Worried about how to monitor employees working from home?
With the right employee monitoring software, you can easily keep track of your remote workforce. And from reducing micromanagement to boosting remote employee productivity, it offers several benefits for both employees and employers.
However, before you can monitor remote employees, you must be aware of all the legal aspects surrounding it.
Don’t worry. In this article, we’ll explain how to know if remote employees are working.
This Article Contains:
(click on the links below to jump to a specific section)
- Top 11 Remote Employee Monitoring Solutions
- Employee Monitoring Fundamentals:
Let’s get started.
Top 11 Remote Employee Monitoring Software for 2021
Here are our picks for the top 11 remote employee monitoring tools:
1. Time Doctor
Time Doctor is one of the most powerful time tracking tools for 2021.
Used by companies like Verizon, Ericsson, and RE/MAX, it’s no surprise that Time Doctor is the best option for you and your team.
With Time Doctor, managers can track:
- The tasks your team is working on.
- The accurate time they spend on each task.
- The websites and apps they use.
- When they log in and log out.
- Billable hours accurately down to the second.
Time Doctor is the best way to keep your employees productive. So let’s take a closer look at some of the features that make Time Doctor special.
Here are some of Time Doctor’s best employee activity tracking features:
A. Flexible Time Tracking
Time Doctor offers both interactive and automatic time tracking for additional flexibility.
In the interactive mode, employees can start the timer when they begin a task and stop the timer when the task is complete or they want to take a break.
- Open Time Doctor and enter the name of the task you’ll be working on.
- Click “Start” to begin tracking time. Time Doctor will quietly track your time as you work.
- If you need to take a break or you’ve completed the task, simply click “Stop,” and the timer will stop recording.
In the automatic time tracking mode, Time Doctor will start tracking time the moment you turn on your computer. This way, you won’t forget to turn on the timer for each work session.
B. Comprehensive Productivity Reports
With Time Doctor, you get access to detailed real-time reports to help you analyze employee performance.
Some of the reports include:
- Activity Summary Report: View you the active minutes, active seconds, unproductive, manual, and mobile time for each employee over a selected time.
- Attendance Report: Shows you when an employee is present, absent, partially absent, late, and attendance information.
- Hours Tracked Report: See how many hours your employees have tracked per day, per week, or for any date range you select.
- Projects & Tasks Report: Know the user activity for each project and task.
- Timeline Report: View the time a remote team member spent working daily and weekly.
- Web & App Usage Report: Visualize the time spent on different websites and applications to help ensure that users are spending their time productively.
- Custom Export Report: Customize reports to see only the data you require, so you don’t have to download numerous individual reports.
To ensure your remote employees are actually working, Time Doctor can help you identify how much time your virtual team members spend unproductively.
It tracks time in percentages based on the percent of seconds and minutes that the employee spent idle.
An idle second or minute is one spent without any keyboard, mouse, or computer activity. This helps you see if employees spend too much of their time idle and whether they’re being productive.
Note: Time Doctor isn’t a keystroke logger. This time tracking software will only check if an employee pressed any keys or mouse buttons to calculate idle time.
D. Optional Screencasts
The screencasts feature is great for managing remote employees.
You can record screencasts of your employees’ screens to see what they’re working on even when they’re working from home.
Additionally, since they’re aware that you’re monitoring them, employees are less likely to engage in distracting activities like browsing social media.
Note: You can blur or delete screenshots with sensitive data like passwords to protect employee privacy.
E. Powerful Chrome Extension
Here’s how it works:
- Download the browser extension from the Chrome Web Store.
- The extension adds a start/stop button within your chosen project management tool.
Employees can use the Time Doctor button to track time across various apps without switching between them.
- Enable the payroll feature to conveniently make payments with PayPal, Wise, Gusto, or ADP payment gateways.
- Simple onboarding and intuitive interface.
- Suitable for startups and large organizations.
- Easily create and assign projects and tasks to specific employees.
- Conveniently manage employee shifts with the work schedules feature.
- Track time when you’re out of the office with the mobile app for Android devices.
