Remote workers facing greater scrutiny on the job

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More credit unions are thinking about implementing remote monitoring systems to keep tabs on their employees.

The coronavirus pandemic forced many industries, including credit unions, to have employees work from home. Executives are now considering ways to ensure productivity doesn’t decline.

One option is using remote monitoring software, but not everyone is sold on this technology since there are some risks involved.

“In the last four months because of the pandemic, people are looking at productivity monitoring in a whole new light — pure and simple, what are people doing all day long?” asked Pete Nourse, chief marketing officer at Veriato, a software company that provides remote monitoring software. “We can’t see them anymore. We assume they’re working hard, but we’re not quite sure.”

As the coronavirus spread in late March and early April, credit unions scrambled to set their employees up to work remotely. Forty percent of financial services respondents implemented an optional work-from-home policy while 58% instituted a mandatory one, according to the June COVID-19 Pulse Survey completed by Arizent, Credit Union Journal’s parent company.

However, part of this transition has been ensuring that employees remain focused on work. There are concerns that employees could turn on their computer and log into their work systems and then spend their day watching Netflix or shopping online.

Even though an online application or website may be running, it’s not necessarily being actively used, which is the “true indicator of productivity,” Nourse said.

Employees have admitted to conducting household chores, taking naps, drinking alcohol and playing video games during the workday, according to a 2020 white paper from Veriato.

To address this concern, some employers are considering installing remote monitoring software on workers’ computers and other digital devices. This technology tracks all of an employee's day-to-day activities, including websites they visit and how long their devices sit idle. There are some programs that even use the computer’s camera and microphone to monitor workers.

Twenty-seven percent of financial services respondents said they were likely to invest in remote employee monitoring software in the next 12 to 18 months, according to the Arizent survey. More financial services firms indicated they were likely to invest in this software than other technology options included in the survey.

Remote monitoring software can be tailored to fit an employer’s needs. In Veriato’s case, the technology uses artificial intelligence and is installed on each employee laptop. The remote monitoring software creates productivity reports that track when employees log in and out and breaks down how long the worker used specific applications. If an employee visits a website that’s not work related, an alert system will be triggered and the administrator notified.

However, there are concerns credit unions need to be aware of if they decide to use a remote monitoring system.

For one, the software may not be necessary to ensure productivity doesn’t slip. Fifty-three percent of respondents in financial services said that productivity had stayed the same and 20% said it had improved, according to the Arizent survey.

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Additionally, credit unions need to ensure the metrics they track are actually useful, said Brewster Knowlton, owner and principal consultant of the Knowlton Group, a data and analytics consultancy that focuses on the financial industry. For instance, measuring how long an employee is on a chat messenger doesn’t necessarily correlate with productivity.

“Managing a remote workforce based on productivity that ties directly to what you’re trying to drive from an operational standpoint is key versus relying on vanity metrics,” Knowlton said.

There could also be legal implications or concerns over privacy. Credit unions that issue devices to employees have legal grounds to track and monitor how workers use them. But the extent that is allowed can vary by state, according to John Venzon, managing director of technology solutions at Cornerstone Advisors.

Nourse said that Veriato does not provide clients with legal advice on using remote monitoring software but it encourages institutions interested in the technology to speak with legal counsel.

Having workers install the software can also erode trust with management. The purpose of hiring people is because the credit union believes in their capabilities and trusts them, Knowlton said. Using this technology can undercut that.

Executives should explicitly address this with as much transparency as possible to maintain trust with employees. One technique in doing so is communicating to employees why new monitoring software is being implemented and the long-term goal of using it, Venzon said.

“When people go about this more clandestinely, there’s the risk of creating an environment of mistrust,” Venzon said.

Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union in Rocky Hill, Conn., started monitoring employee productivity in 2016 when it converted to the Corelation KeyStone core platform. That change allowed it to monitor the number of phone calls the institution receives, member service levels through surveys and lending productivity. This is different than remote monitoring software, which tracks everything an employee does.

However, the credit union is unlikely to begin using remote monitoring software because its strategy is tied to results, rather than focusing on what an employee does throughout the workday.

“I’m not really sure that I need to be monitoring employees with cameras and microscopes all day,” said John Holt, president and CEO of Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union. “You’ll know immediately if an area of the credit union isn’t performing.”

If productivity begins to noticeably slip at the $499 million-asset credit union, that’s addressed by management who can speak with employees and find a solution. Given that productivity is up at many credit unions, Holt questions why some institutions are considering remote monitoring technology.

“I’m not going to micromanage what people are doing every minute of every day because the results speak for themselves,” Holt added. “The department has measurements, the credit union has measurements and there’s a strategy in place.”

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Employee productivity Coronavirus Work from home Data privacy Workforce management Employee relations Employee engagement HR Technology Benefit Technology Resource Center
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