Recent months have brought important changes to the world of employment. The pandemic has forced both employees and employers to change their perception of the remote work model.
While working from home provides many clear benefits for companies and their teams, the transition to remote work also comes with challenges, including fewer opportunities for in-person interactions and management.
This has led business leaders to ask the key question: how can managers monitor their remote teams efficiently and compliantly?
Remote work monitoring: finding a balance
Employers are facing a variety of challenges as they consider strategies for monitoring remote teams. These include a growing prevalence of organizational silos, increased risk of company data leaks, the additional overtime hours worked, and the ensuing remuneration required.
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It is important that managers find a balance between monitoring and guiding their remote teams and ensuring their employees have the space to learn and hone their skill sets individually. It is necessary to respect the privacy of employees and the framework of legal regulations pertaining to the monitoring of employees.
What regulations should companies pay attention to?
Around the world, many countries are passing laws that govern how employers must compliantly approach remote work monitoring.
Poland is an example of this. Polish legislation has implemented a set of regulations that employers must adhere to while monitoring their teams in the new remote business world. According to the Labor Code:
- “Where necessary to ensure the proper organization of the work or to provide the full use of working time or the proper use of the work-related tools made available to the employee, the employer may introduce monitoring over employee’s work-related e-mail (e-mail monitoring)” (Article 223 § 1 of the Labor Code).
- “The monitoring of emails cannot affect the security of privacy of correspondence and other personal rights of the employee” (Article 223 § 2 of the Labor Code).
- “The provisions above (Article 223 § 4 of the Labor Code) may apply to remote work activities outside of email correspondence, including the use of work-related software or IT platforms.
While the Labor Code has provided guidance on remote work monitoring, there are still many gray areas. The goal of remote work monitoring should be strictly to ensure the appropriate use of business property and working hours.
Employers must inform their employees in advance of the implementation of remote monitoring with detailed information on what they should expect and exactly what will be monitored. These provisions may be included in an official document that details the company’s general regulations on remote work. Employers should also consider a separate document that speaks to remote surveillance specifically. It is also important to bear in mind that according to the Labor Code:
“The objectives, scope, and manner of the application of remote monitoring should be indicated in a collective labor agreement, documented work regulations, or the employer’s statement, if the employer is not covered by the collective labor agreement or is not obliged to set the work regulations.”
Employers can document remote monitoring details and regulations in an official remote work policy or in the collective labor agreement, but separate documents covering specific activities like surveillance are also legally permissible.
Should employers use remote work monitoring software?
Employers should carefully choose which software to use for remote work monitoring to ensure compliance with legal requirements. As mentioned previously, the IT used should not infringe on employee privacy or put confidential information at risk.
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However, employers may run into issues implementing software monitoring if employees (temporarily or permanently) perform work using their own computers. Monitoring equipment entrusted to employees by the employer is less complicated, as the employees should use such equipment only for work-related purposes. If employees are using their own equipment, remote work monitoring must be limited to work-related activities.
There are numerous companies on the market offering software to monitor remote work. However, the employer must remember that they are fully responsible for risks related to implemented IT solutions.
What best practices should employers follow when implementing remote work monitoring?
A few tips for monitoring of remote work include:
- Monitoring of employees’ productivity, including the use of certain applications: Employers should carefully determine which applications are used by the employees for work-related purposes and only monitor those applications.
- Monitoring of employees’ activities: This may include putting restrictions on which websites the employees can access and setting security alerts for specific activities. Companies often restrict websites that inhibit productivity, such as social media sites, or websites that increase the risk of computer viruses.
- Clarification of remote working hours: This is essential to effectively monitor employee productivity and mitigating the risks related to overtime work claims.
- Monitor work breaks: Employers should provide details on the frequency and duration of daily work breaks.
- Ensuring data backups: Implement software, such as secured online cloud, that guarantees automatic data storage.
- Manage privacy and security: Protect personal and business data through clearly defined and established access to individual applications or documents.
- Monitor the use of USB ports and devices: Use additional identity verification to limit who can use USB ports and devices.
Therefore, monitoring of remote work can be helpful not only for assessing productivity levels but also ensuring the appropriate use of entrusted tools or, ultimately, safeguarding personal data and strengthening the company’s security.
What about personal privacy rights and GDPR?
In Poland, monitoring private (non-work related) equipment and activities is inadmissible as detailed in article 223 § 1 of the Labor Code — it is indicated that monitoring may cover “work-related tools entrusted to the employee by the employer.” However, monitoring may be implemented to “ensure the organization of work enabling the full use of working time,” which seems to justify limited tracking of the employee’s activities related to the use of private IT equipment.
If the employer decides to monitor remote work performed on the employees’ personal equipment, it is essential to implement adequate technical measures. Otherwise, employers expose themselves to allegations related to violations of privacy and other personal employee rights. A simple solution is only monitoring the employees’ software during their working hours. This can be done by providing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for the employees to use for work-related activities only.
Employers must comply with the regulations under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and inform their employees of the process involved in monitoring their personal data while working remotely.
Building a remote work monitoring plan that fits your company
While clearly defining the process and guidelines behind remote work monitoring can be challenging due to the complexity of the regulations involved, the underlying goal should be to tailor the guidelines to the company, terms of employment, and even specific job positions. General rules from the GDPR on data processing still apply as well – these relate to limiting data storage and the reasons for monitoring work, as well as accountability.
It is also essential to follow up on further legislative laws on remote work. In Poland, the current legal basis of this is still article 3 of the special-purpose act on specific solutions related to the prevention of Covid-19, which was implemented in March 2020, initially as a temporary regulation. Polish legislation recently announced that current rules on remote work are intended to act as the new labor code. Employers should place greater importance on following these rules over the existing provisions relating to telework.
In addition to purely legal considerations, employers should consider all the circumstances and the context surrounding the monitoring of their company. While formal regulations are critical to follow, they shouldn’t replace “common sense” during the implementation of an effective and reasonable solution.
Even the most excellent technical solutions will not become effective if the monitoring is implemented without sufficient communication with the team and understanding mutual needs. Failure to do so could have counterproductive effects and undermine the necessary trust between the employer and employees. Introduction of excessive measures might result in the risk of violating the privacy and other personal rights of employees (who may expose the employer by raising claims) and cause demobilization of the team.