- Export custom reports into either .CSV or .XLS formats for easy storage.
- Monitor your employee’s computer activity levels with screencasts.
- The productivity ratings feature lets you decide which websites are productive or unproductive. For example, you can categorize social media websites as unproductive for your software development team.
- Strict data security and privacy policies.
Time Doctor’s paid plans start at $7/user per month, and there’s also a free 14-day trial (no credit card required).
- G2: 4.3/5 (180+ reviews)
- Capterra: 4.5/5 (330+ reviews)
2. Toggl Track
Toggl Track is an employee monitoring solution that lets you keep track of your remote team. It’s easy-to-use and most suitable for medium and small businesses.
- A handy built-in Pomodoro timer.
- iOS, Android, and desktop apps for Windows, Mac, Linux devices and extensions for Chrome and Firefox browsers.
- View time data from all projects and user activity in a single dashboard.
- Supports third-party app integrations with Asana and Evernote.
Toggl Track’s paid plans start at $10/user per month. It also has a free plan with limited features.
- G2: 4.6/5 (1400+ reviews)
- Capterra: 4.7/5 (1680+ reviews)
Read our in-depth Toggl review for more information on this time tracker.
RescueTime isn’t just a time tracking app. It’s also a web-based employee productivity tracking platform that runs in the background and helps you focus with defined focus sessions.
- Tracks the time you spend on a particular tool or website during your work hours.
- The software blocks sites that are considered distracting. You can customize this list of non-productive sites.
- You can specify your productivity goals and notify you if you’re spending too much time on a particular task.
- Automatically generates an accurate timesheet showing time spent in meetings, focus work, and other employee activity.
RescueTime’s paid plans start at $12/user per month.
- G2: 4.2/5 (60+ reviews)
- Capterra: 4.6/5 (110+ reviews)
You can learn more about this employee monitoring software in our RescueTime Review.
Hours is a timesheet app for simple time tracking.
This software tracks time by keeping a running list of things you’re working on. You can switch between tasks, each one with its own timer, to start and stop tracking time.
- A simple virtual timer that can measure the time you spend on different tasks.
- Notifications for when you start or stop the timer to ensure you don’t mistakenly log time.
- The Mac web app can sync your data across your mobile device and Apple watch for flexible work patterns.
- This monitoring solution lets you include timer notes on your invoices when billing clients.
The paid plans for this employee monitoring tool start at $8/user per month.
- G2: N/A
- Capterra: N/A
Timely is an automatic time tracking software that’s a good option for remote teams. With it, you can centralize remote workflow in a real-time project management dashboard.
- Compare schedules across teams and projects to find the best time for collaboration even if your team works remotely.
- All tracked user activity stays private to each employee, and they control what data to share.
- Customize reports and share them with employees, clients, and other stakeholders using a private URL.
- Captures the time you spend in every web and desktop app in the background with its Memory app.
The paid plans for this employee monitoring solution start at $10/user per month.
- G2: 4.8/5 (130+ reviews)
- Capterra: 4.7/5 (630+ reviews)
Harvest is a great time tracking and monitoring solution for organizations that work with tons of clients daily. With advanced invoicing capabilities, Harvest can seamlessly integrate with your billing processes.
- Start and stop recording time as you work, or enter your working hours manually into a timesheet.
- Create invoices or run payroll from your tracked hours. Also, process payments across time zones through Paypal or Stripe.
- Automatically syncs across devices to keep up with flexible work patterns.
- Multiple setting options to adjust billing rates and monitor tracking and processing according to the client you’re working with.
Harvest’s paid plans start at $12/user per month.
- G2: 4.3/5 (700+ reviews)
- Capterra: 4.5/5 (430+ reviews)
Want more information on Harvest? Here is our comprehensive review of Harvest.
Everhour is a good web-based monitoring software to see if remote employees are working. It has built-in time tracking capabilities to keep a tab on your remote workforce.
- Powerful live dashboard that allows you to take stock of what your team has on their plate at the moment.
