This article originally appeared on VICE US.
It used to be that working from home was a privilege, with the boss granting such requests rather hesitantly, wondering if the employee would still be productive.
But the pandemic has forced wide-scale WFH. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the number of Americans working from home jumped from 15% to around 50%, prompting a big spike in employers adopting remote-management software to keep tabs on employees. These software companies pitch themselves with similar-sounding phrases, like “Human contact for remote teams” and “Work Better, Together,” but the level of employee monitoring they offer varies from product to product.
Some allow a manager to watch over every aspect of an employee’s computer activity, with keystroke logging, email and website monitoring, and the ability to record an employee’s computer screen. Some of them even offer what’s sometimes referred to as “stealth monitoring” — meaning the software runs on an employee’s computer without them knowing it. And some, like Basecamp, don’t offer any means of employee surveillance at all. David Heinemeier Hansson, Basecamp's co-founder, is so against the idea that his company has cut off other platforms from integrating with his software if they offer surveillance functions. “There are a lot of managers and bosses who think, unless I can see [employees] physically with their ass in the seat, I don’t trust them, they’re not working, which is just such a dumb idea to begin with.”
When the world’s offices switch their fluorescent lights back on, not as many employees will be back at their desks. Companies including Facebook and Twitter, for example, have said their employees will be able to work from home indefinitely. There’s every chance that if working from home sticks, so will the tools being implemented to keep workers accountable.
VICE News spoke with the co-founders of two remote work programs to get their read on the market in this transformational moment.