Limeade CPO: Navigating surveillance and trust in remote workers

With teams no longer in the office, it can be tempting for managers to want to apply new technologies to survey their employee’s performance

But as we saw in the backlash against Barclays monitoring software in February this year, methods of surveillance are an unpopular method of people management.

Laura Hamill was appointed chief people and science officer at employee engagement provider Limeade in 2015. Prior to that she was the company’s chief scientist and worked in people research at Microsoft for nearly a decade.

Should organisations track their employees more when working remotely?

I would advise against tracking employees when working from home. Trust is the cornerstone of work relationships and a key component of organisational effectiveness. Surveillance isn’t going to solve any of a company’s problems – in fact, it will only create more.

How can utilising employee tracking and monitoring technologies endanger trust?

Surveillance implies that organisations do not trust their employees, which destroys a psychological contract we have with work. Without trust, employees start to act differently – there will be lower levels of engagement, performance and productivity. Employees will no longer be motivated to go above and beyond.

When trust does not exist within teams, employees lose sight of team goals and focus instead on personal interests. Team members are more likely to be defensive, withhold information or consume resources that could have otherwise been spent on team goal attainment.

What is needed in a company to develop this high level of trust?

Developing high levels of trust is rooted in a healthy organisational culture. In order to get started in laying this foundation, organisations can begin with creating norms of trust.

This can be done by prescribing trust building opportunities, providing spaces and events for members to develop interpersonal relationships, ensuring inclusive practices and incorporating policies, procedures and practices that empower employees and include employees in organisational decision-making.

Employers should also foster trust through communication. This can be done by incorporating more cross-functional projects that involve various backgrounds, providing clear communication channels between leadership and front-line employees, and providing tools and spaces for employees to communicate easily (as well as formally and informally).

Communication and transparency during decision-making processes is of particular importance to ensure trust is built, which is hard work. Leaders need to consistently commit to doing what they say they are going to do. Managers need to connect with employees on a regular basis to ensure employees are cared for and supported.

These seemingly benign everyday interactions are what lay the foundation for trusting relationships. When employees feel safe and secure, they are far more likely to speak openly to their managers and beyond.

Organisations should also empower employees to take part in decision-making processes, and from there, take employees’ opinions into account. Clarity and empowerment show employees they are valued.

When working remotely, it’s important for virtual teams to initiate communication strategies like expressing enthusiasm, responding in a timely and meaningful manner, providing feedback, providing transparent information and exchanging information about team processes.

How can employers make sure employees stay physically and mentally healthy, as well as productive, without these monitoring tools?

Trust also plays a huge role in individual wellbeing. Humans are inherently social beings and high levels of trust indicate that we have positive, fulfilling, reliable and supportive relationships.

Research conducted by Limeade and Quantum Workplace uncovered four cultural attributes that matter most in driving cultures that support wellbeing. Two of these four attributes were cultures that are trustworthy and cultures where employees are trusted.

Beyond that, it’s crucial to foster an open dialogue. Talk to your employees, give them a voice and really ask how they are doing. When organisations set clear performance expectations and communicate with transparency, there’s no need for surveillance.