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Employee Empowerment, Not Monitoring, Will Drive Remote Work Success

Employee Empowerment, Not Monitoring, Will Drive Remote Work Success

As more organizations settle into permanent remote or hybrid work model, they must now grapple with the challenge of how to ensure their people are effective and engaged. At the 30,000-foot view, there are two main strategies for how to optimize talent in this new environment: "empowering" or "monitoring." 

Surveillance Won’t Create World-Class Remote Workplaces

In the immediate aftermath of work-from-home (WFH) policies, many companies swiftly moved to a monitoring strategy. But successful remote work requires trust between employees and their managers and between employees and the larger organization — and I've found that a monitoring strategy tends to erode this trust. Below I argue that an empowerment strategy is a better long-term framework for organizations to maximize the effectiveness of their people in the remote age.

The reflexive strategy of many organizations immediately following WFH orders was a monitoring strategy. According to a 2022 survey, 60% of companies with remote workers are using employee monitoring software to track their employees' activity, while another 17% are considering it. "It's everything from technology that will take photos of employees from their laptops to tools that allow workers to punch a virtual time clock to tracking keystrokes to monitor productivity levels," said Brian Kropp, chief of research in Gartner's HR practice.

But this type of surveillance has its downsides. "Employers should take stock of whether the benefits warrant the accompanying legal risks,” wrote Gregory Adams in a recent Reuters article, which could include violation of the National Labor Relations Act as well as federal privacy laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. There are also gray legal lines concerning international data privacy, which could greatly impact global enterprises that must deal with policies on data protection that vary by country. The recent invalidation of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework is one example, and companies as large as U.K. banking giant Barclays are being investigated for using employee monitoring tools. Finally, an August 2022 feature from The New York Times entitled “The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score” contained interviews with numerous workers about the negative effect surveillance had on employee morale. So while a monitoring strategy was the first reflex for many companies, it may not be the best foundation for building employee (or legal) trust; and therefore, can it be an appropriate long-term strategy to optimize talent?

The Link Between Empowerment and Trust

A different approach to optimizing talent is an empowerment strategy. Even before the pandemic, I saw HR departments begin shifting resources from talent acquisition to talent retention and providing resources to help their employees improve themselves. 

Research has shown that one of the primary reasons people leave jobs is that they feel they have stopped growing. This understanding, combined with shifting attitudes of the millennial generation in favor of more coaching and personal development in the workplace, has led to the rise of empowerment solutions. Now that remote and hybrid work is the new normal for many companies, people leaders are being asked to manage distributed teams, and can benefit even more from these empowerment tools. However, because of this shift in workplace strategy, some companies seem to have swung heavily toward monitoring instead. And while monitoring can help businesses understand employee needs and guide company policy, it can erode trust if it's overused.

Why is trust so important? According to our research, the most impactful digital behaviors of high-performing leaders are behaviors that create psychological safety and trust. Leaders who demonstrate that they trust their employees and create a safe environment for them to ask questions, give feedback, and raise concerns without a risk of reprisal can perform better and have more engaged teams. But organizations that use a monitoring strategy place the trust in themselves. They call all the shots; they are the ones collecting data from their people and guiding them on what to do, or intervening when things are not going well. 

In contrast, organizations that use an empowerment strategy are saying, "We trust our people." They give them their own data and trust them to make decisions. Many organizations fall somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum. But the ones that skew toward empowerment and trust could see significant improvements in engagement, talent retention, and remote employee performance.

A tactical step for organizations to build trust and move toward the empowerment end of the spectrum is to focus investment in team-based tools and strategies. Empowering employees at the team level and decentralizing people analytics to team leaders can drive change. An example that Stanford professor and organizational psychologist Robert Sutton discussed is a remote team charter or "prenup" — a document that group members write together to spell out expectations and boundaries. 

For example, to help with burnout, a crisis I've written about before, companies can deploy employee listening solutions, or they can provide tools that empower individual managers to change and adapt to dynamic work schedules and norms for their teams. The latter requires developing trust in team leaders, and in turn, those leaders developing trust in their teams.

Partnering With Perceptyx Can Help You Cultivate Employee Trust

Giving leaders the solutions and strategies to build an environment of trust with their teams is exactly the investment that leads to higher performance and highly engaged teams. 

By partnering with Perceptyx to implement an employee listening strategy, you can create transparency and act on employee needs — foundational actions for building trust — then utilize products like Cultivate, our leader effectiveness solution to develop the manager behaviors that reinforce a level of trust with each team member. To learn more, schedule a meeting with a member of our team.

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