Workpuls Teramind ActivTrak Hubstaff DeskTime Time Doctor RescueTime Kickidler Veriato Work Examiner
Price $6/user/month $6/user/month $7.20/user/month $7/user/month $7/user/month $9.99/user/month $6/user/month $9.99/user/month $150/licence/year $60/licence (lifetime)
Free trial 7 days 7 days No 14 days 14 days 14 days 30 days 7 days Yes 30 days
Ease of use Very easy Difficult Very easy Easy Easy Very easy Very easy Very easy Very difficult Easy
Unlimited (tracker working 24/7)
Fixed (defined working hours)
Automatic (when computer is connected to a specified network)
Manual (start/stop)
Project based (track time only on projects)
Stealth mode
App and website usage
Real-time monitoring
Offline time tracking
Activity levels
Remote desktop control
Website/activity blocking
Screenshots on demand
Screen recording
Productivity trends
Websites and apps labeling
Category labeling
Productivity alerts
User behavior analytics
Data loss prevention
Advanced file and web monitoring
Productivity reports
Team reports
Email reports
Access management
Mac desktop app
Windows desktop app
Linux desktop app
Mobile app iOS, Android iOS, Android iOS, Android iOS, Android iOS, Android Android
Browser extension Chrome Chrome Chrome
Other Citrix, VMware Chrome OS
Support Phone, email, online Phone, email, online Phone, email, online Email, online Phone, email, online, in-person Online Phone, email, online Email, online, Viber, Whatsapp Phone, email, online, support ticket Phone, email, online
Knowledge base
Video tutorials
Integrations comming soon
Deployment cloud, on-premise cloud, on-premise, AWS, Azure cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud on-premise cloud, on-premise on-premise
Kronos Humanity Timeclockplus Tsheets Wheniwork Deputy Replicon Jibble EbilityTimeTracker OnTheClock BeeBole
Price(per month)Available upon requestFrom $2 per userAvailable upon requestFrom $6.40 per user+$16Free for up to 75 usersFrom $2.50 per userBasic plan:$30 for 5 users+$5 per additional userFrom $1.50 per employeeFrom $4 per user+$8From $2.20 per user$5.99 per user per month
Free trial30 days14 daysYes14 days14 days14 days30 days30 days,no credit card required
Ease of useDifficultEasyDifficultVery easyEasyEasyDifficultVery easyEasyEasyEasy
Timecard management
Shift Trading
Break time management
Real-time tracking
PTO Management
Client billing
GPS tracking
Clock out reminders
Manual time
Web app
Mobile app
Time clock device
Time clock kiosk
Facial recognition
Fingerprint scanning
Group punch-in
Visual reports
Email reports
Time rounding
Manager approvals
Add time for others
Android app
iOS app
Mac desktop app
Windows desktop app
Linux desktop app
SupportPhone and onlinePhone and onlinePhone,chat and onlinePhone and chatEmail and onlineChat and phonePhone,email,chat and onlinePhone and onlinePhone,email,chat and onlinePhone and onlineOnline chat and video support in English,French,and Spanish
Knowledge base
Video tutorials
Community forum
Workpuls Hubstaff Toggl TimeDoctor Harvest TimeCamp Timely Everhour Tick TMetric
Price (per month) $6 per user $5.83 per user $9 per user $9.99 per user $10.80 per user $5.25 per user $99 for 5 users $7 per user $19 for 10 projects $5 per user
Free trial 7 days 14 days 30 days 14 days 30 days Yes 14 days 14 days 30 days 30 days
Ease of use Very easy Difficult Difficult Very easy Easy Very easy Easy Difficult Very easy Difficult
Start/stop buttons
Automatic time mapping
App and website usage
Activity levels coming soon
Real-time tracking
Project adding
Project templates
Project status
Task assignment
Task priorities
Budgeting coming soon
Mark billable/non-billable hours
Payroll calculation
Idle time reminders
Deadline alerts coming soon
Budget alerts coming soon
Client login
Productivity analysis
Email reports coming soon
Mac desktop app
Windows desktop app
Linux desktop app coming soon
iOS app Beta
Android app
Browser extension Chrome Chrome, Firefox Chrome Chrome Chrome, Firefox Chrome Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Edge
Support Phone and online Email and online Email and online Online Online, email and phone Email, online and support ticket Email and chat Email and chat Email Chat
Knowledge base
Video tutorials
Integrations coming soon
On-premise hosting

Key Takeaways:

  • High prevalence of workplace surveillance contrasts sharply with employee awareness; more than 70% of employers monitor staff, yet 39% of workers are unaware they're being observed.

  • Monitoring tactics are numerous and legally complex, including logging work hours, assessing task execution, and scrutinizing digital communications.

