Here’s what you need to know

Last September, CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella identified a problem that was gnawing at managers: productivity paranoia.

This was on the back of Microsoft research spanning 20,000 people across 11 countries, who found a disconnect between workers feeling productive in hybrid and remote environments and managers trying their best to “see” productivity in this new context.

About as many employees reported being productive when leaders reported a lack of confidence in that productivity (87% and 85%, respectively).

Intrusive micromanagement

Unfortunately, to bridge this gap, some business leaders have turned to a new and intrusive form of micromanagement. With employees working out of sight, managers are looking for alternative ways to achieve the old “watchful eyes” approach they had in the office.

These tools were especially appealing to managers who needed to adapt to a new way of working without preparation, so it should come as no surprise that Google Trends reports that searches for “remote employee monitoring” peaked in the spring of 2020.

This is how the interest in authoritarian-sounding software for monitoring employees, such as Staff Agent And Time doctor. Some providers reported increased demand for their software, with business tripling after the outbreak of the pandemic.

Employee monitoring can be as simple as creating attendance records and automated timesheets, or it can be extended to include screen monitoring, keystroke logging, and even location tracking. Some, like Time Doctor, can even have a computer’s webcam take a picture of the user every 10 minutes.

A 2020 report from Eurofoundthe European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, found that more than a quarter (27%) of organizations in the EU use data analytics to monitor employee performance and that the use of such techniques is on the rise went through.

While there are no specific rules for employee monitoring software in the EU, the GDPR applies because it involves the processing of people’s data.

And, unlike some data protection laws in the US, the GDPR provides protection for employee-related information.

Legitimate grounds

One of the main pillars of the GDPR is consent to data processing, and this consent must be obtained without coercion on the subject. Due to the balance of power in an employee-employer relationship, it is believed that consent, in this case, cannot be freely given, and so employers must find further lawful grounds to justify their data processing.

Most employers will justify monitoring employees as a ‘legitimate interest’, but that does not give them the freedom for intensive supervision. Each aspect of monitoring must be shown to be necessary, legitimate and proportionate to the risk of a perceived threat (such as unauthorized sharing of confidential information).

It should be clear that no other form of surveillance, such as simply blocking certain websites or apps on company devices, will suffice. And only the data necessary to achieve these legitimate goals should be recorded.

Aside from rare exceptions that typically involve a criminal investigation, employers must disclose their monitoring practices to employees, detailing what data will be processed, how and for what purpose.

Some EU member states may have privacy and employment requirements that are even stricter than the GDPR, allowing member states to set their own specific rules for the processing of personal data in the context of an employment relationship. For example, countries such as Belgium, France, Italy and Spain have established a right of termination.

But rules and regulations aren’t the only reason employers should exercise caution when it comes to workplace oversight. A recent survey of IT outsourcing company 1E revealed that nearly half of IT workers (48%) would turn down a good job if they knew a company engaged in such activities.

If you are not comfortable with your current employer’s monitoring practices, you can always search for new job openings on the House of Talent Job Board.

Microsoft, which has been championing practices that better support and enable productive hybrid work, is one of many companies with features currently available in Germany, Ireland, the UK and beyond.

Recent Eurofound research has shown that monitoring of employee performance is most common in Croatia and Romania, and least common in Germany and Sweden. Large companies with 250 or more employees used it the most, small companies with 10 to 49 employees the least.

If Germany appeals to you for work, Hero Software is a mid-sized SaaS company based in Hanover currently looking for a DevOps Engineer.

Stud-IT is a small-scale IT company with branches all over Germany that currently fills various junior positions.

And if you’re among nearly three-quarters (73%) of IT executives surveyed by 1E who are uncomfortable installing productivity monitoring software for their teams, look for new opportunities like these at sustainability-focused consulting firm Metabolic in Amsterdam, or this one at BeCap Consulting in Rennes, North West France, which offers a flexible work policy combining time in the office and remote working.

Search now for more available positions on the House of Talent Job Board