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How remote workers are outfoxing company spyware

(BUSINESS NEWS) As employers implement more invasive spyware to monitor remote employees’ at-home activity, some employees are giving the finger to Big Brother with savvy and sneaky workarounds.

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Glasses sitting on an open laptop with potential spyware

In 2020, with office employees around the world working full-time from home, companies are stepping up their spyware game. Accordingly, employees are maneuvering mightily to outfox their own corporate Big Brother.

If you didn’t realize that companies were tracking their employees’ online activity already, well, bless your heart. I have a secret. Pssst, everything you do online is likely being tracked by somebody, somewhere. Companies have long had tracking systems in place, reportedly to use for an aggregate report for company executives, to try and help employees maximize productivity.

According to CNBC, Gartner reported that approximately half of large corporations monitored online employee activity. By the end of 2020, they predict at least 80% of companies will use some sort of internal tracking systems.

For companies with more than 1,000 employees, internal spyware has been the norm. However, internal spyware sales have had a boom since March. Some of these programs, like Time Doctor, ActivTrak, Sneek, and Teramind, are popular versions.

Companies with zero chill can also use a program called StaffCop. These programs allow a variety of services for the companies: Video monitoring through the employee webcam (yikes!), remote screen shots, login trackers, and even keystroke activity. It’s a lot.

Employees are onto this, though, and have become equally resourceful at showing The Man up. Anti-surveillance software programs are flying off the virtual shelves as employees seek out ways to keep corporate noses out of their business and their homes. Nobody likes a micromanager or a tattletale, especially an omniscient one.

The ingenuity of the human mind is mighty impressive and people are finding creative ways to block the intrusive snitchware.

One super simple way to foil the unwanted scrutiny is merely to do any non-work activity on a second device, be it a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The spyware will still track your hours online and collect other data, but they won’t know everything. It’s good practice not to conduct personal work on a company machine anyway.

More tech-savvy workers are installing anti-surveillance programs that build a ring-fence around the spyware. This will show that you are online but won’t allow the software to track your every move. According to Wired, these and other programs that create fake mouse movements make workers appear like they’re tied to their desks, even when they aren’t.

Presence Scheduler sets your Slack status to permanently active. Slack caught on at one point and updated the system; Presence Scheduler then updated their system to counter Slack’s update. Another Slack hack is to keep your status set to “Away” even when you’re working. This works for most IM systems you may have. Your team and higher ups should get used to seeing the Away indicator, even when you’re replying to them. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Reddit has a whole thread on privacy measures and software to use for working and studying from home. One tip is to open Notepad and place something heavy on the space bar.

Then there’s this genius on a Reddit subthread who attached their mouse to an oscillating fan. It sounds funny, but intrusive software isn’t.

In fact, employers are required to let employees know they are being monitored. Best practices tell us to always be aware that our movements are being tracked, especially on a work computer.

Most employees are not trying to take advantage of the company. In a recent KPMG American Worker Survey of more than 1,400 people in large companies, 79% of workers report an improvement in their quality of work, and 70% say their productivity has increased since moving to a home office. However, 74% also report an increase in work demands, and 45% report that their mental health has suffered.

Of course, some of that is pandemic-related. Knowing they are being constantly monitored definitely is another factor – it breaks down trust. Most employees aren’t blowing off work at all; they are merely trying to stay sane. With the whole family at home, combined with the extra stress and labor that COVID-19 has heaped upon everyone’s plates, doing their actual jobs is most likely a mental getaway from daily drudgery.

Of course, you will always have your scammers, rapscallions, and lazybones. They have a way of making it into every company. However, they are just as skilled at getting away with not doing their work in person as they are remotely. Some people will work twice as hard to not do their actual job. This is not your average employee, though. Most people are not going to mess around and risk losing their job, especially now.

Employers need to start considering the end goal and lay off the nitpicking and spying. Is the work getting done? Is it getting done at roughly the same rate or faster than it was getting done before remote work became the standard? Okay, then maybe pump the brakes on all this snitchware. It only serves to heighten mistrust and adds to employee stress.

Of course, companies should have some ways of keeping track of productivity and employee hours. They are paying for the work to get done, and some workers are paid by the hour. However, human nature will rebel against too much intrusiveness, especially in their own homes. Employers need to realize that they can only go so far and scrutinize so much when they are “entering,” at least virtually, their employees’ personal space. In the meantime, there’s always the oscillating fan scam.

Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

Business News

Leadership versus management: What’s the difference?

(Business News) The two terms, leadership and management, are often used interchangeably, but there are substantial differences; let’s explore them.

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leadership Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Some people use the terms “leader” and “manager” interchangeably, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, there is still a debate regarding their similarities or differences.

Is it merely a matter of preference, or are there cut and dry differences that define each term?

