Can counting keystrokes be good for telework?

Talk about micromanagement. Scalable Software Inc. has developed a tool called Survey Time Manager (US$95 per seat) that measures the actual usage of computer applications. By counting keystrokes and mouse clicks, the program tallies the time you spend working in Word or Excel, surfing the Web, reading e-mail, etc. At the end of each day it sends the results back to the server, where the results are then viewable by employees and managers via a Web interface.

While this type of data can be used myriad ways, Scalable is positioning Survey Time Manager as an enterprise telework tool that will help companies determine which employees are fit to telework and the overall effectiveness of their telework programs.

For a company that monitors worker performance, Scalable's message is surprisingly employee friendly. It claims that because Survey Time Manager enables individual employees to "self manage" their time, it helps them increase their own productivity. Scalable Vice President of Sales Alex Fernandez goes so far to say that Survey Time Manager actually promotes telework by giving employees a way to quantify their productivity to reticent managers.

Of course, the idea of counting keystrokes is offensive, Orwellian and flies in the face of established telework best practices. Telework is an enlightened practice, not about punching an electronic time clock. Successful programs are run by managers who select only the most motivated, reliable, trustworthy employees; folks whose performance can be managed by results, not time spent typing away in Word.

Even so, Survey Time Manager is likely to open up new avenues for telework, despite likely resistance from the industry charged with its promotion. While telework is not stuck in the slow lane, we're not eating its dust, either. Face it, plenty of jobs can't be measured by results - not easily, at least. And plenty of managers won't send employees home unless they can "see" them "work." Survey Time Manager could be useful in situations in which employees are paid by the hour to man a phone, for instance.

Seems to me that any technology that gets managers off the fence and sending folks home is a good thing. But on the other hand, telework certainly isn't for everyone. Each worker needs to be considered individually. Survey Time Manager could be used irresponsibly by tempting companies to cut costs and corners by sending large numbers of employees home en masse.

But what do you think? Are programs like Survey Time Manager good for telework, a necessary evil or just plain evil? Share your thoughts in our forum:, DocFinder:

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