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ActivTrak Review

Best Free Employee Monitoring Software

A Business News Daily Review

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After conducting extensive analysis and research, we recommend ActivTrak as our pick for the best free employee monitoring software. To understand how we selected our best picks, you can find our methodology and a list of other employee monitoring software providers on our best picks page.

Free software can sometimes be a toss-up. The adage "you get what you pay for" comes to mind. In the case of employee monitoring software, you might find that free software is hardly effective or, worse yet, is actually a computer virus in disguise. However, for very small businesses or those just trying out employee monitoring software for the first time, free software is a desirable option – if it's reliable and effective.

ActivTrak is an employee monitoring software with both a free and paid version. It is always free for monitoring up to three users and includes some of the core employee monitoring features we looked for in our review. In addition to maintaining the tools needed to effectively keep tabs on employee productivity, ActivTrak is extremely easy to install, set up and use. And a thorough reporting section grants keen insights into user activity and productivity across your team.

For companies that scale up or decide they would like to use more advanced features, ActivTrak also offers an inexpensive paid version that builds on the free edition, making it easy to upgrade.

In addition to its free version, ActivTrak offers an advanced plan and several add-ons to clients that opt for an annual contract. If none of these plans suit your needs, though, ActivTrak can create a custom plan and quote based on your requirements. Here's a look at the standard plans and what each offers.

  • Free: TheActivTrak free plan includes employee monitoring features for viewing user activity and gauging overall productivity. It is available at no charge, forever, for up to three users. ActivTrak works across Windows and Mac platforms, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices. The free version comes with 3GB of storage space and a central dashboard that displays an overview of captured data, website blocking, real-time reporting, screenshots, and scheduled monitoring.
  • Advanced: ActivTrak Advanced builds on the free version and monitors more than three users. It includes unlimited storage space. It also offers more advanced employee monitoring functions, such as USB device detection, file transfer monitoring, behavioral risk analysis, unlimited screenshots and a remote agent installer.
  • Add-ons: ActivTrack also offers add-on features for annual contracts. These include useful tools such as video playback of user activity, screenshot flagging and screenshot redaction. You can also purchase access to the raw data captured by the software for 20% of your subscription cost.

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.

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ActivTrak is primarily focused on gauging productivity and ensuring users are on task. However, the software also includes tools to ensure that employees aren't engaged in prohibited or risky behaviors. The free version of ActivTrak is relatively limited, but it still offers you an arsenal of tools to keep close tabs on user activity.

  • User activity monitoring feed: The user activity feed provides a real-time window into user activity as it occurs. You can watch as new updates appear when users access websites or applications, or engage in other activities. The activity monitoring feed provides a quick overview of all the activity going on across your team, and if the feed shows suspect behavior, you can easily isolate the questionable user and examine their usage more closely.
  • Productivity monitor: When configuring the software, you can select websites or applications that you deem "unproductive." As usage is monitored, more undefined websites and applications will be added to the list for you to manually sort. These settings are used to gauge the productivity of individual employees and of your team as a whole. Using the productivity monitor you can quickly tell who spends most of their time on task and who is otherwise engaged while on the clock.
  • Applications: ActivTrak includes the standard application monitoring feature, which keeps tabs on which software apps users are accessing, when and for how long. On the dashboard, the most frequently accessed applications appear in a pie chart, showing just how much time your team or a given user spends with certain applications.
  • Web content filter: If tagging a website "unproductive" simply isn't enough, ActivTrak allows you to block access to specific types of web content altogether. This can be useful for preventing employees from navigating to any particularly problematic content, such as anything related to drugs, pornography or gambling.
  • Screenshots: When you catch an employee doing something they are not supposed to, you can easily snap a screenshot to save as evidence. With the free version of ActivTrak, you can only snap one screenshot per activity, meaning you will have to wait until you open a new window or look into a different user to take another screenshot. The paid version offers unlimited screenshots and allows you to set up triggers so that the software will automatically capture an image of an employee's screen when certain behavior is detected.

ActivTrak is incredibly easy to use, from installation to daily tasks. Its user interface is streamlined and uncluttered, making it easy to navigate even for first-timers. Everything is neatly organized under well-labeled tabs, so you never have to go hunting for what you need.

To begin using ActivTrak, install the software and download agents onto the devices you wish to monitor. The agents run in stealth mode, so employees will not be aware that monitoring software has been installed on their device. Once installed, the agent will begin feeding data back to the central dashboard, where admins can monitor it in real time.

The central dashboard provides an overview of organizational activity. Unlike other employee monitoring software in our review, this dashboard is not customizable. It displays the productivity gauge, real-time user activity monitoring feed, top applications accessed by users and the top websites visited. A series of icons appear on the left side of the screen, and when you scroll over these icons, they expand to display the category name. These include reports, screenshots, real-time activity, blocked content, alerts and settings.

In the Settings tab, you can select what activities are designated as "productive" and "unproductive." A list of undefined websites and applications will also appear based on employee usage, allowing you to sort them as you please. The blocked tab allows you to restrict access to types of web content altogether. Alerts can be tailored to let employees know they are violating policies (for example, if they've been surfing social media for an hour) or to trigger automatic actions like a taking a screenshot when an unproductive application is launched.

It doesn't take very long to become comfortable with ActivTrak's intuitive interface. With just a half hour of clicking around, you should begin to feel right at home. This ease of use means you can get up and running quickly without much learning curve. 

ActivTrak offers several customer support options. There is 24/7 email support, including a tech support team that responds to email requests for assistance. ActivTrak also offers a customer support phone line and dedicated billing support team. If you purchase the Advanced plan, you'll be assigned a dedicated account manager as your point of contact with the company to help you resolve any issues you might encounter. In addition to the customer support and tech support teams, ActivTrak offers a series of online resources, including FAQs, how to videos, case studies and more.

ActivTrak's free version only supports up to three users, so if you're looking to scale up you will have to upgrade to the paid version. Luckily, the Advanced plan is competitively priced at $7.20 per user per month. The other key limitation we noticed was that keystroke logging is completely absent from both ActivTrak plans. Keystroke logging is useful for tracking what users type across browsers and applications. While ActivTrak does not monitor precise keystrokes, it does track mouse and keyboard activity to gauge user productivity.

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.

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Ready to choose an employee monitoring software solution? Check out the rest of our coverage:

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.