You’re worried about what your employees are doing while their heads are buried in their computers. It’s a natural concern. Even if you give the most diligent professional unrestrained access to the internet, there are literally millions of directions they can go.

It’s a reality of modern life. You can use the internet for legitimate research, digging through treasure troves of information on local, state and federal law and accessing decades old court cases, as well as the most current statutes and regulations. You can also use the internet to descend down irrelevant rabbit holes, waste away the day on Reddit or watching cat videos on YouTube.

Obviously there is the concern about non-productive time spent online, but there is also the worry about straining bandwidth and risking malware attacks. Enter the world of employee performance monitoring (EPM). EPM can occur constantly and map out data about workplace performance. So, what should you do? Should you monitor employee activity? Block certain websites?

There’s no simple answer for this one. While you have many options for monitoring and restricting access, they can get quite granular and expensive. You do have the right, legally speaking to monitor your employees. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 prohibits monitoring oral and electronic communications but provides an exception for employee e-mail and web activity.

But our view is that monitoring and restriction tend to miss the point.

The reality is that employee monitoring tools are just a fancy lag indicator. You don’t know that the person isn’t productive until after they fail to meet a target. Lo and behold, you look at the report and you discover what time and a missed deadline already told you.

As the “big boss” or head of a firm you have to trust your instincts when it comes to employees. Productive employees are unquestionably productive. Unproductive employees you know by traits in the same way. You don’t need a detailed monitoring report to tell you that. Monitoring or restricting activity is not likely to give you the results you are desiring.

People don’t like being monitored

There are a lot of studies that strongly correlate significant drops in performance when people are monitored. Though there is a growing generational gap between Millennials and Gen Xers in the distaste for monitoring (Gen Xers are against and Millennials are more or less indifferent), the fact remains that monitoring can lower morale.  

How do you measure or stop slacking off?

One of the biggest culprits for wasted time is social media. More than 80% of lawyers are on LinkedIn and more are turning to Facebook to build their networks. Because of this, you can’t block most of what makes Facebook and LinkedIn a waste of time in the first place. The result is that you won’t know how much time is wasted until after it’s wasted.

Also, since everyone has their own phone and the company has a chat program in Slack, there’s literally no way for you to actually control how much a person slacks off. 

Why you should consider monitoring

What an activity monitoring program can help with, however, is to discover trends in the workforce. Let’s say you have three lawyers all doing the same kind of law. Two are super productive and one is not. You look at the report and you realize that the third lawyer spends 40% more time in Outlook. Bingo! So, you work with the person to figure out why they live in Outlook when the other lawyers do not. If you’re lucky, you also find out that the lawyer actually is as productive, but they aren’t billing for those hours in Outlook.

Are you at a crossroads in deciding what to do about employee productivity? If you are considering monitoring or other restrictions, talk with us first. We may have other solutions for you that are less divisive than EPM.

Luke Kumanchik

Entrepreneur, programmer, backyard farmer & Dungeon Master Extraordinaire.