Even before the pandemic, employee monitoring has been on an upward trend. However, when lockdowns necessitated remote work, the practice became widespread. According to a 2021 Top10VPN survey, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a 54% increase in the demand for employee monitoring software.
Despite being widely popular, tracking workers is still frowned upon by many. A lot of people are still suspicious of programs that monitor their activities. So, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to ensure that you keep things legal and ethical while tracking worker performance.
What Is Employee Monitoring
Companies practice employee monitoring by using digital tools for tracking worker performance, progress, and activities. There are different methods available for assessing workplace behavior, ensuring security, logging billable time, and checking attendance.
Employers use staff monitoring apps to:
- Manage workforce – Programs can be used to analyze workforce performance trends. Tracking behavior and productivity provides valuable data for making informed business decisions.
- Boost productivity – Employee monitoring apps identify common time wasters, allowing managers to optimize productivity.
- Manage bandwidth – Some companies also use network monitoring software to identify users who are using a lot of bandwidth.
- Prevent data loss – If workers have access to sensitive files, the company can use technology to monitor how they use these documents to prevent insider threats and data breaches.
- Avoid legal liabilities – Employers can easily spot work habits and behaviors that may land the company some lawsuits.
- Track business resources – According to a 1E survey, U.S. and U.K. companies waste about $34 billion annually on underutilized software. By tracking workers, employers can determine if they are spending unnecessarily on software licenses.
Types of Employee Monitoring
The advancements in technology also created more options for employee tracking. Over a decade ago, worker supervision could only be done locally in the office. However, times have changed.
Here are some of the types of worker surveillance:
Employee Monitoring Software
Employee monitoring software is the most common tool for keeping track of remote and on-site teams. Time trackers and productivity programs are widely used these days to log billable hours. These apps also help managers determine if people are truly working or are just wasting time. Monitoring employees can cover:
App and Web Usage
A Salary.com survey revealed that during work hours, 62% of women and 69% of men surf the web for personal reasons. So, it’s important for companies to know the URLs that people visit while they’re on billable time.
Let’s say an employee has a habit of responding late to important messages. As a manager, you can check the websites they visited to know if they’re wasting time on shopping sites or social media networks.
Additionally, collecting data on app usage can also be helpful in determining if workers are spending too much time on a task. If they’re dwelling on a certain program for too long, it may mean that they’re struggling with their work.
The premise of the Hawthorne effect claims that when a person knows they’re being observed, they tend to become more productive. Before the pandemic, managers were hesitant to allow remote work because they feared that employees wouldn’t be as efficient.
It’s only natural for supervisors to want to see work in progress. Thankfully, companies can now use an employee tracking system to take screenshots or video recordings of a person’s desktop.
Aside from work monitoring, employee surveillance tools also provide clock-in and clock-out features. With a few clicks, workers can log their billable time. They also have control over when the timer should start and stop.
Managers, on the other hand, can view the reports to see how long employees have been working for the day, week, or month. With enough time tracking data, they can forecast budgets more efficiently.
In almost every workplace, you will find CCTV cameras. Many companies use this surveillance technology to ensure discipline and prevent bad behavior in the office. However, it doesn’t help managers identify if people are productive or not.
Remember to review the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974 to know the restrictions in collecting information via CCTV cameras. Also, surveillance can only be legally done in common work areas and not in private spaces.
Some companies also use keyloggers to record what their employees are typing on their keyboards. It’s supposed to monitor employee performance, prevent data leaks, and investigate unlawful behavior. However, this technology has been notorious for being a tool used by cybercriminals.
Modern employee monitoring apps like Traqq don’t contain keyloggers. While the practice can be considered legal, it is not always ethical. It can raise privacy concerns among your workers, which may lower morale. Naturally, productivity will also be affected.
According to a Global Newswire report, the global GPS tracking device market is expected to reach around $2.4 billion by 2025. Tracking employee location is common for companies with workers on the road. It allows employers to ensure the safety of their employees. They can even get historical data for the routes taken between delivery and customer sites.
Usually, contractors use GPS tracking to know their crew’s whereabouts. It allows them to know if their field-service employees are working on-site and on schedule.
