Sitting at your desk you survey the satisfying scene of staff beavering away at their desks. There is a reassuring hum as the printer churns out the fruits of their labour and a comforting click, clickety-click, as keyboards are worked over-time. All is well in the office. But is your workforce as productive as they seem? Have you noticed people frantically switching windows as you walk by? Do you glance across the office to see an Instant Messaging screen popping up? Is there a widespread problem, or is it all in your imagination? For the manager of a factory, a walk around the shop floor will often provide plenty of evidence of which employees are working effectively. In office-based environments, where a large part of the working day is spent in front of a computer screen, it can be near-impossible to evaluate productivity and look at working habits. In the absence of hard facts, it is easy for paranoia to set in. Employers’ fears may have been further exacerbated by the current media focus on the issue. This has escalated in recent months following the astonishing growth in popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites. As more and more facets of our personal lives are conducted over the internet, employers are becoming increasingly aware that they need to find a way to prevent personal web use reaching inappropriate levels, whilst providing their staff with a flexible and tolerant working environment which supports the needs of 21st-century lifestyles. There is no better cure for paranoia than hard facts. One approach helping to set employers’ minds at rest is the introduction of technology that can measure and analyse computer-based work habits, focusing in particular on the amount of time spent actively using different websites or applications over the course of the working day. Some employees may shudder at the prospect of their every move being scrutinised and logged. Covert monitoring, in particular, can risk alienating the workforce and destroying any sense of trust. However a more open and transparent approach can set minds at rest among employers and staff alike. Employers can track adherence to policies, identify transgressions and deal with these on a one-on-one basis to ensure that usage policies are being observed. But the information provided to them can also provide a wealth of insight that can help to manage and organise their businesses more effectively. The effectiveness of staff who spend part or all of their time working from home or remote locations can be analysed and compared to centrally-based peers, helping employers to feel comfortable that time is being used efficiently while helping reassure staff themselves that their contributions are fully valued.

American author, William S. Burroughs, said, “A paranoid knows a little of what’s going on ”. By openly collecting and sharing information about working habits, organisations can set their minds at rest that the work time is being used effectively, whilst staff can benefit from a flexible environment that strikes a healthy balance between their personal and professional lives.