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Effective Tools to Track Employees – What, Why and How

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As it is shown in an infographic based on a nationwide study, 22% of employers admit that they track their staff’s e-mails and web surfing, while 36% block some websites at the workplace to avoid distracting and to increase productivity. The same data shows that things like Facebook or Fantasy football cost billions dollars annually, so it is no surprise that employers try to counteract. And due to the development of technology, nowadays even minor companies can allow using some effective tools for time monitoring and tracking employees’ computer activity. Let’s find out what tracking systems they can employ and how this software can be used in modern working environment.

Employee Tracking Software Options

Modern tracking software can save and store information in different ways – collected data is stored on users’ computers, in cloud storages or on servers, while some tracking systems offer combined methods. Anyway, the software makes this information available to employers immediately in real-time or/and recorded playback modes and provides reports, systematizing the collected data. Thus, an employer tracks staff’s activities at a time convenient for him and can respond to emerging situations in a timely manner.

Note that some of this Internet and application tracking software can be classified as spyware, since the programs can work in stealth mode – they cannot be seen in the menu, taskbar, control panel, task list or in any other place typically used for checking applications running on a PC. This tracking software doesn’t reveal its presence and doesn’t affect the overall performance of the system, while collecting data and sending reports to an e-mail or FTP-server secretly. However, there are also applications designed to detect spyware, so an employee has a chance to learn about the monitoring. On the other hand, employee monitoring and time tracking software often comes with the customizable spy option – it can be turned off or on by an employer depending on his needs.

The typical architecture of tracking software includes a server, database, agent and administrator console. Based on the architecture, we can distinguish:

  • solutions on a thick client with the server and agents within a local network;
  • solutions that allow working with agents located in other networks;
  • cloud-based solutions with the agents, which are not bound to any local network, and the database located with the vendor (in this case managing and browsing is carried out via the web console).

Regardless of the architecture of a tracking application, it usually has features that allow the program to fall into one of the following groups:

Perhaps, the most numerous tracking software is represented by applications that are installed on computers to capture keystrokes, make screenshots and monitor Internet traffic. Usually, they can also track all applications launched on the computers and actions taken by users on websites they visit, as well as users’ e-mails and chats in instant messengers. Further, there is tracking software with added functionality – for example, it can take snapshots using computer’s webcam or it records sounds in the room where the computer is located or it tracks peripheral equipment like printers or USB flash drives. In addition to its time tracking functions, such an app can be used more effectively to prevent data leakage, since it provides all-round monitoring, making it harder for an employee to beat out the system.

As said above, usually these applications also work as time tracking software, but their functionality is much wider compared to software designed specifically to track working hours.

  • Time tracking software

Time tracking software works similarly to the previous type of programs, but it stores a minimum of data – only that about sites visited and applications running on the computer. A time tracking application allows recording information about the time when employees start and finish working, as well as they show active and inactive time in apps and on websites. Based on this, employers can figure out which websites and applications distract employees and are subject to blocking or restriction on time-of-use. In addition, employers can find out who among their employees violates work discipline, being late for work or absent during working hours. On the other hand, time tracking software allows identifying the most hard working staff members – don’t take any tracking system as a tool of punishment, since it just helps an employer to get insight into routine workflow and the outcomes can be both positive and negative.

It is worthwhile to say that some of the applications feature a built-in calculation function – they provide automated payroll calculations based on the time an employee spent really working. However, the simplicity and small amount of data to be stored and transmitted are virtually few advantages of a highly specialized time tracking application, since it cannot help much in solving data leakage problem.

  • DLP

Quite another pair of shoes is DLP (Data Leak Prevention) software. It is designed to specifically prevent the leakage of confidential information, including the leakage caused by the malicious intent of employees. Roughly said, DLP-systems capture and analyze data streams circulating within the perimeter of protected system, which is usually represented by company’s servers. If some sensitive information is detected within the stream, the active component of the tracking system is triggered and the information is blocked. With the help of deep packet inspection technology (DPI), DLP-systems check not only the headers of messages, but the entire content.

Usually, such a system can operate in two modes – monitoring and blocking. In the first case, the tracking system simply monitors the data stream and informs a security officer about suspicious messages, while the officer assesses the threat and takes appropriate action. In the second case, the data tracker is configured to block certain messages by default. For example, you can configure the tracking system to block all messages that contain passport data or credit card information – if somebody will try to send a message containing this data, it just won’t be sent. Though focused on monitoring data transferred within a network, some DLP-solutions can have features of time tracking software, providing reports on users’ activity during working hours.

  • Other options

It is worth mentioning project management software – some applications of this type offer functionality that helps track employees at their workplace. Typically, they work like business-messengers, but also allow keeping track of employees’ progress on assignments and provide information about the time spent by employees on task execution.

By the way, similar features can be found in AMCS – an access monitoring and control system. Designed mainly to register and grant or deny access within a certain network, the system successfully performs tasks of a working time tracker – when an employee passes its access points, the time is registered and the employee is identified. Thus, an employer can learn when employees come to work, when they leave, how long they are absent and so on. Sure, there are also video surveillance solutions, which are rather effective in keeping track of employee activity and productivity. However, the last two options refer to hardware-software complexes, which are more expensive and difficult to deploy, compared to an employee tracking app.

