‘Tattleware’ refers to any kind of remote employee surveillance program, and it could be coming soon to your non-profit. The purpose and function of tattleware is summarized in a recent article I read. The tagline for the article reads: “The pandemic prompted a surge in the use of workplace surveillance programs – and they’re not going away soon.”

And then it goes on to talk about the rush of employers who use digital surveillance programs to make sure that remote employees are actually doing their job. The article was published by The Guardian in a September 2021 piece by Sandy Milne, “Bosses turn to ‘tattleware’ to keep tabs on employees working from home.”

Here are some key quotes from that article to help you understand how tattleware works:

  • Every minute or so, the program (Sneek) would capture a live photo of the employee and his workmates via their company laptop webcams. The ever-changing headshots were splayed across the wall of a digital conference waiting room that everyone on the team could see. Clicking on a colleague’s face would unilaterally pull them into a video call. If you were lucky enough to catch someone goofing off or picking their nose, you could forward the offending image to a team chat via Sneek’s integration with the messaging platform Slack.
  • According to the Sneek co-founder Del Currie, the software is meant to replicate the office. “We know lots of people will find it an invasion of privacy, we 100% get that, and it’s not the solution for those folks,” Currie says. “But there’s also lots of teams out there who are good friends and want to stay connected when they’re working together. (Milne)

Milne describes the experience of one employee who quit a new job due to the company’s use of Sneek surveillance. This employee told Milne: “‘I signed up to manage their digital marketing, not to livestream my living room.’” And we’re likely to hear about this kind of thing more and more. As Milne writes:

  • Remote surveillance software like Sneek, also known as “tattleware” or “bossware,” represented something of a niche market pre-Covid. But that all changed in March 2020, as employers scrambled to pull together work-from-home policies out of thin air. In April last year, Google queries for “remote monitoring” were up 212% year-on-year; by April this year, they’d continued to surge by another 243%. (Milne)

There are a number of ways an employer could monitor their employee’s work using tattleware, including:

  • Keeping track of online activity
  • Screenshotting employees’ screens
  • Logging employees’ keystrokes and tracking browsing
  • Call tapping
  • Monitoring emails for flagged phrases

While this practice is currently more prevalent in the commercial world, there is nothing stopping it from creeping over into the non-profit sector where remote work is on the rise. We here at Veritus have already been alerted to this possibility.

All of this brings up the subject of corporate culture, trust, and management philosophy. Jeff and I subscribe to a “manage by objectives” philosophy. In fact, Veritus is a company that does not have a bricks and mortar office. We are totally virtual and remote. So, we know how this “remote thing” works and why management by objectives is the only way to manage remote employees.

The “management by objectives” approach places the burden of productivity and performance on the employee after a carefully crafted, time-specific, and agreed upon objective is created for each key performance area.

In other words, every job has several key performance areas. A measurable objective for a specific time period is created for each one of those performance areas. And then, it is up to the employee to manage their time and resources to achieve that objective. No spying is needed. Just performance reports that measure progress toward the agreed upon objective.

It is easy, stress-free, and accurate. It creates a calm and trusting environment. And there is no need to bring in the tattleware.

For instance, in major gifts, a front-line fundraiser has a qualified caseload of donors. Each donor on that caseload has a specific time-limited goal and a personalized communication plan. It’s easy to measure the performance of the donor and the front-line fundraiser in this situation. This is the classic management by objectives approach in play.

If you’re in an organization that uses tattleware or other forms of fear-based control, we suggest you find another place to work, since the authority figures in your organization are subscribing to a last century, high control management approach which is ineffective in the long term.

For the type of person that views work as a burden and the requirements to perform as tiresome and irritating, their performance will eventually tell that tale to their manager, and they will be released from employment.

On the other hand, with the type of person who views work as a necessary and respected exchange of values with your employer – the exchange of values being that the employee will achieve agreed upon objectives in exchange for job fulfillment and compensation – then they can and should be trusted to work under the “management by objectives” philosophy.

Either way, an objectives-based approach will tell the real story as time passes, which is why there is no need for the draconian tattleware in your work environment.