When technology allows you to control employees working remotely

Is my boss secretly watching me when I work remotely? Technology allows bosses to spy on their workers, a practice that is growing in the United States but largely regulated by law in France, where unions are vigilant.

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There are many ways to tell if Teams is working, from the “connected” indicator in work email to spyware.

When the latter are installed on employees’ computers, nothing can escape them thanks to tricks such as recording keystrokes or even screenshots sent to the boss every five minutes.

Quarantine measures have stepped up the activities of companies specializing in this area around the world. One of them, the American Hubstaff, claims almost 600,000 active customers worldwide on its website. However, in France this software is illegal because it does not comply with data protection regulations.

In this area, “the employer is obliged to inform employees” at the time of their employment, recalls Xavier Delporte, research director of the National Commission for Information Technology and Liberties (CNIL), which is responsible in France for ensuring the protection of personal data. data. And “it’s all about proportionality” in their use.

Among these devices, for example, “filtering access to certain websites for security reasons should not deviate from systematically checking the sites an employee visits,” recalls Delport.

The CNIL states that “complaints about remote computer monitoring tools are rare.” In 2021, “less than ten” complaints about this topic were filed by employees with the French personal data police.

The majority of reported complaints (more than 80%) are about “normal video surveillance” in the workplace, rather than the malicious use of spyware or a surreptitiously turned on webcam, says Xavier Delporte. And among the remaining 20%, part concerns the geolocation of the company’s cars.


However, the unions keep an eye on the secrecy of spyware designed so that employees cannot detect it. “These tools are so intrusive and discreet that some will never know they are being watched,” said Sophie Binet, general secretary of the union leaders.

It also triggers more traditional methods of surveillance, such as untimely calls from superiors or chiding employees when they appear to be “out of touch” during work hours.

For Bertrand Mahe, another representative of the national union, the “temptation” to spy on his teams reflects, above all, the failure of the leadership. “There are certainly skids on the employee side, but they are just as rare as on the management side,” he says.

The trade unionist relativizes the degree of “surveillance culture” that he believes is more prevalent in smaller companies, given the small size of the workforce and ignorance of the law.

Be that as it may, all methods to ensure that an employee is focused on his task are misleading, according to Bertrand Mahe, who emphasizes that “the connection between hours of presence and efficiency is far from proven.”

“Control over employees is counterproductive and, above all, is fraught with the transfer of stress from the leader to his team,” he assures. For him, this is a practice that runs counter to the “increased productivity” of employees, which is put forward by spyware developers.