Employee Monitoring: An Expert Guide

With a plethora of live and digital options competing to entice workers’ eyes and minds away from their jobs, more and more companies are turning to tracking workers computers. With a monitoring strategy in place, organizations can noticeably boost productivity, reduce business risk, improve the quality of work, enhance security, prevent data leakage, protect intellectual property, and keep people productive, all day.

Employee monitoring is broadly defined as a way for employers to observe and track employee activity while in the workplace, when accessing the corporate network, or when representing the company outside of the office. It can be accomplished in a number of ways, usually by designing a solution made up of several types of tracking or surveillance, which may include:

  • ID badges that use bar-codes, magnetic stripes, proximity, smart credential, or radio-frequency identification (RFID) technologies to track and manage workers and assets. Can also be used for time tracking.
  • Closed-circuit video cameras for observing a workplace and video surveillance systems that record employee activities, and can offer the ability to search by event, activity, time, and date.
  • Employee monitoring software allows employers to observe and track computer usage, including email messages written and received, other electronic communications, applications use habits, individual keystrokes, Internet browsing history, network logon/off times, files copied to USB drives, and their physical location (for remote workers).
  • Onsite security staff serving to deter unauthorized access to buildings or equipment, and employee mischief or theft.
  • Biometric facial-recognition systems that utilize cameras and AI (Artificial Intelligence) to confirm identity by comparing facial textures and shapes with databases using photos or video frames.
  • Phone tapping (phone calls recording) can be used to establish facts around team members productivity, quality of customer service, and provide documentation in cases where leaks of confidential information and/or trade secrets may be a concern.
  • Location tracking uses GPS or RFID technology in company-issued phones to identify workers location and movements. GPS tracking can also be used for fleet vehicles tracking.
  • Private investigators are sometimes engaged by organizations wanting to monitor staff meetings outside of the office (in cafes, coffee shops, etc.) in circumstances in which there is suspicion about information leaks.
  • Social media tracking includes automatic scanning and analysis of social media posts by employees to make sure they adhere to the company’s policies

Growth in monitoring usage

The increasing popularity of computer monitoring can be most clearly understood by examining some key data associated with the productivity issues and financial impact of a distributed or distracted workers:


The business case for user monitoring

With more and more employers becoming concerned with the sharply increasing productivity and security threats presented by social media and other distractions, the business value to be realized by overseeing users activity is apparent. It’s been estimated that the employees in the top 20 percent in performance make 80 percent of an organization’s success happen.

Imagine what could be accomplished if there were an efficient way to guide an even larger percentage of workers into that high-performance category?

  • Improved productivity – keeps more employees on-task, and for longer periods of time
  • Protection of intellectual property – assures that intangible assets stay within the control of your company
  • Decreased business risk – easier detection of malicious or careless employee activities that can threaten a business
  • Enhanced compliance – better data to establish and demonstrate adherence to industry standards and legal requirements

How workers feel about monitoring: What you need to know

Employees generally have a range of strong reactions to the thought of having their actions monitored in the workplace. Many are concerned about their right to privacy, and how that extends into their professional environment. Some feel that employee tracking fosters a Big Brother culture of fear and suspicion.

And those feelings are of course, valid. There was widespread outrage when companies began to announce that they would be implanting RFID chips in employees’ hands. These would be scanned to automate activities like entering buildings, making cafeteria purchases, and logging into corporate networks. There were suggestions that employers could use these chips to track employee activities outside of work hours, and that workers’ privacy and personal data could be compromised.d.

Once put into practice however, many employees reported that the chips were easy to use, and made their days run more smoothly. In fact, user adoption increased.

The legal aspects of employee monitoring

Federal laws and state privacy laws in the USA generally allow employers a great deal of leeway in defining the extent of their monitoring programs. Some state and local laws require employee consent, yet most don’t require companies to inform staff members they are being monitored at all.

When specifically talking about electronic monitoring, some states, including Connecticut and Delaware, prohibit employers from monitoring workers without prior notice. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) supports two cases for monitoring employees:

  • Legitimate business purpose – this allows companies to monitor employees’ electronic communications if it has a “legitimate business purpose” for monitoring
  • Prior employee consent – employers also may monitor workplace communications if they have obtained prior employee consent ― usually done during the onboarding process as part of standard paperwork completed on the first day

Even with consent however, litigation can still occur. Today, most worker-initiated monitoring-related lawsuits are associated with terminations due to misuse of company-owned cars and smartphones. As tracking technologies continue to develop though, there may be a rise in litigation around employers’ use of advanced technologies such as drones or other yet-to-be-developed devices.

