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Cover image for How do you feel about activity monitoring tools and other workplace surveillance practices? πŸ”’

How do you feel about activity monitoring tools and other workplace surveillance practices? πŸ”’

I'd appreciate it if you could share your experience of dealing with activity trackers and other workplace monitoring software.

Any cases of privacy invasion, quarrels and misunderstanding?
Any positive experience?

Top comments (16)

kethinov profile image
Eric Newport

Companies that do this are awful. I know someone who works at such a company and has invested time in writing scripts to simulate activity with random mouse movements and keypresses and such out of fear of being seen as idle at the wrong time of day. Pretty much exhibit A of a hostile work environment.

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited

When I worked for a consulting company, we had to track time in order to bill a customer. There was a lot of pressure to always be doing billable work. Adding non-billable time was questioned. Its okay when you consistently work for one client. But when juggling multiple projects and I had to do something not directly related to any of them, I felt pressured to attribute it to a billable client rather than adding non-billable time.

Several places I worked (including this one), web traffic is filtered and monitored. In the past I have used an SSH tunnel along with Firefox (has its own proxy settings, separate from Windows... don't forget to send DNS through the proxy too) to check my home email at work. But otherwise it is mostly a petty annoyance.

I cannot see myself ever working at a (non-consulting) place with time tracking software. It tells me they have an exploitative / sweat-shop mentality. Know how I know? Executives do not get their time management scrutinized.

One thing that I have also learned is that being connected to the people you work with really increases job satisfaction. Even if management didn't give a rip about how I feel, job satisfaction has positive benefits to performance. But keeping connections requires ongoing expenditure of time in "non-productive" ways like conversation.

Handling non-productive employees is a separate issue. The problem is not that they waste time... that is a symptom. The problem is that they are not a good fit for that problem / role / team / environment / department / whatever.

coffeestasia profile image
Anastasia πŸ„πŸ»β€β™€οΈ • Edited

Thank you for sharing, Kasey!

My experience with time trackers is a bit more positive as we use one for project management purposes only. So we just log our time against our weekly tasks and use these stats for more accurate planning.

Though, at one of the places I worked, they used DeskTime that recorded our comp activity, inactivity time, app time, website visits - literally everything. I still feel dread and horror remembering that I had to check my stats and make sure that I was doing fine even though I'd never slacked off. I couldn't stand the pressure and quit in a few months. But simple time trackers work just fine by me.

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited

At my last job we did estimated hours on tasks. I guess I wasn't really thinking of that as time tracking. Sometimes we would get scolded if we forgot to put hours in. But the main issue I had with it was that I often found that the tasks (or hours) I planned didn't work out to be what I actually needed to do once I got into it. And it can be a bit tedious to keep all that synced with reality.

When I formed this team, we started out doing the same thing but after a while we decided to try dropping the hours for a sprint as an experiment. And we never went back to it. Because playing a shell game with the hours provided no real benefit. Later we dropped preplanning of tasks too for the same reason. We work at the story level. It is still quite valuable to do some initial design work for each story, but that doesn't always translate easily into discrete tasks. So it isn't a requirement to task everything out ahead of time. Devs can choose to use tasks to help them keep track of things if they want.

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coffeestasia profile image
Anastasia πŸ„πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

Well, estimating is harder than it seems. Most of us tend to either underestimate or overestimate our efforts; accurate estimations are rare.

I'm a bit surprised to learn this approach works for your team, but I'm happy to know that it does!

Thank you again for sharing πŸ™

c_v_ya profile image

I've never worked with activity tracking software. And never will be. It's literally my third question to a HR in an interview process if they have some sort of tracking.

Because my opinion on this - if a company wants to monitor activity / traffic / web cam, then they don't trust their employees to do the work. And why would I, as an employee, want to work for a company who can't trust me or puts my skills to question?

Because most of the time programming is thinking. We, developers, don't write code, then erase parts of it, then write some more. It's not trackable. We tend to think before we "put something on paper". Yes, we do refactor, but that's another story.

And mental work requires breaks. I might want to just sit and stare outside my window for 20 minutes. And then come up with two lines of code that does magic and solves a problem. That's okay, because good ideas come when we don't think about them, as we all know.

One thing I'm okay with is tracking time on tasks in Jira / Asana /etc. Because I understand that the business side, managers, needs to know how much time a task took and plan accordingly. Especially if it's an outsourcing company and a client want's to know what they're paying for.

I wish it would be like "here is a task for you, take your time, tell me when you're done". But very small amount of companies can afford that. And not every employee can resist a satisfaction of exploiting this. We're all people. It takes strength to be a professional and do the job you're supposed to do instead of slacking on youtube or w/e.

