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Employee Monitoring Software

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Different methods used in Employee Monitoring Software

A study by IDC research shows that 30-40% of Internet use at work is non-work related. And a survey by Sex Tracker shows that 70% of all porn traffic occurs during the 9-5 work day. To try and combat these issues that impact productivity at work, many employers are using software to monitor their employees.

Let’s take a look at the different methods used in employee monitoring software, and a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of these methods. Then we will look at how these methods affect time management and productivity in an organization.

There are several main techniques that are used in monitoring employees with software:

  • Keylogging software – recording each keystroke and logging this to a central server
  • Screenshot logging – providing a record of screenshots of the employee’s computer screen
  • Website activity logging – Logging all websites visited and for how long
  • Applications used – how long did a person use Skype, Internet explorer etc.
  • Remote web cam viewing – activating the person’s web cam and taking photos at certain intervals to prove they are working
  • Activity tracking – getting the staff member to log activities in real time or at certain intervals
  • Pop up confirmations – pop ups that confirm the person is at their computer and working

Reasons for monitoring employees

There are several reasons employers might have for monitoring employees. Firstly to increase productivity and effectiveness at work. To prevent the use of personal web sites such as Facebook. Also to prevent corporate espionage or theft of materials. Lastly it can be for time and attendance monitoring to make sure that staff are working the hours they are supposed to be working.

Keylogging software

This is the most comprehensive and intrusive method of employee monitoring. It means that every email and text message is recorded and sent back to a central server, including any credit card data entered by the employee, passwords and other sensitive information. Organizations that are trying to detect employee impropriety for example may need to use this method of monitoring. Note that Keylogging may be illegal in some jusistictions such as in the EU, definitely it is illegal if it includes monitoring private communications. Keylogging software is also highly unlikely to be accepted by employees working from home or on their personal laptop, and will be illegal in this case as it will include monitoring of private communication. Some software that uses Keylogging as a method of surveillance include: Refog, Spector pro, Webwatcher, Sniperspy and Elite keylogger

Screenshot logging

This method is taking a log of screenshots of the person’s computer screen at certain time intervals such as every 5 minutes. These would then need to be reviewed by someone in the company to look for evidence of visiting no work related web sites for example.

These screenshots provide pretty good evidence of what the person was working on, however there are issues with this method the primary one being the time taken to review the screenshots. Some types of software actually has live screenshot viewing by managers, however this has even more serious drawbacks as it requires a full time person to monitor the computer screens. In comparison with keylogging, screenshots provide more visual information obviously and an overall impression of what the person is working on, however they do not provide every detail of what was typed into the computer, and because they only happen at certain intervals they will not catch everything. Odesk is a major outsourcing platform that uses screenshots as a way to prove that freelance contractors are working. Time Doctor has this as an optional feature and other monitoring software such as Refog also has this feature.

Website activity logging and Application monitoring

This is monitoring of websites visited and software used on the desktop provides a log of this activity for review by management. This is a less intrusive feature than Screenshots or Keylogging as it does not provide management with access to passwords, credit card information or other data that is entered on the person’s computer, and does not provide logs of emails.

Data of web sites visited and applications used should be presented by software in a clear easy to read format and should not take a lot of time for management to read. Software that is designed to monitor this activity for a team includes Rescue time and Time Doctor.

Remote cam viewing

This is a little used technique to get software to activate the person’s web cam and then take a picture of the person every 15 minutes for example to confirm that they are working. This is used by the outsourcing platform vworker to confirm that staff on the platform are working. In some respects this is one of the most intrusive methods of monitoring, and for people working from home they don’t necessarily want management to see pictures of them at potentially inopportune times.

Activity tracking and Pop Up confirmations

There are various forms of activity tracking such as with Odesk where you need to enter every few minutes what you are working on. Or Time Doctor you enter in real time a stream of activities, so everything is tracked in real time as the person changes activities. This can be combined with pop ups that ask to confirm if the person is working, for example a feature of Time Doctor is that if the staff member visits a web site such as Facebook it will pop up and ask if they are still working on the same activity that they noted previously. If done correctly and not too frequently the method of pop up confirmations is a practical tool for confirming that the person is working and for improving productivity. The key ingredients being that the pop ups do not interfere with workflow and that they come up not too frequently and at the correct times.

Silent versus Overt tracking

The Philosophy of some software systems is to track everything silently and just for management to review the information and to try and “catch” an employee doing something wrong. The philosophy is not compatible with improving time management of employees as it does not allow for employees to view their own data and make improvements in their productivity as a result.

Remote employee monitoring software versus in office monitoring software programs

There is a big difference in software that is used in an office versus software used on a home computer. For employees that work from home, employers need to be acutely aware of the legal and privacy implications of monitoring. If software is used on a home computer the employee needs to have the ability to turn off the software at will and it should not track activities when they are not working.

Legality and best practice in monitoring employees

The legality of monitoring varies depending on the jurisdiction, however there are some common tenants in the law, which also coincide with some potential best practices of monitoring

  • Employees should be made aware of all monitoring before it takes place (there are some exceptions in some jurisdictions for employees that are under investigation for fraud or gross misconduct).
  • Employees have the right to know which persons in the company are responsible for monitoring, which persons have access to the monitored data and exactly what is being monitored.
  • Employees should have access to all data that has been monitored and the ability to correct errors in their data.
  • Monitoring should never include personal emails or any personal correspondence. Monitoring should not take place when the person is not working.
  • Employees should have the ability to turn off monitoring software and then turn it back on. For example they may need to send an emergency message using their computer to their wife or child during their work day, and these personal messages should not be monitored.

Conclusion and what to look for in Employee Monitoring Software

In summary you need to examine first if the software will be used in an office environment or on personal computers with staff occasionally working from home. Your company should examine the legal ramifications of monitoring and make that you are in compliance with local legislation. The software should conform to the best practices listed above. It should also be very easy to use and the time taken by management to monitor employees should be minimal (preferably less than 5-10 minutes per week to review data on the entire team). Employees should have access to the data that is gathered, and be able to use this data to improve their effectiveness at work. Also monitoring should be used for example to prevent employees spending large amounts of time on personal Internet browsing. Employers should not punish employees for small amounts of personal Internet use such as visiting Facebook for 10 minutes once per week.

Used correctly, monitoring software can be a way to improve the time management and effectiveness of employees. The key ingredients to success in using this software are a culture of openness and helping employees to use the data to improve time management, rather than a culture of “spying” on staff.

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