What You Need to Know About Remote Employee Monitoring Software

Remote Employee Monitoring Software - Productivity, Security, Analytics

Interested in using remote employee monitoring software to track employee productivity? This article will outline the benefits of monitoring remote employees, showcase the top features you will find in the best employee monitoring software and provide you with the best practices for using monitoring software for remote employee performance management.

What Is Remote Employee Monitoring Software?

A photo of a glowing model of earth. A man's hands surround the Earth. Icons representing data and internet surround them

Remote employee monitoring software is a form of computer monitoring software that is used for remote employee performance management. These solutions are used by businesses that want to increase remote employee engagement, identify productivity bottlenecks, and understand how their remote workforce operates.

What Employee Computer Activity Can You Track?

The best remote monitoring software solutions have the ability to track all different sorts of employee computer activities. They should also provide the ability to differentiate employee computer usage data by users, devices, and workgroups so you can get the most insights out of the data collected.

The best monitoring software also lets administrators set unique rules and policies for different members of the organization, and to receive notifications when employees violate the company’s acceptable use policy.

Web Browsing

BrowseReporter Sites Visited report sports and entertainment websites listed.

To help keep unproductive web browsing to manageable levels the best employee monitoring software will include ways to monitor employee internet activity. This includes the URLs of the websites they visit, how long they spend on each website, and the category that the website belongs to.

When searching for remote employee productivity monitoring software, make sure that the included internet usage monitor has the ability to differentiate between the time an employee spends actively using a website and when it is simply running in the background. This will ensure that the data you collect reflects their genuine internet usage.

Application Usage

BrowseReporter Top 10 Application by Active Time with Google Chrome at the top.

Tracking employee software usage is critical for optimizing software spend, discovering disengaged employees that are playing computer games at work, and detecting the use of unauthorized programs that may put sensitive data at risk.

Login History

Diverse work schedules are incredibly common with distributed and remote teams. Tracking employee login activity helps managers understand when their remote employees are the most active. This form of monitoring also helps audit employee computer usage for suspicious activity such as in-office employees logging in to corporate systems outside of typical work hours.

Bandwidth Monitoring

BrowseReporter Bandwidth Usage by Sites report with 13 different URLs listed.

Bandwidth usage monitoring is an important feature for any company that has their off-site employees connect to the corporate network through a VPN. Limiting bandwidth consumption to work-related activities ensures fast and reliable connectivity for these employees and prevents productivity bottlenecks being caused by slow network speeds.

Monitoring employee bandwidth usage ensures that employees are not bottlenecking the network by browsing high-bandwidth sites like YouTube, Netflix, and Twitch on work systems.

USB File Transfers

AccessPatrol files operations report with 15 different file operations listed.

Remote employee monitoring software is for more than just productivity tracking; it’s a critical data loss prevention tool. Monitoring file transfers to portable storage hardware such as USB, CD/DVD, and tape lets you find out if an employee copied confidential files onto their flash drive from their computer.

How Much Does Remote Employee Monitoring Software Cost?

The cost of remote employee productivity monitoring software varies depending on the vendor, the number of employees, negotiations with the vendor’s sales department, and pre-purchase discounts.

For example, when purchased as a standalone product the price of CurrentWare’s internet usage monitor BrowseReporter is $2.99 USD per user per month. There are discounts available for large volumes of licenses, educational organizations, non-profits, managed services providers, and businesses that pre-purchase multiple year plans.

What are the Benefits of Monitoring Remote Workers?

Cybersecurity Risks of Remote Workers

These tools increase visibility into how employees spend their time, interact with sensitive data, and use corporate applications. In this next section, I will outline how this increased visibility will improve the productivity and security of your remote workforce.

How Monitoring Software Improves Employee Productivity

Monitoring Limits Distractions

Employees that know that their performance and computer usage is being monitored will be more focused on their core tasks and less tempted to become distracted by time sinks such as social media, internet forums, and shopping websites.

Monitoring Identifies Shirkers

Monitoring employee work performance helps to identify actively disengaged employees that are engaging in time theft by misrepresenting their efforts. This level of visibility is especially important when managing remote workers as they are trusted to perform their best with minimal supervision. 

Without computer activity reports to provide clear evidence of activity during work hours an unscrupulous employee could claim they were working as expected, all the while being engaged in non-work activities.

On the opposite side of this, remote employee productivity reports are an excellent way to find out which of your remote workers are the most productive and engaged. This allows you to reward and encourage productive employees that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Monitoring Provides Productivity Data

Employee productivity reports are valuable tools for employers and employees alike. The data collected by remote employee monitoring software can be shared directly with the employees so they can self-manage their own performance. 

