Remotely interested in supervision

BY J. CARLTON COLLINS, CPA

Q: What technologies should we use to help monitor our “work-from-home” employees to make sure they are working productively and doing their jobs properly?

A: According to the Telework Research Network, 30 million Americans (20% of the workforce) work from home at least part time, and Telework projects that number to rise to 48.9 million within the next five years. While some employees can be trusted to remain fully productive in the absence of direct supervision, studies suggest significant productivity declines for most unsupervised employees. (This problem isn’t just related to “work-from-home” employees. By one unscientific estimate, the average “commute-to-work” employee is left unsupervised approximately 70% of the work day, making this group of employees vulnerable to productivity declines as well.) Granted, each employee and employment situation is different; but using your best judgment, perhaps you should consider implementing some of the following measures to foster greater productivity from your work-from-home employees.

1. Time tracking. The public accounting industry’s long-standing time-tracking and reporting solutions do a good job measuring an employee’s work-related activities. I remember that my first public accounting job out of college required me to track my time in six-minute increments, and these data were thoroughly reviewed and compared to expectations. Whether I was seated directly under the boss’s nose or halfway around the world, there was no room for fudging the results, and any productivity lapses were easily exposed. Today, this type of time-tracking requirement is still an excellent tool for incentivizing employees to keep their noses to the grindstone. Today’s cloud-based time-tracking solutions are even better suited for tracking remote employees because reviewers often have 24/7 access to the employee’s timesheet data. A few examples of newer cloud-based time-tracking solutions include DeskTime ($9 per month per employee, desktime.com), Yaware ($8 per month per employee, yaware.com), and Replicon ($9 per month per employee, replicon.com).

2. Project management. Project managers know that a key to supervising and tracking employee performance is to break down any complex project into smaller tasks and then assign employees and deadlines to each task. Though you may view the concept of detailed project management as a tool used primarily for construction projects, any job (such as an audit) can usually be broken down into smaller tasks, and doing so helps create measurable events that allow both the employee and reviewer to gauge whether employer expectations are being met. This “small task” approach ties in nicely with the time-tracking solutions suggested above.

3. More frequent reviews. To help keep remote employees on their toes, supervisors should review the employee’s work and timesheets more frequently (either multiple times throughout the day or perhaps a few times each week) and hold employees accountable for subpar performance. Supervisors should maintain written logs of deadlines made and missed, as well as notes about quality and performance to aid in the periodic employee-evaluation process.

4. Set expectations. Convey expectations upfront so employees are aware of the types of supervision and monitoring that will be used to track and gauge their performance. Provide work-from-home employees with written goals that are measurable and include milestones and more frequent deadlines. Make sure your employees understand that their performance will be closely monitored.

5. Self-reporting. Require employees to email periodic detailed status reports on a timely basis indicating the status of each task, how that status compares to the task deadlines, and explanations for any deficiencies. Use judgment to determine the frequency of self-reporting—too little may squash the benefits of performing this task while too much may undermine the employee’s productivity and morale. An example of a self-report might appear as the following email.

 

 

6. Training. Arrange for remote employees to attend courses focused on productivity and motivation when working in an unsupervised environment.

7. Webcam monitoring. While this measure borders on being too intrusive, you might require remote employees to enable their webcams during working hours so supervisors can log in using Skype or a similar web conferencing tool and verify the employees are working as expected. At the office, employers are able to stick their head in the employee’s doorway to check on an employee’s activities; why not extend that level of accountability to work-from-home employees as well?

8. Work screen monitoring. If you feel that webcams go too far, then perhaps you may opt to use GoToMyPC (gotomypc.com) or LogMeIn (logmein.com) to allow supervisors to remotely log in to the work-from-home employee’s computer to monitor the screen’s real-time activity. Keep in mind that the mere possibility a supervisor may use a webcam or work screen monitoring solution may provide sufficient incentive to keep employees seated and focused on their work-related tasks.

9. Employee monitoring software. Software solutions designed to monitor employees in differing work situations are abundant. For example, for companies employing truck drivers, the Teletrac GPS-based monitoring solution (prices starting at $99, teletrac.com) not only tracks location and provides efficient driving routes and estimated arrival times, it can also track a driver’s speed and even the erratic braking habits of a given truck driver. Assuming the laws in your state allow them, surveillance cameras help to protect company assets and enable distant supervisors to confirm that employees are on the job and working diligently. In addition, many employee-monitoring solutions, such as Activity Monitor ($189.95 for three licenses, softactivity.com), are available to help you monitor employee computer and online activities including logging computer usage; capturing email messages sent and received; capturing webpages visited and document files opened or copied; recording thumbnail images of documents printed; and taking periodic screen shots of the employee’s monitor.

J. Carlton Collins ( carlton@asaresearch.com ) is a technology consultant, CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

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