Woman working from home apartment at her workstation.

Employee Monitoring Done Right: Finding a Balance between Privacy and Productivity

Employee monitoring isn’t new. Even before Covid-19 forced companies to adopt work-from-home policies, employers were already implementing ways to monitor employee productivity and performance.

A 2018 Gartner survey indicates that 50% of 239 large corporations were monitoring the content of employee emails and social media accounts, who they met, and how they used their workspaces. Another survey by Accenture found that 62% of organizations were leveraging monitoring tools to collect data on their staff “to gain more actionable insights.”

Businesses have good reasons to monitor employees. It helps ensure a safe workplace, prevents theft of intellectual property and other critical business data, boosts productivity, and improves employees’ overall well-being. Monitoring also allows business leaders to leverage the data to improve operational efficiency, communication, and time management.

However, keeping a digital eye on employees throughout the workday creates a privacy nightmare and can potentially increase their stress levels. It also leaves employees unhappy for invading their private space, which can lower morale and lead to high turnover.

That’s why it’s key to learn how to strike the right balance between workplace monitoring and employee privacy rights. You want employees to feel comfortable being digitally observed. After all, a company’s performance is as good as the performance of its workers. 


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What Is Employee Monitoring?

Employee monitoring is the utilization of various workplace surveillance methods to gather information about workforce productivity, computer usage, location, and work in progress.

Employers use digital tools to track work performance and attendance, measure productivity, assess employee workplace behavior, log work hours, and ensure the security of company data.

Types of Employee Monitoring

There are various approaches employers can use to monitor employees, depending on their goals. Here’s a look at the most popular ones.

Web Activity Tracking 

According to a Salary.com survey, 69% of men and 62% of women admit to surfing the internet for personal reasons during company time. Being able to track the URLs your teams visit while on the clock allows you to address potential productivity concerns.

You can use the data to implement web filtering software to block access to inappropriate, dangerous, or unproductive websites. An employee monitoring software shows how much time a team member spent on a particular website and how long they were idle, as well as provide insight into employee engagement.

App Usage 

Just like with web activity tracking, app usage monitoring offers employers a way to establish whether applications and other software are used as stipulated in the company policy.

Screenshots and Video Recording 

Screen video and capture technology allow managers to view screenshots of team members’ screens while working to ensure they are utilizing their time on actual work.

Most time tracking tools prioritize capturing the work done on the device. They take random screenshots of websites and apps that employees are using, which can help cut down on employees having to constantly update managers on their work progress.

On the downside, this type of monitoring can create potential privacy concerns, unless they are designed to blur content on screenshots or video recordings by default.

Keylogging

Keyloggers record every keystroke an employee makes on their computer and saves the data for review. These tools are likely to capture sensitive employee information like passwords and credit card details, making it a highly controversial monitoring method.

Time Tracking

Time tracking software allows managers to collect data about employee time usage. It lets employees clock in and clock out with ease, control when they need to start and stop working, and accurately log daily work hours. It also allows them to pause when they want to take a break. 

Time trackers record how long an employee spends on a specific task or project, and the data can be used to make better estimates in the future.

GPS Tracking and Location Monitoring

Another form of workplace monitoring involves tracking an employee’s location using the GPS functionality in a company vehicle or device, or personal device. It also allows supervisors to determine important data like routes taken between customer sites.

Email, Phone, and Voicemail Monitoring

Email monitoring can help address issues of data theft from disgruntled employees. Employers can also record interactions between staff and clients, prospects, or suppliers to enhance customer experience and improve communication.

CCTV and Webcams

Video surveillance can be used to monitor work locations to prevent theft, encourage positive work behavior, and improve work efficiency. In a remote work environment, companies use webcams via live feeds to directly see what staff are up to throughout the day.

The Pros and Cons of Employee Monitoring

Workplace monitoring has its ups and downs. In this section, we outline the pros and cons of monitoring your staff using the various types of employee monitoring.

Advantages of Employee Monitoring

  1. Improved productivity and efficiency

Tracking how time is used at work by each team member can provide crucial data that will help identify loopholes in your workplace policies. Maybe meetings are taking up too much time, or certain practices are causing time wastage. 

Employee monitoring also helps improve the efficiency of time management by monitoring web and app usage and restricting excess unproductive internet activity. 

  1. Enhanced Security

Around 15 million data records were exposed worldwide during the third quarter of 2022 due to data breaches, according to Statista. Workplace monitoring can help detect incidents of data theft and unsafe data handling by implementing file tracking and monitoring USB activity. 

Computer monitoring ensures your staff is using company devices safely and handling sensitive information as laid out in the company’s security policies. 

