The Best Employee Monitoring Software for 2020

Once a solution that relatively few companies required, employee monitoring has suddenly become much more popular due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Solutions that were mostly focused on tracking employee activity, logging suspicious behavior, and sniffing-out possible insider threats are now pivoting to not only track employee productivity but also monitor health and wellness and even improve engagement.

What is Employee Monitoring Software?

Employee monitoring goes beyond the core time tracking functionality of tracking clock-ins and clock–outs or managing schedules and workloads. The software reviewed in this roundup ranges from time tracking players that add nifty monitoring features such as keystroke logging, location tracking, and screenshots to deep monitoring platforms that track all employee activity. Designed to manage a large scale workforce, some of these solutions focus more on tracking activity on seats rather than on specific individuals, but this does nothing to diminish the heavy handedness that some of these applications are perceived to have.

Photo image of an employee working at a PCsocial media managers spending all of their time on Facebook and Twitter is core to their role whereas a sales manager spending many hours a day on LinkedIn or other job sites should throw up a red flag. Automation and the ability to set alerts by way of email reminders and warnings are also effective ways to manage a large, distributed workforce.

This activity data can also be aggregated on a macro level in real-time admin and manager dashboards as well as in detailed reports, slicing and dicing productivity metrics. You can drill down into the data using factors such as the most productive or unproductive employees, or compare team or departmental efficiency or productivity on specific projects. Often, employee monitoring tools will give you at-a-glance data visualizations such as a productivity bar that breaks down productive and unproductive app percentages, or lists and leader boards that show active or inactive users or the most often used apps. Many of the solutions we tested track and log which websites or services employees spend the most time on and which ones are underutilized. This helps managers decide which tools and subscriptions aren’t being used and can be discontinued, which frees up their budget for more necessary items.

The other side of activity tracking is monitoring keystrokes. Logging keystrokes is essentially a baseline for employee activity. Once you have granular data on how often employees are typing or interacting with their machine, it can be mapped against corresponding screenshots, activity logs, audit trails, and all of the deeper monitoring vectors we get into later to fill out a complete profile of employees’ online activity. Some of the most powerful monitoring software we’ve tested can intake raw keystroke data—meaning, a timestamped mapping of what system keys users pressed at any given time—and cross-reference that against any of the other metrics or captured activity data collected. Newer tools like Controlio can aggregate keystrokes and sync them to video recordings to form 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 as to why they were doing it. This level of oversight is unmatched for companies requiring forensic evidence even as employees could find it terribly invasive.

The Pandemic Effect

The issues facing companies due to the pandemic include ensuring business continuity and productivity across distributed teams, securing company data and IP on remote PCs, as well as enforcing compliance outside company walls. The shift to remote work has also played into the hands of competitors who offer their solution as cloud services. A distributed workforce, needs a similarly distributed solution. One that’s quick to deploy and easy to manage remotely.

EfficientLab, who makes the on-premises monitoring solution Work Examiner, has a more compelling scalable cloud-based solution in Controlio, which mixes productivity scoring with in-depth employee monitoring. Controlio represents the new way of thinking in the segment and even has real time video recording and live streaming capability that’s also synced with keystroke tracking. Editors’ Choice selection Teramind, takes video recording to a whole new level by enabling Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which can run through video files and recognize text on screen and on documents and make video searchable. On-premises vendor StaffCop Enterprise also provides OCR functionality for screenshots and documents as well as video recording.

The inclusion of video recording and live feeds leapfrogs screenshots and offers businesses a gapless oversight of employee activity and will likely be the norm moving forward. There are outstanding arguments around the value of employee’s time and effort, and this new work from home reality has made this even more evident. Managers now have a harder time determining and tracking their employees’ productivity, specially now that distributed workforces mean more flexible and non-uniform work hours.

Employee engagement and work focus may no longer be the most viable objectives for performance evaluations. Pandemics, after all, have a way of turning things on their head. Teams, however, still need to work towards common goals, and managers are expected to afford employees some leniency on defining how best to get their work done. With that in mind, the importance of organizational tools and systems becomes even more critical for distributed teams working outside of established office structures. The challenge becomes ensure that these tools can serve as helpful human resources (HR) solutions in addition to monitoring engines.

Top Onboarding Challenges

Statista market research results showing top challenges to employee onboardingStatista, identified it at the top of a list of challenges that surveyed HR professionals associated with onboarding. While that’s slightly outside-the-box thinking for employee monitoring technology, it clearly shows there’s flexibility when it comes to using these solutions. While that’s something to keep in mind when reading our reviews of these services, we did decide to focus our testing on the category’s core mission: maximizing worker productivity. These products are designed to ensure that businesses are getting the productivity they expect out of employees. They also help enforce data security policies and protocols which are even more important now that company data is as distributed as the workforce that manages it.

Particularly for large corporations that schedule thousands of shift workers in settings such as call centers, for instance, employee monitoring agents installed on company machines give these businesses complete visibility and traceability into their operations. The employee monitoring agents also aggregate key data on employee productivity. For organizations such as government contractors or businesses that deal with sensitive financial, medical, or other personal customer data, ensuring compliance rules while keeping an eye on employees can be even more critical. So, if you are looking for comprehensive employee monitoring tools that offer a Big Brother-level of omnipresent oversight or if simply want Google Analytics (GA) to track office productivity metrics and improve efficiency, there is a range of employee monitoring tools available to fit your particular needs.

Nosy managers peeking behind millennial person of color's shoulder in workforceteam communication apps. They’ll monitor whatever parameters or even specific keywords an admin has set. The more advanced solutions can even find credit card numbers and financial records through screenshots and videos, and send corresponding alerts triggered by these very specific details.

This deep tracking applies to tracing documents and scanning file names as well. The software will often capture the attached document or file so an admin can view it. So, if an enterprise’s C-suite executives want to know whether employees are chatting internally about the company’s CEO or CTO, they could simply set up automated keyword triggers to receive an email alert or have all mentions aggregated into a report. This rules-based automation can be extended to a variety of parameters or user behaviors if a company so wishes. For instance, rules can be set to prevent employees from sending company data through personal channels or from downloading an app or file that isn’t IT-approved, or even from inserting USB thumb drives into company PCs. Not all platforms can go this deep into automation. However, the ones that can will either trigger user notifications to stop the action, or simply send an alert or update an audit log.

This all speaks to a more fundamental question: Is your business investing in an employee monitoring tool primarily to improve productivity and efficiency? Or do you truly want or need full oversight into everything employees are doing and saying on company time and machines, to a meticulous degree of detail? Depending on your organizational needs and what value you’re looking to gain from implementing this kind of solution, your choice of employee monitoring tool and the ways they can be applied could be vastly different.

Concept image of an eyebusiness intelligence (BI) reporting and data analytics on the back end to process and analyze all of the employee data being collected.

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About Rob Marvin

October 29, 2020
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