04/08/2011 04:21 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2011

Butts in Chairs and Fingers on Keys

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. This is probably the most famous English language pangram (a sentence using all 26 letters in the alphabet.) By the way, that sentence consists of 44 keystrokes and nine words and it took me about 10 seconds to type. So why am I telling you this? As a regular reader of this space, you are probably aware of my penchant for useless trivia. But no, I make this point because it has come to my attention that there are a bunch of folks out there who think that the silver bullet for managing teleworkers is the keystroke recorder.

For those of you not fully indoctrinated into the finer attributes of this technological big brother, the keystroke recorder is a piece of software installed on a computer, network, or application that tracks every time you press a key or click your mouse. Other than bragging rights for your 120 words-per-minute mad typing skills, why would you care? Well, my good friends, it seems that there is a belief among some people -- let's call them keystrokers -- that this is an excellent way to make sure you are working when you are not in the office. To steal a line from one of my favorite satirists, Dave Barry, I am not making this up.

Now, in case you are worried that your IT folks are snooping on everything you write, the folks who promote this method of management have a disclaimer. They point out that while it is possible to record and review all of your keyboard input, it would take a lot of time and there are "privacy issues" to consider. Ya think? However, in case any of you are recording my keystrokes now, please note that I personally love and respect all IT professionals, so please do not delete my entire iTunes directory or have 400 Justin Bieber action figures sent to my house with my personal credit card.

Instead, the keystrokers say all they want are broad data sets to see if teleworkers are actually working or, say, lying on the couch watching Jerry Springer. And the nice folks at the grocery store only want to scan my loyalty club membership card to "make the service better for club members." I have two big issues with this and the first one is PRIVACY. So how do I know that they are not recording my bank password by "accident"?

My bigger issue is that this is just a terrible way to measure effectiveness and productivity. I am pretty sure any half decent programmer could write a piece of code in five minutes to beat the analytics and randomly type keys every so often while he drains a tall boy from the couch and watches the Real Housewives of Guam. If you want to know if your employees are working, you need to actually talk to them about what you expect, set measurable goals, and then review the outcome of their efforts. Outcome is more important than output in a knowledge working economy. The keystrokers are just the telework version of the supervisor who manages office workers by counting their time spent, if you will excuse the vernacular, butt-in-chair. Just because Larry is sitting at his desk doesn't mean he is being effective and just because Loretta is banging away at the keyboard doesn't mean she is not writing her church newsletter. If your supervisors think the only way they can ensure productivity is to watch over the employee's shoulder (virtually or in person), you probably need some new employees...and new supervisors.

If you want to continue the dialogue on telework, write to me at or visit my blog at