Even before the Coronavirus pandemic turned millions of people into newly-minted remote workers, companies were already acknowledging a rapid shift toward decentralized workspaces. Not only are workers increasingly prioritizing flexibility, making remote work a selling point to attract top talent, but embracing decentralized teams broadens access to a global cadre of candidates.

Across the board, from big tech companies to SMBs, companies recognize that the new normal comprises a hybrid workforce of on-site, remote, and distributed employees. That’s why, according to a July 2020 Gartner survey, 82% of companies plan to allow employees to work remotely in some capacity for the foreseeable future. 

In this environment, business leaders are understandably anxious about employee productivity. 

To some extent, these fears are justified. After all, employees are working from home during a pandemic while balancing other responsibilities – including childcare, family support, and generalized anxiety – that can negatively impact productivity. 

To address these concerns, many companies turn to employee monitoring software to track employees’ digital activity. This software serves as an accountability tool that can help ensure that workers are upholding their professional responsibilities. 

However, when deployed incorrectly, this software can hinder company morale and growth, serving the opposite of its intended purpose. Therefore, choosing what and how you monitor is a critical question that HR professionals will need to grapple with now and in the weeks and months ahead. 

The Limitations of Metrics Monitoring

Most employee monitoring software is extremely proficient at producing movement-based metrics on employee engagement. For instance, monitoring software can easily track employees’: 

  • Time spent on specific apps 
  • Mouse and keyboard activity during a particular time frame 
  • Email and other correspondence quantity 
  • Data access and movement. 

Often, this information is compiled into an algorithmically-generated “productivity score” that workers can use to gauge their own productivity or that companies deploy to publicly rank employees against one another. To some extent, this process may increase employee engagement while assuaging companies’ productivity concerns. It also isn’t particularly useful. 

For instance, the average workday has expanded by three hours in the US since the pandemic began, which indicates that, rather than taking long lunches and binging Netflix, employees are actually overworking. This almost certainly contributes to the startling reality that a significant number of employees report feeling burned out during the pandemic. 

At the same time, there is growing evidence that quantitative targets don’t increase employee productivity. What’s more, they don’t help employees feel positively about their work or happier in their job, further exacerbating the burnout crisis that many HR departments are managing. 

However, that doesn’t mean that monitoring and productivity assessments can’t holistically improve everyone’s ability to flourish in a hybrid work environment. 

Outcomes-based Productivity Monitoring 

For starters, HR professionals should consider what it means for their teams to be successful. Hopefully, this answer can’t be measured by mouse movements. Instead, they should identify specific, concrete outcomes-based success criteria, and they should give employees the flexibility to pursue those goals. 

Monitoring projects and outcomes rather than just metrics can increase communication, collaboration, engagement, autonomy, and, most importantly, success. What’s more, employee monitoring software can serve as a critical efficiency tool that can support an outcomes-based productivity protocol. 

For example, Microsoft used data from its monitoring initiatives to determine that its remote employees were most active from 8 AM to 11 AM. In response, the company prioritized afternoon meetings, freeing employees to pursue their individual tasks when they were best positioned to do incredible work. 

Similarly, the company identified employees who were inundated during the transition to remote work, and they reallocated resources to support these workers. 

In this way, employee monitoring software can optimize outcomes-based processes, serving as a helpful tool that positions companies for success. 

By measuring outputs rather than inputs, companies can better understand their employee contributions and workers can best pursue a clearly defined goal. 


The transition to a hybrid workforce is already well underway, and HR professionals will need to make many important decisions about how they manage this new normal.  

Employee monitoring will undoubtedly play an increasingly prominent role in this transition, increasing the impetus for HR departments to consider how they will evaluate employee productivity moving forward.

Engagement metrics aren’t a bad place to start, but they only tell part of the story. Therefore, now is the perfect time to move away from a strictly metrics-based monitoring plan, redefining purpose and outcomes to empower employees, equip leaders, and facilitate both near and long-term success during a disruptive time.