How employers can protect themselves from a legal standpoint

Tom Wulffson, a partner at the law firm Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger in California, represents companies in employee privacy cases. He recommends that companies follow these guidelines to ensure that they are on the right side of employee privacy:

  1. Always disclose any surveillance to your team members
  2. Define a legitimate business interest for monitoring
  3. Do a cost-benefit analysis comparing the GPS tracking of company-provided smartphones with the data you expect to yield by tracking that device
  4. Ensure that all tracking is consistent across all employees, and that it’s carried out by trained and trusted staff or third-party vendors

The takeaway? When implementing a tracking program for your company, it’s always best to research applicable legal issues in your area and get workers consent whenever required by law.

CHECKLIST: How to choose a monitoring solution for your business

Identify the problems you want to solve

Every business is different, and a one-size-fits-all monitoring solution won’t work. Make sure you understand what your supervision strategy needs to address, so you can find the best match:

  • Lagging productivity
  • Intellectual property theft
  • Behaviors creating business risk
  • Inaccurate or not enough data collected for compliance reporting
  • Inefficient new hire onboarding
  • Staff oversight and management challenges
  • Automate manual HR/Payroll processes
  • Insider threats

Outline your business requirements

From industry regulatory issues to federal, state/province, and local laws, identify the business requirements specific to your company:

  • Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) – healthcare industry data privacy and security provisions
  • Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) – US federal law outlining requirements for all US public company boards, management, and public accounting firms
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) – information security standard related to the processing of major credit cards
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – data privacy regulation for the European Union that standardizes data protection law and imposes strict new rules on controlling and processing personal data
  • Human Resources – your HR leadership should have early and extensive input into solution development to ensure minimal impact on morale, and help drive internal support for the solution
  • Industry requirements – every employee tracking solution will look and perform differently based upon the industry in which it’s being used; ensure that the elements of your solution are all appropriate for your specific case and business model
  • Remote workers – organizations with a distributed workforce may need to focus their supervision primarily on networked and mobile device

Identify the types of monitoring that fit your business model

Most monitoring solutions are made up of multiple elements, tailored to the specific needs of an organization:

  • ID badges
  • Closed-circuit video cameras
  • Computer surveillance software
  • Onsite security staff
  • Biometric facial-recognition systems
  • Phone tapping
  • Location tracking (GPS)
  • Other

If considering software monitoring, determine the functionality you need

All software monitoring solutions are not created equal — define the features and functionality that will provide the most meaningful return on investment:

  • Real-time viewing
  • Reporting
  • Simultaneous computer/user views
  • Alerts for specific content, user behavior, or policy violations
  • Email and Instant messaging tracking
  • Usage data on laptops traveling with remote workers
  • Staff attendance tracking
  • Website tracking (Internet usage monitor)
  • Program usage
  • Keystroke logger (or keylogger)
  • Screen supervision and scheduled screenshot captures

Step-by-step: How to build an employee monitoring solution specification

Once you’ve decided what you require from a solution for overseeing workers activity, consolidate the information you’ve gathered into a master roadmap that will guide you through purchase and implementation.

What goes into a solution specification? There’s no “one-size-fits-all” here, but your solution spec will likely include some or all of the following:

  • An Executive Summary that provides background information and an overview on the project
  • A list of assumptions, risks, and dependencies that will impact the project
  • Detailed functional requirements to outline any criteria that will be used in solution design and testing
  • A reference list of supporting documents, and links to relevant resources
  • Revision log to track changes, and document responsibility for updates
  • A glossary of both technical and non-technical terminology used in the spec

Best practices for deploying an employee tracking solution

Implementing a solution for tracking employees at work can be helpful in resolving productivity, security and insider threat issues for any size company. To streamline the transition throughout your organization, look to the following set of core best practices:

Introduce the solution to leadership teams and get buy-in on business value

As with any new initiative rollout, it’s essential to get key leadership on board with the solution early on to help drive understanding and adoption throughout the company. Once a decision has been made regarding the nature of the solution you’ll be implementing, brief your executive team and management leadership to help them understand the issues that the solution will resolve, and the business value that will be realized from monitoring.

Develop a Computer Use Policy and have all employees sign it

Getting a signed computer use policy from all workers will ensure that there is a company-wide understanding of expectations around the use of company-owned hardware, software, and network infrastructure. A basic computer use policy should include the following:

  • General usage – the basic ground rules of your computer policy, such as sending/receiving content, adult content, and personal content
  • Monitoring – an outline of how voice and data communications may be monitored
  • Security – an overview of expectations around confidentiality and user identity
  • Networks – network and Internet usage policies for workers as representatives of the company
  • Copyright – guidelines for proper use of copyrighted materials belonging to the company — and to third parties
  • Discipline – corrective actions that may be employed for those in violation of the computer use policy

Need help putting together your policy document? Download our free Computer Use Policy Template and customize it to your need.