So I don't think there is a silver bullet that works for every business and every employee. But I strongly disagree with activity tracking policies.

jenbutondevto profile image

It builds/suggests a culture of distrust. The only time I do any sort of time tracking is when I'm doing some freelance/consulting for billing purposes Β―_(ツ)_/Β―. Otherwise I'm extremely lazy/forgetful about setting the timers

janegareth profile image
Jane • Edited

I remember getting a job at one of the largest IT companies in town. I remember CEO telling me that their work environment is positive, friendly and trust-based because they only hire professionals who don't slack off, so I accepted their job offer.

When they were showing me around, they mentioned that they have an activity tracking system running on every PC in the company just in case. At the time, I felt okay about that because I'm a hardworking person and I never intended to abuse the working time.

I was doing fine at my new job until a couple of months later managers asked me to have a private talk. They told me that a day before I'd been away from my computer for 2,5 hours out of 8 hours and that they are disappointed with my performance. I explained that the day before I spent most of this time learning from my colleague behind their desk how to operate a complicated piece of software for my new responsibilities + I had lunch for about 45 mins. They went skeptical about it and told me that they'd ask my colleague if it was true.

The next day, they told me that my tasks take too much time, that I spend too much time away from my working place and that I needed to do something about it. I was shocked because I've never received feedback like this one before. More than that, I couldn't figure out why they'd been OK with my performance before but went crazy about it all of a sudden.

Finally, this activity monitoring thing and invalid accusations made me quit the job the next day. They were surprised to learn about my decision and tried to make me stay. After I quit, I spent about 2 years not looking for a job - this is how much unmotivated and discouraged I felt at the time.

Now I can tell that I made the right choice. I'm currently working at a company with a healthy workplace culture where we use a time tracking system. We use actiTIME and it supports no workplace surveillance, no activity tracking - only weekly timesheets and timers. Our managers trust our time entries because we estimate our tasks before the start of each Sprint and hold regular Standup meetings to share our progress. That's what I call healthy workplace monitoring.

coffeestasia profile image
Anastasia πŸ„πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

Thanks for sharing, Jane!

I'm sorry to hear about your experience with activity tracking tools. Unfortunately, these tools are gaining more and more popularity because, during the pandemic, many companies allowed their employees to work remotely. I suppose they couldn't think of a better productivity monitoring approach other than activity trackers that record every single mouse click.

Nice to know that your team enjoys actiTIME! Our team is strongly against any workplace surveillance practices and our time tracker doesn't support any of these spying and privacy-invading features. We highly recommend any teams not to implement this kind of activity monitoring software at the workplace because it will ruin the company culture and employee job satisfaction.

killshot13 profile image
Michael R. • Edited

Spent 6 years with the DOD. They actively monitor all network traffic involving access to government platforms including terminal endpoints and browsing history, for obvious reasons.

But we knew this and used common sense to just look certain things up our phones instead of the desktops.

We also had a state-of-the-art security system with HD cameras running 24/7 and a live feed from each position.

But the cameras were for perimeter security, and unless you were just spending a ridiculous amount of time goofing off, no one even checked the cams to make sure you were working.

So I think these types of monitoring systems can/do exist for security purposes as long as they are not misused to spy on employees.

In situations like this, using common sense can prevent nearly all unfavorable encounters.

But if management is hell-bent on micro-management, then the workplace rapidly spirals into fear and toxicity.

And in this case, any system, targeted or otherwise, will be used and misused against the employees, regardless of the original intent.

coffeestasia profile image
Anastasia πŸ„πŸ»β€β™€οΈ • Edited

Yes, I agree with you!

Thank you for sharing, Michael!

andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ • Edited

When I was a younger CTO, I used to make my team track time every 15mins to weed out our unproductive workforce. It uh didn't work out, I think people put up with it for 2 weeks. LOL.

I think back in 2006 I worked at a company, and they used actiTime, and by they used I mean I had to use because I was in R&D and had to track all my efforts for SR&ED

coffeestasia profile image
Anastasia πŸ„πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

Thank you for your answer!

I think micromanagement is never a good idea πŸ€”
It damages the trust of your team and increases the chances of burnout cases. More than that, from the manager's perspective, short time intervals aren't scalable and don't reflect the true employee productivity.

What was your experience with actiTIME like? Could you expand on that?
I'm writing content on behalf of these guys and I'm genuinely interested in the product feedback. I could also use your opinion for my next post about employee monitoring tools.

heyprotagonist profile image
Anguram Shanmugam

it's simple you know!

"the more agree you select,
the more watch dogs you're adding"


coffeestasia profile image
Anastasia πŸ„πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

What do you like the most about it?