Perhaps you’ve decided to emphasize productivity more than ever in your workplace and want to know whether it’s legal to use software that tracks how employees use their computers. Below, we’ll investigate the laws surrounding that issue and why you might want to see what employees do — or fail to do — as well as introduce three monitoring tools to try.
The Basics of the Legal Details
Remember to consult your legal advisor on the details. This varies significantly by geography and there are also important considerations regarding how you notify and train users. But here is a very generic intro: If you provide computers for employees to use at work, certain laws permit you to monitor how those workers use the devices. That’s because the machines are workplace property — even if employees take them home to use during off-hours. The legislation is not as straightforward as a bring-your-own-device situation. However, it’s generally accepted that because employees connect to a corporate network, monitoring remains legal. (as we said above, this varies by geography and nation, the EU has very strict rules on this and the para above is really not going to apply there).
Some people are also surprised monitoring of a work-owned computer could also extend non-work correspondences. There were several court cases involving accessing personal email accounts on work computers, and the rulings did not always conclude employers have to abide by a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Furthermore, you are only required to give notice of employee monitoring in Connecticut or Delaware. In Colorado and Tennessee, state laws require adopting policies related to employee email monitoring.
Why Might Monitoring Be Beneficial?
One of the most apparent reasons employers seek to check their employees' internet habits is to ensure they are using their work time as effectively as possible. However, you could also start doing it if you're worried employees might give away trade secrets or otherwise breach confidentiality.
On a positive note, internet tracking allows you to identify and reward especially productive employees, then encourage others to adopt the habits. Similarly, monitoring spotlights wasteful company-wide practices emphasizes the need to make improvements and helps you accurately plan team projects. These advantages are useful regardless of your industry.
The Potential Negative Effects of Employee Monitoring on Team Morale
Like almost anything else, the decision to keep track of employees could have downsides. For example, workers might feel you’re reducing them to mere numbers and not seeing them as whole people. Also, the knowledge of being watched could add stress and negatively affect performance. Some people might even unnecessarily fear being fired and start looking for other work, which could increase turnover.
To avoid those outcomes, it’s a good idea to let employees know about the monitoring software, even though it’s not usually a legal requirement. Furthermore, tell workers how you’ll use the collected information and why you want it. Show that you’re open to receiving feedback, too.
Now, let’s look at a few software options you might want to consider:
ActivTrak uses a dashboard format to show you the total number of productive minutes versus unproductive ones from an entire organization or single employees. Installing the monitoring agent on an employee’s computer only takes a few seconds. After that, you start receiving usage statistics, URLs visited and even screenshots from devices. (Free)
In addition to a monitoring feature, Hubstaff offers time tracking, so you can see when your team members work and how long they take on particular tasks. Furthermore, Hubstaff works on all computer operating systems. Complementing mobile apps for iOS and Android even have a location-tracking feature that allows you to see where employees are in the building.
A notes feature allows workers to describe their experiences while completing tasks, too. Then, if something took longer than expected or there were technical difficulties, it’s possible to give details for managers to see. (Free, premium versions starting at $5 per month. 14-day free trial available.)
3. Veriato 360
Unlike some monitoring solutions, Veriato 360 captures keystrokes in addition to screen data. You can see the conversations employees have on social media, watch as they log into websites or perform searches and more.
There’s also a feature that grabs live footage of what happens on an employee’s screen as often as every second, then lets you play it back. Getting that information could give context to online behaviors. When necessary, you can export individual screenshots or combine several into a short video clip, allowing you to gather evidence before taking disciplinary action.
Activity alert features warn you when employees might be taking actions that violate policies or put the company at risk, too. After investigating a notification, you can decide how to handle the situation. (15-day free trial available. After that, request a quote.)
Now that you’re aware of the legal specifics related to watching your employees’ internet habits while they work and know the advantages and possible disadvantages of doing it, you’re in an appropriate position to make plans. One of the software options listed above could be a good fit for your organization — do your research, weigh the options and choose the best one for you.
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