Employees need a certain level of autonomy when it comes to doing their job. As an employer, however, you also need to monitor certain activities to ensure that things are being done in a timely and efficient manner. Thankfully, there are numerous software packages available today that can enable you to monitor the activities of your employees, without coming across as overbearing.

What’s more, most of these software packages are scalable, so they are just as suitable to use in small businesses as they are in large-scale enterprises. Let’s take a closer look at the importance of monitoring employee activities, as well as how to choose a suitable employee monitoring system for your company.

Why do I need to monitor employee activity?

When employees use company computers, they are likely to have access to sensitive company data. It’s important that this data be handled with proper care.  When every keystroke and file accessed is being recorded and analyzed, this often deters employees from misusing company data, be it intentionally or unintentionally.

Monitoring employee activity can also help improve efficiency. When every activity is recorded from the time an employee logs in to when they log out, certain trends may emerge. For example, if the software is able to highlight repetitive tasks, it may be time to think about automating some of those processes.

If you’re able to track what your employees are doing and when they are doing it, you may also be able to foster a better work environment for them. For example, certain types of employee monitoring software can track the way your staff is taking breaks. Are they getting enough time out to be able to refresh themselves in-between tasks? Can your team allocate sufficient time for personal development? An employee monitoring system can provide you with answers to these questions so that you can make the required adjustments.

What does employee monitoring software do?

Employee monitoring software is a program that incorporates itself into your company’s central computer system. Once installed, it will record each employee’s computer sessions from the second they log in until they finally log out at the end of the day.

Once installed, you’ll have access to information on how your employees are using office computers. This includes insight into which applications each employee uses in real-time, system settings, and which websites they visit. The software can also provide information related to emails and chats, as well as the location of devices used.

In addition, you can also set notifications and provide restricted and/or selective access to specific employees, as well as block certain websites restrict file sharing and put limitations on external device usage. Employee monitoring systems are usually managed from the convenience of a single dashboard, which enables you to control the overall process – and pull up reports – as and when required.

When do you need employee monitoring software?

There comes a point when you may find it difficult to monitor everything that everyone in your company is doing. And when that occurs, it may be time to consider installing employee monitoring software, so that you can maintain better control of everything that’s happening.

If your company handles sensitive data, employee monitoring software can help safeguard this data against things like leaks since in addition to maintaining a log of staff logins and logouts, it can also:

  • Track data usage and data transfer
  • Track access to applications, files, and folders
  • Facilitate restricted access based on different user profiles

But let’s get a bit more specific about the scope of employee monitoring software so that you can make an honest assessment as to whether it makes sense for your business.

First and foremost, you need to ask yourself a few questions about how this type of system could benefit your company. So, for example, what’s the probability that your business will see an overall improvement if you are to install employee monitoring software? If the answer is “high,” then you already have one reason to install it.

Next, you need to ask yourself if it’s going to help you handle your financial liabilities in a better way. Most monitoring software programs maintain a minute-by-minute track record of employee activity. With such a system in place, you’ll always have accurate data at hand regarding what employees have done, which can help mitigate the possibility of financial disputes.

Lastly, you need to ask yourself having access to the data employee monitoring software can track would be helpful to you if you ever needed to conduct an internal investigation regarding an issue. If it will, then that’s another good reason you need it.

In short, what you have to keep in mind is that installing an employee monitoring system should be beneficial to the company in more ways than one. So, this means monitoring employee activity to improve efficiency and increase productivity, as well as restricting employee access to make sure that company data is not misused and that employees use company facilities for the purpose that they were originally intended.

What are the top things to consider with employee monitoring software?

As the owner of a small company, there are specific considerations that you need to look for while selecting employee monitoring software. To begin with, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will this system be used to improve productivity and efficiency? 
  • Or are you more interested in keeping a watchful eye on everything that your employees do to ensure that everything is on the up-and-up?

The answers to these questions will define the type of employee monitoring system that will best fit your needs.

The ideal employee monitoring software shouldn’t be so cumbersome that it hampers how your company operates. Also, steer clear of an excess of features that’ll likely have a steep learning curve and bloat your financial investment. The software should be effective and affordable, and whatever system you set up should include enough features to get the job done within your budget.