Monitoring Improves Operational Efficiency

Operational efficiency is a measure of an organization’s profit efficiency vs its operating costs. The greater an organization’s operational efficiency, the more profitable they are. Efficient organizations produce greater returns for the same or lower cost of their competitors. This allows them to become a cost leader in their market by offering their product or service at a competitive price.

Remote employee monitoring software is a valuable tool for collecting business intelligence data. In addition to tracking employee productivity on an individual level this data can be used to understand productivity and efficiency trends throughout your workforce, identify productivity bottlenecks, and discover areas where work processes can be optimized.

How Monitoring Software Improves Security

A photo of a computer screen. The cursor is pointing to the word "security"

Monitoring Detects Insider Data Theft

The 2019 Verizon Data Breach Investigations report found that 34% of data breaches in 2018 were caused by insider threats. Monitoring employee computer activity for suspicious, anomalous, or high-risk activity is an integral part of any insider threat management strategy. 

User activity monitoring is especially valuable for companies with employees that regularly access sensitive data such as financial information, personally identifiable information, and electronic health records. Data security compliance regulations often go so far as to make monitoring employees mandatory for meeting compliance requirements.

In the age of remote workers, there has also been a rapid proliferation of user accounts that are easily accessible to disgruntled ex-employees if they are not properly deprovisioned. In fact, an Osterman Research study found that 89% of employees were able to access sensitive corporate applications well after their departure. Monitoring the network for suspicious traffic helps to identify possible security breaches that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Monitoring Protect Against Employee Negligence

Insider threats are not always malicious; well-meaning employees can become negligent insider threats by engaging in high-risk behavior such as visiting unsafe websites, downloading unauthorized software, and sharing credentials with their coworkers. Monitoring helps to detect employees that require additional security training or other corrective actions.

What Are the Potential Disadvantages of Monitoring Remote Employees?

An employee browsing the Internet on a laptop computer with different websites that are being tracked by the Internet monitoring software.

To get the most out of remote employee monitoring software you need to understand the potential concerns that your remote workers may have. This next section will address some of the common objections to employee monitoring so you can address potential concerns related to using software to track remote workers.

Employees May Dislike Being Monitored

While employee monitoring is standard business practice for a large majority of organizations, it’s important to recognize that employee morale can be negatively affected if this technology is not used properly.

Employee monitoring is best received when the data is used for learning and developmental purposes rather than as a form of workplace surveillance. Employers must take care to ensure that the data collected is used to inform management decisions rather than punish employees for minor offenses. Approaching remote employee monitoring in this way will go a long way to improving the experience of employees.

Employees May Feel That Their Privacy Is Being Violated

Employee monitoring is a valuable people analytics tool, but it can be perceived as invasive. While in the majority of cases employers are legally permitted to monitor employee computer activity on company-owned devices and networks, it’s important to recognize that your employees may have their own personal beliefs about workplace privacy and employee monitoring.

As a best practice for monitoring employees in the workplace you should be fully transparent about the fact that they will be monitored. You should also make an effort to explain your organization’s purposes for monitoring employees and describe how their data will be used, stored, and protected from misuse. 

Without an explicit personal use policy or similar set of guidelines an employee may use the company network for personal use, which can lead to sensitive personal information being unknowingly captured by the monitoring software. Notifying employees in advance provides them with the opportunity to to self-regulate their web browsing on company devices. 

Computer Activity Data Isn’t a Standalone Productivity Metric

When monitoring remote employee performance it is important to evaluate computer activity data within the context of the employee’s role. For example, if an employee regularly engages in work-adjacent tasks such as strategic planning, in-person meetings, or other non-computer tasks then their digital user activity data does not provide the full overview of their productivity.

If a remote worker feels that their performance is being unfairly evaluated their morale may suffer. When using software to track remote workers it is critical that the data collected is used in conjunction with other productivity measures such as output, quality, and consistency. 

You must also avoid making automated decisions based on the data collected; an otherwise high performing employee with excellent interpersonal skills may still occasionally engage in “unproductive” computer activity. Performance appraisals must focus on their overall performance rather than being solely defined by monitoring software.  

Best Practices for Using Software to Track Remote Workers

Ready to use remote employee monitoring software in your company? Follow these best practices to create an employee monitoring program that respects privacy, increases productivity, and maximizes employee buy-in.

Be Transparent About User Activity Monitoring

“If organizations wish to monitor their employees, they should be clear about its purpose and that it brings real benefits. Organizations also need to make employees aware of the nature, extent and reasons for any monitoring”

Spokesperson from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office

From an employee’s perspective the difference between remote spying software and remote employee monitoring software can be as simple as how transparent the monitoring is. Secretly monitoring employees creates a culture of distrust and is likely to severely impact how employees feel about being monitored.

