Workplace Privacy When It's Okay to Track Your Employees

Since Edward Snowden leaked information about top-secret NSA data collection, privacy has been in the headlines. Reports of large cellular companies being required under court order to hand over call metadata and rumors that the PRISM program had access to real-time email and web traffic have made individuals and businesses concerned about the erosions of privacy over mobile networks.

But when your business relies extensively on networks and mobile connectivity, privacy is only one concern. You are also responsible for the productivity of your workforce deployed in the field and the security of your data on cellular networks.

Aren’t you still tracking your employees? Yes, and no. There are times when it’s appropriate for businesses to gather employee usage data:

1. Monitoring bandwidth consumption

Most employees would agree that on-the-job is not the most suitable place to catch up on episodes of Mad Men or download the latest Kanye West album. Websites and apps that stream media, such as Spotify and Hulu, consume far more network bandwidth than other websites. Mobile workers especially may depend on a VPN tunnel to internal networks to stay connected, and if one employee is accessing bandwidth-intensive material, the connection speeds slow for everyone else.

In order to maintain a productive and fair work environment for employees that rely on a network, mobile or otherwise, employees who routinely access high-bandwidth sites need to be identified. Stopping or blocking usage of those applications will then return the network to a more optimal functioning speed and boost throughput for everyone.

2. Security

With so much business being done outside the office and on mobile devices, increasingly sensitive information is now accessed through cellular and open wireless networks. This includes bank information, log-in pages, and company email. Without the firewalls and dedicated IT staff of an in-house network, it is much simpler for information to be compromised or for a device to become infected with malware.

If a user accesses a harmful site or application, the ramifications are not confined to him or her; instead, they could affect everyone on the network, especially in relation to confidential information. Being able to control which devices access your network, and what security protection is on them, allows IT to more quickly and effectively address the problem, quarantining the device and ideally preventing future occurrences.

3. Device tracking

For employees using on mobile devices in the field, cellular network management software (such as our own Locality) can work in concert with GPS to identify the cause of connectivity issues, help create faster resolutions, and proactively troubleshoot problem coverage areas. Tracking where an employee has been and the corresponding signal quality helps identify areas with poor signal, which can then be avoided in the future, or addressed with network providers. Reliance on IT help is diminished, manual guesswork is eliminated, and workers can focus not their tasks.

Overall, device tracking lessens employee frustration with slow or spotty connection speeds, and contributes to better morale and more work being accomplished. It can also help your business identify which carriers are offering the strongest networks in your region. After implementing Locality for their officers in the field, the Oregon State Police noted an improvement in connectivity issues and officer response time, and were also able to have more informed conversations (given the data they collected) with their carriers about where service was patchy.

4. Assessing the effectiveness of mobile devices in the field

Having data about company-issued mobile devices and air cards that are used frequently and ones that are under–utilized can help your business more strategically distribute these devices, ensuring that the employees who need mobile devices for their jobs have access to them. If your network management software indicates that a mobile device or associated air card is not being used, it may be time to check in with that employee. If the device is not truly necessary to him to perform his job, you can then either redeploy the device to another employee, or disconnect the device, saving on network carrier costs.

Checking in with employees about under-utilized devices can also assist in further troubleshooting. Perhaps an employee is primarily working in an area with slow connection speeds, and thus has stopped using his or her tablet. This is important data to have when allocating mobile resources and making purchasing decisions for future projects in the field.

As the current landscape of the digital world makes clear, there are many situations where workplace security, safety, and productivity depend on network monitoring. Using network management software can help your business address connection problems and ensures that your whole organization can pull together as a team in its internet and mobile usage.

How does your company balance employee privacy with security and productivity?