Shibu Philip admits he knows what it’s like to “maybe waste a bit of time at work”. Shibu is the founder of Transcend – a small London-based firm that buys beauty products wholesale and re-sells them online. For the last year and a half he has used Hubstaff software to track his workers’ hours, keystrokes, mouse movements and websites visited. With seven employees based in India, he says the software ensures “there is some level of accountability” and helps plug the time difference.
“I know myself. [You can] take an extra 10-minute break here or there. It’s good to have an automatic way of monitoring what [my employees] are up to,” says Shibu.
“By looking at screenshots and how much time everyone is taking on certain tasks, I know if they’re following procedures.
“And, if they’re doing better than I expected, I also study the photos and ask them to share that knowledge with the rest of the team so we can all improve,” he says.
Employees are fully aware that the software is in use and can delete time spent visiting websites that might have been logged by accident during their break, for example, Shibu adds.
With more of us than ever working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a spike in demand from employers for surveillance software.
US-based Hubstaff says its number of UK customers is up four times year-on-year since February.
Another company called Sneek offers technology that takes photos of workers through their laptop and uploads them for colleagues to see. Photos can be taken as often as every minute, although the firm describes itself as a communication platform and says “everyone on the app has the same experience whether they are an employer or an employee”.
Its co-founder, Del Currie, told the BBC that it had seen a five-fold increase in its number of users during lockdown, taking the firm to almost 20,000 in total.
A recent study by academics at Cardiff University and the University of Southampton found that a common fear among bosses is that out-of-sight workers will “shirk”, although lockdown didn’t actually appear to have had much of an effect on output either way.
The survey also suggested that a third of home workers felt that their productivity had fallen too.
But is technology the answer to either catch out those who might be slacking off or to help those struggling to adjust to working from the kitchen table full-time?
‘I would have felt bad if somebody was tracking me’
Josh, a 26-year-old photographer living in London…