Employee monitoring, which was previously unpopular in most businesses, has risen in popularity as a result of COVID-19. Solutions that have traditionally focused on tracking employee activity, logging suspicious behaviour, and sniffing out potential insider threats are now pivoting to track not only productivity, but also health and wellness, and even engagement.
Employee Monitoring Software – What Is It?
If you’re considering this type of software, keep in mind that employee monitoring extends beyond the core time tracking functionality of clock-ins and clock-outs, as well as managing schedules and workloads. Yes, the software in this roundup begins with tracking players that add useful monitoring features like keystroke logging, location tracking, and screenshots.
Because these services are intended to manage a large workforce, some concentrate on tracking activity rather than specific individuals. However, many employees believe that using these tools is a heavy-handed management measure, so implementing them may necessitate some delicate diplomacy.
Many employee monitoring software are focused on tracking productivity, which is a lighter, less dystopian end of the spectrum. A task that is now more difficult than ever because remote workers are juggling their nine-to-five jobs with a half-dozen other personal tasks, such as caring for their homeschooled children, preparing family meals, and running households for family members who are sheltering in place.
Working from home throws a wrench in the pre-existing structure for productivity tracking, so many of these solutions will need to be rethought to be effective in a telecommuting scenario.
Sorting applications into productive and ineffective app groups is a good place to start because it allows you to break down how productive each team, department, or individual employee is expected to be. Individuals can be measured against their own past performance as well as that of their peers using productivity scoring algorithms.
It is critical to have customization and user grouping in this case because an app that is deemed productive for one job function may be deemed unproductive for another. For example, social media managers spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter because it’s part of their job, whereas a sales manager spending a lot of time on LinkedIn or other social sites should raise an eyebrow.
Employee monitoring tools frequently provide data visualisations that are easy to understand, such as a productivity bar that breaks down the percentages of productive and unproductive apps, or lists and leader boards that show active or inactive users or the most frequently used apps. Many of the solutions we evaluated track and log which websites or services employees use the most and which are underutilised. This informs you of which tools and subscriptions aren’t being used, allowing you to discontinue paying for them and free up your budget for more useful resources.
Monitoring keystrokes is the other side of activity tracking. Keystroke logging is essentially a baseline for employee activity. Once you have granular data on how frequently employees type or interact with their machines, it can be mapped against corresponding screenshots, activity logs, audit trails, and all of the deeper monitoring vectors we discuss later to create a complete profile of the employee.
Newer tools, such as Controlio, can aggregate keystrokes and sync them with video recordings to create a more accurate picture of employee activity. As a result, you can see the full context of what employees were doing, when they were doing it, and a good indication of why they were doing it.
This level of oversight is unparalleled for businesses that require forensic evidence in the event of, say, an audit to determine if the company is in compliance with a regulatory standard. However, keep in mind that while this data may be useful to management, employees may find it intrusive.
The Pandemic Impact
Companies are dealing with issues such as ensuring business continuity and productivity across distributed teams, securing company data and IP on remote PCs, and enforcing compliance outside of company walls as a result of the pandemic. The shift to remote work has also benefited competitors who provide their solution as cloud services. A distributed workforce necessitates a distributed solution. One that is simple to set up and manage remotely.
Controlio, from EfficientLab, which makes the on-premises monitoring solution Work Examiner, is a more compelling scalable cloud-based solution that combines productivity scoring with in-depth employee monitoring. Controlio represents a new way of thinking in the segment, with real-time video recording and live streaming capabilities, as well as keystroke tracking. Teramind, an Editors’ Choice selection, takes video recording to a whole new level by enabling Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which can run through video files and recognise text on the fly.
Including video recording and live feeds leapfrogs older solutions, which were primarily focused on screenshots. The new generation provides businesses with seamless oversight of employee activity and will most likely become the norm in the future. There are numerous debates about the worth of an employee’s time and effort, and the new work-from-home reality has made that even more important. Managers are finding it more difficult to determine and track their employees’ productivity, especially as distributed workforces mean more flexible and non-uniform work hours.
Teams, on the other hand, must still work toward common goals, and if you’re a manager, you’ll be expected to give employees some leeway in determining how best to get their work done. With this in mind, organisational tools and systems become critical for distributed teams because they no longer work in a traditional office culture. Careful planning can help ensure that these tools are useful human resources (HR) solutions as well as monitoring engines.
Top Onboarding Difficulties
When large employers hire new employees, they must find a way to ensure that the employee receives the supervision, training, and support that they require right away. That’s a significant enough challenge that market research firm Statista placed it at the top of a list of onboarding challenges identified by HR professionals in a survey. While this is slightly out-of-the-box thinking for employee monitoring technology, it clearly demonstrates that these solutions can be used in a variety of ways.
