Close up of hands typing on laptop. Night work concept.

Privacy warning over remote monitoring of employees

Remote work has been the norm for many workers in the UK for the better part of a year now, and many employees and employers are still trying to figure out how to effectively navigate the relatively new employment landscape.

Workers are adjusting to the challenges and novelty of working from their homes, whilst business leaders are confronting a multitude of issues with respect to managing distributed teams and keeping remote employees engaged and productive when working from home.

Recent reports indicate that one in five companies in the UK is either currently using or considering using surveillance tech solutions to monitor its distributed workforce. These include solutions that have the capacity to monitor keystrokes, mouse movements, websites visited, email messages, computer idle time, and GPS location.

Some tools are even being used to record and take screenshots of employees’ computer screens and even monitor employees at their workstations through their webcams – with some going as far as to employ facial recognition to detect employees’ moods.

Most employees can expect a certain degree of oversight from their employers during working hours, but when companies’ monitoring practices cross the line then such surveillance has the capacity to destroy employee morale entirely.

Any employer considering deploying tech solutions to monitor employees, should tread carefully and take concrete steps to ensure remote workers’ privacy concerns are appropriately addressed and respected.

It is encouraging to see that the Labour party has taken notice of these issues and has called on the government to update its guidance on UK companies’ use of surveillance tech solutions for monitoring remote staff.

Labour’s shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah stated that “guidance and regulation to protect workers are woefully outdated in light of the accelerated move to remote working and rapid advancements in technology,” adding that “ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home – which are increasingly one and the same.”

In order to appropriately address remote employee privacy issues and maintain a healthy remote working environment built on trust and transparency, businesses must clearly explain what monitoring tools are in place, for what purpose they are being used and what data is collected and processed. They must explain how long the data is stored and how the data is being secured, what the monitoring software is capable of, and how the software solution(s) will ultimately help the employee and the business in general.

What’s more, businesses must also ensure that their monitoring practices are strictly limited in scope to only what is explicitly necessary for business operations and that the amount of data is limited to only what is necessary and only for as long as necessary.

Finally, considering the rapid pace at which the technological landscape is evolving, businesses must also regularly review their monitoring practices to ensure the practices are relevant, necessary, proportionate, and appropriately considerate of employee privacy.

Remote employee surveillance is a serious issue, and it is clear that legislation protecting employee privacy is lagging behind the pace of surveillance technology innovation.