- Supports advanced billing functionalities such as invoice generation in multiple currencies.
- Fully functional browser extensions enable easy accessibility.
- Can edit time records if you’ve made a mistake. However, business owners or managers can lock the time editing feature for a period of time.
Everhour’s paid plan starts at $10/user per month for a minimum of five users.
- G2: 4.7/5 (120+ reviews)
- Capterra: 4.7/5 (250+ reviews)
Timeneye is a straightforward time tracking app that offers easy, transparent monitoring for remote teams, with manual and automatic time tracking.
- Track billable hours separately from non-billable hours for easy categorization. This is helpful if you have nonexempt employees who are entitled to earn the federal minimum wage and qualify for overtime pay.
- Detailed reports on each team member’s time use to keep track of your team’s efficiency.
- Activity tracking for specific projects, budgets, and workloads for simplified project management.
- Integrates with multiple third-party apps like Asana, ClickUp, GitHub, etc.
Paidi paid plans for this employee tracking software start at $7/user per month.
- G2: 4.6/5 (10+ reviews)
- Capterra: 4.8/5 (100+ reviews)
ClickTime is a handy tracking tool to help you manage your projects, remote employee schedules, and available resources.
- Accurately track remote employee hours logged to specific projects in real-time.
- Create tons of reports to give you a better picture of your workforce. You can easily measure employee performance, productivity, and work allocation with these insights.
- The centralized dashboard gives you a helpful overview of all your projects and their schedules and deadlines.
- Powerful browser apps that allow you to track your time without leaving a webpage.
ClickTime’s paid plans start at $12/user per month.
- G2: 4.4/5 (150+ reviews)
- Capterra: 4.6/5 (190+ reviews)
TopTracker monitoring software lets you track time at the click of a button. It’s suitable for freelancers, managers, and smaller remote teams.
- A multifunctional dashboard that lets you keep track of your remote staff and manage employee productivity.
- Detailed reports about your remote team’s performance and your project’s progress.
- Desktop apps for Windows, Linux, macOS, and Fedora systems.
- It also offers in-app invoicing and payment features.
This remote monitoring software is a free tool.
- G2: N/A
- Capterra: N/A
EmailAnalytics shows you how many emails your employees send and receive. It also indicates their average response times but it isn’t very helpful when it comes to remote employee time tracking.
- Robust filters so you can include or exclude only the emails you want to analyze.
- Daily or weekly email activity reports for your team delivered to your inbox.
- Real-time email activity dashboard for you and your team.
- Create teams and group your team members into them.
EmailAnalytics paid plans start at $15/user per month.
- G2: N/A
- Capterra: N/A
Now that we have explored the best remote employee monitoring software available today, let’s dive into some remote monitoring fundamentals.
We’ll go over what remote employee monitoring is, its benefits, and challenges. We’ll also see how to monitor employees working from home and provide actionable tips to make remote employee monitoring a breeze.
What is Remote Employee Monitoring?
Remote employee monitoring involves tracking your remote employees’ activity levels and team productivity, usually with the help of digital tools.
This is essential because remote work has become the norm with the COVID 19 pandemic.
And employers and managers are concerned about how to know if remote employees are working — after all, they are no longer working from a physical office space.
Fortunately, remote work monitoring tools help you monitor remote workers, track their billable hours, and gauge their productivity.
Some remote monitoring software such as Hubstaff and Activtrak also have monitoring features like GPS tracking to monitor employee’s GPS locations during their workday. Other tools, like Teramind, can help you identify insider threats and even give you remote access to an employee’s computer webcam.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of monitoring remote work.
7 Key Benefits of Monitoring Remote Work
Here are the benefits of using an employee monitoring system:
- With a good time tracking tool, freelancers and contractors have concrete proof of time spent when billing client projects.
- Your employees will be held accountable for their output each day. This ensures that they’re motivated enough to produce results regularly.
- Accurate employee monitoring data helps managers set realistic project estimates.
- Reduces the need for office space as your entire team can remain productive remotely.
- You’ll have fewer worries when hiring remote workers as the tool can help ensure they’re committed to your organization.
