Trust in People, Not Tattleware, in Virtual Teams

As more companies embrace fully virtual and blended work, interest in remote-monitoring “tattleware” is on the rise. Here’s why there’s a better way.

The ideal virtual work environment involves trust: trust that your team is putting in the work without resorting to micromanaging or over-supervision. This is even more important in virtual teams where personal touch points may be fewer and farther between, making it vital that the interactions you do have serve to reinforce rather than undermine trust.

Yet with the rapid expansion of the virtual office since Covid-19, companies are increasingly exploring digital tools such as “tattleware” technology to do the micromanaging for them and electronically monitor staff throughout the workday.

Employees experience more stress and anxiety when they feel as though someone is watching over their shoulder. Research shows that micromanagement even leads to higher turnover, prompting 69% of employees who experience it to consider changing jobs. (36% follow through and do find new employment.)

What does tattleware look like, what are its potential negative impacts on team morale, and what can managers do to enhance trust without it?

What Is Tattleware?

Broadly, tattleware is remote monitoring software installed on an employee’s computer or mobile device – even personal devices. It can range from keyloggers to taking random snapshots of their screen, from monitoring the frequency of keyboard and mouse usage to GPS tracking.

Many companies gravitate towards tattleware believing it gives them an accurate snapshot of their staff’s work habits, keeping them honest with the knowledge that they’re being monitored.

Dangers of Tattleware

The wrong approach to monitoring can have a profound effect on morale. What seems like an easy solution – hard data on workers’ habits – can send any number of damaging signals to employees.

Managers should go into remote work conditions with trust and empathy, not with fear and close monitoring. – Rachel Welch, COO, Atlas VPN

First, it de-values the work they do, telling them that their performance can be judged by a few keystrokes and screenshots, making them feel more like machines than people. Second, it tells them that their managers don’t know how to actually monitor their work effectively.

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The combined effect is to feel increased anxiety, lower motivation, and less faith in those who oversee your work.

The use of tattleware, more often than not, is a symptom of insecurity: the perception that when a manager can’t see their team, they can’t be sure that team is working.

How to Succeed With Trust, Not Tattleware

If you find yourself unable to gauge your virtual team’s performance, it’s time to develop a new management framework. A great way to start is by asking your team the following questions:

  • What successes have you experienced? Asking this helps you identify what work is being done and when someone needs extra support.
  • What do you need help with? Simply asking your team if they need assistance goes a long way, especially with those who aren’t used to asking for help when they need it.
  • What problems need to be addressed? This is another simple question that empowers team members to raise issues, request support, and give you evidence of your team’s performance.
  • What does success look like? This helps you get a sense of how to identify good performance even when working virtually.

By developing skills to keep your finger on the pulse of your team through effective communication, enable your team to move forward with confidence – not because tattleware said so, but because you are taking proactive steps to humanize (rather than micromanage) your workplace.

Want to learn more about building trust and humanizing the virtual workplace? We’ve identified four essential practices that enable leaders to create connected, compassionate, and high-performance teams: Presence, Empathy, Awareness, and Action. Learn more.