Here are the top features to consider:

Webpage monitoring

You should be able to monitor the websites that your employees are visiting. In most cases, the date and time of the website visit will be logged. With employee monitoring software, it will be possible to make a list of restricted sites, which the system will automatically notify you about if and/or when employees try to access. It’ll then be at your discretion as to what action to take if employees try to visit restricted or forbidden sites regularly. 

Tracking application use

A law firm may have a zero-tolerance policy for uploading and using game applications through company computers. This would be an acceptable norm for a gaming company, however. But even a gaming company needs to filter off gaming application usage unrelated to work. Some monitoring software provides screenshots as well, which is an added benefit and helps to ensure that everyone stays on the up-and-up.

Keeping tabs on live chat

Here again, access to live chat is subject to the type of company and department in question. For example, employees in tech-support are expected to use live chat. But if the work profile of the department does not call for live chat, then employee monitoring software can be used to flag instances of live chat being used. What’s more, live chat on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp may require close monitoring as well. 

Regulating removable devices

Using removable devices, like an external hard drive, can harm your company in more ways than one. For example, if an employee connects a device that’s infected with a virus, it can cause your entire computer network to crash. Plus, uncontrolled use of external devices can result in the unauthorized use of data, and possibly even data theft. Employee monitoring solutions can track those who are using removable devices, as well as which files are downloaded or uploaded.  

Recording keystrokes

While initially, keystroke recording may seem like you’re taking employee monitoring a bit too far, there are actually two very important benefits to this type of practice. First, you’ll be able to track exactly what your employees are doing. This information can then be used to calculate the efficiency, productivity, and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) of your staff members. Also, keystroke recording can recover data that has been accidentally deleted or corrupted by reviewing the data that your employee keyed in at a particular time.

Taking screenshots

Several employee monitoring software programs provide regular screenshots, which act as literal windows into staff activity at any given point in time. Some programs go one step further and generate video snippets of what your employees are doing.  If you have suspicions that certain employees are goofing off more than they are working, this is a surefire way to find out.

Webcam access

Another useful feature of some employee monitoring programs is access to local webcams. With this option, you’ll have a live feed from your employee’s webcams, which will provide you with a real-time video of what they are doing at their desks.

Reporting features

Employee monitoring software varies from company to company, and each has a slightly different way of collating the data, as well as customizing how it’s presented.  Some companies offer simple, visual-based results, while others provide detailed reports on employee activity and downtime. Some will even compare activity and productivity between different employees so that you can quickly and easily analyze productive and non-productive work.

Vendor capability and track record

The vendor you choose to partner with for your employee monitoring should be reputable and have a track record of success. Customer service and tech support should be top-notch, especially if you’re not tech-savvy and/or your internal resources are already stretched too thin.

How much does employee monitoring software cost?

Whatever employee monitoring system you set up needs to be cost-effective. After all, it’s going to cost you a reasonable amount of money just to incorporate the software into your existing business infrastructure. When evaluating your options, be sure to do your diligence and crunch all the numbers. At the end of the day, your goal should be to see a nice return on investment in terms of a more efficient workforce and secure operating systems. 

As far as costs themselves are concerned, several companies offer free versions of their software, which is a great way to dip your toes into the water if you are a small company. This way, you can perform a dry run before committing to the financial investment and launching the full-fledged version. Most companies charge monthly, with an option to subscribe annually. Annual subscriptions typically end up being more cost-effective, since generous discounts are available for longer term commitments.

Another thing you’ll want to factor in as you’re calculating the actual cost you’ll incur is the number of employees to be monitored. Most vendors require a minimum of five employees.

Next up, you’ll need to decide if you want an onsite or cloud-based solution. While initially, cloud-based solutions appear to be cheaper, they are typically billed on a per-user basis. If you’re planning on monitoring a large number of employees, these costs will add up quickly, and you may be better off with an onsite solution instead.

Other factors that will affect the pricing of your monitoring software include the number of features selected.  In addition, pay attention to hidden costs like setup fees and software update charges.

Is it ethical to use employee monitoring software?

While it’s crucial to secure company data and ensure that your employees are always working in the best interests of the company, you also can’t neglect their right to privacy.

One of the most common ethical issues is whether to let employees know that the company is monitoring them. Some platforms will introduce the monitoring tool as a different app, or they may operate incognito. Others let you toggle between visible and invisible modes. Most software defaults to stealth mode.