Ronald E. Riggio, professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College, described what he felt to be the difference between the terms, noting the commonality in the distinction of “leadership” versus “management” was that leaders tend to engage in the “higher” functions of running an organization, while managers handle the more mundane tasks.

However, Riggio believes it is only a matter of semantics because successful and effective leaders and managers must do the same things. They must set the standard for followers and the organization, be willing to motivate and encourage, develop good working relationships with followers, be a positive role model, and motivate their team to achieve goals.

He states that there is a history explaining the difference between the two terms: business schools and “management” departments adopted the term “manager” because the prevailing view was that managers were in charge.

They were still seen as “professional workers with critical roles and responsibilities to help the organization succeed, but leadership was mostly not in the everyday vocabulary of management scholars.”

Leadership on the other hand, derived from organizational psychologists and sociologists who were interested in the various roles across all types of groups.

So, “leader” became the term to define someone who played a key role in “group decision making and setting direction and tone for the group. For psychologists, manager was a profession, not a key role in a group.”

When their research began to merge with business school settings, they brought the term “leadership” with them, but the terms continued to be used to mean different things.

The short answer, according to Riggio is no, not really; simply because leaders and managers need the same skills to be productive and respected.

This editorial was first published here in June of 2014.

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Business News

Does Raising Cane’s have the secret to combatting restaurant labor shortages?

(NEWS) Fried Chicken Franchise, Raising Cane’s, has turned to an unusual source of front-line employees during the labor shortage- Their executives!

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White paper sign with black text reading "Help Wanted."

I wouldn’t call myself a fried chicken aficionado or anything, but since chains are designed to blow up everywhere, I have experienced Raising Cane’s.

I’m pretty sure the Cane’s sauce is just barbecue mixed with ranch, but hey, when you’ve got a good idea, keep with it.

In the further pursuit of good ideas, the company has resorted to an intriguing method of boosting staff in a world where the lowest paid among us are still steadily dying of Covid, and/or choosing to peace out of jobs that they don’t find worth the infection risk.

Via Nation Restaurant News: “This is obviously a very tough time, so it was a joint idea of everybody volunteering together to go out there and be recruiters, fry cooks and cashiers —whatever it takes,” said AJ Kumaran, co-CEO and chief operating officer for the Baton Rouge, La.-based quick-service company, from a restaurant in Las Vegas, where he had deployed himself.”

The goal of this volunteer mission, which involves 250 of the 500 executives deployed working directly in service roles, is to bolster locations until 10,000 new hires can be made in both existing locations and locations planned to open.

It’s obvious that this is a bandaid move – execs exist for good reason, and in terms of sheer numbers (not to mention location and salary changes), this is hardly tenable long-term. But I can say this as someone who’s gone from retail to office, and back (and then forth…and then back again) several times – if this doesn’t keep everyone at the corporate level humble, and much more mindful of employees’ needs, nothing will.

The fast-food world is notorious for wonky schedules only going up a day before the week begins, broken promises on hours (both over and under), horrendous pay, and little to no defense of employee dignity in the face of customers with rank dispositions. With the wave of strikes (Nabisco, John Deere, IATSE) making the news, and lack of hazard pay/brutal physical attacks over mask mandates still very fresh in workers’ minds, smart companies are hipping themselves to the fact that “low level” employee acquisition and retention needs to be much more than the ‘work here or starve’ tactics that have served since the beginning of decades of wage stagnation. The best way for that fact to stay front-of-mind is to go out and live the truths behind it.

In Raising Cane’s case, the company also announced that they’re upping wages at all locations — to the tune of an actually not totally insulting $2 per hour, resulting in a starting wage of $15 and a managerial wage of $18.

Ideally, paying people more to cook, clean, and customer service all in one job will actually attract people back to fast food work. Seriously consider the fact that the people cleaning fast-food toilets are the same people making the food that goes into your mouth. The additional fact is that it’s better for everyone’s health when they’re paid enough to care about what they’re doing and stay healthy themselves.

Of course, one does also need to consider how much inflation has affected the price of goods and housing since the ‘fight for $15’ began almost a decade ago in 2012. Now, raising wages closer to the end point of multiple goods still might not be enough!

AJ Kumaran continued, “The chicken prices are through the roof. Logistics are very hard. Shipping is difficult. Simple things cups and paper napkins — everything is in shortage right now. Some are overseas suppliers and others domestic suppliers. Just in poultry alone, we have taken significant inflation.”

That’s global disruption for ya.

It remains to be seen whether this plucky move can save Raising Cane’s dark meat, but I’m very pro regardless. Send more top-earning employees into the trenches! No more executives with 0 knowledge of how the sausage sandwich gets made.

No more leading from behind.

Why not? What are ya? Chicken?

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Business News

Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Woman working in office with remote team

Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

This story was first published in November 2020.

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