Whether or not remote working affects employee productivity is very much open to debate. On one side, employers argue that remote working makes it easier for people not to work. On the other, skipping the commute and focusing on work may actually improve productivity.
Some employers are attempting to answer this question by using employee tracking software. This is also known as bossware. It’s popular because it can prevent wasted time and improve productivity. But it also raises privacy concerns.
So what is bossware, and is it tracking you?
What Is Bossware?
Bossware is a term used to describe a host of employee tracking software. It includes basic software which tells an employer how much time is being spent on individual tasks.
It also includes more sophisticated software which tracks everything that the user does. Ideally, it is installed on a person’s computer with their permission, but it can also be used to track people without their consent.
How Does Bossware Work?
Bossware software is easy to install. It can be installed on a work computer before it’s given to an employee, or an employee can be asked to install it as a condition of their employment.
Some products are designed to alert users that they are being tracked, but other products are designed to do the opposite. If the latter is installed on a computer, the user may be completely unaware of its presence.
The functionality of such software also varies widely. At its most basic, bossware tracks what programs are being used and for how long. This would illustrate whether an employee is actually working or simply browsing the web.
More sophisticated tracking software can track all activity, including recording the employee’s screen and every word that they type.
While basic bossware products aren’t particularly controversial, it’s the keylogging versions that are primarily raising privacy concerns. It’s also argued that bossware, regardless of sophistication, should be visible to the user at all times.
Why Is Bossware Popular?
Bossware isn’t strictly designed to invade people’s privacy. Instead, its primary purpose is to improve productivity.
It Prevents People Not Working
People are less likely to waste time when they are being watched. It’s believed that if an employee knows that their boss is aware of their activity, they’ll spend more time on the tasks that they’ve actually been assigned.
It Facilitates Disciplinary Action
Bossware can alert an employer that an employee isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. This can provide the evidence needed to take disciplinary action.
It May Highlight Inefficiency
Bossware has the potential to increase employee productivity by highlighting ways that time is being wasted accidentally. If an employer understands how tasks are typically being performed, they may be able to remove inefficient steps.
It Is Often Used for Payroll
Bossware can be used not to spy on employees but to track how many hours they work. This information can then be used for payroll and scheduling.
Why Is Bossware Unpopular?
Bossware is unpopular because many people don’t like being tracked. It also has the potential to collect personal information without consent.
Bossware May Track More Information Than Necessary
Bossware often collects more information than people deem necessary. For example, if a keylogger is installed, this may inadvertently collect people’s passwords and other personal information. If the software records the entire screen, video calls may be recorded.
Information May Be Used for Illegitimate Purposes
The information collected by bossware has the capacity to be used for illegitimate purposes that have nothing to do with productivity. An employee may not mind productivity tracking. But what if an employer uses the software to find out if an employee is looking for another job?
Information May Be Stolen
The information collected by bossware may not be stored securely. If the employer is the victim of a data breach, employees’ private information could be published on the dark web. This information could include both private chats and account passwords.
Bossware May Be Installed on Personal Computers
Some employers request that bossware be installed on personal computers. When this happens, it’s possible that it can collect information while an employee isn’t working. It also may have access to the user’s personal files.
How To Tell If Your Computer Has Bossware Installed
Some employers will tell you prior to installing bossware. Ideally, they will explain exactly what information they are collecting, and the product may even be visible on your desktop.
However, if you suspect your computer has software installed that you haven’t been told about, here’s what to do.
Check Your Contract
Employers who use bossware often obtain consent within their employee contracts. Unfortunately, the language used is often vague. Look through your contract carefully for any mention of tracking or monitoring. It’s important to note that consent is not legally required in some states. But if it’s in your contract, it’s probably being used.
Check Running Processes
Some bossware products are designed to hide completely. But other products can be found by checking what processes are running on your computer.
In Windows, you can check what processes are running by pressing CTRL + ALT + DEL and opening the Task Manager. On a Mac, you will need to open Utilities and then open Activity Monitor. The active process will likely use a non-descriptive name rather than something like “bosswareworkfromhometracker.exe” or otherwise. That’s a silly example, but you get the gist.
Search for Information
If you find a process on your computer that appears to be bossware, you can search for its name on Google. Provided it’s a popular product, you should be able to determine exactly what information it’s collecting about you.
Privacy Concerns About Bossware Are Understandable
Bossware has the potential to increase productivity while also respecting the privacy of users. Unfortunately, the software isn’t always used in this way. The fact that many people have concerns about these products is therefore understandable.
However, despite all of this, bossware is legal, doesn’t always require consent, and depending on the product being used, it’s possible that you will be tracked without your knowledge regardless of what you do. Many bossware products are visible if you check what processes are running, but the feeling of having your privacy breached is always unpleasant.