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Choosing an Employee Monitoring Software Solution
A Buyer's Guide

A Business News Daily Buyer's Guide

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Almost everyone has worked alongside someone who didn't take their responsibilities seriously. Whether they're checking social media and playing games on the clock or searching for inappropriate content on company-owned devices, there are always employees willing to use their computer privileges improperly.

As online work has grown, so, too, have remote workers and independent contractors, exacerbating the need for keeping tabs on employee device usage. As employee independence increases, employers need a way to ensure they are remaining honest and productive. That's where employee monitoring software comes in.

Employee monitoring software can track time, protect sensitive data and monitor individual employee productivity. It can help employers identify problematic usage, such as unauthorized web searches or software. It can even track every keystroke made by an employee and capture real-time footage of their screens. Best of all, problematic usage can be automatically identified through custom rules and policies, which administrators can set and edit at any time.

Whenever a violation occurs, administrators will be automatically alerted and provided with supporting documentation. Some employee monitoring software applications even allow your admins to take control of an employee's device if needed. Employee monitoring software is a comprehensive tool that gives control back to employers and restores accountability in the digital era.

If you're considering using employee monitoring software, there are a few things to understand first. This buyer's guide will help get you started and steer you toward some of the best employee monitoring software on the market today. 

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.

 

Employee monitoring software provides administrators with a set of tools and features that track and record employee behavior on the clock. This includes which websites employees access, what messages they send, which 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.

Employee monitoring software is typically sold 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 also be significantly higher depending on the company. However, it is rare to find a subscription plan for a single license,

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

The cost of employee monitoring software can vary significantly depending on the included features and the number of licenses you require. In our review, software ranged from as little as $20 per user per year to as much as $150 per user per year, though most fell between $40 and $60 per user annually.

You might also encounter setup fees with some companies, which can run as high as several hundred dollars. Be sure to 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 include additional tools for an extra cost, such as mobile licenses or geolocation tracking. Add-ons are useful but increase the total cost, so consider how they will impact your employee monitoring budget before buying.   

When choosing employee monitoring software, you'll want to understand which features are available and which ones you really need. A solution with all the features under the sun, for example, is typically going to cost more and have a steeper learning curve than one that offers fewer tools. You'll want to strike a balance between comprehensiveness and effectiveness as well as affordability if you're on a tight budget. On the other hand, if you want a wide-ranging solution that can do it all, more comprehensive software is for you. Some of the features to consider include:

  • Webpage monitoring: Webpage monitoring logs the websites a user is visiting, usually including 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. If a user consistently visits these flagged sites, it will become clear they are repeatedly accessing non-work-related or prohibited content on company time.
  • Application monitoring: Application monitoring works much the same way as webpage monitoring, except with software. If a user is gaming on company time, for example, or running programs that are not related to work, an admin can see 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: Live chat monitoring generally tracks live chat conversations across a number of platforms, including messengers and social media. Dated and timestamped conversations show where the chat took place, who was involved and the content of the chat.
  • Email monitoring: Email monitoring works similarly to live chat monitoring, except across major email platforms. Any attachments are typically recreated and can be viewed by administrators.
  • Removable device monitoring: Removable devices can be a serious concern when it comes to protecting sensitive company data. With many employee monitoring solutions, admins can review when 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. Dated and time-stamped logs appear along with a reference as to what application was used and the file or browser the keystrokes occurred within.
  • Screenshots: Many employee monitoring software solutions include periodic screenshots that give administrators a literal window into 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 software includes remote access to a user's webcam. Admins can switch on user webcams to see if the employee is at the device.
  • Reporting options: Each software solution handles reporting somewhat differently. The best software allows you to create custom reports that generate a simple visual based on your preferences. Some software applications create reports that compare employee activity and inactivity time to productive work and unproductive work.

You'll also want to consider the company's track record for tech support and customer service in case you ever run into an issue that requires their help. A responsive company is an extremely useful asset, especially for a small business without a dedicated IT department.

Most employee monitoring software vendors understand your employees might behave differently if they know monitoring software is installed on their computer. In order to get an accurate representation of how your employees behave when they believe no one is watching, employee monitoring software can typically be configured into stealth mode. In stealth mode, users aren't aware that software is actively tracking and storing their behavior and that it is subject to administrative review.

But what if you employ freelancers who use their own devices? Certainly, running stealth monitoring software is potentially problematic. For freelancers, employee monitoring software often comes with a mode that is visible to the user and only active when they clock in to track time for your project. The rest of the time it is off, meaning freelance users can freely utilize their device without fear of being watched, but you can still monitor their activity when they are accumulating compensation from you. Employers can also use this visible mode with full-time employees if they want their workers to know that their behavior is being tracked.

In short, it's usually up to you how you prefer to configure the software. If you want to hide it, you can install and run agents in stealth mode. If you want it to be visible, you typically have that option as well. However, it never hurts to double-check with the vendor that these features are indeed available.

Depending on how you implement employee monitoring software, you might be taking on additional data privacy obligations. As data privacy laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) become more popular, 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 like HIPAA. Understanding the legal and ethical risks of utilizing employee monitoring software is essential. It's wise to consult with an attorney about the implications of collecting potentially sensitive employee data as part of any employee monitoring policy.

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.

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam C. Uzialko, a New Jersey native, graduated from Rutgers University in 2014 with a degree in political science and journalism and media studies. He reviews healthcare information technology, call centers, document management software and employee monitoring software. In addition to his full-time position at Business News Daily and Business.com, Adam freelances for several outlets. An indispensable ally of the feline race, Adam is owned by four lovely cats.