Being keenly interested in the boss/employee dynamic and how it relates to the internal culture of an organization, I read with some suspicion a recent article in The Guardian called “Bosses turn to ‘tattleware’ to keep tabs on employees working from home.” Tattleware is a software that allows organizations to manage off-site employee productivity through any number of means: capturing screenshots of employee computers, logging keystrokes to ascertain task focus, call-tapping to listen in on phone conversations, and other means that at a simpler time we all agreed to call “spying.” Employee productivity, according to one survey, increased as employees were “made aware they were being monitored”, while according to another survey, employee motivation decreased as managerial surveillance increased.
And I totally get it. Managers are tasked with the unenviable weight of multiplying output among employees increasingly spread out geographically, and that’s a hard task to be sure. But there was a word, and therefore a concept, conspicuous in the article for its absence: trust. That word does not appear a single time through the whole piece, though it is the interpersonal feature at play underneath companies’ decisions to use tattleware on their employees. Trust. Tattleware is a poor surrogate for trust, promising insight but damaging the conditions of human productivity: a sense of safety, belonging, and purpose. What I want to suggest is that rather than using tattleware to address the symptom of productivity woes, companies do the deeper and admittedly harder work of developing interpersonal trust among employees, managers, and executives.
There is more to be said here, of course, and a whole ecosystem of recommendations and actions to achieve the kind of trust I’m talking about. But this is the place to start: delete the tattleware, and begin a process of inculcating safety, belonging, and purpose so that trust and productivity can flourish.