  • The surveillance activities, although generally legal, introduce ethical dilemmas and can negatively impact the work environment by increasing stress and reducing trust.

  • Employees can identify potential surveillance through various indicators such as unusual device behavior and unexplained managerial awareness of their activities.

  • Employees can take proactive measures, like separating personal and professional digital lives and engaging in forthright discussions with employers, to retain some level of professional autonomy.

Read time:
8 minutes

In today's digital workspaces, the concept of remote work surveillance takes on new dimensions that extend far beyond the traditional office camera in the corner. 

While the idea of being monitored at work might elicit discomfort, this emotion intensifies when the boundaries and specifics of such oversight remain elusive. According to CareerBuilder, 39% of the workforce doesn't know whether they are being monitored—a statistic that highlights the ambiguity surrounding workplace surveillance. Yet, more than 70% of employers are tracking staff.

Such widespread yet opaque monitoring has implications for both employees and employers. For the workforce, the lack of awareness about the extent of monitoring can lead to increased stress and a mistrustful work atmosphere. For employers, the widespread use of software to track employees' work necessitates careful consideration of ethical implications and potential legal constraints.

This dual reality—widespread monitoring paired with employee uncertainty—indicates a need for more transparent communication and ethical practices in the realm of workplace oversight. 

In this article, we’ll explore what exactly employee monitoring is, the reasons for workstation monitoring, and how to identify if you are being monitored at work.

The Fundamentals of Workplace Monitoring

Workplace monitoring encompasses a variety of methods and tools that employers use to observe, evaluate, and sometimes document employee behavior and performance. It is a practice that serves multiple purposes, and its complexity has evolved over time with technological advancements.

Time and Attendance Oversight

Among the most straightforward types of monitoring is the logging of work hours. Employers use specialized software to not only record the time you arrive and leave but also the duration and frequency of your breaks. Some tools go as far as identifying periods of inactivity, flagging them as idle time. This level of detail allows employers to create a nuanced picture of an individual's work pattern and dedication, which can inform performance evaluations.

Scrutiny of Task Execution

In a more focused approach, productivity monitoring tools or an employee tracking app gauge both the pace and the quality of the tasks performed. Employers could employ time-tracking software with features that record how much time is spent on specific tasks or projects. 

Alternatively, some tools allow for the setting of goals or milestones, against which employee performance can be measured. These tools can generate detailed reports, thereby offering employers insights into how efficiently tasks are being handled and what areas may require additional attention or resources.

Monitoring Digital Communications

Employers also have the option to use software that scans and archives digital communications like email, chat messages, and even video conferences. Conducted primarily on company-issued devices, this kind of monitoring aims to ensure compliance with organizational policies and to identify potential misconduct. 

While it may be disconcerting for employees to know their communications could be read, from an employer perspective, it is often seen as a necessary step for risk mitigation.

Addressing Security Risks

Another critical aspect of workplace monitoring relates to security. Employers are increasingly aware of the dangers posed by unauthorized data access, cyber-attacks, and other threats to digital infrastructure. As a result, various monitoring tools are deployed to flag suspicious activities, failed login attempts, or the use of unauthorized external drives. This kind of surveillance serves as both a preventive measure and a way to quickly address security incidents should they occur.

The Continuity of Traditional Methods

While the surge in remote work has catalyzed an increase in the deployment of advanced monitoring technologies, traditional methods like badge swiping at entry points and GPS tracking of mobile workforce members remain in use. These practices serve as a testament to the enduring necessity, in the eyes of employers, for some form of oversight to ensure operational effectiveness.

The Legality of Monitoring

Understanding the legality of workplace monitoring is vital for both employers and employees. Federal law in the United States generally leans in favor of employers, with relatively few restrictions placed on their ability to monitor employees in the course of business operations.

The Role of Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is often cited as a legislative safeguard for employees against unchecked digital surveillance by employers. However, it's worth noting that the ECPA offers limited constraints. Specifically, the law contains exemptions that allow employers to monitor digital communications if they can establish a legitimate business reason for doing so. This means that, while the act serves as a regulatory framework, it does not provide absolute protections against employer surveillance.

The Importance of Business Justification

The notion of a "valid business justification" often serves as the crux of many legal discussions around workplace monitoring. What constitutes a valid reason can vary and is often the subject of legal interpretation. Typically, reasons can range from ensuring productivity and compliance with company policies to maintaining security and preventing unauthorized data disclosure. As long as employers can present a rationale that aligns with recognized business interests, they are generally on solid legal ground to proceed with monitoring activities.

