Q: Due to the pandemic, my MSP’s employees are now working remotely. I don’t like the idea of “spying” on my employees, but I also miss being able to pop my head in someone’s office to chat and check on work. Should I be electronically monitoring our employees?
That is a good question and one that many business owners find themselves grappling with right now. There is a plethora of legal, moral and business issues to sort through when trying to decide how much, if any, monitoring to implement.
According to data from Gartner, since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, almost 20 percent of organizations procured some form of technology designed to monitor remote employees. It’s not just accounting firms, manufacturing offices and publishing houses that have sent their workers home; many MSPs have also adopted a remote work strategy for their own employees. And, as many MSPs are discovering, quality work can be done remotely.
Gartner estimates 41 percent of employees will remain working remotely even after the coronavirus crisis subsides. This means that MSPs, like other businesses, will have to come up with a long-term plan for creating community and accountability among their remote staff. Today, we’ll focus on accountability.
MSPs, like many businesses, have found their once cohesive office staff now spread out, working from kitchens, closets and garages at home. The issue of how to monitor employee productivity has no single right answer.
Jack Anderson, an independent IT consultant and former MSP owner in Indianapolis, offers some advice.
Legality vs. integrity
Monitoring the productivity of remote workers is legal, Anderson says. He also adds that using GPS technology to ensure your technicians are actually making a service call, and not taking a nap somewhere, is legal.
In most states, employers can also monitor emails, texts, and other electronic communications. Delaware and Connecticut are two states that require notification. And there may be variations in regulations by municipality and state, so it’s always best to know your local laws before implementing a system, Anderson advises.
“While monitoring tools are legally available to an MSP owner, just because someone can do something doesn’t mean they should,” Anderson says. “In the end, there is no right or wrong answer; it will come down to the specific situations at your MSP.”
There is a whole lot to be said for trust, Anderson adds. The one thing the pandemic has taught us, he continues, is that productivity can be achieved from afar.
“If a technician or a receptionist is getting their tasks done and getting them done well and adhering to best practices, what else really matters?” Anderson asks. “And if an employee is not performing efficiently, sometimes the human touch – a conversation – is more effective than monitoring.”
Anderson says there is also the issue of interpersonal relationships at play. If your top technician is someone you went to high school with and you’re also fishing buddies, suddenly implementing a robust work monitoring or telemetrics program could undermine the relationship.
“In my experience – and this is only a generalization – the smaller your organization it is, the more monitoring is mistrusted, it feels impersonal. Once you get above ten employees, then it feels more comfortable as it won’t look like you are targeting a specific person,” Anderson says.
Still, Anderson asserts that there are benefits to the employee for monitoring their keystrokes and service calls, and that is what an MSP should be focusing on. A robust GPS and keystroke monitoring program can actually help protect employees. It’s not always about “catching” someone doing something wrong, often it’s about supporting employees, Anderson says.
“MSP technicians deal with highly sensitive data sites, having an electronic trail to document details and movements helps protect everyone, perhaps, most of all your engineer,” he states. “You want your engineer to have the confidence that you have his or her back, and the more of a trail you have, the more everyone is protected.”
On the one hand, what matters, Anderson advises, is that an employee, whether it is your office receptionist, accounts payable team, or technician, is getting their work done well and efficiently. However, what if your top engineer is getting all their work done in stellar fashion in just 15 hours a week, but you are paying them for 40? Then, Anderson says, some conversations can be had regarding the adjusting of schedules and expectations.
“So, for me, monitoring software is less about trust, it has more to do with productivity and accountability,” he states. “And if you sell it that way you to your team, you aren’t sowing mistrust, you are instead trying to make your MSP be the most efficient, best it can be, and that’s a goal everyone should be able to get behind. Might you `catch’ someone goofing off or other malfeasance? Yes, but that really isn’t what this is about.”
Regardless, though, Anderson advises that an employer shouldn’t implement a monitoring program without telling the employees first. Walk them through the reasons, outline the benefits, and then everyone becomes a stakeholder instead of a slacker.
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