- Remote employee monitoring software reduces the need for micromanagement.
- Monitoring employees in a remote environment can lead to increased productivity because it motivates employees to perform at their best.
While monitoring employees’ remote work offers several benefits, it also has several challenges you need to consider beforehand.
2 Major Challenges of Monitoring Remote Work
Here are two things you should be aware of before you begin remote monitoring:
1. Legal Aspects of Remote Employee Monitoring
Surveillance apps for remote employee monitoring have raised concerns about employee privacy.
As a result, employers may be asking themselves, is workplace surveillance legal?
The short answer is yes, as long as you do it the right way.
Generally, if a worker is using their employer’s equipment or working on an employer’s network, the employer can monitor what they do.
If an employee is using their own computer and internet, you must get their consent before monitoring them. You could do this by developing a remote work policy and have new employees sign it to acknowledge their acceptance.
Now, let’s look at the federal and state laws governing employee monitoring:
A. Federal Laws Governing Employee Monitoring
The most important federal law to cover the issue of employee monitoring is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA).
This law consists of three relevant titles:
- Title 1 of this act makes it illegal to intentionally intercept, use, disclose or otherwise obtain any wire, oral or electronic communication.
- Title 2 of the ECPA or the Stored Communications Act (SCA) mandates the privacy of stored electronic information.
- Title 3 of the ECPA covers any type of trap or trace surveillance tool, like telephone link tapping devices, or paper and pen registers. These registers don’t record the contents of communication, but they do record data such as start and end times, telephone numbers dialed, where a phone call originated, etc.
While it may seem like the ECPA prevents employee monitoring, there are some notable exceptions.
- Business Use Exception: This allows employers to monitor employees’ oral and electronic communication as long as the employer has a legitimate work-related reason for doing so.
- Consent Exception: An employer can monitor employees if they get the consent of the employee.
- Stored Information Exception: Privacy law doesn’t protect information stored on an employer’s servers and equipment.
B. State Laws Governing Employee Monitoring
A few US states make it more complicated to monitor employees, whereas others make it relatively easy.
For example, in Illinois, Maryland, and California, there’s an “all-consent” or “two-party consent” law that requires everyone involved in a telephone call or electronic communication to permit the monitoring or employee surveillance.
States like Connecticut and Delaware require an employer to notify their employees that they’ll be monitoring them beforehand. However, these laws may not apply when the employee works from home.
Generally, you should avoid activities like audio surveillance of an employee’s personal device and keystroke logging because they are excessively invasive. But it’s best to consult legal experts regarding what laws pertain to your state.
Looking for more information on employee monitoring laws?
Read our in-depth guide on employee monitoring laws.
2. Lack of Face-to-Face Supervision
With remote working, managers and employees are often affected by the lack of in-person interaction.
Managers and supervisors may become concerned that employees aren’t as productive as they should be when working remotely. At the same time, employees may find the lack of managerial support and communication difficult.
There’s also a chance that employees feel their remote managers aren’t in touch with them or haven’t provided them with the information necessary to fulfill their work responsibilities.
How to Monitor Employees Working from Home
The COVID 19 pandemic and the subsequent transition to remote work has left several employers wondering how to monitor remote employees.
Let’s explore a few remote employee monitoring methods:
1. Time Tracking & Productivity Management Tools
If you’re looking for a precise way to track work time and employee performance, online employee monitoring solutions are the best option.
With time tracking tools, you can monitor how your remote staff spends their work hours with multiple helpful productivity features.
In addition to helping you track employee time, the best remote worker monitoring software also helps you gain actionable insights into employee productivity metrics.
Now, as a business owner or manager, how you implement employee tracking is up to you.
You could request that your distributed team track all their work throughout the day or only track time on specific tasks and projects. Then, whenever you want to, you can log into the tool and see what your employees are working on.
This way, you can evaluate which employees are the most productive, who possibly needs more training, who can handle more workload, etc.
