Why use employee monitoring software?
With so many people shifting to remote work, employee monitoring software has seen a rush of interest. Employee monitoring tools track what your workers are doing with their time, offering you reports on websites visited, documents sent, and applications used. With this information, you can improve productivity, protect your intellectual property, and decrease business risk from malicious or careless employee activities.
Even the most basic employee monitoring software can greatly simplify timesheet creation, invoicing, and payroll. More complex software can block employees from visiting specific websites altogether, alert you when a user attempts to send sensitive data by email, or record screenshots when employees transfer files to USB devices.
In this article, we outline everything you need to know about employee monitoring software, and go over the top five employee monitoring tools that we’ve evaluated in our extensive testing.
What you need to know
What can employee monitoring software track?
With the right software, employers can monitor almost 100% of their employee’s activities when they’re on the job. This includes applications, websites, emails, print jobs, and files accessed. You can take screenshots of employees’ computer screens and record videos automatically. Other software can monitor all phone use and track the location of employees using GPS.
How does employee monitoring software work?
The most basic employee monitoring tools simply ask employees to manually clock in and out when they begin their shifts. More advanced employee monitoring software requires a monitoring agent to be installed on all employees’ work devices. This agent sends data on the activities of the employee back to a central server. The data is then used to create reports, send alerts, and perform actions automatically based on user behavior.
What are the benefits of employee monitoring for a company?
When a team is consistently missing deadlines, it's often difficult to pinpoint the problem. Employee monitoring tools can help you diagnose and fix productivity bottlenecks. It boosts productivity because fewer hours are wasted. Employees become more disciplined and motivated to stay on task. Their hard work is plainly evident, so it's easier to give recognition to team members who perform the best. It’s also simpler for you to plan projects, as you have solid data on the human resources you’ll need, and it’s easier to follow the progress of task completion without having to ask for daily or weekly reports.
What are the benefits of employee monitoring software for employees?
Employee monitoring, when done correctly, offers many benefits to employees. They will be awarded more autonomy, with bosses spending less time checking up on them. Time tracking tools clearly indicate who is the most productive, so hard workers can be rewarded and shirkers penalized. Features such as automated timesheets and payroll management reduce the time that employees spend on administrative tasks.
Is employee monitoring legal?
Laws on employee monitoring differ greatly by country and state. The European Union has stricter privacy laws than the US, for example. As a general rule, it’s only legal to monitor employees during work hours and only if you have their consent beforehand.
Draft an Employee Monitoring Policy document that clearly states what you will be monitoring, ensure that employees are informed about these guidelines, and add it to their employment contract.
What does employee monitoring software cost?
Most employee monitoring software is priced on a per-user, per-month basis, with no upfront costs. The majority of our picks offer discounts for a larger number of user licenses and for paying annually or bi-annually.
Employee monitoring tools can be cloud-based or installed on site. With cloud-based employee monitoring, you don’t need to shoulder the cost of running a dedicated server on site, but there are increased security concerns. On-site installations have initial upfront costs but can ultimately be cheaper than cloud-based solutions in the long run.
The more features you use, the higher the price. Employee monitoring software typically costs around $5/user/month for basic tracking features, rising to $30/user/month for comprehensive plans with data loss prevention and compliance monitoring.
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How we review employee monitoring software
We have evaluated around 20 of the most popular employee monitoring software solutions currently available. In each evaluation, we test each software solution on our office network over the course of a week. We install the latest versions of each monitoring software on Windows computers and where applicable, on iOS/Android phones.
We test how easy each software package is to install and how intuitive they are to administer. Evaluation criteria include how detailed the monitoring software records user activities and how useful its reporting tools are.
We evaluate each piece of software on price, feature set, and ease of use. We also investigate each employee monitoring software’s customer support and online resources to determine how well each company supports its products after the sale.
|Software||Monthly fee (from)||Installation type||Free trial||Keylogger|
|Teramind||$12/user (cloud) $6/endpoint (on-premise)||Cloud/ on-premise||7 days (cloud) 14 days (on-premise)||Yes|
|Time Doctor||$7/user||Cloud||14 days||No|
|VeriClock||$10 + $5/user||Cloud||30 days||No|
|ActivTrak||Free (3 users)||Cloud||14 days||No|
Best employee monitoring software reviews
Teramind — Best for: Comprehensive employee monitoring
Monthly fee (from): $12/user (cloud), $6/endpoint (on-premise) | Installation type: Cloud/on-premise | Free trial: 7 days (cloud), 14 days (on-premise) | Keylogger: Yes
Comprehensive employee monitoring
Excellent automated alert system
Expensive cloud-based plans
Longer learning curve than simpler solutions
Teramind is a comprehensive activity monitoring tool with user behavior analytics. It’s available as a cloud-based solution or an on-site installation, and you perform administration through the web-based management console.
Teramind offers outstanding user activity monitoring features and an intuitive interface to understand and react to employees’ behavior in real time. Of particular note is the versatile automation and alert system with hundreds of preset rules that you can build upon to automatically perform actions based on user behavior. Teramind is also the only employee monitoring software on our list that offers real-time continuous video recording.
Read our full Teramind review.
Time Doctor — Best for: Time tracking
Monthly fee (from): $7/user | Installation type: Cloud | Free trial: 14 days | Keylogger: No
Wide range of apps
Useful reports available to employees
No keyword tracking
Time Doctor is a simpler application than Teramind, with a particular focus on timesheets. It creates daily and weekly reports summarizing the number of hours spent on each task. These reports are available to employees so they can identify areas where they can improve.
It doesn’t use a keylogger, but it tracks websites visited and applications used. You can set the app to automatically take screenshots of employees’ computers while they’re working, and employees can set distraction reminders to keep them on track.