Train managers on new processes and (if applicable) any new software that will be used

Once the solution is in place, start to work with your Human Resources and IT departments. Train management teams on processes and tools associated with your employee auditing initiative. If you worked with a partner company to deploy computer monitoring software, arrange to have their sales engineer conduct training on how to use the new system, and how the reporting process works.

Have managers introduce the solution to their teams to drive awareness, share employee benefits, and address concerns

It’s important to give management the information and tools they’ll need to successfully introduce the initiative to the employees on their teams. Consider developing a slide presentation or brief video for them to share that will explain the employee-facing value of monitoring. Managers can explain that it is not used for spying on them, but to improve overall security in the company.

Depending upon the organization, benefits for the team members may include:

  • Improved workplace safety (no access for unauthorized individuals)
  • Less opportunity for theft of personal belongings
  • Time savings (quicker and easier authorization to enter the building, log into the network, etc.)
  • Insight to help you improve your productivity
  • Helps managers encourage better work-life balance through network use logs

If an employee has a better idea of how workplace activity supervision can help benefit both themselves and the company as a whole, then they are more likely to warm up to the idea of being monitored while they work.

Roll appropriate parts of the solution out in phases across the company

If you’re implementing user monitoring in an enterprise environment, it’s recommended to stage the rollout of certain components to prevent work slowdowns due to learning curves. It also enables you to receive incremental feedback from managers and staff, and make necessary adjustments and improvements prior to introducing the solution to the next group within the company.

Provide ample, responsive support for users to troubleshoot and resolve issues

Make sure that there is a clear path of communication for both staff and managers who have questions about your employee monitoring initiative. These issues can range from privacy concerns to system troubleshooting. Make sure to identify which members of the leadership team are on point to respond to each type of inquiry.

Gather feedback from managers and employees to help improve the experience

For the first 9-12 months, schedule regular check-ins with managers to gather feedback and work on strategies to address concerns as they arise. Gathering internal input early and often is key to having the smoothest implementation possible, but there will always need to be adjustments, so keep the lines of communication open to your teams.

Boost productivity & protect your business

If you need an easy-to-use software solution to support your computer monitoring initiative, SoftActivity can help you boost productivity and protect your business assets:

  • Stop personal use of company networks for web surfing, instant messaging, private emails, and social media
  • Eliminate time wasted on games and unproductive videos
  • Document instances of harassment to help put an end to it
  • Protect against workplace fraud and provide documentation for disciplinary action
  • Prevent theft or misuse of intellectual property and trade secrets
  • Maintain records of electronic communications to improve compliance

Find out how SoftActivity can help you protect your business and boost productivity. Download a free trial today!

About SoftActivity

SoftActivity is a leader in employee monitoring software, with thousands of customers worldwide. Our employee monitoring tools protect organizations from business risks like insider threats and office cyberloafing. SoftActivity provides keystroke logging, Internet and apps usage history, attendance tracking, screen recording, real time alerts, reports and other user monitoring technology.


FAQ – Employee Monitoring

Q: What is employee monitoring?

Employee monitoring is broadly defined as a way for employers to observe and track employee activity while in the workplace, when accessing the corporate network, or when representing their company outside of the office.

Q: What problems does employee monitoring solve?

Employee monitoring can help improve productivity, prevent intellectual property theft, reduce the behaviors that create business risk, enhance compliance reporting and auditing, streamline new hire onboarding, eliminate staff management challenges, and make manual HR and payroll processes more efficient by tracking attendance and work hours.

Q: What are the challenges of rolling out a user monitoring initiative?

You’ll be dealing with the cost and time involved in installing and learning new systems, leadership that may be resistant to dramatic change, HR professionals trying to adapt their guidelines to the new expectations, and employees concerned about their privacy in the workplace.

Q: Is it legal to monitor my employees’ workplace activities?

Federal and state privacy laws in the US generally allow employers a great deal of leeway to define the extent of their employee activity tracking programs. Some state and local laws require employee consent, yet others do not require companies to inform workers they are being monitored. Make sure to familiarize yourself with privacy laws that apply in your location.

Q: Do I have to tell my employees that I’m monitoring their activities?

Some states, including Connecticut and Delaware, prohibit employers from monitoring staff without prior notice. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) supports two cases for monitoring workers: When there is a “legitimate business purpose” for monitoring, and when prior employee consent has been obtained. In implementing an user tracking program for your company, it’s always best to research how the privacy laws in your area apply and get employee consent whenever required.