Email and Network Monitoring
Network and email monitoring are a bit more complex than using a time tracking tool. Here’s why:
Work emails should only be used for professional purposes. Usually, IT administrators have complete control over an employee’s email inbox. This is also the reason why people are discouraged from sending personal messages through their work emails.
Companies also analyze outgoing and incoming traffic through the office network. This practice involves monitoring workstation infection, malicious programs, and unusual internet activities. It offers a more comprehensive and detailed approach to checking web usage.
Wearable Fitness Devices
Heart rate monitors and smart watches also help organizations track the overall wellbeing of employees. According to a study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the overall wellbeing of workers can affect their productivity. As such, many companies have invested in wearable fitness devices to encourage their employees to be healthy.
For instance, BP, a British oil and gas company, provided 25,000 fitness watches to its workers. Its goal was to improve its employees’ wellbeing and cut down healthcare costs. Meanwhile, Hitachi used a badge-like staff monitoring tool that tracked worker happiness. The company used the data to know which teams were most engaged and satisfied.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using an Employee Tracking System?
There are evident benefits to staff monitoring, but it’s only natural for some companies to remain hesitant to use it. However, curbing the downsides of the practice depends on how an organization handles and deploys the system.
The Pros of Employee Monitoring
Collects Engagement Data
According to Gallup’s 2020 Engagement survey, 70% of U.S. employees are disengaged to some extent. Unfortunately, this problem also means that workers do not care about the goals and success of a company. Consequently, the issue costs organizations $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity annually.
Now, by tracking workers, companies get insights into behavior analytics. Performance data will reveal the employees who are actively disengaged or at risk of heading that direction.
There are various ways to know this. Let’s take Traqq as an example. It shows you the top ten websites and apps that a person uses. If you notice that they’re spending too much time on unproductive sites and programs, then you know that they’re disengaged.
A survey published on Statista revealed that 61.6% of remote workers access social media sites during office hours. It’s only natural for employees to get distracted from time to time and engage in cyberloafing. However, if left unattended, internet abuse can bring significant losses to a company.
A quick watch on YouTube may be harmless, but what if people visit pornographic or malware-ridden sites? If companies fail to monitor and address this behavior, organizational performance may weaken.
Of course, policies on internet use can be useful in preventing these kinds of issues. However, it’s easier to detect such activities with employee monitoring software.
A study presented at the American Society of Businesses and Behavioral Sciences revealed that for large organizations, employee monitoring apps are effective in discouraging inappropriate internet use.
According to a Monster.com survey, 90% of employees have experienced bullying in the workplace. It’s also worth noting that 51% of respondents reported getting harassed by their manager. As such, it’s important to monitor company communications to prevent this type of abuse.
Micromanaging is one of the common reasons why employee morale plummets. However, when companies invest in an efficient employee tracking system, helicopter management becomes unnecessary.
A comprehensive time tracker allows you to get insights into individual and team productivity. Because there’s transparency in the workplace, managers won’t have that nagging feeling that they need to know what an employee’s doing every minute.
Staff monitoring apps with GPS tracking improve security by bringing visibility to your field and mobile teams. This feature is crucial, especially since the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are around 5,000 worker fatalities every year.
Tracking employee locations can be useful in finding employees during emergencies. What’s more, it will alert headquarters to deploy backup to remote job sites whenever necessary. These days, GPS tracking technology can be integrated with toxic substance detection. Such a feature can prevent field workers from getting exposed to hazardous chemicals for extended periods.
According to an Accenture study, data breaches increased by 67% between 2014 and 2019. Indeed, cybersecurity should always be among the biggest concern for companies.
Larger enterprises are especially vulnerable to such threats. After all, Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report revealed that 85% of these breaches involved a human factor.
By tracking workers and observing their activities, managers will get insights into risky behaviors that may result in data breaches. Now, in case of a legal issue or cyberattack, the monitoring logs will serve as the “black box” for a company.
The Cons of Employee Monitoring
Several studies have provided evidence on how employee monitoring software boosts productivity. However, adequate research on its adverse effects is also available. According to a paper published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Research, some workers consider the practice an invasion of their privacy. They believe that monitoring in the workplace can diminish their motivation and morale.
Depending on how invasive an employee tracking system is, the feeling of being watched can add more stress to a person. This problem is especially true when a monitoring software is deployed without proper explanation.
