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Senators Discuss Monitoring Federal Employees Working at Home for Productivity

A Senate committee is considering updates to work policies as many federal employees continue to work from home—and the issue of productivity is a “key question,” said Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain.

“We know that it is an issue for many government, public, as well as private, enterprises,” she said during a meeting of the standing committee on internal economy on March 30.

Senator Scott Tannas suggested employee contracts under the new policy should include an agreement to submit to productivity monitoring.

He referred broadly to technology that may monitor and analyse keyboard activity, mouse movement, and other data related to work-at-home productivity.

“Technology is going to move in a direction and the employee needs to understand down the road there may be very sophisticated productivity analytics they may be subject to, and they should agree to that in advance,” Tannas said, as first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter.

“What we’re hearing right now from industry is there is a clear—but only anecdotal—drop in productivity,” he said. Nowhere in the drafted contracts under the new policy does it say an employee will be subject to productivity analysis, he said.

Saint-Germain agreed this is a matter of concern and asked Toni Francis, the Senate’s chief human resources officer, what would be required to start monitoring employees.

Francis said no such monitoring is currently taking place, but if it were to be used the government would have to tell employees well in advance. There would likely be negotiations with union representatives, and it would have to be clearly communicated to employees how such monitoring would be used.

She said managers currently can see if employees are in meetings on the software they’re using. Productivity is mostly measured by whether employees are meeting deadlines, she said.

The Senate committee was debating rewriting a 2007 policy on alternative work arrangements, with a view to expanding telework. Saint-Germain said she supports the revision to adapt to the “modern requirements of an employer.”

It will also save taxpayers money, she said, as excess government building space could be sold with the pandemic-related work-from-home measures becoming more permanently defined.

Vacancy rates in federal buildings have averaged about 70 percent, according to an Inquiry of Ministry viewed by Blacklock’s.

Saint-Germain suggested the information management policy also be updated to reflect unique security risks of information being viewed in a telework location.

Employees would be responsible for equipping and maintaining their own work spaces, she said, including their bills for internet and utilities. They would also be responsible for purchasing their own office furniture.

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