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Updated Nov 08, 2023

Choosing an Employee Monitoring Software Solution: A Buyer’s Guide

When used appropriately, employee monitoring software provides valuable insight into how your employees are spending their time when they're on the clock.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
Verified Check With BorderEditor Reviewed
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Editor Reviewed
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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As online work has grown, so has the number of remote workers. This means many companies have an increased need to monitor how employees are spending their time on company devices. Employee monitoring software offers the tools to do so, allowing companies to analyze employee productivity, ensure network security and more. This buyer’s guide will steer you toward some of the best employee monitoring software

What is employee monitoring software?

Employee monitoring software provides employers with detailed information about how employees are spending their time, including what programs they are using and how much of their time they are spending on work-related projects and tasks. Employee monitoring software tracks and records employees’ behavior when they are on the clock, including the websites employees access, the messages they send, the programs they use and the files they open. The purpose of employee monitoring is twofold: to ensure company policies and rules are not violated and to guarantee employee productivity and accountability.

Editor’s note: Looking for information on employee monitoring software? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need.

Types of employee monitoring

Employee monitoring largely involves a software application that is installed on select company computers. However, there are other types of employee monitoring:

  • Key cards: With GPS-enabled key cards, you can track your employees’ locations throughout your facility to understand how they use their time.
  • Video: Just as some people install video cameras outside their homes to monitor their property, you may want to install video surveillance in your workplace to see your team’s activities.
  • Email: Email monitoring applications can protect your business from phishing attempts by monitoring employees’ email inboxes and weeding out malicious emails.
  • Phone: You may want to monitor your work phones to ensure that they are used only for work matters or to prevent unnecessary calls from reaching your employees.
  • Keylogging: Keylogging involves recording each word an employee types on a company computer keyboard or device (in all programs) for a complete record of a user’s written communication. 

What are the benefits of employee monitoring software?

Companies can use employee monitoring software to perform the following tasks:

  • Track time: Employee monitoring software can identify gaps in time usage that help you pinpoint the employees who are engaged and productive and those who are hurting your team’s productivity and efficiency — and thus your company’s bottom line.
  • Identify problematic usage: For example, if your employee handbook prohibits social media use during work hours, employee monitoring software can tell you whether your team is violating this policy. While you may not want to micromanage employees who break this rule occasionally, you may need to discipline employees whose social media use interferes with their work responsibilities. Additionally, many employees work with sensitive company data. Because employee monitoring software tracks all employee behavior, you’ll quickly know if employees are saving confidential company information to personal devices or abusing their position in other ways.
  • Know when violations occur: Whenever a violation of your company policies occurs, administrators are automatically alerted and provided with supporting documentation. Then, you can act on this information, store it for later use (for example, if your employee continues to violate your policies) or disregard it.
  • Control devices: Some employee monitoring software applications allow admins to take control of an employee’s device if needed. You may find this feature useful if, after repeated conversations with the employee, you find that they continue to violate company policies. However, this situation may merit firing rather than discipline.
Key TakeawayKey takeaway
With employee monitoring software, businesses can track how much time employees spend on work, identify problematic usage and, if necessary, limit an employee's access to company devices.

How much does employee monitoring software cost?

The cost of employee monitoring software can vary significantly depending on the included features and the number of licenses you need. In our analysis of employee monitoring software, we found that the cost of these programs ranges from $20 to $150 per user per year, though most fall between $40 and $80 per user annually.

Employee monitoring software is typically based on a per-user, per-month pricing model, although sometimes these prices are expressed in terms of annual subscriptions. Many require a minimum number of users — or employees being monitored — which is typically five but can sometimes be significantly higher. However, it is rare to find a subscription plan for a single license.

Employee monitoring software is generally either an on-premises solution or cloud-based software. On-premises solutions typically cost more upfront and require an IT team to maintain a server, but they grant companies more control over the data collected. A cloud-based solution costs less initially and removes the maintenance burden associated with on-premises solutions. However, with cloud-based software, you must entrust a third party with the management and security of your data.

Some companies also charge setup fees, which can be several hundred dollars. Ask for a pricing breakdown that includes all fees and any contractual requirements, such as cancellation fees or software update subscription fees.

Finally, some employee monitoring software packages offer additional tools, such as mobile licenses or geolocation tracking, for an extra cost. Add-ons are useful, but they increase the total cost. So before you buy these features, consider how they will affect your employee monitoring budget.

Employee monitoring is offered as a cloud-hosted or on-premises solution. Costs typically average between $40 and $80 per user per year. For an affordable and effective employee monitoring software platform, read our SentryPC review.

How to choose employee monitoring software

The first step in selecting employee monitoring software is to understand each platform’s features. Also consider each platform’s ease of use and efficacy, which you should be able to determine from a software demo or trial.