Increases Legal Risks
Companies should review state laws before implementing any employee tracking system. In most industries, it is completely legal to monitor workers. However, in states like Delaware, some laws require companies to obtain consent from employees before deploying any tracking system.
Another example would be New York. Employers can only record phone calls if there is consent from at least one party. Meanwhile, in California, a company can only intercept communications between an employee and a third party if it has obtained consent from both parties.
Businesses should also review the Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA). Now, for companies within the European Union, the guidelines provided in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) must be followed. In any case, your best bet is to obtain consent from workers before deploying any type of employee tracking system.
Raises Privacy Concerns
An ExpressVPN survey revealed that 59% of employees are concerned about monitoring systems. Meanwhile, 43% of the respondents believe that the practice is a violation of trust. Almost half (48%) of the employees are willing to get a pay cut just to keep their privacy.
As such, it’s crucial to reassure workers that their privacy will be protected. Take Traqq as an example. This tool was designed to monitor performance and not to spy. Companies can use this app to dissect productivity data—nothing more. It won’t collect personal information and sensitive data like social security numbers, passwords, and private messages.
Is it Legal to Monitor Employees?
There are legal considerations in employee monitoring, but in general, the practice won’t land you any lawsuits. As long as a worker is using a company-issued device, it’s completely legal to perform surveillance on their activities. After all, the ECPA permits employers to monitor systems within their business properties.
Employers have the right to monitor files, documents, app usage, and web access on a company device. So, if an employee decides to bring a work laptop home and use it for personal matters, their activities can still be audited legally.
However, it’s worth noting that some states have taken extra steps in protecting the privacy of workers. As we’ve mentioned, Delaware and Connecticut require employers to ask for consent from their workforce before deploying a monitoring system. So, it’s best to consult a legal team to know the state-specific laws that your business has to comply with.
Now, the regulations on work monitoring are slightly different in the European Union nations. Companies must be upfront when deploying any employee surveillance system. What’s more, they must clearly explain how and why data will be collected. Finally, the employer must obtain consent from everyone involved. Just to be safe, you should check the laws in your country.
Is it Ethical to Monitor Employees?
Keep in mind that just because you are legally permitted to do something, it doesn’t automatically mean that what you’re doing is also ethical. Here are some of the ways work monitoring can be unethical and damaging to morale:
If your state does not require you to inform employees about monitoring, then you can deploy the system without telling people. However, we don’t recommend doing this.
It’s easier to avoid legal troubles when you obtain consent from your employees. What’s more, you’re building a culture of honesty and trust in the workplace when you remain transparent about policies.
You’re using employee monitoring software correctly if you’re only collecting productivity and performance data. However, if you’re doing it to primarily spy on your workers, then it can be harmful and counterproductive.
Data Collection Beyond Work Hours
If you’re trying to incriminate someone by monitoring their activities outside office hours, then the practice can be considered unethical. You can legally audit what a worker does on company-issued devices, but it doesn’t mean it’s morally acceptable to look into what they do during personal time.
Choose a Time Tracker that Promotes Legal and Ethical Monitoring
If you want an easier way to ensure ethical employee monitoring, choose Traqq. Indeed, this time tracking app takes random screenshots and video recordings. However, the program intentionally reduces the quality of the captured images to prevent sensitive information from becoming legible.
So, managers won’t be able to read private messages or collect passwords and other personal data. However, they’ll still get a good idea of what a person is doing at a given time.
Another great feature of Traqq is its flexibility. It gives users the freedom to choose when their activities will be monitored and recorded. For instance, if they want to do some online shopping, they can stop the tracker. Traqq will not log the time they spend doing personal activities.
How to Select the Best Employee Monitoring System
You need to perform due diligence when choosing employee monitoring software for your team. It’s best that you ask for a demo or a trial of the app to assess if it fits your business needs. Doing so will also reveal if the tool comes with a steep learning curve.
Here’s what you have to do:
Step 1: Determine Your Budget
Remember that you’re investing your business’ money when paying for employee monitoring software. So, the first thing you need to do is determine how much your company can afford.