You’ll also need to consider the actual legality of your employee monitoring policy. In many countries, you’re legally required to notify your employees that the company monitors their activities. So, be aware of the local laws of employee monitoring, especially if you have offices in another country.

Also, keep in mind that monitoring employee activity with or without consent may be subject to data privacy rules. You would do well to refer to data privacy laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US. Be sure to conduct your due diligence.

Who is monitoring whom?

The flipside to employee monitoring is that even if you aren’t required to tell them – and choose not to – your employees may figure out that they are being monitored, given the amount of information readily available on the Internet on the topic. And employees who detect that their employer is monitoring them may react in different ways, including trying to use apps that have been designed to block these types of programs.

If you’re not fully transparent about the fact that you’re monitoring your employees, expect to be confronted about it at some point. Whether your monitoring system is visible or operates in stealth mode, you need to have a pre-established strategy in place, so that you can effectively address your employees’ concerns and objections.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Be transparent

Whether you operate in open or stealth mode, keep your employees in the loop. Protecting sensitive data is the responsibility of all the members of an organization, at all levels of the hierarchy. Total commitment to productivity and efficiency while on the job should be the default commitment of any employee. If your employees meet all these conditions, there shouldn’t be an issue.

Educate your staff

It’s essential to be not only transparent about employee monitoring, but to also make your employees understand the benefits of such a system. Employee monitoring systems are not only beneficial to the company – but they can also be advantageous to employees if deployed correctly. For example, employee monitoring is a great way to track individual performance for things like rewards, recognition and incentive calculations.

Adopt a flexible approach

Be open to feedback from your employees. If there are objections to the way your employee monitoring system works, intently listen and then mull everything over.  It never hurts to hear a perspective from multiple angles. 

Always stay one step ahead

Many people view employee monitoring software as a way for their employer to play “big brother.” And for some, they will do anything they can to try and evade it.  Be sure that you have measures in place to prevent this from happening.

What are the advantages of employee monitoring?

While viewed as controversial at times, there are numerous benefits to employee monitoring.

  • Highlights productivity– By monitoring employee productivity, you can easily see who is meeting expectations, and even exceeding them.
  • Ensures that priority work remains a priority –By monitoring how your employees are spending their time, you’ll quickly know if someone on your team is neglecting their most time-sensitive tasks. This can help to ensure that tight deadlines aren’t missed.
  • Promotes better time optimization– If each of your employees wastes just ten minutes a day, a company of 50 employees could be looking at a whopping 250 hours of lost time a month. At an average of $11.00 per hour, it converts to a loss of $2,750 per month and $33,000 per year! And, this is just a conservative estimate.
  • Improves delegation– When armed with detailed information regarding each of your employee’s core capabilities, you’ll be able to better delegate responsibilities. There’s no point in assigning a task to someone who isn’t quite up to mark, especially if the job is urgent. With the insight employee monitoring software can provide, you’ll be able to identify the most suitable people to carry out the task.
  • Creates better communication channels – With employee activity being monitored, you’ll be able to establish better lines of communication across the organization to optimize efficiency. For example, imagine that you have multiple employees all working on a single task, with the minimum productivity per person defined. With employee monitoring software, you can instantly identify when someone is falling below their target in real-time. The employee in question can then be alerted and encouraged to pick up their pace.

Are there any disadvantages to employee monitoring?

While there are plenty of advantages to using employee monitoring software, there are also a few disadvantages to consider as you’re evaluating whether it makes sense for your organization.

  • A rise in stress levels– If employees are aware that they are being monitored, they will likely be more conscious as they work. This can result in an increase in stress levels, which can be counterproductive in the long run, if not dealt with in the right way.
  • Lowered morale– People who know that their actions are being monitored may have some ego issues. This is bound to result in lowered morale and a feeling of demotivation. If an employee monitoring system is to be effective, those being monitored must be handled in a diplomatic fashion.
  • Possible legal action– Although tracking employees isn’t illegal in the U.S. under federal laws, some states have separate laws governing the issue. And there have been several cases filed against companies by their employees in this regard. As such, it’s imperative that you’re aware of your legal standing regarding employee monitoring.
  • A feeling of compromised privacy– Having every movement of your workday monitored can be overbearing. An employee who knows they are being monitored may feel that their privacy is being compromised. What needs to be done here is to offer a bit of transparency to make ensure employees understand the limits of the monitoring that is being carried out.

