Yahoo Inc. Chief Executive Marissa Mayer sparked an online uproar last month when she sent out an edict banning telecommuting. Some argued telecommuting gives managers little employee oversight, while others said the practice is built into the DNA of tech companies.

App maker MySammy in Walnut is pitching a middle ground and techy solution. Founder Edward Kwang thinks telecommuting works fine, so long as employees’ work can be monitored. Thanks to Kwang, now there’s an app for that.

For Kwang, the idea for the app was borne of necessity – one of his employees moved in with her boyfriend in Torrance and asked if she could work from home a few days a week, rather than drive out to the company offices in the San Gabriel Valley.

She was a valuable employee he didn’t want to lose, but the idea that he could not oversee her bothered him.

“I knew I couldn’t compete with her boyfriend,” Kwang said. “But if she worked from home my biggest concern was lacking measurement of her productivity. We’re all human beings and have the potential to become complacent.”

The application, called MySammy, was developed for laptops and desktops, and recently was released for Apple Inc. mobile devices. It runs in the background of a worker’s computer and monitors how often the mouse is moving and the keyboard is tapped. MySammy also keeps track of the websites that employees have up on their computers.

This data are compiled, sent regularly to the employers and show through a chart how often workers were engaged in productive tasks and how often they were idle.

There are Big Brother overtones to remote monitoring of an employee’s activities – ones that Kwang acknowledges, to a point. He argues that MySammy is designed to gauge productivity, not to peer into an employee’s computer screen. For example, the program only tracks the number of keystrokes users make but doesn’t see what they’re typing. And MySammy tracks which websites an employee visits but not the actual content within the program window.

It’s an important distinction that Kwang said is the difference between effective management and an invasion of privacy.

“Spying is not management and it’s also very time consuming,” Kwang said. “The data we try to collect is the very minimal data set to measure diligence, which is the problem with telecommuting.”

Kwang’s company is a big user of the app, not only for the employee who inspired the software (and currently telecommutes four days a week) but at many of MySammy’s satellite offices around the country.

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