Even if you're working from home, your employer is still keeping track of your productivity—here's what you need to know (2023)

The continued spread of COVID-19 is forcing millions of Americans to work from home. As many workers shift to a new reality, they and their managers may be concerned about staying as productive as possible.

Although it may be tempting to slack off work when stuck inside the comfort of your home, proceed with caution — your boss could be watching.

About half of large companiesuse some type of monitoring techniques to keep tabs on their employees, including methods like analyzing texts of emails and social media messages and gathering biometric data, according to a survey from the research and advisory company Gartner in 2018. The company surveyed 239 large corporations.

Brian Kropp, chief of research inGartner's HR practice, expects 80% of companies to use similar technology by the end of 2020.

Individual managers usually do not have access to the employee monitoring software, explains Kropp, but the information is aggregated by vendors into reports that are then given to specific executives for review.

Historically, employers tracked employees in order to figure out how to improve their work experience and help with their productivity, says Kropp. But when it comes to remote work in this unprecedented time, managers have to adjust to a new normal, with significantly less face time with their direct reports.

(Video) How employers monitor employees working remotely

"Like it or not, as employers, we have to get comfortable with the idea that employees are working from home," said Kropp. "Then comes the question of, how do we make sure that they are working productively from home? Not just working from home."

Here are some of the ways employers may be keeping tabs on you.

Monitoring your work laptop

There are numerous ways employers can track workers' productivity. If you are using a work laptop or are connected to your company's virtual private network, your employer has the ability to monitor nearly everything you do.

Keystroke monitoringallow managers to track, record, log and analyze keyboard activity of workers. Other companies, likeActivTrak and VeriClock, give insight into workers' online activities and how they utilize their time.

Checking to see if you're really paying attention while screen sharing

Methods of instant communication like the messaging service Slack and video-conferencing service Zoom are essential nowadays to connect with others while working remotely, but they also offer monitoring features for your employer.

(Video) How Employers Could Be Spying On You While Working From Home

Zoom's monitoring features have been put in the spotlight recently; specifically, some have expressed concern about a feature that allows hosts to see that a participant has not had the Zoom app in focus, if they are off of it for 30 seconds, while the screen-sharing feature is in use.

According to Zoom, its attention-tracking feature is built for training purposes.

It does not apply to Zoom video; it only applies to screen-sharing, the company told CNBC Make It in an email.

The feature is off by default and is only enabled by an account administrator. Meeting hosts can also disable the feature. The feature only tracks whether the Zoom app window is open.

Zoom stresses that private chats are not made available to meeting hosts.

Reading your Slack messages

Slack allows workspace owners to read private messages between workers, so consider only professional communication. "In your interactions in Slack or whatever," said Kropp, "you should behave the exact same way as if you were at work."

(Video) Are You Being Tracked? How Companies Are Monitoring Productivity

Slack did not immediately reply to CNBC Make It's request for comment.

"Toprotect employees in the workplace, laws and regulations govern specifically what access is permitted by employers," Slack previously told NBC in a statement. "When extracting any data from Slack, employers must always comply with all employment laws, contracts and privacy protections for employees."

How to stay focused, whether you're being monitored or not

To be sure, it's not possible to focus every second of every work day, especially during this unprecedented time.

But there are ways to help you stay on track as much as possible while you work remotely.

You may want to start with a morning routine, Kropp says. Turning on the computer right after rolling out of bed is not enough to get you into the habit of staying focused.

Kropp says creating a "mental commute" to work is necessary. Whatever routine or habits you had prior to your commute to work, like putting on your work clothes, is necessary to get you in the habit of things."One of the advantages of having that commute is it creates a mental separation between home and life," said Kropp, "so you have to create that same virtual commute to work."

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Also, nothing stops workers from distracting activities like checking social media in the office or at home, but that is no excuse for productivity to be affected. "What stops them from going on social media when they are in the office?" asked Tony Lee, vice president at Society for Human Resource Management. "Nothing changes. You should continue being just as productive at home as you were in the office."

Another way to maintain professionalism and productivity while working from home is creating separate spaces for work and "life work," explains Kropp. For example, designate the dining room table exclusively for your work, and the kitchen table is where you can take care of mail, bills and personal projects.

"In order to be effective," said Kropp, "you have got to have a space for work and your space for life."

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the ability of managers to access messages on Zoom.

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How do employers track work from home? ›

Enter “tattleware” or “bossware,” common nicknames for surveillance software that employers can install on company devices to keep tabs on workers' digital activities, or even make recordings of them at home. This kind of tracking software isn't new, but its use skyrocketed during the pandemic.

