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Peerdrum: Peering Over the Shoulder of Remote Coworkers

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As virtual teams and remote workers become more common, employers increasingly feeling the need to employ remote monitoring and management tools. The latest of these is Peerdrum, a web app that enables managers to track and direct remote workers, and for workers to articulate progress and feedback. This is achieved by taking a snapshot of the user’s screen every few minutes and relaying it to a manager’s dashboard.

Here’s a short video overview of the service in action:

[vimeo 13633985]

Managers can setup teams, invite members and assign privileges to allow team members to view each others’ screens. Users can then “clock-in” to activate the monitoring and screen capture service,  and “clock-out” at any time to pause it.

Personally, I’m uncomfortable with the premise of Peerdrum; the need to resort to this type of tool strikes me as illustrating a failure of management and a breakdown of the trust between employers and workers. Peerdrum appears to be based on a corrective philosophy; it assumes that workers left to their own devices will drift from their objectives.

Most information workers multitask and flit from project to project, and creative disciplines often require a level of play and exploration that is not well represented by a series of screenshots — if anything it could distort and damage perceptions.

Fundamentally, if the output of a worker is sound, is this type of tracking really necessary? Rather than a slideshow of screenshots, I think perhaps an open multi-person video channel could help to keep a team pulling together much more comfortably. Experiencing a coworker’s body language, demeanor and conversation will reveal much more than the visible content of their desktop.

Last year, we published a guest post covering some best practices for remote monitoring of workers by the CEO of RescueTime, which emphasized using monitoring tools to enhance productivity, rather than for employee surveillance; Peerdrum appears to be primarily a surveillance tool.

If you’re interested in the topic of how to manage remote workers effectively, it’s something we’ll be exploring in depth  at our Net:Work conference, coming to San Francisco in December.

Do you think surveillance tools like Peerdrum are necessary in modern workplaces?

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8 Responses to “Peerdrum: Peering Over the Shoulder of Remote Coworkers”

  1. Tony, just one final note – I’m focused more on large organizations whose employees are working remotely, and that may explain how we’re coming from different places.

    But if I were managing remote independent teleworkers the only way I’d pay them hourly is if they have very clear “production” goals. In the Information Age it just doesn’t make sense to pay people for time they spend. Again, it’s the results that matter. I guess I’m a much bigger believer in “piece rates” than in a time clock.

  2. Tony, I appreciate your comments and I have no doubt that peerdrum is well-intentioned. Just remember however that it’s how it is used that will matter. Just as you can use a hammer to pound in a nail on beautiful piece of furniture, you can also use a hammer to pound someone’s finger to mush (sorry about the violent imagery). The tool is neutral, unless it creates a capability for something that didn’t exist before.

    I don’t basically object to managers having a quick look at someone’s screen once in a while, though I’m really not sure what it tells them. It’s far more important for a manager to be clear about the results he or she expects from a subordinate – and then spend time helping the individual achieve those results.

    Just remember that in knowledge-based work there are plenty of individual pathways to success – many ways to get a job done, depending on individual skill, work style, and ingenuity. It’s entirely possible that an interim look at a screen shot could be entirely misleading.

    And – to be provocative, if someone is playing Dungeons and Dragons for 10 minutes at some point but gets the work done on time and at the required quality, why should a manager care? We should be paying people for the results they produce, not the time they put in producing it.

  3. Thanks for the article, Imran. Technically, it’s not designed to spy or micromanage, (there are tons of MUCH more effective tools for that kind of B.S.). It’s more about being able to stroll through the office and see what everyone’s been up to without having to actually be there, but the idea of this happening over the Internet just freaks some people out. In time, I think people will adapt a more open mindset as real-time, collaborative web-based software becomes more the rule than the exception.
    Thanks again,

    Tony Gialluca III

  4. If you don’t trust me enough to do my job then why would you hire me in the first place?

    I wouldn’t work for a place that required this type of elementary school behavior / micromanaging.

  5. There has to be a better way to bridge the “trust gap” than a highly intrusive method like this. Even in a regular office, I think I would feel affronted if my manager felt the need to have a look at my monitor every few minutes.

  6. I too am uncomfortable with this attempt to monitor remote workers on such a frequent basis. It makes far more sense to treat them like the adults they are and manage them by the results they produce. Yes, screen monitoring might be helpful in a coaching or troubleshooting session, but this much peering over their shoulder reflects and communicates a basic mistrust.

    For more on this topic, read our latest newsletter article on the need for adult behaviors in the workplace:

    And anyone interested in managing remote workers should read our free white paper on Best Practices in Managing a Remote Workforce, downloadable at: a Remote Workforce_Proven_Practices_from_Successful_Leaders.pdf