It’s a no-brainer for larger enterprises to maintain a proper budget. However, for smaller businesses and startups, it can be challenging to judge what makes a sound investment. So, you must carefully consider the pros and cons before choosing a time tracking app.
Step 2: Identify the Features You Need
Most employee monitoring apps log work hours. However, some of them offer more functionalities. As such, you need to decide which features are important for your operational needs. You’ll need to ask the following questions:
- Does this track the apps that employees use and the websites they visit?
- Can this be an efficient solution for remote and in-office workers?
- Does this take random screenshots?
- Will timesheets need approval?
- Can time logs be edited manually?
- Is this app scalable?
Step 3: Consider Your Team’s Needs
Of course, you need to consider what type of team you’re managing. Here are some factors to consider:
- Team location – If you’re managing a remote team, screenshots and activity level monitoring will be crucial. However, if employees are working in-office, these features won’t be as critical.
- Nature of work – If you are running a team that regularly travels to meet clients or moves from one job site to another, an integrated GPS tracking system could be useful.
- Payment scheme – If you’re paying by the hour or by project, your time tracker should have customization options. This feature will make invoices and timesheets easier to process.
Step 4: Perform Research on the Best Time Tracking Software
Once you’ve determined the features that you need, you can look for the best options available. Ask yourself the following:
- Is it easy to install and use?
- Does it provide monitoring data for improving performance?
- Are the pricing plans cost-effective?
Top 5 Employee Monitoring Software
If you don’t want to harm morale while monitoring employees, your best bet is to choose Traqq. As we’ve mentioned, this time tracker gives workers the freedom to choose when their activities will be recorded. Users can even delete the screenshots along with the recorded time. So, they can ensure that their privacy will not be violated.
Another great thing about the Traqq time tracking app is it provides comprehensive productivity reports. Aside from reporting web and app usage, it also monitors activity levels. While it measures engagement through mouse clicks and keyboard movements, it remains ethical by not recording anything that the user types. Employees are fully aware of what the tool monitors and are free to decide when to start or stop the tracker.
- Random and automated screenshots and 10-second video recordings
- Manual time entries
- Smart alerts and notifications
- App and URL monitoring
- Activity levels tracking
- Comprehensive and customizable productivity reports
- Premium Starter – $0 for up to three users (comes with all Premium features)
- Premium Teams – $6 per user, per month
- Enterprise – Contact the sales team to get a customized plan for teams of over 100 people
What Users Have to Say:
“What I like most is the very detailed information activity reported in this app. I like that even during idle time, the screens were captured which gives a reason why the user is idle and it blurs the screen of users to protect their privacy. I like the report feature as it is very convenient for the users to extract.”
“Exporting screenshots isn’t available with the report, so when I send my employer my hours, he can’t see what I have done.”
When it comes to productivity management, Hubstaff is one of the best employee monitoring tools out there. This app has non-invasive features that allow managers to track user activity and time. It also provides performance data that can help improve overall productivity.
Hubstaff maintains an emphasis on employee privacy while logging time and monitoring productivity. It measures activity levels by tracking keyboard and mouse movements. Even so, it does not record the exact information that a user types.
- Web browsers
- Integration with third-party apps
- GPS location tracking and geofencing
- App and URL monitoring
- Automatic online timesheets
- Desk Free – 1 user (limited features)
- Desk Starter – $7 per user, per month (one integration)
- Desk Pro – $10 per user, per month (unlimited integrations)
- Enterprise – Contact the sales team for custom pricing
What Users Have to Say:
“Hubstaff is very convenient to use and very detailed as screenshots from what the workers were doing are available but they aren’t readily available in real-time. The interface is user-friendly. The percentage of work and movement is there, so you kind of have the idea if the worker is idle or not.”
“It’s terrible being monitored by mouse and keyboard usage for 8+ hours a day. Your productivity isn’t measured by those metrics.”
If you want to stay transparent while tracking workers, then ActivTrak is a great option for you. Aside from providing data on how many hours people work, the app also shows you how engaged they were. It generates reports that compare productive and unproductive behavior.
ActivTrak also monitors idle time while tracking website and app usage. You can keep employees focused on work by blocking specific applications and sites. What’s more, ActivTrak comes with extra security features like USB activity tracking, risk reporting, and trail auditing.
