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Monitoring Remote Work in Canada: Support or Surveillance

July 2023

Illustration of a woman in front of a laptop


Mohammed (Joe) Masoodi

Mohammed (Joe) Masoodi


Michael Greig

Dr. W. Patrick Neumann


Dr. Cory Searcy

Sam Andrey

Sam Andrey


HFE logo

Funded by

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Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed work in Canada, with nearly half of workers now regularly working remotely. For many employers and employees, the shift to remote work was a new social and technical undertaking, with important consequences for the quality of work.

For one, the pandemic accelerated the use of surveillance technologies to track worker productivity from home, with previous studies demonstrating the potential negative implications of excessive surveillance on workers. In tandem, managerial support provided to workers, such as regular check-ins and feedback, shifted online, raising important questions about performance support systems and their effects on worker productivity and well-being.

This research study explores the experiences and attitudes of remote workers. It is the first of its kind in Canada since the pandemic to look specifically at the performance supports and electronic monitoring that remote workers experience. A survey of 1,500 employees and 500 supervisors regularly working remotely from across Canada was administered in October 2022. Key study findings include:

Impacts of remote work

  • Nearly half of remote workers (44 per cent) either had no fixed requirement to work on-site or were fully remote. These rates were higher among older workers and women, and correlated with higher job satisfaction and sense of trust from their employer
  • More than half of employees (55 per cent) said they get more work done since the shift to remote work and 51 per cent of supervisors said the same about their employees, with only 15 per cent saying less work gets done
  • Remote work had a perceived negative impact on connections with colleagues, with 43 per cent of employees indicating their connections had been reduced

Performance supports

  • 76 per cent of remote employees said they have regular meetings with their supervisor and/or team
  • 40 per cent of employees said they receive ongoing feedback on their remote work from a supervisor or mentor
  • Rates of feedback from a supervisor or mentor were higher among younger workers (51 per cent aged 16-29), newcomers in the last 10 years (48 per cent) and those with disabilities (55 per cent)
  • A majority of employees assessed the performance support systems in place for remote work as helpful (74 per cent) and adequate (72 per cent). Those who received both regular meetings and ongoing feedback were much more likely to assess their support systems as helpful and adequate. Those who received neither meetings nor ongoing feedback (15 per cent) had significantly lower assessments of support and were less likely to say their productivity has increased
  • Most employees (84 per cent) felt they have some degree of control over the support they receive, such as the ability to control timing of meetings or request feedback as needed. There was a positive correlation with a sense of control over support systems and overall job satisfaction and employer trust

Electronic monitoring

  • Seven in ten employees (70 per cent) said some aspect of their work is digitally monitored (i.e., not just stored, but actively screened or reviewed). Email (33 per cent), websites (24 per cent), chats or messages (23 per cent), and phone calls (20 per cent) were the most common aspects of work that were digitally monitored
  • About 32 per cent of employees indicated experiencing at least one of the following list: location tracking, webcam/video recording, keyboard/keystroke monitoring, computer screen capture, or biometrics such as facial features, voice or iris scan. These employees reported significantly lower levels of job satisfaction and trust in their employer and higher stress levels. This group was also more likely to have a disability, be paid by the hour or be lower income earners
  • One-third of employees (33 per cent) said the amount of their work that is digitally monitored has increased since the start of the pandemic, with rates significantly higher among workers with household incomes less than $50,000 (41 per cent), younger workers (47 per cent for ages 16-29), those with disabilities (41 per cent) and racialized workers (36 per cent)
  • About 39 per cent of employees who are digitally monitored said they have no control over such monitoring, while only 15 per cent of supervisors said the same. Employees who indicated feeling no control over monitoring reported significantly less trust in their employer: 50 per cent compared to 69 per cent among those who felt a lot or some control
  • Only 30 per cent of monitored employees said they have been provided with complete written information about their employer’s digital monitoring. Those who did had significantly higher rates of trust in their employer (72% compared to 54% of those who had received little to some or no information). Rates in Ontario were not yet higher, despite its new law having taken effect requiring employers to have a written policy on electronic monitoring

As organizations continue to grapple with the future of remote and hybrid work, this study sheds new light on its implications, especially as it relates to job quality. Remote workers in this Canadian-based survey have found ways to get more work done with less stress. Three out of four employees said they are receiving helpful support from their employers, with the combined use of regular meetings and ongoing feedback for remote workers having the greatest impact. However, there is room for improvement with respect to Canadian employers’ use of electronic monitoring, which should promote the protection of employees’ rights, equitable treatment and minimally invasive approaches. These findings underscore that providing employees with a sense of control and transparent information on the use of electronic monitoring correlates with higher employee trust.