If your employees are reading this at work, there's a good chance they are among the millions of Americans working from home. Perhaps this person has a perfectly curated home office, with a standing desk and a favorite productivity playlist humming in the background. Or maybe they're at a kitchen table, reading on a laptop while pets and children circle. They might even be horizontal on the couch, eyes half-closed as they wonder when I'm going to get to the point of this article.
Now imagine you are watching your employees read this. Right now. Without telling them. Does that make your workers feel motivated to do their best work?
The rise in remote work has seen a corresponding rise in tattleware, the nickname for software that monitors and surveils remote workers. Tattleware programs like Sneek allow managers to gain remote access to laptop screens, keystrokes, mics, and webcams without employees being aware of it. Sneek's stated goal is to create "a constant presence" tool for distributed teams that replicates the in-person visibility and accountability of a shared office. After all, if your employee was constantly away from their computer or spending the entire workday on Reddit, wouldn't you want to know?
Let's follow this remote oversight mindset to its ideal conclusion. Say you did use tattleware to secretly observe your remote employees with the goal of rooting out laziness and ensuring productivity. Now suppose you managed to catch a few employees napping or slacking during the workday and decided to fire or reprimand them. Do you think the rest of your employees would be more motivated to do their best work?
Of course not. A more likely result would be a noticeable downturn in employee morale, which would lead to diminished innovation and significant turnover, especially in today's tight job market. Why? Because secretly spying on your employees (and it won't stay a secret) tells them that you don't trust them. And no one is ever going to do their best and most passionate work for a company that doesn't trust them.
The Challenge of Trust in a Hybrid Work World
Trust is essential to any healthy relationship, including that of managers and employees. But it's not easy, and it hasn't gotten easier now that remote work has become so prevalent. Even your most dedicated employees are likely going to take more breaks when they're working from home, and those with live-in families or lively pets are going to face additional distractions. What's more, some remote employees will take advantage of working from home to watch TV, play video games, or sleep during the workday. I know this because one of my oldest friends bragged about doing this recently.
However, the solution to under-performing remote employees is better management, not spying on individual activities. And managing remote or hybrid workers is a challenge company leaders have to face as working from home becomes an expected option for our employees.
Effective remote managers share some key characteristics. They set clear goals with achievable outcomes and are willing to learn how to engage each of their remote employees to do their best wherever they work. They also know the importance of trust and don't worry about how many breaks remote workers take as long as they do their jobs well. Finally, effective managers are willing to have hard conversations with employees who aren't performing or available. To choose covert surveillance over effective management is not just wrong, it's lazy.
Building a Better Workplace -- Wherever That Is
The kind of company that would invest in tattleware is one that's actively resisting the trust and autonomy that the best employees demand in our remote work age. I wouldn't be surprised if many such companies tried unsuccessfully to mandate that employees return to a physical office where it was easier to keep an eye on them.
Returning to the office delivers both oversight and community, but which of these we emphasize is crucial. As I write this, LiveSwitch is actively encouraging employees to return to our shared office after more than a year of everyone working remotely full-time. However, we've been careful about how we've communicated this change by listening to employee concerns, emphasizing that in-office work is a choice, and keeping remote work as an option. We made it clear that re-opening our office is about restoring our camaraderie and making it easier to collaborate, not because we need to watch our employees work.
And these motives matter. Though it's only been a few weeks, our shared workspace is already humming with the teamwork, laughter, and shared energy that we had before the pandemic. Why? Because we're building a workplace where everyone is trusted to do their best work as a team -- whether that means at a home office or in a shared environment.