The advantage of application tracking software is that it is relatively inexpensive (and you can even find some of the programs for free), as well as it is easy to deploy and manage. No additional equipment is required and no specially trained personnel are needed – the tracking application can be managed by a company owner, HR manager or IT administrator or any other person assigned. A wide choice of tracking applications allows choosing the best option depending on company’s structure, budget, scale and other peculiarities. Certainly, the choice also depends on the goals you want to achieve, since tracking software varies in its features. And since we have already learnt about its possibilities, let’s take a closer look at how such an application can help your business gain the upper hand.

Choose Your Goal and Chose an Application to Reach It

Both employers and employees should understand that tracking software is only one of effective tools helping business to grow. It is not about spying on somebody’s private life and it is not about showing who the boss is. By deploying a tracking application, company can achieve several goals:

  • Evaluation and improvement of staff productivity

According to a recent study, conducted by OfficeTeam, a US recruitment company, an average employee spends about 8 hours a week, visiting social media sites, doing online shopping, answering personal e-mails, playing games and performing other personal tasks. Another survey shows that that even employees think that this affects their productivity – 4 in 5 respondents believe that visiting social media sites distracts them from their assignments. Obviously, employers need to do something in response to this trend, but first, they should find out what prevents their employees from working properly.

Employee tracking application provides you with reports, revealing those factors. It can aggregate information on the most visited websites and the most frequently used apps, thus showing the most time-consuming activities. You can see clearly whether these activities are work-related or not – if the application demonstrates that your staffers visit Facebook more frequently than your corporate website or even MS Word, then you can take appropriate measures.

Most employee tracker software solutions offer a blocking option – you can prohibit visiting certain websites or using certain apps. As an alternative, you can allow using a limited number of programs and web-services, choosing only those, which are required for work. Also, you can find an employee tracker application, which offers more flexible configuration, such as a possibility to allow access to apps and web-resources only for a limited time or only at a specific time. For example, you can put all popular social media sites on the black list or allow access only to your corporate web-pages or remove all restrictions for the duration of lunch break (a timer will show your stuff how much time they have for using limited websites and programs). If the application settings are flexible enough, you will be able to allow certain activity for some users or even departments, while prohibiting it for others. This is very convenient, since monitoring can show that one employee spends 5 minutes to check his Twitter once a day and this doesn’t affect his productivity, while another employee can spend hours surfing the Web.

Thus, by combining monitoring and blocking tools alone, you can eliminate at least some of distractive factors preventing your staff from focusing on their assignments. But this is only one of opportunities provided by tracking software.

By monitoring your staff members’ activity, you can assign tasks more reasonably. For example, time tracking software shows that it takes a lot of time for one of your employees to make a Power Point presentation, while another team member is really good at it. Next time, you will be able to give an urgent assignment for creating a presentation to the employee who is sure to meet the deadline. Similarly, by viewing screenshots of employees’ computers in real-time mode, you can quickly figure out which of them is overstretched at the moment and which of them is sitting on the thumbs – obviously, the latter will be a more suitable candidate for performing some urgent tasks.

  • Cutting costs

Do you really need an employee or even a department doing nothing at the workplace? The Forbes article tries to attract employers’ attention to the fact that in just one year the number of employees wasting their time at work has grown from 69% to 89%! Moreover, about 4% of employees spend half their working hours doing anything, but working. Would you like to know whether the stats is true for your company and which of your employees make up this 4%? Due to a time tracking application deployed on your company’s computers and by receiving detailed reports, screenshots and other actual data, you will learn how much time your employees spend really working and how much time they waste. And if it turns out that only a part of them performs their tasks at the best of times, this will be a good reason to think about reductions in personnel, transferring employees to another job or changing company pay scale. By the way, data delivered by an employee tracker application can be used to make your reward policy more efficient, while improving motivation. For example, you may find out that the brilliant results of some department were achieved not by the efforts of its chief clerk, who actually spent days watching NBA games, but by virtue of his assistant, who deserved to be encouraged. Thus, you will be able to apply the carrot and stick approach more justly and effectively, motivating your staff and reducing bonuses paid to negligent employees. Also, this allows identifying the most hard-working and talented employees for further promotion – you won’t miss out key employees, but will be able to get rid of lazybones. However, cost saving doesn’t refer to your personnel policy alone. Through reports on application activity, you will be able to keep track of web services and software you pay for. Do you really need this much-vaunted application or you cannot put it to good use in your actual working environment? If not, why spend money on it? And if you can see that your staff doesn’t use some web-service, then why pay to prolong the subscription?

  • Preventing data leaks and other insider threats

study conducted by Ponemon Institute in 2016 revealed that 874 insider incidents cost $4.3 million to US companies and that 68% of the incidents were caused by employees’ negligence. Sure, there are a significant number of ill-intentioned incidents, but our point is that even if you think your staff is all warm and fuzzy, this doesn’t mean they cannot make mistakes. In fact, there are only few of them:

  • Malware or pirated software downloaded from the Web

Using a tracking application, you will be able to control who downloads what – this will give you the opportunity to remove the unwanted software in a timely manner, to prevent its sharing within the entire local network and to identify the person you can recover from, if the company suffered any losses.

  • Sensitive data leakage

When a tracking application allows you to view all messages sent by your staff through their computers, you can capture ones, containing certain keywords, thus preventing possible leaks and identifying malicious or negligent insiders. If the tracker application offers some notification or blocking tools, you will be able to fight the threat in automated mode.

  • Workplace harassment and information discrediting business reputation

According to the Harvard Business Review, each case of sexual harassment at workplace can cost a company $22.500 annually only in lost productivity. Add the online reputation stats published by Forbes and you will understand that by tracking your staff’s posts on the Web and their chats in instant messengers, you can avoid multiple losses.

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