Remote Work Snooping

A Conversation about trust

Photo by Yasmina H on Unsplash

I couldn’t believe what I was reading the first time I got it.

Two years and heaven-only-knows how many emails later, it’s almost commonplace to get a question like this to come across my support job desk:

“You have a time tracker program; that’s cool. Does your program also take screenshots of team members’ screens?”

After dropping the bad news on them that we don’t, the inevitable happens:

“Well, how am I supposed to tell what my team members are doing then???”

As the remote work revolution takes over more and more work places every day, the question that most interested parties and skeptics have concerns exactly what those customers ask me about: what level of trust can I as a business owner bestow on my employees? It’s bad enough that I can’t physically look over their shoulders all day; now you’re saying that I should let them all work from their living room couches in pajamas? (I write this fully aware that I’m on my living room couch in my pajamas) How can a business owner trust their employees to actually do the work they’re supposed to do, when they’re all at coffeeshops or at their home offices?

I would honestly argue that, if you can’t trust your workers to work from home, you shouldn’t have them on the payroll in the first place. Or, worse, you shouldn’t be their manager.

My level of shock and chagrin at these mistrusting micromanaging managers belies what I believe is the basic issue behind poor management and the fear of remote work: a lack of trust in your team. When you can’t trust your team to be the adults that they are, you cease to be a workplace and start to become a daycare center with Excel. And ain’t no kid gonna play on a playground made of spreadsheets. True, any good workforce will have bad days, and even your best employee may waste some time watching cat fail Vine compilations (RIP Vine) here and there; that’s inherent in any office. But you should be less concerned with your team’s “busy” time and more concerned with their “productive” time.

When you can’t trust your team to be the adults that they are, you cease to be a workplace and start to become a daycare center with Excel.

When you stop being a “clock-in”/“clock-out” manager and start to recognize that measuring work can be done better and more effectively with productivity and output benchmarks, as well as a healthy level of self-trust that you were smart enough to hire competent adults, you’ll begin to realize that using these measurements allows you the chance to place trust in the hands of your team. When your team recognizes that they are being respected as the adults that they are, and that the benchmarks you set for them are to help both them and you, they can do the work they were hired to do, and you can stop looking for pricey snooping tools. And honestly, any tool that snoops on your team members only makes you look like the bad guy.

…and no one wants to work for a bad guy.

Now that you have benchmarks and choose to measure performance and employee work based on productivity instead of how many hours they have their eyes glued to the spreadsheet, you can now recognize the kind of freedom that remote work has to offer. When you allow that level of trust to free your team to do their best work, you also may realize that certain other trappings of modern working life may not actually be needed: offices and commutes first among them.

Measure, instead of monitoring.

Sure, there’ll be meetings, client calls, and other professional trappings that you may not be able to escape from; a remote work lifestyle is never completely free from these things. But once you start fitting remote work into your current workflow, you’ll be able to find creative workarounds and alternatives that will accommodate any need.

So trust your team members, measure instead of monitor, and embrace freedom. After all, it’s nothing to snoop at.