REPOST – ARTICLE SOURCE:
Amy Johnson works from her home in Dixon, Ill., talking with clients and filing reports for her job as a fingerprint technician. In one way, though, she might as well be sitting at a desk next to her boss in Chicago.
The rise in working from home is coming from people who work in the office some of the time and at home some of the time. This flexibility is prompting more companies to use tracking software and other Big Brother checks to see if people are really working. Emily Nelson has details on Lunch Break. (Photo: Scott Dalton for The Wall Street Journal)
Using a computer-monitoring program, Timothy Daniels, vice president of operations for Accurate Biometrics, can track whether Ms. Johnson and other employees are working—or slacking off. Once a week, he looks at summaries of “what websites they’re using, and for how long,” he says. “It enables us to keep a watchful eye without being over-invasive.”
Ms. Johnson knows her computer is monitored, but “it doesn’t bother me,” she says. “I’m not doing anything I shouldn’t be doing.”
Scott Dalton for The Wall Street JournalChad Dunkin, a manager with tax-services company Ryan, works from an office in Houston, left, with colleagues who often work from home, including Heather Harrison. To keep projects on track, Mr. Dunkin outlines weekly objectives and assigns tasks with timelines.
Working from home used to be a welcome break from the stress and interruptions of the office. (And let’s be honest: It also offered the flexibility of squeezing in some errands or a nap between conference calls.)
These days, working from home is more like being in the office, with bosses developing new ways to make sure employees are on task. Some track projects and schedule meetings on shared calendars. Others require “virtual face time” via email, instant messaging or calls. And some, like Accurate Biometrics, monitor computer use of employees, both at home and in the office.
Gartner Inc., IT +0.34% a Stamford, Conn., technology-research company, predicts use of computer security-monitoring programs will rise to 60% of employers by 2015, from fewer than 10% now. The systems are used mainly to secure sensitive data and comply with government rules, but they also generate lots of personal information on employees’ online behavior. To avoid violating employees’ privacy, employers should tell employees they’re being monitored and track only business-related activities, attorneys say.
The security program Mr. Daniels uses, InterGuard by Awareness Technologies in Los Angeles, is used by financial-services, health-care and other employers to track productivity, prevent leaks and comply with security regulations. Like most monitoring programs, it also allows Mr. Daniels to see whether all his employees, including 16 office workers and 24 who work from home, are using their computer time in productive ways. Employees know the program is in place.
Such programs can help bosses spot people who need help, as well as those who are wasting time, says Elena Proskumina, a sales specialist for NesterSoft, a Woodbridge, Ontario, maker of a monitoring program called WorkTime. One popular report among WorkTime clients is “top Facebook users,” she says.
Employers say the idea isn’t to keep people chained to their jobs for eight hours straight. They realize that people working from home may take breaks to run errands or handle other non-work tasks.
Many of Celeste O’Keefe’s 13 employees often work from home, which helps them manage the long hours their jobs can require, Ms. O’Keefe says. Ms. O’Keefe, chief executive of Dancel, a provider of litigation-support services for attorneys, uses SpectorSoft to help track time spent on client projects by all employees, either in the office or at home.
Ms. O’Keefe says she doesn’t use the program “to snoop” on individuals. Still, after she noticed one home-based employee’s output lagging for several months, the program enabled her to see that the employee was spending a lot of time writing Word documents, something not required for her job. After learning she was actually spending most of her workday studying for a master’s degree, “I had to let her go. I couldn’t say, ‘Oh, I’ll trust you again,’ ” says Ms. O’Keefe, whose company is based in d’Iberville, Miss.
The distinctions between working from home and from the office are also blurred because more people are splitting their weeks, and even their days, between home and office. The number of corporate employees who work from home at least one day a month has been rising 23% a year since 2007, on average, to 22.8 million last year, says Raymond Boggs, a vice president at IDC, a Framingham, Mass., market-research company. Those who work from home only one or two days a month are leading the trend, rising by an average 69.5% every year since 2007, to 3.3 million people last year, Mr. Boggs says.
“The basic challenge for managers is getting trickier,” Mr. Boggs says. “Some may work at home every Friday. Others leave at 3 p.m. to be with kids coming from school, then work after dinner from home,” he says.
Focusing on accomplishments rather than time is another way employers track at-home workers. And everyday tools such as videoconferencing, shared calendars, regular email and instant messaging help bosses track progress.
With most of its 940 employees working from home at least occasionally, Ryan LLC, a tax-services firm in Dallas, has managers set targets for each job and hold employees accountable. The firm has since seen gains in productivity and client satisfaction, and a drop in voluntary employee turnover, says Delta Emerson, an executive vice president for Ryan.
Work & Family Mailbox
Every Monday, Chad Dunkin, a team leader for Ryan in Houston, meets with his four team members to set the week’s agenda, framing objectives in specifics: “We have project A, B, C and D, and we need them done by X date,” he says, and assigns tasks and timelines to each employee. After that, it doesn’t matter where or even when they work, because “we are all judged by results,” Mr. Dunkin says.
Employees post their schedules on shared Outlook calendars and talk often on conference calls, says Heather Harrison, a senior consultant. When she is working from home, she instant messages or emails frequent updates to Mr. Dunkin. “Working at home isn’t much different from working at the office,” she says.
Write to Sue Shellenbarger at email@example.com