Additionally, knowing all of the costs and evaluating the company’s customer service levels will help you make your final decision. For smaller companies without a dedicated IT team, working with a highly responsive company can be a game changer.

Employee monitoring software features

You may want your employee monitoring software to include these features:

  • Webpage monitoring: Webpage monitoring logs the websites an employee visits. It usually includes the date and time the webpage was accessed. You can often set up banned or potentially problematic websites and website categories. The best employee monitoring software flags these instances and alerts the administrator when these sites are accessed.
  • Application monitoring: Application monitoring works in much the same way as webpage monitoring, except with software. For example, if a user is gaming on company time or running programs that are not related to work, an admin sees the dates and times the programs were accessed and for how long. Some software also provides screenshots or recordings of such activity.
  • Live chat monitoring: This type of monitoring generally tracks live chat conversations across several platforms, including messengers and social media. Dated and time-stamped conversations show the location of the chat, the people involved and the content of the chat.
  • Email monitoring: Email monitoring works similarly to live chat monitoring, except it works across major email platforms. Any attachments are typically recreated and can be viewed by administrators.
  • Removable device monitoring: Removable devices, such as flash drives, can present serious risks to sensitive company data. With many employee monitoring solutions, admins can see if removable devices were attached to company assets and what files were downloaded and/or uploaded.
  • Keystroke logging: Keystroke logging tracks every key a user hits during a session across every program. The software shows dated and time-stamped logs, along with what application was used and the file or browser in which the keystrokes occurred.
  • Screenshots: Many employee monitoring software solutions include periodic screenshots so admins can see employee activity at a given time. Some even record video snippets so administrators can review exactly what a user was doing at any point.
  • Webcam access: Some employee monitoring solutions remotely access a user’s webcam. Admins can switch on user webcams to see if the employee is at their computer.
  • Reporting options: Each software solution reports on employee activity differently. The best software allows you to create custom reports that generate a simple visual based on your preferences. Some reports compare employee activity and inactivity time to productive work and unproductive work. [For employee monitoring software with great reporting capabilities, check out our ActivTrak review.]
  • License tracking: Some employee monitoring platforms allow you to assess the extent to which your licensed software programs are being used. You can use this information to decide whether the money you are spending on certain software licenses is worth the investment.
  • Hardware blocking: If you have any reason to prevent employees from accessing certain hardware tools, you can implement this barrier through your employee monitoring software.

Will my employees know they’re being watched?

Most employee monitoring software vendors understand that employees behave differently when they know they are being monitored. Employee monitoring software can typically be set to stealth mode, in which users aren’t aware that software is actively tracking and storing their behavior.

What if you employ freelancers who use their own devices? Some programs come with a mode that is visible to the user and is active only when they clock in to track time for your project. The rest of the time, it is turned off, meaning freelance users can use their device without fear of being watched but you can still monitor their activity when they are on the clock for your company. Employers can also use this visible mode with full-time employees if they want their workers to know that their behavior is being tracked.

Did You Know?Did you know
Most employee monitoring solutions offer stealth mode, which covertly runs the software. There is also a mode for freelance workers that tracks their time when they are on the clock. This mode is visible to freelancers and can be turned off when they are not working on company tasks.

What are the data privacy obligations for employee monitoring software?

As data privacy laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act become more common, the risks associated with mishandling sensitive user information increase as well.

The same could be true for employee data, the disclosure of which could run afoul of federal privacy laws such as HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Employers must understand and weigh the legal and ethical risks of utilizing employee monitoring software. It’s wise to consult with an attorney about the implications of collecting potentially sensitive employee data as part of any employee monitoring policy.

FYIDid you know
If you use employee monitoring software, make sure the data you collect does not violate any laws, such as HIPAA. Consult with an attorney to ensure you are properly collecting and handling data.

Making a final decision on employee monitoring software

While there are many considerations when you’re deciding on an employee monitoring platform, this software may benefit your business by increasing productivity. By understanding the features that each platform offers and what your company needs most to thrive, you can select the employee monitoring software that helps your business grow and improves your bottom line. 

Diana Brandon and Max Freedman contributed to this article.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
Adam Uzialko, senior editor of Business News Daily, is not just a professional writer and editor — he’s also an entrepreneur who knows firsthand what it’s like building a business from scratch. His experience as co-founder and managing editor of a digital marketing company imbues his work at Business News Daily with a perspective grounded in the realities of running a small business. Since 2015, Adam has reviewed hundreds of small business products and services, including contact center solutions, email marketing software and text message marketing software. Adam uses the products, interviews users and talks directly to the companies that make the products and services he covers. He specializes in digital marketing topics, with a focus on content marketing, editorial strategy and managing a team.
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