Should We Be Monitoring Our Employees’ Computers?

As a business owner, it’s only natural to want to do everything you can to protect your company as well as your employees. But should that extend to monitoring your workers’ computers and other devices? This is a complex issue with no easy answers. But here are some things to think about when it comes to device monitoring.

Security Concerns

The biggest argument in favor of device monitoring is that it protects company security. If the device is hacked, stolen, or lost, bad actors may gain access to sensitive company data. There are programs available known as mobile device managers, or MDMs. They can remotely wipe devices if needed. But they must be installed while your employee is still in control of the computer or other device.

These issues also extend to cyber security, fire walls, and hard network security. For company-owned devices security software is often the norm, trend, and normally required for cyber security insurance protection. Most devices are also gated to prevent linking to or visiting risky websites or clickbait or fraud campaigns.

Management Tasks

Many managers also want the ability to track what their employees are up to during the day, especially if they’re working remotely. Keystroke loggers, remote computer monitoring systems, and even biometric tracking all fall into this category. These tools can help managers track productivity and note any unusual patterns. And though this practice sounds a bit “creepy”, it has become widely used during and after Covid as more people work remotely or at home.

Legal Issues

Laws vary by state and local jurisdiction. But in general, courts have held that workers have little right to privacy at work (except in areas like restrooms and locker rooms). So you are probably within your rights to employ device monitoring, especially on company-owned equipment…though it’s always worthwhile to check with a local attorney to determine exactly where the legal bounds are in your particular jurisdiction.

Ethical Considerations

Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Device monitoring, especially intrusive tools like biometric tracking, can send the message that you don’t trust your employees. It’s also rooted in an older “butts in seats” management style rather than newer models that focus on results rather than methods.

The ethics get even murkier if your workers are using their own devices rather than those that are company-issued. Do you really have the right to capture screenshots randomly throughout the day? What if you accidentally capture an employee’s bank account information or lunch break chat with a friend? If a worker loses her cell phone at the mall, is it really okay for you to remotely wipe it? What if that means also wiping out her personal photos and text messages?

A Better Way

Rather than proactively installing device monitoring systems, why not work with your employees to build a culture of trust? Educate them on the risks of data hacking. Encourage them to use password generators and to change their passwords at least twice a year. Teach them about the device protection tools that are available to the consumer market, such as fingerprint locking and remote device finders, and offer a small stipend to help pay for them. Change your management style to focus on results instead of daily tasks, and incentivize workers to meet or exceed productivity goals. In the long run, these steps will help to build stronger bonds with your employees, improving trust and loyalty, while fostering a team mentality that is security focused.

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