The technological advancements over the last few decades, such as the widespread accessibility of high-speed Internet, have contributed to the steady digitization of work. Other factors include faster and more reliable electronic communication and extensive computerization. In the light of these developments, the need for monitoring and tracking in the virtual sphere has arisen. It has become more significant with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dramatic shift to remote working that was brought on by it. In May 2020, searches for “employee monitoring” hit a spike, according to Google Trends. Employee monitoring applications like Prodoscore and Hubstaff saw a surge in popularity among companies.
Many firms and organizations have adopted the practice of employee tracking and monitoring. Surveillance is now being recognized as an essential tool in administration and management. A survey in 2018 by Gartner that included 239 corporations reported that more than fifty per cent were tracking their workers. Despite several concerns about privacy violations, some degree of surveillance has been accepted as necessary for the safety of employees in the virtual sphere. It is done to ensure punctuality and productivity among workers and to maintain decorum and discipline. Workers are vulnerable to negligence and dereliction of duty if left without supervision. The knowledge that they are under surveillance provides the incentive to workers to be more diligent. It also offers Human Resource personnel crucial information about the general productivity patterns and trends prevalent among the employees, equipping them to ensure better workforce management. This intelligence empowers managers to allocate work among personnel in service better, set realistic and achievable targets, and map out the best pathways to achieve them. Another significant benefit of employee tracking is that it provides a deterrence to corporate espionage and intellectual theft. In today’s competitive business environment, companies need to ensure their assets are safeguarded.
Managing and monitoring a virtual workspace is quite a task. Companies often track employee email and official communication between staff. Live video feeds, screen recording, and keystroke logging are also popular ways in which organizations can track the activity of their workers. Some companies use software applications that allow them to track their employees’ websites and the applications they use. Hubstaff allows its subscriber companies to capture random screenshots of their employees’ digital workspace. Teramind provides a similar service that will enable companies to track all keyboard activity. Prodoscore tracks worker activity and quantifies their productivity against a scale for employers. The CEO of Prodoscore, Sam Naficy, said the app is “helping companies maximize the profit potential of their teams.”
Companies undoubtedly benefit from such monitoring and surveillance of their employees. However, it does raise the question about how far this is ethical. Unscrupulous digital tracking is known to heighten worker stress and curb the individual’s autonomy by the constant threat of interference.
Exhibit A of this situation is the Social Networking Giant, Facebook. Its employees are anxious about their privacy and fear its violation by the company’s monitoring practices. They reported having taken extreme precautions to obscure their private information from their employer. Employees of Google accused the management of spying on them without their knowledge. Surveillance tactics by firms, especially if they are covert, can erode the trust and goodwill between the company and its employees, which in the long run is detrimental.
Companies must respect the privacy of their employees and acknowledge their concerns and anxieties regarding constant surveillance as legitimate. Employees should be notified about the monitoring practices employed by a company. Tracking employees without their knowledge or consent is discouraged. Workers are more comfortable with digital tracking when informed about how and why the company adopts the practice. The administration must lay down clear monitoring policies and communicate them to their employees.
Furthermore, the company must let its workers know of any involvement of a third party in data collection. Companies must also go the extra mile and put together security measures to protect their employees from data breaches, violations, and privacy infringement. This harbours a healthy relationship based on mutual respect and faith between the workers and the organization resulting in a dedicated and content workforce.
Companies are justified in tracking employment-related activities on company devices. However, as more employees shift to remote working and conduct most of their work-related tasks digitally, the lines between work and personal spheres are blurring. While such an arrangement affords employees flexibility, frequent switching between personal and professional tasks increases privacy violation risk. Companies must establish clear boundaries, and demarcations are laid out to isolate the areas that will be monitored so it does not infringe upon the employees’ privacy.
Monitoring and tracking activity must be of valid business interest. Managers must restrict digital tracking to a minimum and to just that extent that is necessary for the company to accomplish its aims and objectives and preserve its interests and assets. Storing employee information for the long term is not an advisable course of action, and data should be regularly culled to protect the employees from data breaches and information theft. Access to such information should be restricted and need-based only. Targeted monitoring of individuals without substantial cause is unethical. Similarly, private communication and transactions must not be infringed upon. The data acquired from monitoring must be used for the exact purpose stated by the employers and nothing else.
Privacy is a fundamental right according to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. However, the subsequent clauses attach several conditions to the right. Within the discourse of employee monitoring and digital tracking, the onus of discretion falls on the organizations. It is necessary to be pragmatic in approaching a territory as precarious as digital tracking and acknowledge all exigencies that factor in this issue.
Written by Bidisha Boral for The Growup Group