When you take part in a Zoom meeting, you can see your own face on the screen and you should be fully aware that your co-workers can see you and whatever is behind you. This has resulted in some hilarious situations as children, pets, and spouses have wandered into meetings.

But it's also possible that your boss is watching you when you're not aware of it. Or it's possible that your boss is watching your family when they aren't aware of it. If you're not in a meeting, your spouse may think it's OK to come in and change his clothes in the bedroom where you're working, but, whoopsie, the boss gets a show.

It's not just video cameras, it can also be screen monitoring. The New York Times reports that Hubstaff, a software company that provides tracking screenshots to bosses, has tripled its sales since March--that's when everyone who could work at home started working at home. 

While any boss who has enough time to review screenshots of all their employees clearly needs more work to do, the fact that bosses have this ability is a bit scary.

It's perfectly legal for bosses to monitor what you do on your company-provided laptop. They can demand that you download and use such tracking software. If it's a bring-your-own-device situation, it becomes more complicated. Is the software turned off when you're not working, or is your boss getting screenshots of your personal email and bank account information?

Then, let's talk about Alexa and Siri, and every other smart device in your house that is voice-activated. Do you (or your employees) do confidential work? Are you OK with these electronic devices recording and sharing your private information? Most of what we do just isn't that interesting, but the wrong person with the right technology could take advantage of this.

So, what's a manager to do? How can you know if your employees are working if you don't use these high-tech methods to monitor them? It's not as hard as you may think. Here's what to do.

  • All non-exempt employees need to track their hours. No exceptions.
  • Look at the resulting work product from your employees.

That's it. Two things. Time tracking for people who are eligible for overtime and looking at productivity for the others.

You don't need to know that Jon flips back and forth between his spreadsheets and Twitter. You don't need to know that Jane does her work with a cat on her lap. You don't even need to know if Holly is working eight hours straight or if she's working two hours here and two hours there. What matters is if the work gets done.

If you feel like you can't judge without knowing time, pull out the employee's yearly goals and look at those. It's unlikely that you wrote "works eight straight hours without getting out of her chair" on Holly's goals. More likely you wrote things about her actual job--client goals, accuracy, financial responsibilities, etc. That's what you need to focus on.

Leave the spy stuff to the spies. Don't make your employees feel uncomfortable. And, perhaps, tell Alexa to turn herself off. That's what former Amazon executive Robert Frederick does. That's probably a pretty good indication that you want to do the same.