State-Level Legislation

While federal law offers a broad outline, various states have introduced more stringent regulations regarding workplace monitoring. For instance, some states require that employers disclose their monitoring practices to employees explicitly. Such disclosure could be in the form of an employment contract, an employee handbook, or a posted notice within the workplace. Non-compliance with state-specific regulations can lead to legal ramifications, making it crucial for employers to be aware of not just federal law, but also the rules governing the specific jurisdictions in which they operate.

Balancing Act Between Employer Rights and Employee Privacy

Even within the bounds of the law, workplace monitoring often exists in a delicate balance between an employer's right to safeguard their business interests and an employee's right to privacy. The issue can lead to legal complexities, and it often serves as a catalyst for evolving legislation aimed at establishing a fair middle ground. Therefore, staying updated on emerging laws and judicial interpretations is crucial for both parties involved.

The Ambiguities of Workplace Monitoring: Benefits and Pitfalls

Workplace monitoring is a practice imbued with contrasting outcomes for employers and employees. On one hand, monitoring software is ubiquitously employed by companies, evidenced by industry data suggesting that approximately 78% of organizations utilize some form of tracking technology. 

Employers mainly deploy these systems with the expectation of improving productivity and maintaining accountability, particularly in environments where employees are working remotely or in disparate locations.

The Employer's Perspective

From the employer's vantage point, the implementation of monitoring tools serves multiple objectives. Foremost among these is the provision of tangible data on employee performance, which can assist in resource allocation, performance reviews, and overall operational efficiency. Further, such systems can aid in ensuring compliance with company policies and securing the business against unauthorized data access or other forms of internal threats.

Employee Responses: The Downsides of Monitoring

While employers may find value in surveillance systems, employee feedback indicates that such measures often bring about unintended consequences. For instance, a survey reveals that 43% of employees believe that monitoring negatively impacts their productivity. Instead of motivating employees to perform better, the constant oversight seems to have the opposite effect, leading to decreased output.

Moreover, a palpable erosion of trust often accompanies sustained workplace monitoring. Employees may perceive these surveillance measures as intrusive, diminishing the autonomy and freedom they appreciate in their roles. This decline in trust can propagate a work culture where employees feel stifled rather than empowered.

In addition, the unceasing nature of workplace surveillance can contribute to a degradation in job satisfaction. When employees are under continuous observation, stress levels are likely to rise, making the work environment less pleasurable and potentially affecting long-term retention rates.

The Paradox of Knowing One is Observed

Another intriguing aspect is that awareness of being monitored can sometimes induce counterproductive behaviors. Research indicates that employees who know they are under surveillance might engage in acts of defiance or resistance, such as wasting time on purpose or manipulating the monitoring system. These actions represent an unintended and ironic outcome of an initiative that aims primarily to improve productivity and accountability.

Is Someone Watching? Identifying Signs

Detecting the presence of workplace surveillance can be a subtle undertaking. Employees seeking to understand whether they are under observation can consider multiple avenues of investigation:

Technological Indicators

Changes in your device's behavior, such as noticeable sluggishness or the emergence of unfamiliar background processes, can suggest that monitoring software might be in operation. These software applications, especially when deployed without adequate transparency, can alter the performance or behavior of your work device.

Managerial Cues

If your manager displays an uncanny awareness of your daily tasks and conversations, perhaps even preempting issues you have yet to discuss openly, they may be relying on information acquired through monitoring systems. This hyper-awareness can serve as an indirect confirmation that surveillance mechanisms are in play.

Legal Documents

For a more conclusive understanding, consult the clauses outlined in your employment contract or within the company's policy handbook. Legal documents often include explicit mentions of surveillance practices, including what is monitored and how the collected data is used.

Candid Conversations

While circumstantial evidence may offer hints, the most definitive way to confirm workplace monitoring is through open dialogue with your manager. Pose clear questions about the sort of surveillance technologies being employed and how extensively they are being used.

Safeguarding Your Professional Independence

Given the widespread implementation of monitoring tools in workplaces, it is likely you will encounter some form of surveillance during your career. While these practices are generally legal, they do present ethical questions concerning personal freedom and the culture of trust within an organization.

If you find the notion of workplace surveillance disconcerting, there are preventive measures you can take to maintain a sense of autonomy:

  • Separate your professional and personal digital lives by using distinct devices for each.

  • Logout of work-related accounts and systems at the end of your professional day.

  • If the issue persists as a point of concern, engage in a direct discussion with your employer to negotiate the scope of tracking and to articulate your reservations.

As the line between work and personal life continues to blur, especially in remote and hybrid work setups, the role of workplace monitoring likewise evolves. Being informed about the scope and methods of such monitoring is the first step towards asserting your professional independence. And while it might be an oft-repeated truism, it remains sound advice: conduct yourself in a way at work that you'd be comfortable having disclosed to others.

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