How does working from home affect your productivity? ›

Remote working increases productivity and several studies show it. According to ConnectSolution, 77% of remote workers say they're more productive when working from home, with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period of time.

How do you keep track of time when working from home? ›

Use timers and timesheets to keep a record of work hours

In general, you can use project management software that comes with a built-in timer feature or go for a dedicated time tracking app. Timers automatically track the time for which an employee worked on a specific project or task and record it in a timesheet.

Can my employer track my work from home? ›

In simple terms, it is legal for your boss to monitor and track your work-related tasks and performance while at work; whether working from home or on site. However, employers do not have unrestricted rights to conduct surveillance on an employee's use of the employer's (or the employee's) communication devices.

Can employees be productive when working from home? ›

In a University of Chicago research paper, scientists found that nearly six in ten of their survey respondents reported higher productivity when working remotely, while only 14% proved less productive. On average, remote work productivity was over 7% higher than in-office productivity. That shouldn't be surprising.

Can my employer see where I am working from? ›

To be clear: yes, it is possible that your boss (or whomever) is watching you. Using your IP address (a series of numbers with dots), someone can easily trace your location while you're logging in from out of office.

Can your employer spy on you at home? ›

Is it legal to monitor remote employees in California? In California, employers can face criminal penalties for eavesdropping or recording their employees' private communications via telephone or email unless all parties to the communication consent to the monitoring (California Penal Code § 631).

Can my boss see what I'm doing on my computer? ›

This means the IT department or company managers also have the same sort of computer access they have at a physical office. For most people, that means monitoring your internet browsing activity, but typically it also means they can see any files you've stored or documents you're working on.

Can you be fired for lack of productivity? ›

Legally, this is described as firing “for cause.” In general, there are a half-dozen categories of acceptable reasons for termination: Incompetence, including lack of productivity or poor quality of work. Insubordination and related issues such as dishonesty or breaking company rules.

Why work from home is better than work from office? ›

Reduced/No Commute

One of the major positives of working from home is the elimination of commute. On an average, people in India spend at least 2 hours in a day, traveling to and from work. This not only wastes time they could otherwise be spending productively, it also hampers work-life balance greatly.

What are 3 things that a person can do to increase their productivity at work? ›

It can be helpful to take short breaks, move around, switch locations, put on some music, meditate and eat lunch with your co-workers. Create daily goals and to-do lists to prioritize and delegate your tasks efficiently. This article is for anyone looking to improve their workplace productivity.

Why are people happier working from home? ›

74% report that working from home improved their family relationships, and 51% strengthened their friendships, addressing concerns about isolation. 82% say the ability to work from anywhere has made them happier, and 55% say that such work decreased their stress levels. Other surveys back up Cisco's findings.

What tool should we use to manage your schedule while working at home? ›

Use a Scheduling Tool

Google Calendar keeps my team and myself accountable for daily tasks and meetings. I schedule out everything that needs to be completed at certain times of the day. I also make sure to include reminders at least 30 minutes before each task.

What are the 4 P's of time management? ›

As marketing strategies are guided by the four Ps: Product, Price, Place and Promotion; time management answers to four 'W's: What, When, How and Who. As professionals, we have a range of responsibilities.

Can my employer see me through my laptop camera? ›

To monitor your home computer or a personal laptop, your employer has to obtain access. Access is required to install some kind of computer monitoring software. Remote desktop sessions do not grant any access without permission. Also your employer is not allowed to monitor your home computer without your consent.

Can my boss watch me on camera all day? ›

According to Workplace Fairness, a non-profit focusing on employee rights, employers can legally monitor almost anything an employee does at work as long as the reason for monitoring is important enough to the business.

What can my employer see if I use their WIFI on my phone? ›

A network operator (and anyone nearby) can see all traffic. A network operator can definitely see the IP address of the remote server you're communicating with. It's almost certain that the network operator can see the hostname of the site you're communicating with (e.g: google.com ). The hostname will leak via DNS.

How do you measure employee productivity? ›

The most widely-used method of measuring employee productivity is how well they manage their time. Whether they take more or less time on specific tasks, how much time is spent on menial things, or wasted. The studies conducted are astounding, and reveal a lot about our habits.

What are the 3 types of productivity? ›

Labor productivity: measures the total economic output (revenue) per labor hour. Capital productivity: determines the efficiency in which capital (such as machinery) is used to produce a specific output. Material productivity: measures the total economic output generated per unit of material used.

What is the best measure of productivity? ›

One of the most widely used measures of productivity is Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per hour worked. This measure captures the use of labour inputs better than just output per employee.


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