2. Email Activity Monitoring Software
With email, your employees communicate, assign projects, delegate tasks, inform their team or manager of project stages and updates, etc.
That’s why some companies may find this method of productivity monitoring useful. Monitoring email activity will also help you determine if someone uses their work email addresses to send harmful or malicious emails.
You can use tools like EmailAnalytics to measure your employees’ email volume and track different statistics.
Some of the things you can monitor include how many emails they send and receive, their top senders and recipients, their average email response times, etc.
Once you have this data, you can see who on your team is busy and who isn’t. You can also redistribute workloads accordingly to ensure the productivity of your remote team.
However, unlike time tracking tools, monitoring email activity doesn’t provide a clear picture of employee behavior or their productivity. Moreover, not every remote job involves sending loads of emails.
3. Individual Task Lists
Task lists focus on individual tasks assigned to specific employees rather than an entire project.
With this method, you’d break down a more extensive project into smaller tasks which you can then assign to various team members.
A benefit of this method is that you can see how equally you’ve distributed the project. For example, you can see if one employee handles 80% of the project while another only handles 20%. You can then redistribute the workload appropriately.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an accurate way to measure remote employee productivity.
Because it doesn’t take into consideration the labor burden of each task, including how long it takes, how mentally demanding it is, etc.
This method can also become labor-intensive for managers and supervisors who have to assign new tasks for everything their employees do continuously. They also have to remember to keep checking up on them by email or phone until it’s complete.
If you trust your team, and it’s a relatively small distributed team, you could consider self-reporting activity monitoring.
For example, you could have employees send a brief report to a manager or supervisor at the end of the day. In it, they could outline which projects they worked on, how much they accomplished, etc.
The benefit of this type of remote work monitoring is that it helps you determine how the employee feels about their workload. They can let you know if they feel overworked or whether they can handle more.
Clearly, this method is not an accurate way to monitor remote workers or measure your employees’ productivity and requires you to have implicit trust in your employees.
It’s best to use this method in conjunction with another independent and objective system of performance management, like time tracking tools, to ensure accuracy and increased productivity.
8 No-Nonsense Tips for Effective Remote Employee Monitoring
Now that you know how to monitor employees working from home, these tips can help make your remote team monitoring efforts successful:
1. Hire the Right Team
There’s always going to be a level of independence with a remote team, even if you adopt time monitoring software. So it’s crucial to hire employees who you can trust to work independently from the start.
Even if you’ve got the best employee tracking software, you still need a dedicated team to make remote working successful.
Now, finding the right remote staff starts at the interview stage.
Look for people that have completed tasks outside their job description or with evidence of going beyond their call of duty.
Additionally, remember that not everyone thrives in the remote workforce. Some people prefer working from home because it offers them a chance to achieve a better work-life balance.
Other employees may find the work from home environment too distracting. Certain employees have difficulty getting out of work mode and suffer burnout when working from home.
Try to find people that can succeed in a remote work environment from the start.
Here are some of the traits to look for in a remote employee:
A. They can Self-Structure
Look for people that are self-disciplined and consistent.
For example, people who actively seek out training on their own time to improve their performance. These are people who will work on your projects even when you’re too busy to check-in on them.
B. They are Good Communicators
When an in-office employee encounters a problem, they can easily ask their co-workers for input, but remote employees can’t. That’s why a remote employee needs to be a better communicator than their office-based colleagues.
Look for employees who won’t be afraid to reach out and say when they need help, update you on projects, collaborate with co-workers, etc.
C. They Take Initiatives
Good remote employees are the ones who do what’s best for the company and project even when you’re not looking. These are the people who go the extra mile, even if they aren’t immediately getting the credit.
2. Clearly Define Goals and Deadlines
It’s important to define goals and deadlines for tasks and projects in advance so that every remote employee understands what you expect from them.
This way, employees are more likely to maintain high productivity levels throughout the day, to achieve the outcomes you set for them.
Clearly defining goals will also help you see if an employee can complete the tasks you assign to them in the designated time frame. This will give you some idea of an employee’s productivity if they can accomplish the work set out for them on schedule.