These products are intended to ensure that businesses receive the productivity that they expect from their employees. They also assist in the enforcement of data security policies and protocols, which is especially important now that company data is as dispersed as the workforce that manages it. Employee monitoring agents installed on company machines, for example, provide complete visibility and traceability into operations for large corporations that schedule thousands of shift workers in settings such as call centres. Employee monitoring agents also collect critical data on employee productivity.
So, whether you’re looking for comprehensive employee monitoring tools that provide Big Brother-level omnipresence or simply want Google Analytics (GA) to track office productivity metrics and improve efficiency, there are a variety of employee monitoring tools available to meet your specific needs.
Unrivaled Monitoring Capabilities
Employee monitoring technology of today employs cutting-edge technologies such as geolocation, keystroke logging, screenshots, video recording, and even access to web cams installed on remote PCs. Cloud computing allows you to capture terabytes of such data, which is then stored online and easily accessible to managers. More importantly, this data can be run through complex algorithms to anticipate insider threats, measure individual and team productivity, and retrace various steps leading to any problems or data leaks.
Once an incognito agent is installed on a machine (sometimes hidden in the Running Processes list under disguised names), the most powerful employee monitoring tools can act as an all-seeing eye. They can see everything from what apps an employee has open to who they’re chatting with and what they’re saying. It can even use automated logic, such as keyword triggers and policy rules, to notify an administrator when employees do something they are not supposed to do.
Software can now set various alerts and triggers to find patterns and compile employee transgressions into reports that can later be used to build disciplinary cases against them, thanks to advanced automation. While employees will undoubtedly object, many of today’s tools can be installed in stealth mode. That is, they are installed and run in the background of users’ computers.
Who is in Charge of Selling Employee Monitoring Solutions?
We evaluated ten products in this roundup: ActivTrak, Workpuls, Desktime Pro, Hubstaff, InterGuard, StaffCop Enterprise, Teramind, Veriato Cerebral, VeriClock, and Controlio. The software we tested ranged from basic time trackers with some additional employee monitoring to full-fledged, data-driven digital surveillance systems. Hubstaff, Workpulse, and VeriClock, for example, are pure-play time tracking tools with some additional employee monitoring features. These products provide excellent core time-tracking features as well as mobile GPS tracking for field workers. They also provide you with attached notes and photos, screenshots, and basic monitoring of apps and URLs visited. Workpuls is an employee-friendly tool that allows end users to toggle the monitoring feature on and off. It is ideal for distributed teams and situations where monitoring 9-to-5 activity is inconvenient.
These tools include features such as website and app monitoring, screenshots, keystroke and file tracking, and board admin customisation such as proactive alerts. It is important to note that these capabilities are centred on increasing productivity rather than policing employee activity. Data is routed through reports and dashboards that can monitor and aggregate productivity metrics, as well as provide some insight-driven business reporting.
The Human Issue
The difficulty with these deep monitoring solutions is primarily at the human end of the process. When this type of software is installed, or worse, discovered, most employees will be irritated. And managers only have so many hours in the day to sift through hundreds, if not thousands, of screenshots. Video recording is the next frontier, and companies like Teramind, StaffCop Enterprise, and Controlio are already offering it. Access to live or recorded video provides the most accurate forensic evidence as well as the ability to quickly search, scrub, and even use OCR technology to obtain complete details on video-recorded documents.
Aside from the images, these monitoring platforms can provide startlingly detailed visibility into every app, file, message, and even Zoom calls that appear on an employee’s screen or in their system. Deep monitoring can glean much more information about how employees use specific desktop or web apps using OCR, and the most incisive employee monitoring tool will parse email messages, chats, instant messages (IMs), and other personal or team communication apps. They’ll keep an eye on any parameters or keywords that an administrator has set.
This level of tracking extends to tracing documents and scanning file names. The software will frequently capture the attached document or file so that an administrator can view it. So, if a company’s C-suite executives want to know if employees are discussing the CEO or CTO internally, they can simply set up automated keyword triggers to receive an email alert or have all mentions aggregated into a report. You can set rules to prevent employees from sending company data through personal channels, downloading an unapproved app or file, or even inserting USB thumb drives into company PCs.
This all leads to a more fundamental question: Is your company investing in an employee monitoring tool primarily to improve productivity and efficiency? Or do you really want or need to have complete control over everything employees do on company time, down to the smallest detail? And how does using one of these tools compare to your employees feeling uneasy, given that they are frequently being tracked in their own homes?
You must carefully consider your organization’s needs as well as the value you hope to gain from implementing this type of solution. Then, you must select your monitoring tool based not only on what it can do, but also on how it will be used and how much visibility your workers will have in this process.