- Web browsers
- Alerts for suspicious user behavior
- App and URL monitoring
- Remote termination of programs
- Free – $0 for up to three users
- Advanced – $9 per user, per month
- Premium – $15 per user, per month
- Enterprise – contact the sales team for custom pricing
What Users Have to Say:
“What I liked most about it is the ease of deployment and the stealth of the service, it is almost undetectable which makes it the perfect tool for the consulting services we offer as a company.”
“The interface can be a bit of a maze. Multiple ways of getting to the same page and at the same time sometimes hard to get back to where you were before.”
4. Time Doctor
You can expect detailed and accurate monitoring of work hours with Time Doctor. If you’re a freelancer, this app will help you establish a transparent relationship with your clients. You can offer your customers access to reports and screenshots to give a guarantee that they’re paying for productive work.
Now, if you’re managing a team, you can use Time Doctor to get insights into productivity. You will see how much time people spend on applications and websites. The app also takes screenshots regularly to let you know what employees are doing at a given time.
- Web browsers
- Customizable monitoring features
- Payroll and invoice processing directly within the app
- Comprehensive time tracking and productivity reports
- Basic – $7 per user, per month
- Standard – $10 per user, per month
- Premium – $20 per user, per month
What Users Have to Say:
“It has helped me track my time spent on various projects that I do on a daily basis. I manage my workflow and pace by keeping an eye on Time Doctor and also get proof of my work hours to demand payment. I’m on the Desktop application most of the time but I do use a mobile application that helps me track the time when I’m traveling and working.”
“The breaktime monitor is a bit irritating. When you’re busy in a thought process and staring on your screen but you have not moved your mouse or touched the keyboard, Time Doctor will assume that you’ve gone for a break.”
We understand that for some companies, monitoring everything that happens within their network is critical. That’s where Kickidler’s keylogging comes in. It allows managers to record everything that happens on an employee’s computer.
What’s more, Kickidler monitors productivity as soon as they log in. So, you’ll get insights on who aren’t focused on their work and those who are engaged. You can use the data to reward, motivate, or help employees.
- Remote PC access for managers
- Employee violations monitoring
- Screen video recording
- Per 3 Years – $3.67 per month
- Per 1 Year – $5.5 per month
- Per 6 Months – $6.67 per month
- Per 3 Months – $8.33 per month
- Per Month – $9.99 per month
- Offline Version – price available upon request
The pricing plans cover 1 to 50 PCs. Discounts are available for licenses for 50 computers.
What Users Have to Say:
“The productivity it is giving our employees is worth it. It also helps us to identify unauthorized access to our company’s data, which helps us to secure our company’s data”
“Lack of a mobile application (IOS, Android). Sometimes, when you are on a business trip, you need to know what your employees are doing.”
|Time Tracker||*Overall Rating||Free Users||Upgrade Cost|
|Traqq||5||3 (with access to all Premium featutes)||$6 per user, per month|
|Hubstaff||4.6||1||$7 per user, per month|
|ActivTrak||4.6||3||$9 per user, per month|
|Time Doctor||4.5||None||$7 per user, per month|
|Kickidler||4.7||None||$3.67 per user per month|
*Overall ratings were taken from Capterra reviews.
Employee Monitoring FAQs
Q: How can I monitor employees’ performance?
There are various ways to monitor worker productivity:
- If you’re in the same location, you can observe how they work and meet requirements.
- Check in regularly to review work in progress.
- Have one-on-one check-in sessions.
- Use an employee monitoring tool to automatically collect productivity data without micromanaging employees.
Q: Is it legal to monitor employees?
In the U.S., it is completely legal to monitor employee activity on company-issued devices. However, there are privacy protection guidelines that companies must follow, depending on the state laws that cover them.
Q: Do I need to inform employees that their devices are being monitored?
Generally, employers do not have to inform workers that they are being monitored on their devices. However, certain U.S. states require companies to obtain consent before conducting employee surveillance. In any case, the ethical and safe practice is to let people know that their activities will be monitored during work hours.
Employee monitoring can be a double-edged sword. While the practice is generally legal, it can only be as ethical as the intentions behind it. The topics we covered should guide you in responsibly using a time tracking and productivity monitoring program in your company.