  1. Better Resource Allocation

Employee monitoring provides useful employee analytics that can help in resource allocation. You can detect underutilized software and applications and either decommission them or figure out why they are being underutilized. 

This way, you won’t waste money on resources that aren’t bringing value to the company. In addition, by checking historical app usage trends, you can anticipate future peak periods and prepare accordingly. 

Disadvantages of Employee Monitoring and How to Address Them

  1. Invasion of Privacy

Depending on the type of employee monitoring approach, employees worry that the data collected would be sensitive, misused, or accessed by unauthorized people. Others may worry that their personal lives are being monitored. 

Employers should strive to limit monitoring to work-related activities and only use these tools during working hours. 

  1. Negative Impact on Employee Morale

Some employees consider monitoring an invasion of their privacy and this increases the risk of lower morale and workplace stress. People may feel more stressed knowing they are being watched. 

To avoid this, choose employee monitoring software that’s not overly invasive, such as keystroke loggers. Consider retaining employee autonomy while monitoring them to reduce the effect it might have on their morale. 

  1. Legal Issues

There’s a lot of controversy around the topic of tracking employee activities. The laws that govern employee monitoring differ depending on where you’re located. You must therefore learn what you need to do before you start monitoring, what is and is not allowed, and understand the state laws. 

You must follow the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) when monitoring phone calls. You must also conform to specific privacy laws like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which has strict requirements for storing and sharing sensitive information. 

Legal and Ethical Considerations for Employee Monitoring

When using employee monitoring solutions, it’s essential to ensure you’re in compliance with the laws and regulations on employee privacy. While observing the law, it’s important to understand what you can do legally and what you should do. 

Here are crucial factors to consider when implementing workplace monitoring: 

Privacy Laws 

Is it legal to monitor employees? The general answer is yes, but how you do it will vary from one country to another. In the U.S., private employees have no right to privacy. Most methods of employee monitoring are legal when disclosed. However, each state has its own laws regarding what can and cannot be monitored. 

In Delaware, for example, the law requires employers to provide notice to employees before monitoring them. Other states restrict the recording of employees using CCTV and webcams. 

Keep in mind that what you’re monitoring affects how you can do so legally. It’s, therefore, paramount to seek legal advice before implementing any employee monitoring practices. 

Employee Consent 

If you plan to collect employee data, make sure you’re using the tools correctly. You shouldn’t spy on your team members but rather ensure you get permission to track user activity. 

In the EU, for example, everyone must consent to personal data collection and be informed how and why it’s being collected and who will have access to it. Avoid being on the wrong side of the law by checking your country’s laws about employee privacy. 

Best Practices for Legal Compliance 

In a privacy-conscious world, you want to monitor your workforce in a manner that’s transparent, respectful of their privacy, and minimally invasive. Here are tips to help you achieve that: 

  • Transparency. Transparency should be your top priority when it comes to employee monitoring ethics. In other words, be upfront about your monitoring policies and make sure you get consent to monitor their activities. One way to do that is by disclosing the scope of what’s being monitored during onboarding and within your employee handbooks. In addition, make sure each team member understands how data is being collected, what’s being collected, and how it will be used. 
  • Only monitor what’s necessary. As an employer, only use data for its intended purpose and respect the boundaries of personal devices. Limit invasive monitoring and implement a privacy-first employee monitoring policy. 
  • Use data fairly and responsibly. The data you collect is meant to offer insights into how workers utilize their time and resources. Do not use the data to punish low performance since computer inactivity may not necessarily indicate disengagement. 
  • Jurisdiction. Employee monitoring and privacy laws vary depending on where your company is located. If you run a multinational company, you’ll need to follow the laws of each state or country where you have a branch. 

Maintaining Employee Trust and Respect 

One major problem of employee monitoring is the trust factor. Employees may perceive it as a form of spying, which can lead to disengagement, dissatisfaction, and stress. 

Being open about the monitoring measures you plan to implement, how the data will be collected, and why it’s important can help win their trust. More importantly, be sure to get regular feedback from your workers on how they feel about monitoring. 

Balancing Privacy and Productivity 

So, how do you keep a healthy balance between monitoring and productivity? 

  • Develop a culture of trust in your company by implementing self-monitoring of personal time for your employees. 
  • Communicate your company’s monitoring policies. 
  • Share the benefits of monitoring. While it’s important to share how data will be collected, used, and accessed, it’s also paramount to let them know how it can be used to improve their day-to-day jobs. For instance, using a time tracker can help distribute workload evenly, simplify task management, improve payroll processing, and streamline workflows. 
  • Use a time tracker that promotes ethical employee monitoring. The right tool gives you control over how and when to use it, is transparent on how it works, and gives you access to all your data. Furthermore, a great tool aims at zero privacy invasion and doesn’t collect sensitive employee information. 

