Should GPS Tracking Technology Be Used to Monitor Remote Employees?

    It’s a warm, sunny, summer day, and as you toil in your uncomfortably over-air-conditioned office, you’d much rather be lounging at the beach, picnicking in a park, or doing any of the innumerable other summer activities you wait so much of the year to be able to do. You know a lot of the employees in the office who work for you are thinking the same thing. That’s OK, because you’re there to help them stay productive. But what about those remote employees who work for you? What’s preventing them from yielding to temptation and taking a little summer hiatus?

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    Employers routinely use GPS tracking devices to monitor the whereabouts of employees whose work takes them from place to place in vehicles. Would it make sense to use the same technology to monitor the whereabouts of employees who work from home to help ensure their engagement and productivity?

    I recently spoke with George Karonis, CEO of LiveViewGPS, which supplies GPS tracking technology to employers. As I noted in an earlier post, LiveViewGPS is the provider of Mobile Phone Locate, an unobtrusive service that monitors an employee’s whereabouts by tracking the location of his cell phone. I asked Karonis if he’s aware of any clients who use the service to monitor their employees who work from home. His response:

    Not offhand. If someone’s working from home, that’s different from a salesperson who’s out and about. So I wouldn’t see a use for our app for somebody who was working at home, unless there were trust issues between the employer and the employee, and the employee agreed, saying, “OK, you can monitor my movements when I’m on the clock.”

    I also raised the issue when I spoke recently with Nobscot Corp. CEO Beth N. Carvin, who specializes in remote-employee engagement and retention. I asked her for her thoughts on using this type of tracking service to monitor the locations of remote employees. Like Karonis, she cited the trust element:

    Just talking about the idea in general, I don’t favor that strategy for managing employees, because the perception that you’re giving to your employees about the lack of trust creates a tension and a stress, where otherwise good employees might feel that they can’t work under those conditions for long. My area of focus is employee turnover and employee retention, and I would be concerned—though I don’t have data to back this up, since it’s so new—about why it’s being implemented and making sure that you’re not doing this in a way that’s going to create an employee turnover problem.

    Carvin also talked about the psychology involved:

    I would compare it to something that’s done by companies all the time—the best practice of when you pay for employees’ relocation expenses, the employees have to stay for at least one year or they have to pay back those expenses. It does a weird psychological thing to people—for that first year, because they are forced to be there in a way, for that whole year they want to leave. The second the year is over and that’s lifted, they’re fine. So there’s a lot of psychology that goes on with employees. And today, with job-hopping no longer being a dirty word, that has created a potential nightmare for organizations, along with the fact that jobs, even if not yet plentiful, are much easier to find. So you don’t want to pander to your employees, but you want to be aware of things you put into place and how they’re going to be perceived.

    Carvin said that even if the technology isn’t being used for this purpose now, eventually it will be:

    I don’t know if anybody is really pushing that, but they certainly will at some point. But that’s not the way to manage your remote employees. You might be tempted to, because it is challenging to manage remote employees. But you have to hire people who have the right mentality for working remotely, who are self-starters and who take initiative, and who have the right work values.

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