How to improve transparency:

  • Include employee opinions during the planning process by consulting a representative sample of employees.
  • Have your remote workers sign acceptable use policies or work from home policies that state your intent to monitor their computer activity.
  • Disclose the scope of employee monitoring during onboarding and within employee handbooks
  • Allow employees to access their own data so they can see exactly what is being collected 

Avoid Monitoring More Than Necessary

“Employers must not use tech to control and micromanage their staff. Monitoring toilet breaks, tracking, and snooping on staff outside working hours creates fear and distrust. And it undermines morale.”

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC)

When developing a remote employee monitoring strategy it is critical that you have a clear goal in mind. You must also understand how you will use the monitoring software to meet those goals. 

For example, if your goal is to enforce internet use policies by monitoring employee internet activity then you will not have a need for invasive functions such as keystroke logging and webcam monitoring. Forgoing these unnecessary features will reduce the perceived invasiveness of employee monitoring and reduce the amount of data that you need to store and protect.

Avoid Monitoring Personal Devices

While the results of this informal Spiceworks survey make it clear that the majority of IT pros believe that employees should not expect any degree of privacy when using company property, it’s not so clear-cut when it comes to an employee’s personal device.

If you will be allowing your remote employees to use their own personal devices for work purposes, you need to be aware of the limitations this can impose. Employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy when using their personal equipment and there is a significantly higher risk of capturing sensitive personal information if you monitor their personal devices.

If you must monitor personal devices for security purposes, ensure that you have a formal BYOD policy that clearly discloses whether personal devices need to be monitored as a security precaution when connecting to the company network. To reduce the overall amount of monitoring you can have your remote employees connect to a monitored virtual private network rather than monitoring their personal devices directly.

Remote Employee Monitoring FAQ

Is Employee Monitoring Software Legal?

Generally, employers in North America have the right to monitor their employees’ use of the Internet  during office hours (including social media use, email activity, and instant messaging) on computers that are owned by the employer.

That said, CurrentWare has customers in over 50 countries, each with their own unique legal considerations. Legislation concerning employee privacy, data security, and other compliance needs will vary greatly depending on the relevant jurisdiction. As legislation is often incredibly complex and subject to change over time, the best practice is to consult directly with lawyers that specialize in your organization’s industry and jurisdiction.

Employee monitoring laws also vary state-by-state. For example, according to the American Bar Association employers in Connecticut and Delaware are allowed to monitor employees so long as they give notice prior to monitoring their e-mail communications or internet access. For more information about employee monitoring laws in the US, see this article on workplace surveillance from WorkplaceFairness.org

Although the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) does not specifically address employee monitoring, it does include requirements for providing notice about data collection. Individual member states are also permitted to enact their own requirements and limitations regarding workplace surveillance and employee privacy.

Will My Employees Know They Are Being Monitored?

While the recommended best practice is to notify employees that they are being monitored, it is possible to have the employee monitoring software operate secretly in the background without the employee’s knowledge.

The level of transparency will depend on the remote employee monitoring software that you use. Many solutions have been developed to include a “stealth mode” that collects data silently in the background. When this mode is used the program will not appear in the task manager, the list of software programs in the control panel, or anywhere else that the employee can access.

Some employers ,ay choose to use this stealth mode to avoid making the computer monitoring software a distraction. They may still notify their remote employees that they are being monitored through other means, such as having them sign an acceptable use policy or remote work policy. 

How Does Remote Employee Monitoring Software Work?

Employee monitoring software consists of two key parts: the monitoring software agent and the console. The agent is a piece of software that is installed on the computers that will be monitored; the console is the dashboard where the user activity data collected by the agents is used to generate reports. Depending on the vendor the console will either be an application that is installed on a managers computer or it will be a web-based console that can be accessed remotely. 

Conclusion

Remote employee monitoring software is a powerful tool for managing the productivity and security of a remote workforce. If you will be using these tools as a part of your remote workforce management strategy it is critical that you consider the goals of your organization, any concerns your employees may have, and the value that the user activity of remote workers can have.

Want to develop an employee monitoring strategy that maximizes employee buy-in? Read our free white paper Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring: Best Practices for Balancing Productivity, Security, and Privacy

Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland is a Marketing Coordinator for CurrentWare, a global provider of endpoint security and employee monitoring software. Dale’s diverse multimedia background allows him the opportunity to produce a variety of content for CurrentWare including blogs, infographics, videos, eBooks, and social media shareables.