Time Doctor is an excellent choice if your employees use a range of different devices to do their work, as it has apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, and Chrome. We also like that it can integrate with over 40 third-party tools, including Asana, PayPal, Zendesk, and Zoho. Overall, it’s a powerful team time tracking tool with useful employee monitoring features.
VeriClock — Best for: Simplicity
Monthly fee (from): $10 + $5/user | Installation type: Cloud | Free trial: 30 days | Keylogger: No
Simple to use
Geolocation and geofencing features
Uninspiring user interface
Basic user activity reporting
If the thought of rolling out an overbearing monitoring system to your workforce gives you nightmares, VeriClock could be the answer you need. Its employee monitoring doesn’t go much further than recording employee clock-ins and clock-outs, though employees can choose to attach an image to prove that they’ve completed a task or reached a location.
There are no desktop applications for VeriClock. Instead, employees clock in and out through the website or the super-simple apps for Android and iOS. VeriClock has recently added geolocation and geofencing features, so employees can be clocked in and out automatically when they reach your premises. It can also alert you when your employees leave the designated area.
VeriClock is a solid time monitoring application at a good price. It’s basic and doesn’t record much information on what employees are doing with their time, but for some businesses, that simplicity could be just the ticket.
Read our full VeriClock review.
4. Veriato — Best for: Behavior analytics
Monthly fee (from): $7.91/user | Installation type: Cloud/on-premise | Free trial: 15 days | Keylogger: Yes
Behavior analytics helps identify anomalies
Wide-ranging employee surveillance
No iOS app
Veriato has been selling computer monitoring software since 1998. Now it sells two employee monitoring solutions: cloud-based Vision and on-premise Cerebral. The latter is the more impressive of the two, with arguably the most comprehensive employee monitoring in our rundown. Cerebral records everything from instant-messaging chats to files transferred by peer-to-peer applications. Once you’ve gotten used to Cerebral’s dated interface, you can tame the plethora of information on your teams’ activities by creating automated alerts and custom reports.
Beyond employee monitoring, Veriato’s AI groups employees based on behavior. You can be alerted whenever an employee begins performing activities that they don’t usually do. For example, it could be useful to know when an employee begins sending a large number of files over FTP when they haven’t done so before.
If you’re looking for an employee monitoring tool that records everything your employees do and gives you the tools to understand and act upon this information, there are few better options than Veriato Cerebral.
Read our full Veriato review.
ActivTrak — Best for: Small businesses
Monthly fee (from): Free (3 users) | Installation type: Cloud | Free trial: 14 days | Keylogger: No
Free basic plan
Doesn’t log keystrokes
Certain features cost extra
ActivTrak is a relatively simple monitoring tool that can track the applications that employees open and the websites that they visit. There are monitoring agents for Windows, Mac, and Chromebook, and installation is straightforward. Once installed, there’s no indication that ActivTrak is running on a computer. The only way to uninstall it is to run the installation program again and choose Remove.
ActivTrak has a basic free plan that supports a maximum of three users, which might be enough for some small businesses. Its paid plan supports unlimited users and costs a reasonable $7.20/user/month. A few features, such as video recording and playback, cost extra.
A straightforward alternative to our top picks, ActivTrak is attractively priced but doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
Read our full ActivTrak review.
Employee monitoring software: The best features
Most employee monitoring software includes a screenshot component. This will take a screenshot of employees’ screens periodically. It’s typically a feature that you can toggle on or off, and some software will automatically blur the screenshot.
When you’re using activity tracking software, it’s usually plain for employees to see, as the monitoring agent is sitting in the computer taskbar. However, most of the tools on our list also have the option to hide the monitoring agent completely, so it’s difficult to tell that the software is running at all. To avoid any possibility of legal action, it’s vital to adhere to all relevant privacy laws if you employ silent monitoring.
With keyword tracking, you can record every time an employee types a particular keyword or set of keywords. For example, you can create an alert that notifies you whenever an employee types “job offer,” “interview,” or “resume.”User activity monitoring
Monitoring software runs the gamut from time-keeping apps that employees manually use to clock in and out to comprehensive monitoring that automatically logs everything they do. The best employee monitoring software recognizes and records the different types of actions that a user makes, such as sending emails, printing documents, visiting websites, and saving files to an external drive.
There are two types of employee monitoring software: those that log the keys that employees are pressing and those that don’t. Keylogging monitoring software can be much more accurate about what an employee is doing with their time. For example, you can get a report of what they’ve posted to social media sites. Software without a keylogging component can only log more general information, such as URLs visited and applications used, though it’s less intrusive.
User behavior analytics automatically groups employees based on their behavior and can be used to track behavior anomalies to flag potential threats in real time. For example, behavior analytics can alert you when a user begins sending thousands of files when they’ve rarely sent files before.
Monitoring software with GPS tracking allows managers to keep track of where their employees are during work hours. GPS tracking can help businesses whose employees are always on the move to plan daily routes efficiently.
With geofencing support, you can create geographical areas that correspond to your offices or other premises. The software can automatically clock in employees when they enter the area and clock them out when they leave. You can also set up alerts that inform you when an employee enters or leaves an area.
Compliance auditing and monitoring
Adhering to data compliance regulatory standards, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR, is an enormous challenge when working with customer data. Failing to remain compliant exposes your company to substantial financial and reputational risk. Software that performs compliance monitoring can alert you when employees are sharing sensitive data and even block any transactions in real time.
Video recording is particularly useful if you have highly sensitive data to protect. It can help you investigate security incidents to locate the source of insider threats with pinpoint accuracy and can provide powerful evidence of IP theft, industrial espionage, fraud, or sabotage.