Work at Home? Your Employer May Be Watching
The clipboard toting, clock-watching, quota-setting productivity expert, peering nosily over your shoulder at work, has been out of fashion in business schools for decades.
Now he's back, in electronic form -- in the home office.
In a budding trend some employment experts say is invasive, companies are stepping up electronic monitoring and oversight of tens of thousands of home-based independent contractors. They're taking photos of workers' computer screens at random, counting keystrokes and mouse clicks and snapping photos of them at their computers. They're plying sophisticated technology to instantaneously detect anger, raised voices or children crying in the background on workers' home-office calls. Others are using Darwinian routing systems that keep calls coming so fast workers have no time to go to the bathroom.
Peter Weddle, an author, consultant and researcher on employment Web sites, calls the trend "21st Century Big Brotherism" that risks being "horribly intrusive." Skilled workers
"don't need someone looking over their shoulders," he says. But while the monitoring can put a damper on home life, many people are so eager to avoid commuting hassles that they see the practice as an acceptable tradeoff.
The technology so far affects mainly freelance information-technology workers, writers, graphic-design artists and call-center agents. But as telecommuting grows amid soaring fuel costs, more people will find themselves on an electronic leash. The monitoring itself may speed the growth, because it tears down one of the biggest obstacles to working at home -- employers' fear that remote workers will slack off.