For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Conspicuous monitoring and remote work"

by Jensen, Nathan; Lyons, Elizabeth; Chebelyon, Eddy; Bras, Ronan Le; Gomes, Carla (2020)


Credible monitoring of remote workers presents unique challenges that may reduce the benefits of formal organization for their management. We consider whether increasing the salience of monitor productivity without changing incentive contracts or monitoring technology leads to changes in remote worker performance. Results from a field experiment run among multi-dimensional task workers in Kenya demonstrate that increasing the visibility of monitor activity improves performance on task dimensions not being directly paid for. Our evidence is consistent with the importance of conspicuous monitoring when managers and workers are not co-located.

Key Passage

The importance and difficulty of monitoring workers in order to properly reward and punish them is an important motivation for the existence of organizations (Alchian and Demsetz, 1972).1 As remote work becomes more common (e.g. Bloom et al., 2015) and as monitoring technology advances, firms are increasingly using IT-based solutions to monitor worker inputs and outputs (Bernstein, 2017, Bresnahan, Brynjolfsson, Hitt, 2002). However, some task types may be difficult to track through IT programs. For example, monitoring remote work not performed online is logistically challenging. As a result, even when optimal inputs are definable, input-based incentive pay may not be optimal because inputs cannot be observed or verified (Prendergast, 2002). Consistent with this, Holmstrom and Milgrom (1991) suggest that employees who work from home should have their pay more closely linked to outputs than those who work in the office. However, when output is also costly to measure accurately, output-based pay on its own may be insufficient for optimizing worker performance.2 (p.489)


Worker Monitoring, Management, Remote Management, Telework, Remote Workers, Surveillance, Worker Motivation


Critical Management Studies

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