Additionally, remember not to set unrealistic deadlines because it will only hamper productivity and lead to stress and anxiety among your team.
To ensure your employees don’t become resistant to deadlines, you should be lenient towards employees who missed it by small margins.
It’s also a good idea to recognize and reward employees who consistently complete tasks on or before due dates. This will motivate them and their team members to continue performing at a high level.
3. Track Time and Productivity
An important part of remote team management is tracking the time and the productivity of each remote worker.
Keep in mind, you won’t be in the same office as them, so walking over to their desk for an update isn’t possible.
Recording time with tracking software is the most accurate way to ensure your remote employees work the required number of hours. Moreover, it can help you recognize if an employee’s productivity is consistent or whether it fluctuates.
A good remote employee needs to work consistently; they shouldn’t just rush to complete the task when they’re approaching a deadline, as this can affect the quality of work and productivity score.
As we discussed earlier, using productivity monitoring software is the most efficient way of tracking employee productivity. With the right remote employee time tracking solution, you can track working hours down to the second.
4. Schedule Check-ins
You could consider setting up a daily call with your remote employees to check-in. This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls or a team call.
These calls will give remote employees an opportunity to consult with you and raise any concerns and questions about their tasks.
The check-ins also benefit you as the business owner or employer because it gives you an idea of what your employees are working on, if work is flowing smoothly, etc. This makes managing remote employees more effective.
5. Focus on Results
Focus on the volume and quality of work your people produce.
It doesn’t matter if your remote employee answers all of your messages within five minutes. What’s important is whether they’re completing their tasks on time, whether they attend scheduled meetings, if they’re able to collaborate effectively, etc.
Whether they complete their tasks from a beach or a coffee shop, it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re productive and finishing on schedule.
6. Provide Multiple Communication Technology Options
Today, email alone isn’t an efficient way to communicate with your team. It’s important to have communication tools like video conferencing and instant messaging apps.
Remote teams collaborate better when they can see each other face-to-face because they pick on visual cues and nuances.
Video conferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams are also handy for in-depth project discussions and review meetings. For more spontaneous collaboration, instant messaging tools like Slack come in handy.
These tools offer mobile apps so your remote team can communicate even when they’re away from their work computer.
7. Provide Social Interaction for Remote Team Members
A remote team member can quickly feel isolated, especially if they’ve transitioned from an office setting to working from a home office.
Managers can facilitate regular interactions between team members where they have non-work-related conversations and just get to know each other to lift employee morale.
Virtual parties or social gatherings can help reduce those feelings of isolation and improve employee engagement.
Need some help getting started?
Check out 24 fun and engaging virtual team building activities that your team will love!
8. Offer Emotional Support and Encouragement
If employees have recently transitioned to a remote position, it’s natural that they may have some struggles.
Managers need to acknowledge any difficulties employees may have at first.
This could be as simple as asking, “How is the remote work situation working out for you?”
Additionally, listen to your employees’ answers to identify who’s having a hard time and ask them how you can help.
It’s important to communicate your faith in your team members. For example, simple phrases like “I know this is a tough task, but we know you can handle it.”
Effective leaders both acknowledge concerns and affirm their confidence in their employees. This kind of support gives employees the courage and a sense of purpose to focus and confidently tackle challenges.
The Coronavirus pandemic has made remote work the new normal. That’s why remote employee time tracking is going to be critical for any business.
With the right employee monitoring tool, you can easily keep track of what your employees do during work hours and take the steps to keep your workforce productive.
While each remote worker monitoring software mentioned here is great, Time Doctor is easily the most comprehensive tool for you. It has several powerful, employee-friendly features to make your employee monitoring process a breeze.
Why not sign up for Time Doctor’s 14-day free trial and experience it for yourself?
Lauren Soucy is the VP of Marketing for Time Doctor, the world’s leading time tracking and productivity software. She has 15+ years of experience in marketing at fast-paced companies. Her first passion is SEO, she can’t start her day without coffee, and she enjoys spending time at the beach with her two boys and her husband.