 

Hubstaff

hubstaff logo

  • Overall rating: 5.0
  • Features: 4.0
  • Price: 4.8
  • Ease of use: 5.0
  • Customer service: 4.5

Hubstaff’s employee monitoring software offers a suite of features that puts it in a class all its own. For example, it can generate daily timesheets for each employee, regardless of whether they log into a workstation or work from a mobile device, which helps with both invoicing and payroll processing. GPS tracking is embedded in the program so that you can track employees who are road warriors or work from remote locations. Hubstaff also checks unauthorized access of devices by employees when they are in the office. What’s more, in-depth productivity reports based on employee activity provide detailed insight regarding employee efficiency so that you can quickly and easily identify issues before they become bigger problems.


 

Time Doctor

Time Doctor logo

  •  Overall rating: 4.7
  • Features: 3.5
  • Price: 4.0
  • Ease of use: 4.0
  • Customer service: 4.5

Time Doctor gives you the ability to accurately monitor and track your employees’ activity during their normal working hours. The software offers project-based data analysis, which facilitates transparency with clients, especially if you need to share employee activity in a project-wise manner. There is also a facility for client login at no extra cost. With Time Doctor, you’ll get detailed information on chat activity by employees, including the content of the chats themselves. A payroll system is an optional add-on, and it can be integrated with major platforms like Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Salesforce, and Freshdesk. A free 14-day trial is available, after which the software is chargeable at a nominal monthly amount.


 

LanScope Cat

LanScope Cat logo

  • Overall rating: 4.6
  • Features: 4.5
  • Price: 4.0
  • Ease of use: 5.0
  • Customer service: 4.0

LanScope Cat by Motex places a heavy focus on security. Most data breaches occur when employees and/or vendors remove data from the company premises, so the company’s philosophy is to prevent these types of leaks from happening in the first place. LanScope Cat manages and monitors IT assets, as well as employee activity and productivity, while simultaneously securing data on the web, devices, apps, and company workstations. The company’s three-step approach is to check the computers on the company network, put appropriate measures to mitigate risk and to track the source of a breach if one should ever occur.


 

DeskTime Pro

DeskTime Pro logo

  • Overall rating: 4.5
  • Features: 4.5
  • Price: 5.0
  • Ease of use: 4.5
  • Customer service: 3.8

DeskTime Pro is an employee monitoring platform that states by using their platform, you’ll become more organized and increase employee productivity by up to 30%. It can be used to automatically track time, as well as documents, and the built-in absence calendar makes leave tracking a breeze to handle. DeskTime Pro has a mobile app version as well, for sake of convenience, and screenshots are available in all versions. The private time option gives employees the ability to switch off monitoring if they need to do something personal so that it will not adversely affect their performance. The software integrates with Google calendars, as well as popular project management platforms like Basecamp and Asana.


 

Teramind

Teramind logo

  • Overall rating: 4.5
  • Features: 4.5
  • Price: 3.5
  • Ease of use: 4.5
  • Customer service: 4.0

Teramind includes functions like the ability to keep tabs on employee activity, as well as risk mitigation of malicious threats. The program is highly customizable, which means that you can modify the features in line with your user preferences. In simple words, if you create a set of rules, the software will work within the framework of those rules. For example, you can choose whether or not your employees should know that they are being monitored. Teramind integrates with other applications like McAfee, JIRA, NetIQ, Redmine, Radar Splunk, and LogRythm. It has a user-friendly dashboard and setting up is easy.


 

Work Examiner

Work Examiner logo

  • Overall rating: 4.2
  • Features: 5.0
  • Price: 4.0
  • Ease of use: 4.5
  • Customer service: 4.0

Work Examiner, which is a product of EfficientLab LLC, is currently used by over 1,500 companies worldwide. While the main feature with this platform is the accuracy at which you can track every keystroke of your employees, its most unique feature is that it monitors three distinct categories of activity. First, it focuses on, how individual users and groups use the web. Second, it provides screenshots to show in real-time what a user views. Finally, it tracks and records websites that users visit, what applications they use, and how they distribute their time between productive and non-productive activities. Because of how detailed monitoring is, Work Examiner can be programmed to allow employees more flexible policies for free time and flexible shifts.


