prevent them from doing so. However, in reality, most employers won’t have to ‘fight’ to access your computer. Chances are you already agreed to allow them to when you received your company handbook. You did read your handbook, didn’t you?
If not, take a look. Does it say something similar to, “We (company) reserve the right to monitor employees’ usage of company equipment and network...”? If you’re using the company’s network, they can monitor you even if you’re using a personal device. They told you they would, and you agreed to let them by taking the job.
Can My Boss Use a Webcam to Monitor Me at Home?
When it comes to webcams and video recorders in general, their use becomes a little more problematic, but only slightly. While the law is on the side of employers, some rules govern their use of video:
- You can’t be monitored in locations where you expect a privacy level, such as the bathroom.
- They can’t remotely turn on your computer’s webcam without telling you it’s on to monitor you secretly.
However, besides those few rules, your employer can make accessing your webcam a part of their employment terms. Of course, you don’t have to let them; you can put tape over your webcam, or use a physical webcam cover. Still, the reality is, denying your employer access to your computer may be considered grounds for termination.
Should You Use a Webcam to Monitor Your Remote Workers?
Like most things in life, the question isn’t can you, but should you. When considering implementing a webcam policy to monitor your remote team, the question you need to ask yourself is, why and what concerns are you seeking to address?
If you’re concerned about productivity, there are several tools that are much more effective to help you track your remote team’s workflow, without needing to set up a webcam to watch them non-stop all day. There is a variety of monitoring software which allows you to:
- Collect Keystrokes
- Archive web pages visited
- Take screen captures of what is on your team’s screen
- Monitor which applications are open and being used
Any of these tools can provide insights into what your remote team is working on and offer better data then just watching your employees sit at their desk for 8 hours. That being said, there are even better ways to ensure your team’s productivity is at the level you expect it to be, that won’t make them feel like Big Brother is always watching their every move.
Communication is Key
While yes, you could monitor an employee’s webcam to see if they are asleep at the job, there are more effective methods to accomplish this goal. One of the concerns of having a remote workforce is well; they're remote. This can lead to your remote team feeling isolated from each other, and quite frankly, the work they're doing. Ensuring your team can communicate and collaborate, you deliver the type of support system needed to keep everyone on task.
For example, we at Directive have a morning 'huddle' where each department meets in the morning to discuss the day's workload. This lets us know of any projects which need attention and enables us to provide the necessary support. Additionally, by utilizing Google’s productivity suite, G Suite for Business, we create and share documents, communicate via Google Hangouts, using both text and video, and we’ve always pushed for a strong culture of documentation and proactive management. These tools and practices allow our remote team to remain connected and productive, and are a lot less intrusive than a webcam. It really helped that we didn’t have to change very much to accommodate remote work, which we’re very aware wasn’t the case for many upstate NY businesses.
It’s also important to establish KPIs, both on an individual level and for departments. If you have a support team that normally handles x-number of support requests every day, and you are measuring that metric, you can pan out and see how the trends have been over the last several months.
We try to keep the fun stuff going too!
Although we haven’t been able to have a Crock Pot Thursday since the start of the pandemic, we have been holding our staff meetings, and we keep them casual so the team is encouraged to catch up or have some fun with trivia.
Do You Trust Your Team?
Ultimately you have to decide if you can trust your team and whether you have what it takes to manage from afar. Micromanaging has been the bane of many businesses and doesn't get any better if you're watching your team in their own homes. If the work is being produced at the same levels as when your team was in the office, would you allow your team to continue working autonomously? Why fix what's not broken, or worse, create an environment of resentment and distrust?
COMANYNAME offers a variety of technology solutions for small and medium-sized businesses. Schedule an appointment to learn more about the tools available to support your remote workforce and to answer any questions about your IT. Call 607.433.2200 today.