Is Employee Monitoring Ethical?

Letter to freelancers who dislike screenshot monitoring

Hi! I am Ross. I am one of the creators of Screenshot Monitor.  I would like to address the small but loud group of freelancers who take a high moral stance against using screenshot monitoring. For example I’ve recently stumbled on this conversation on Reddit about our service (the highlights are mine):

Don’t let yourself be treated like a child in need of adult supervision. You’re a freelancer, not an employee that can be spied on when on company time and you’re a professional worthy of respect, not a crook that needs to be kept under close watch.

If I were you, I would politely deny the request and double my hourly rate for having to deal with such a lack of respect.

And more:

The website for the product assumes the people doing work for you are incompetent and taking advantage of you as a client/boss. If that messaging speaks to your client then you will not have a good relationship or billing.

Timetracking is fine and freelancers should be honest when billing, big-brother monitoring starts the relationship off with a lack of trust that will never be resolved.

What is wrong with this kind of reasoning, is that I am yet to find a single logical argument that would demonstrate that there’s something unfair with employee monitoring. All the current arguments are just emotional rejections of a child rebelling about what he sees as being treated like a child. All of the “arguments” are best summarized by a single sentence from the same source: it feels horrible to be watched all the time

Well, you want to be paid, right? Here’s a newsflash – a job is when you exchange your productive time for money. Screenshot monitoring changes nothing in this arrangement other than making it more transparent and verifiable.

Some facts in case you are new to ScreenshotMonitor:

  1. You can start or stop tracking whenever you want
  2. You see 100% of data the app has collected
  3. You can delete any portion of the tracked time, then all data related to the selected period will be destroyed

You’re a freelancer, not an employee that can be spied on when on company time. This assumes that freelancer is supposed to have less transparency. Why???

Here’s one half-valid argument: …client will glean anything about you that isn’t their business like bookmarks, accounting, banking, contacts, other client emails. First if all – don’t do banking or work with other clients while billing me for your time please.  Then situations like this will be extremely rare and we have tools for dealing with these. You can blur the screenshot that contains the sensitive information if you want to keep it as billed time. Or you can delete the screenshot outright whenever you want.

[They] will go through every screen that comes in, and bill against you for any evidence they find – there’s some valid concern here. When I am hiring someone – I always tell them: distractions are inevitable part of work. It’s OK if you want to answer a phone call, have a chat with a friend, read a news article, have some tea – you can still keep this time billable. More than that – short breaks like this could in fact increase productivity. I won’t be going through every screenshot and unless I notice a freelancer abusing this – we won’t mention it again.

But I imagine that there are clients that actually expect you to work every minute of billed time. This just means that your arrangement is understood differently by you and the client. Just make it clear that the distractions are part of work (no different from working in an office) and they actually increase productivity. If they disagree – raise your rates or leave.

Another often mentioned argument is that work should be measured by result, not the time spent on the task. That is true for a very small portion of tasks. In reality most of the “results” are not that crystal-clear. You can have two designs of the same logo hitting all of the specs and one would be great and another bad. Same with an article. Even two programs doing the same thing – one can be clean and easily modified in the future, and another is a tangled mess of code that have passed the current tests, but will fail once the parameters have changed. 

Screenshot monitoring is practically inevitable in working as a freelancer. If you have not noticed that it is becoming a common practice – you’ve been living on the Moon.  I use it with all of my employees and freelancers and can not imagine otherwise. I trust and respect them dearly and do not see it being at odds with keeping them accountable. In addition to tracking their time I can assign them the tasks, see how much each of the tasks cost me, review the work progress in screenshots even before it is submitted to me and make corrections early. Not using screenshot monitors would be equivalent to closing my eyes and ears.

The world owes you nothing. And it is changing whether you like it or not. You can whine about it all you want, just don’t pretend you are a fighting for fairness when you just protecting your right to get paid and not be accountable for it. 

4 thoughts on “Letter to freelancers who dislike screenshot monitoring

  1. In referencing some complaints you read, you state “I am yet to find a single logical argument that would demonstrate that there’s something unfair with employee monitoring”.

    I can see why you have YET TO FIND A SINGLE LOGICAL ARGUMENT, it’s because YOU DON’T WANT TO or because you lack logic…one of the complaints you referenced stated “You’re a freelancer, not an employee ” and to take that further, an employee may be sitting in your office 9 to 5, working on a company computer, but a freelancer is working from home, various hours and on their own computer…sounds like logic to me.

    The issue is with the concept of tracking, being able to see what sites are visited, screenshots of their desktop, their GPS location, and in some cases activating a webcam to watch them…when this happens in your home and without obvious notification that you are currently being monitored, can be quite intrusive. some tracking software will monitor at all times while you are signed in, even if you are not actively working on a project. additionally, most software does not store information on your desktop, but rather on a server out of your reach, so you have no idea of when or what was monitored.

    if you can’t see the logic of arguments against being monitored in this way then you seriously need to have your moral compass realigned

    1. How is GPS tracking, webcam, “without notification”, “out of your reach” relevant to Screenshot Monitor? We don’t do any of these. The article that started it specifically mentioned our app and this discussion is only about the tracking provided by our app (or any comparable), not made up evil tracking that is obviously terrible for any sane person.
      The difference between freelancer and employee in its entirety is clear. Why it’s OK to track employee and not freelancer – that is what not explained in original statement, nor in your comment.
      Thank you for taking your time to respond, but sorry, nothing of substance that I could take from it.

      1. You went beyond screenshot monitor by referencing a point made by someone about the concept of monitoring. Not to mention your insult of that person by referring to them as a child. Anyway, the concept of monitoring people is silly, because if you can’t trust someone then don’t hire them.

        1. Mike, nobody argues the point that crazy spying you’ve mentioned is good. So I am not sure who are you fighting with on that. With regards to reasonable tracking (as it is done in Screenshot Monitor) your best argument is “if you can’t trust someone then don’t hire them”?
          Do you trust your kids? Sure, but you still check their homework.
          Do you trust your government? Probably, but you still want to have checks and balances in place.
          Do you trust a freelancer you’ve never worked with? Well reasonably, as to a stranger he is. Can you be certain that they work when they say they work? You don’t know. And with Screenshot Monitor you wouldn’t even have this question.
          Trust and control are not mutually exclusive. Quite opposite, reasonable control nurtures trust.

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