How to Pick the Best Employee Monitoring Software

The best employee monitoring tools provide companies and business leaders insightful data that will help them make informed decisions. Here are three main components to look for in the best employee monitoring software: 

Key Features to Look For

An excellent employee monitoring software should come with these key features: 

  • A simple and interactive user interface for ease of use. 
  • Time management features. To allow better control of time and simplify shift management. It also reduces cases of time theft. 
  • Attendance management. To track employee attendance and monitor clock-in and clock-out times. 
  • Screenshot and screen video capture. To prevent the need to micromanage team members since the screenshots allow managers to see project progress at any time. 
  • Enterprise-level security. The system will be handling confidential company and employee data. Therefore, it must be extremely secure. 
  • Reporting. You should be able to generate detailed reports in just a click – whether it’s idle hours, weekly summary, amounts earned, or apps and website usage. 
  • Timesheets. A powerful employee monitoring software allows you to track the time employees spend on each project. The online timesheets provide a clear breakdown of how each minute was spent and will prove useful in invoice processing and estimating future projects. 
  • Integrations. The tool should offer you the flexibility to integrate different productivity tools for seamless management. 

Choosing the Right Software for Your Business

Your type of business will also inform your decision on the employee monitoring software to use. For example, if your company faces serious security breaches often, you may want to implement a surveillance-heavy type of system. 

If you engage in plenty of file sharing, you’ll want a solution that prevents data theft and monitors USB activity. The key is to assess real company needs and find a tool that offers the functionalities that will address those needs. 

Factors to Consider

Apart from company needs and key features, you might also want to consider factors like: 

  • Affordability and your budget. Shop around to compare price packages. It’s good practice to go for free trials and inquire about payment schemes and discounts. 
  • Team buy-in. Keep in mind that introducing an employee monitoring solution won’t be taken well by everyone. Fortunately, you can make the transition smooth by involving team members in your selection and explaining the direct purpose of using it. 
  • Staff size. The tool you choose should be sufficient enough to serve all team members efficiently.  
  • Technical support. The software should offer reliable customer service in case you run into complications and need assistance. Therefore, look for a provider that offers the best technical support. 

New $10K grants are available, plus free courses. Verizon Small Business Digital Ready.


How to Implement Employee Monitoring Successfully

Communicating with Employees

While as the company owner you have every right to implement a tool you deem fit, your employees will feel more valued if their views are heard. So, take the time to communicate your intentions and plans to your team first to ensure they are on board with the transition. 

Keep in mind that monitoring can have negative side effects on employee productivity. But when employees feel they are being treated fairly, they will be more inclined to embrace your monitoring policies. 

Setting Clear Expectations

If you’re not 100% clear about expectations for employee monitoring, you leave room for confusion and questions, and in the worst-case scenario, legal issues. Being clear about what’s being tracked and what isn’t, why you’re monitoring them, and how the data will be used will streamline the adoption of the monitoring system. 

Your employees should also know how regularly the monitoring will take place and how long the data will be stored. Require each employee to acknowledge that they have read and understood the expectations and are on board by signing it. 

Creating a Monitoring Policy

Before implementing the software, it’s vital to have an employee monitoring policy in place. The policy should clearly define:

  • Who will be monitored
  • How they will be monitored
  • When they will be monitored
  • How the data will be collected and used
  • Who will have access to the data

This document should go in depth in explaining how to resolve issues with monitoring, what’s allowed and not allowed, and the legal issues pertaining to monitoring. Make sure the policy is 100% transparent on everything.

Consider creating your policy in the form of consent, which is a legal requirement in some countries. Get your legal team to review the policy before making it public to ensure it conforms to stipulated laws and regulations.

Final Thoughts

Employee monitoring provides an effective way to deal with low productivity and maintain high-efficiency levels. It also enables you to highlight areas for improvement and identify weaknesses and strengths in your workforce.

Employee monitoring software allows you to keep track of your workers’ performance, improve attendance and time management, and ensure proper utilization of resources.

However, it creates privacy concerns and trust issues for some employees. The trick is to balance these two important aspects to allow employees to be more productive without violating their privacy.

The best way to achieve this is by creating an employee monitoring policy and setting clear expectations elaborating on the roles and responsibilities of each employee. Most importantly, implement a tool that promotes ethical employee monitoring to avoid the risk of privacy infringement or micromanaging workers.

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