Remember the obnoxious manager who used to sneak up behind you in your cubicle to try to catch you checking your email or putting in that last minute bid on eBay? Then you elected to take the company option to work from home. Thank goodness, no longer do you have to worry about Mister Nosey watching your every move at your desk. Guess what – he’s back! Electronic monitoring of home workers is an exploding trend.
Latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that America has 28.7 million telecommuters, or “distributed workers”-those people who work for traditional companies but aren’t confined to traditional offices. That number is up from 10.9 million in 2000. Thirty percent of managers and professionals now work at home at least part of the time. At IBM, 40 percent of the workforce has no official office; at AT&T, a third of managers can work from anywhere they choose. Sun Microsystems calculates that it’s saved $400 million over six years in real estate costs by allowing nearly half of all employees to work anywhere they want.
But at oDesk.com, the system for linking 90,000 freelance programmers, network administrators, graphic designers and writers with 10,000 client companies includes taking random snapshots of workers’ computer screens six times an hour, recording keystrokes and mouse clicks and taking Web cam photos at any time. Home office phone calls are monitored to instantaneously detect anger, raised voices or children or pets making noise in the background. At call center Arise.com, they keep their 8,000 home agents so tightly scheduled to their phones that the agents have to scheduled unpaid time off to go to the bathroom. (And just a sidenote: Arise.com’s trademarked company slogan is: Work. Freedom. Trust. Results.®
Now let me ask you this: When do you do your best work? When someone obviously trusts you and has given you the responsibility for completing an important job – or when you are being watched like a first-grader who gets his hand slapped if he colors outside the line? It’s been shown clearly that “distributed workers” are more productive, not less. They save the company real estate and utility expenses; less gasoline is burned and food and wardrobe costs drop. Everyone wins!
But without trust, the whole system breaks down. If you don’t trust your workers, then keep them in cubicles, watch their every move, give them limited time to get up and move around, ration their food and water and decide when they can leave the premises. But wait – doesn’t that sound remarkably like prison?