Can you monitor employees without losing their trust?

Issue 9 2020 Security Services & Risk Management, Training & Education

Given no decent alternatives due to widespread lockdowns, companies of many shapes and sizes spent weeks in early 2020 figuring out the awkward transition from old-fashioned office life to the fragmented remote-working model. This new way of doing things has advantages (such as no need to rent office space) and disadvantages (such as tougher communication).

From the perspective of business owners, one of the biggest concerns is ensuring productivity at a distance, and it further incentivizes them to find ways to monitor their employees. Notably, the kind of monitoring needed for remote working is relatively blunt: when you’re overseeing a team in an office, you can monitor fairly lightly through simple observation. At a distance, things are much trickier — you can’t manage what you can’t see.

Knowing that, should you still make an effort to monitor your employees? People don’t much like being observed, regardless of the manner in which it’s done: it can lead them to believe that you don’t trust them, which will inevitably damage their trust in you. Can you manage oversight without turning people against you?

Carefully balancing active and passive monitoring

Active monitoring is the kind most likely to annoy people. It involves reaching out to check work, holding catch-up meetings and tasking your employees with explaining what they’ve been doing. There’s an implicit level of suspicion on display during this process. If you keep asking someone to show that they’ve been getting things done, it suggests that you doubt their value.

Passive monitoring, though, is something you can implement at great scale. Online businesses of all kinds have digital analytics, showing which sites and pages are getting the most visits and conversions. Fleets have telematics for vehicle tracking, automatically gathering performance data to show which drivers are excelling. Service companies have queued customer surveys, inviting broad commentary on the experiences provided.

Passive monitoring is safe because it’s unobtrusive (hovering in the background, essentially), but it lacks context. Active monitoring has broader scope and can be more specific, but it takes time and shows distrust. The smart move is to find a balance between these two approaches.

In turbulent times, employees need reassurances

It’s tough for even the best employees to be highly confident about their career prospects at the moment. When COVID-19 hit businesses, plenty of people lost their jobs not because they’d underperformed but because their roles were no longer necessary. What if something like that happens again? And if you start monitoring people closely, they’ll likely fear being let go.

Due to this, you should seek to reassure your employees that your efforts to monitor them aren’t indications that you’re considering firing them. Explain that you’ll have a set process for proceeding when someone isn’t getting the results they need to produce, giving them a reasonable opportunity to improve and keep their job. Further chances shouldn’t be unlimited, obviously, but you should be generous — after all, you hired them for a reason.

If someone knows that you’re checking up on them because you want the business to succeed (and not because you’re ready and willing to let them go), they’ll be far more cooperative. You also need to ensure that you’re giving them what they need to thrive, of course. Do you have training courses in play? Does every worker have all the equipment they need? If you’ve yet to check that you’ve covered all the bases, being critical about productivity won’t come across well.

Why assessments needs to be collaborative

In the end, the real key to monitoring employees without losing their trust is making the monitoring a collaborative effort. Instead of being about you being critical of their efforts, it’s about the entire company being critical of everyone’s efforts — including yours. Are you performing well as a manager? How are your actions being monitored?

If you allow your workers to take part in assessing their performances and subject yourself to the monitoring and review processes, you’ll show that you’re not picking on them. You’re all working together to improve results, and no one needs to be blatantly singled out.

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