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What is Bossware?

Bossware is software to be aware of, whether you have a boss, or the boss is you. Bossware is a term that encompasses any form of employee productivity or performance monitoring software. The pandemic saw a dramatic rise in remote work and a concurrent rise in the number of employers wanting assurances that their remote workers were spending their work hours on tasks relevant to their jobs or, conversely, were not over-working themselves. Employee surveillance is controversial, but some applications of surveillance tools are certain to draw more ire than others, such as those that are unnecessarily intrusive, and those that are deployed secretly. Typical features of bossware include activity logging, email and social media interaction monitoring, keylogging, productivity reporting, screenshots/screen recordings of workers’ screens displayed on timelines, GPS locating, and webcam and/or microphone activation. With 78% of companies reporting that they are using employee monitoring software to track worker performance and online activity, it is clear that these tools are going to impact our lives in the future if they do not already1. It is important to consider the following tips for using surveillance software productively and ethically:

Transparency. No matter what type of employee surveillance software is being used, be certain that that its purpose and presence are known and understood by everyone involved. Many types of bossware can be silently and remotely installed, and workers’ private information can be secretly collected. While these tactics may be legal for employers (in some states), laws protecting data privacy are also evolving, opening the door for future risk to employers. Rather than eroding worker trust with ethically dubious software deployments, employers should invite workers to learn about what software is being used and how it can be used for their benefit, to enhance their performance.

Mutually beneficial tools. Some bossware is designed to help workers as well as employers by offering wellbeing features such as reminders to take breaks and dashboards reporting on team wellbeing.

Less is more. With so many bossware options on the market, it is certainly possible that every moment in a worker’s day could be recorded with screen recordings, screenshots, microphone recordings, webcam recordings, keyloggers, messaging and emailing logs, and other productivity analytics tools. Do employees need to be surveilled to this extent? It is unlikely. To foster a trusting relationship between employers and workers, employers should limit their use of bossware to those applications that help to reach specific performance goals, and those selected tools and their purposes should be revealed and explained to workers.

1 Albinus, 2022, “HR tech number of the week: Employee monitoring tools”