 

Veriato Cerebral

Veriato Cerebral logo

  • Overall rating: 4.1
  • Features: 4.0
  • Price: 4.0
  • Ease of use: 4.0
  • Customer service: 5.0

Formerly known as Veriato 360, Veriato Cerebral is a comprehensive employee monitoring software that comes standard with complete screen capture and playback facilities, as well as keyword and file tracking. It’s extremely easy to use, has an equally-easy admin interface, and gives you the ability to customize how you receive your alerts and reports. One of the most unique features of Veriato Cerebral is that the company uses AI to take employee monitoring through five steps: Watching, Analyzing, Alerting, Seeing, and Reacting. The system then uses big data and AI to analyze and flag deviations. It also uses the same resources to detect attempts by hackers to access internal networks.


 

InterGuard

InterGuard logo

  • Overall rating: 4.0
  • Features: 5.0
  • Price: 4.5
  • Ease of use: 3.7
  • Customer service: 4.0

InterGuard is an employee monitoring program that goes one step further than most of its competitors: it actually records and blocks access upon receiving an alert of suspicious user activity. This platform has been designed to ensure both optimum productivity and compliance with data protection regulations. It can also be used to establish remote access to track down stolen hardware and block further access to the device. InterGuard tracks actual employee activity including idle time. It also provides data in a clear concise way for regulatory compliance and collects evidence for discrimination, sexual harassment, and wrongful termination cases. What’s more, cloud-based technology allows you to track employees who work from home.


 

VeriClock

VeriClock logo

  • Overall rating: 4.0
  • Features: 3.5
  • Price: 5.0
  • Ease of use: 5.0
  • Customer service: 4.0

VeriClock tracks time during employees’ login sessions in real-time and uses GPS geotagging to verify login locations. This is a convenient way to track employees who don’t work from a fixed location, like delivery drivers and onsite service providers.  When employees work remotely, they tend to round off their time to the nearest hour if they update their timesheet manually. VeriClock records actual time worked down to the last second. By recording time worked accurately, payroll calculations become extremely accurate, and you only need to pay for the actual work done. VeriClock is one of the most affordable options for businesses on a tight budget. It’s also easily configurable.


 

WorkPuls

WorkPuls logo

  • Overall rating: 4.0
  • Features: 4.5
  • Price: 5.0
  • Ease of use: 5.0
  • Customer service: 5.0

Workpuls is another employee monitoring software that tracks data usage and access levels, as well as employee attendance and productivity. All apps and websites that employee’s access can be tracked, monitored, and recorded, with random screenshots taken on an hourly basis. With Workpuls, you’ll be able to track each employee, including what they are doing, what’s on their screen, and if they are ‘working’ or ‘slacking.’  The time tracking feature gives you the ability to pull verified attendance reports of your staff, without having to rely on the inconsistencies associated with manual reporting, which makes it a perfect choice for small businesses. What’s more, a cloud-based version of WorkPuls is available, and the platform can track employees working at remote locations.


 

ActivTrack

ActivTrack logo

  • Overall rating: 3.8
  • Features: 4.5
  • Price: 5.0
  • Ease of use: 5.0
  • Customer service: 4.0

ActivTrack is the brainchild of Birch Grove Software. The paid version is quite affordable, and there is a free version as well, which makes it popular with small business owners. You can install it using the ‘stealth mode,’ which means your staff will never know that you are tracking their activities. With ActivTrack, you can import your company rules and regulations into the software and it will automatically trigger violations and breaches. You can also set up restricted access to select employees. ActivTrack is compatible with Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, and can help protect your company computer network from malicious threats. It can even be integrated with data sharing platforms like Slack, Basecamp, Zapier, and Jira.


 

StaffCop

StaffCop logo

  • Overall rating: 3.5
  • Features: 4.8
  • Price: 4.0
  • Ease of use: 3.4
  • Customer service: 3.5

StaffCop is an employee monitoring platform that tracks both Internet and PC activity on company workstations and comes standard with security options designed to prevent data breaches and other unauthorized activity. One unique – and popular – attribute to StaffCop is clipboard monitoring, which means that even if data is copied and not transferred, the event is still recorded.  You can then track the ultimate destination of the data later as well. What’s more, you can you monitor emails, Internet usage, chats, movement of files and folders, and even record screenshots for later use. Additional features include the ability to employee idle time, which can help you better optimize employee efficiency and productivity. A free version is available, and attractive discounts and bonuses are available with paid versions.