MIAMI, Fla. — There's been plenty of uncertainty throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's clear that remote work isn't going away. According to Global Workplace Analytics, remote workers have grown by 140% since 2005.
There's a new issue that's sprouted from remote work, and it has some employees wondering how closely their boss is tracking their work. It's commonly referred to as bossware or tattleware, when companies track their employees, possibly on work-issued phones or computers.
Prodoscore is an employee productivity monitoring company that started in 2019.
"People may not like it. They may not want it, but it's coming," David Powell, president of Prodoscore, said.
One survey shows 60% of employers admit to using tracking software, according to digital.com, and about nine out of 10 companies fired workers after they put it in place.
David Heinemeier Hansson is a computer programmer who's spent many years advocating for remote workers.
"Get rid of it," Hansson said. "Plenty of creative services track billable hours. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's a very short jump from allowing an employee to track their own billable hours to expanding into taking photos of their desktop to capturing their key inputs."
Hansson developed product management software that he considers anti-bossware. Instead, Hansson said prominent features to promote work-life balance include no notifications after typical work hours and no way to tell at a glance if someone is logged on.
"Data makes things more fair. It kind of destroys the buddy network," Powell said.
Powell said his product in non-invasive because they only gather data from business applications. Nothing is installed on devices.
"Understand as a management team, we are a data point. We are not the data point," Powell said.
"I definitely think it's here to stay," Powell added about the longevity of employee tracking software.
He said his client load has doubled over the last year.
"Even the fact that it's available is concerning," said Ravi Gajendran, chair of the Department of Global Leadership and Management at Florida International University’s College of Business.
Gajendran advises employees to inquire with their boss if they are being tracked and how the data is used. He also said to keep personal life separate from professional devices and assume there is no privacy.
Gajendran said transparency is key for employers to avoid backlash.
"At minimum, the employee will feel their privacy is being intruded but also that the organization doesn't trust them," he said. "No wonder people are quitting in droves."
He believes that employers should alert employees to any type of tracking, regardless of any legal obligation to do so.
There are no federal laws about bossware. Only a handful of states offer some protection in that an employer is legally obligated to communicate to employees if they're being tracked.
Hansson believes until laws about bossware are widespread, such tracking will persist.