Monitoring your remote workers

by | 19th Nov 2021 | Cloud

As the move to home, or hybrid working increases its pace, employers are getting nervous about how they can be sure that their employees are being as hard-working and productive as they would like.

Set measurable targets and goals

As a company providing Microsoft 365 and other tools that support remote and home working, I am often asked about this thorny topic. My first answer is always that they should try to measure their employees on their results rather than the effort and time they put in to achieve them. After all, you wouldn’t pay a professional footballer tens of thousands of pound a week just for putting in the hours on the training pitch if they weren’t delivering wins in the league on Saturdays. In fact, although the coach might get annoyed if they frequently missed training sessions and didn’t pull their weight on Wednesday morning fitness sessions, they would probably grin and bear it if they were scoring a hat-trick every second match in the Premiership. So my first suggestion will always be to set and agree realistic but stretching achievement targets, and rewards for when these are met. In some circumstances, it might help to also provide minimum performance targets with sanctions for when the employee fails to meet these, but I would always recommend avoiding this stick and concentrating on the carrot.

Goals and targets need to be set for a range of time periods and both the employer and the employee need to be constantly kept aware of where they stand. Setting goals for lengthy periods and then shocking the employee by telling them they’ve failed is completely unacceptable on many different levels. Career goals should be agreed alongside a plan for career progression, annual goals and quarterly goals need to be agreed as a part of staff appraisal and performance management. For new recruits, junior staff, and staff who may be struggling, much more immediate targets and tasks may need to be set at perhaps weekly, or even daily intervals. Whatever targets or tasks are set, success or failure must never be a surprise to the subject. Monitoring and feedback must be constantly flowing. Tools such as Teams video meetings, Slack, or even frequent email or texts will help keep this communication open and positive.

Tools for measuring time and effort

There will of course sometimes be circumstances where remote measurement of time and effort spent working is unavoidable. This is particularly likely for newly appointed employees, where the employer has little real-world knowledge of the recruit, apart from their qualifications, their cv, and references. In these cases, there are a number of tools available to the employer.

Microsoft Office 365

The Microsoft 365 range of software and services have some inbuilt tools that can help with this, and as an advocate and supplier of Microsoft 365, this is where I would start; especially as some of these tools require no additional expenditure on licensing.

365 inbuilt reports

Productivity Score

Productivity Score is included with the 365 tenant. It provides information about use of Microsoft 365 and the technology experiences that support it. Your organization’s score reflects people and technology experience measurements and can be compared to benchmarks from organizations similar to yours.

Usage

You can easily see how people in your business are using Microsoft 365 services. For example, you can identify who is using a service a lot and reaching quotas, or who may not need a Microsoft 365 license at all. This report can include: sends, receives, reads, meetings created, meeting interaction, etc. Creation, accesses and updates to Sharepoint and One-Drive files can also be monitored and quantified.

Teams Usage

As more and more communication and collaboration is now done through Teams, especially for remote workers, Teams usage monitoring can provide detailed information on Teams usage including: Apps, Teams devices, Teams live events, Teams user activity. If Teams is integrated with the VOIP system, this will also provide information about voice calls and sms messaging.

3rd party 365 reporting tools

As well as the included reporting tools, there are a number of 3rd party tools specifically for use with Microsoft 365.

ManageEngine M365 Manager Plus – Microsoft 365 Monitoring Tool

Microsoft 365 Monitoring Tool

This is an all purpose tool for managing and monitoring Microsoft 365, but it does include: “an exhaustive list of elaborate reports that help you gain a wealth of insight on employee productivity by analyzing user activities in Microsoft 365 while maintaining user privacy. The tool’s Usage View dashboard gives you a quick look into the user activities in your Microsoft 365 environment, by providing a concise graphical representation of various reports in the form of dashboard widgets. You can choose to customize your dashboard with the reports that you require”. This product includes a free edition for up to 25 users, a “Standard Edition” starting at $345 for an annual licence, and a “Professional Edition” starting at $595 for an annual licence.

General Monitoring

ManageEngine ADAudit Plus – Remote Employee time tracking software 

ADAudit Plus

The AD in the title is for Active Directory, so this will work for a Microsoft networking environment. This product claims to “Estimate actual work hours … by keeping track of their daily work hours”, “Maintain a complete log of the time your remote employees spend working”. As for the Microsoft 365 Monitoring Tool, from the same supplier and described above, there is a free edition for up to 25 workstations. Then a Standard Edition for $595 annually and a Professional Edition for $945 annually.

SpyTech SpyAgent

SpyTech SpyAgent

Among the suppliers claims for this product: “Operating invisibly, record EVERYTHING your child or your employee does with SpyAgent’s wide-array of 50+ computer monitoring features. View activities in real-time from anywhere via your browser. Receive email reports and real-time alerts. Track and learn your child or employees’ web and computer usage habits. Is your employee properly using company hours? Ensure they are, and also track file, email, and program usage.” I must admit to feeling a little uncomfortable about suggesting this tool. The supplier does state: “you must own the computer you want to monitor, or you must have the owner’s permission if you are not the owner of the computer. Monitoring a computer you do not own without authorization is potentially against the law!” So I guess if you check with your lawyer and determine a legal and ethical usage pattern and come to an agreement with the subject being “spied upon”, then this is a tool for the job. The “Standard Edition” costs $69.95. Each licence allows the monitoring of one target computer. There is also a “Stealth Edition” for $79.95, and a “Remote Monitoring Suite” for $89.95. These are all lifetime licences.

Prices are those shown on the web, on 19/11/2021.

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