These days, the employee is king, so much so that companies must tread lightly when it comes to criticizing their workers. Or even daring to question them, come to that.
Don’t get me wrong - safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of employees can only be a good thing, but at times, the 21st century leader would be forgiven for questioning who actually works for who. So much time and effort are now spent on keeping employees happy – flexible hours, healthy snacks, chill-out rooms – that it’s easy to forget the other side of the equation.
You know, the employer? Last time I checked, they should be getting something out of the deal too. In theory, by signing a contract, the company buys the employee’s time. But in practice, it’s not that simple. The fact is, people waste time by the bucketload, and the trend towards remote working is making matters a whole lot worse.
I realize this line of thinking might not be all that popular with many employees, but now and then, we need to spare a thought for the lowly boss. This whole topic had been on my mind for a while, but a conversation with a CEO last week brought it to the forefront of my mind.
On an ordinary workday pre-COVID-19, this particular chief executive was in his office elevator when he overheard one of his employees talking. She was telling the colleague standing next to her how she had “worked from home” the previous Friday and had taken the opportunity to head out and take the kids to the movies.
She spoke without a trace of embarrassment or shame at playing truant. In fact, she appeared to be recommending it. “It was great” she beamed, not noticing the CEO in the elevator.
Forced by circumstances
As he recounted the story, the CEO explained that his company had developed a flexible work policy in response to employee desires for greater freedom to choose when and where they worked. From the outset, the management had concerns about whether people would work effectively from home, but they agreed to give it a go.
The company hoped that its workers could be trusted to put in the hours and get their jobs done, but as the old saying goes, “when the cat’s away, the mice will play...”.
For employers, getting what they paid for was tough enough in the good old days when people worked in offices. Now, in the age of the remote worker, the value proposition is infinitely worse.
Earning that trust
Employees criticize bosses for wanting to monitor remote work, and it’s easy to see why. Some simply aren’t doing any. Or at least not enough.
Many workers are affronted by the very suggestion of introducing monitoring tools; they argue that it’s insulting and that it sends the message that their employers don’t trust them. But the question is, should they?
After all, trust is not a given, it has to be earned, and it works both ways.
Broadly speaking, it is those who do the least who have the most to fear when it comes to monitoring – they are the ones who object the loudest. Employees who work productively throughout the day might not bat an eyelid at the prospect of having their activity tracked and logged.
In fact, they may even be glad of the chance to remind their employers just how valuable they are to the firm.
I am not calling for an end to remote working – that ship sailed long ago. Nor am I trying to berate all those who engage in it. What I am championing is balance, fairness and hard work.
As the trend of working from home continues to gather pace, our acceptance of monitoring should too. And let’s not forget, monitoring tools work for employees just as much as they do for the boss.
Thanks to the advancement of AI, monitoring is akin to a personal coach, dedicated to helping you become the very best you can be.
- Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered leadership and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.