Whether or not you realize it, your company may be monitoring what you are doing on your work computer. Even if you think certain personal Web surfing or emails are innocent, if you're on a company-owned machine or network, that activity may be grounds for dismissal. Especially in this economy, where some employers are looking for reasons to pare down their headcount, you'll want to understand how and why organizations may be overseeing your computer activity. Edward M. Kwang is president of MySammy, a productivity measurement solution company. MySammy provides their clients information about how employees spend their computer time, so Kwang is in a perfect position to explain how employers monitor what you're doing on your work computer (even during non-work hours):
What types of employers monitor their employees' online activities?
Kwang: Generally speaking, bigger organizations control the websites employees can visit at the network level. It's common for organizations to block social networks, shopping sites, gaming sites, or any other website deemed inappropriate. On the other hand, smaller organizations tend to choose to monitor their employee's online activities rather than outright blocking websites.
What should workers know about the monitoring software? What kind of information does it monitor and collect?
Kwang: Monitoring software is meant as a backup for employers to ensure employees are doing their jobs and not being distracted. Some monitoring software can be very invasive to the point of collecting your account ID and password, while some other monitoring software (such as MySammy) only collects information that is necessary to measure performance. This type of solution allows employees to use their computers without scrutiny during breaks or lunch hours.
Are employers required to tell their employees if they are using this type of software? Is there something that will signal the employee if this software is being used?
Kwang: Most employers will disclose to their employees when they implement monitoring software. However, keep in mind, when you work for a company, your computer should be used for business purpose to accomplish your job. Since the computer is the property of the employer, they have a right to audit your computer even without disclosing it. Most employers will put the auditing clause in the employee handbook or list it along with other company policies without specifically pointing it out to you that they are monitoring your computer. You may or may not know when a company is monitoring your online and computer activities. The best policy is to avoid doing personal activities from your work computer because you have no true privacy protection. If you are really curious about your company's policies, you may ask IT department professionals or your manager to explain the company's policies.
What exactly is "productivity measurement," and how are companies using it to evaluate employees?
Kwang: Most monitoring software is used for auditing purposes to prevent employee abuse. There is a new breed of monitoring software whose purpose is to measure how employees use their time in front of a computer without "spying" on them. This type of tool measures productivity and encourages employee to improve their job performance. Employers can use these types of tools to identify who are the most diligent and productive workers through multiple means, including use of specific applications and number of keystrokes. Obviously, the definition of "productive" will vary from company to company and department to department.
What are the biggest issues companies face in deciding to implement a system to monitor computer use?
Kwang: The biggest issue comes from the initial resistance of the employees. Most employees do not like being watched, so when they find out their company is monitoring their computer usage, their morale may be negatively impacted. If they have a choice, naturally they would rather switch to a company that does not monitor their online activities.
Furthermore, employees may simply turn to other ways to waste their time that cannot be monitored. Nowadays most employees carry a personal smartphone to work, so they can access information from their personal devices instead of using their work computers.
Where do you see the future heading in terms of companies blocking or monitoring their employees?
Kwang: The trend is obviously towards more and more remote workers, whether they be employees or contractors. Thus, the old way of simply blocking access to websites is no longer effective. Software that allows companies to trust their employees to fulfill their duties facilitates setting of concrete goals and the possibility of rewarding employees for meeting or exceeding those goals. Finding ways to measure and improve employee productivity will lead to widespread benefits for companies and workers alike.
The bottom line on privacy on your work computer? Matthew Grabell, Esq., CEO of Employee Relations Solutions explains, "The short answer is that employees should generally have no expectation of privacy in the use of a work computer or even on their own computer utilizing the company server and internet service." He notes, "Most social network policies state that the company network should only be used for business purposes and are subject to monitoring." However, Grabell explains, "There have been some cases that recognize a limited expectation of privacy based upon the language in the social network policy. For example, if the policy states that employees can use the company computers for personal use 'on a limited basis' or during breaks or lunch, the court is more inclined to extend a limited expectation of privacy."
In other words, while it is possible you could technically be entitled to some privacy, it's best to assume your computer is subject to monitoring and act accordingly.
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