Mon. May 20th, 2024

How would a remote worker’s life be after COVID-19? You get up, assist with household duties, and then settle in at your desk prepared to go to work. An app linked to the server of your firm prompts you to turn on your webcam and log in as soon as you boot up your laptop. Software that runs remotely snaps a photo of your desktop and you. Every ten minutes, it will capture a screenshot of your workstation. Your social network posts, online calls, web activity, and even private chat will all be monitored by another app.

Even though the scenario we described might seem like something out of a dystopian novel, these technologies are actually in use. For many years, such technologies are already in place IT service providers have been creating technologies for workplace surveillance via the internet. Only a few examples of solutions with capabilities ranging from basic online activity monitoring of employees to business intelligence reporting and data analytics to process employees’ data are Controlio, ActivTrak, InterGuard, Veriato 360, Teramind, WorkSmart, and Work Examiner.

Benefits hidden from letting go of control

According to conventional economic theory, extensive online workplace monitoring makes perfect sense. Principal-agent theory has traditionally been used by economists to analyze employer-employee relationships. In this theory, employees operate as agents and give benefits to their management or boss in exchange for a wage. Few examples of tools are controlio, Time Doctor,  ActivTrak, InterGuard provide monitoring services.

According to the theory, agents such as software programmers, teachers, or machine operators are driven entirely by self-interest and are primarily concerned with material rewards, such as their salaries and perks.

The theory’s predictions are simple to understand

The labor contract is deficient in that it is difficult to define a wide range of behaviors (such a worker’s effort) that are advantageous to the employer and costly to the worker. Therefore, unless another employee specializes in acting as a monitor to check the worker’s performance, opportunistic employees will always have an incentive to shirk. Such monitoring duties were carried out by mid-level managers prior to online work becoming commonplace, which inevitably led to “who monitors the monitor”-type problems. The monitoring problem is easily overcome in the modern age of cyber-surveillance. Therefore, technology provides a close replacement for mid-level monitor-managers, potentially saving a significant amount of money. Purchasing software is less expensive than hiring employees to serve as monitors.

A substantial amount of empirical data gathered over the course of the previous 25 years indicates that human motivations are more nuanced than those suggested by the conventional self-interest model. People care about whether and to what extent they are supervised at work in addition to cash rewards, indicating that they value autonomy and detest outside control. Additionally, people are driven by their perceptions of the intentions of others and reciprocity. Our design of online and off-line workplace surveillance technologies should shift significantly if these nuanced motivations are taken into consideration.

Behavioral economists have studied the possibility that reciprocity functions similarly in the workplace. In order to be reciprocal, people must reward good deeds and penalize bad deeds, even at their own expense. According to lab tests, workers who are reciprocally motivated could see control from their bosses as a sign of mistrust and reduce, rather than increase, their level of effort. According to neuroscientific research, functional connectivity in brain regions often linked to attention reorientation and cognitive control may account for variations in control-averse behavior. The latter are the areas that frequently light up when people have to resolve disagreements about choices.

We carried out a study that contributes to the separation of the roles that reciprocity and autonomy play in causing control aversion. We created an incentive-based experiment where an agent, or employee, selects a labor effort level that benefits the principal, or employer, but is expensive for him. A control mechanism that prevents shirking and forces the employee to put in a minimal amount of effort can be used before effort is chosen.

We contrast the following two situations:

One where the employer has direct control over the employee, and another where the worker is subject to the authority of a third party (who gets paid a certain amount regardless of the worker’s effort). The effort is the same whether control is exercised by the employer or a third party.

The way that workers responded to decisions made by employers and other third parties to relinquish control was altered. Instead of punishing controlling employers for their distrusting control exertion, employees reward trustworthy employers who abstain from control with trustworthy exertion of effort. Therefore, instead of exercising more control over their workers and maintaining their productivity, employers should encourage good reciprocity in their workforce by choosing to abstain from it whenever possible.

Control in the future: unrestricted by technology or limited by fairness?

In the post-pandemic environment, some analysts predict a rise in home-based employment. In fact, survey data indicates that not only did the number of remote work cases spike during the outbreak, but that distant work is now anticipated to become the new standard.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be shocking if we witness increasingly heated discussions about safeguarding employees’ private information, erasing the distinction between work and personal life, and balancing employees’ freedom to unplug from the workplace with expectations that they be reachable at all times. It will become even more evident in the post-COVID-19 world that these new regulatory concerns are just the latest manifestation of an old issue, a fresh chapter in the protracted debate over the application of labor laws in capitalism.

Investments in telecommuting technology will provide an easily available turnkey option for businesses eager to shift production online while maintaining the ability to closely monitor employees’ activities in the post COVID-19 environment. The productivity of workers who work from home is impacted by numerous factors. Different industries, jobs, and tasks will probably value these factors differently. A crucial component of this discussion is missing, according to recent behavioral economics research. Employers who give in to the pressure of monitoring remote workers may be sending a message of mistrust and suppressing their own internal incentives to do a good job. Employers that disregard these possible behavioral responses to the imposition of invasive control systems run the risk of undermining not just the objective of greater productivity but also the dignity of their workforce.

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