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The Best Employee Monitoring Software for 2020

By
Adam C. Uzialko
,
business.com writer
| Updated
Nov 21, 2019
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> Technology
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Update: This page was revised to reflect a pricing change in SoftActivity's fees and support plan associated with its Activity Monitor license.

Employee monitoring software can track employee web or application use, monitor chats and keystrokes, or filter specific types of online content making them inaccessible to employees. The best employee monitoring software does it all and allows your administrators to set specific rules and policies for employee behavior on company time. Whether you need a comprehensive solution or a more narrowly focused tool, employee monitoring software can help you ensure your employees are spending their time productively. Here's a look at the software available to help you do just that.

Our top picks for employee monitoring software are Teramind, SentryPC, ActivTrak, ContentProtect and SoftActivity Monitor. Read more about them below, along with our advice on the features to look for as you choose employee monitoring software for your business, including how much you can expect to pay and tips to help you get a good deal.

Best Picks

Editor's note: Looking for an employee monitoring solution for your business? Fill out the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

October 2019: Employee monitoring software (and how employers use it) could be impacted by the passage of new data privacy laws in the U.S. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), for example, includes provisions that give individual employees the right to request certain businesses disclose the personal information that has been collected about them. Businesses could also be required to notify individual employees when personal information has been collected and how that information is being used. These provisions could extend to employee monitoring and require a revisiting of company policy.

If your business is subject to the CCPA or similar data privacy regulation, consider whether the employee data you are collecting serves a clear business purpose. You should also consider how long you need to store that data, as well as ensure it is properly protected from data breaches. Failure to prepare in accordance with data privacy laws could result in fines and lawsuits.

Pricing

The cost of employee monitoring software can vary widely depending on the scope of the solution and the number of licenses required. Applications generally cost anywhere from $20 to $150 per user per year, though most are in the $40 to $60 range annually. Some applications, especially the most comprehensive, can be more expensive.   

  • Minimums: Few companies allow you to buy a single license. There's typically a minimum number of licenses you must buy, usually five to 10, though some require as few as three.   
  • Fees: Most companies don't charge additional fees, but in our research, we saw some setup fees (which can be several hundred dollars) and an optional IP renewal fee. As with any service you're considering for your business, ask the sales rep about fees the company charges and whether there's a contract requirement (and how long the contract would last, if so). You also want to read the contract or terms of service to verify that you've been informed about any and all costs you'll be expected to pay.   
  • Upgrades: Some companies offer extra services, such as geolocation tracking and mobile licenses, for an additional cost.

Employee monitoring software often relies on a per-user licensing system charged at a monthly or annual rate. Other software vendors charge a one-time licensure fee that allows the software to be used forever, along with an annual subscription for tech support and software updates.

Most employee monitoring software can be deployed as an on-premises solution, which means the software is installed and operated on your company's own servers. This type of implementation carries a higher upfront cost and requires an IT team that can maintain your servers, but it grants you greater control over your own data.

The other common deployment option is a cloud-based service (or SaaS), which eases the maintenance burden and represents a lower upfront cost, but there's typically a monthly or annual subscription required – typically from $5 to $25 per user, per month.

 

Reviews

Below are all of our reviews for employee monitoring software and related categories. Our coverage also includes reviews of the best internet management software and small business content filters.

What to Expect in 2020

While federal law generally gives employers a lot of leeway in monitoring employee actions on company time, state laws vary. At least 26 states have banned the collection of employees' social media credentials, for example. And just because an employee monitoring software can do something, that's no guarantee the action is legal. Many states maintain wiretap laws that prohibit the collection of audio data without an employee's consent. Understanding your state's laws and whether any legislation or legal proceedings are likely to occur in 2020 is key to making sure your employee monitoring strategy doesn't end up costing you more than it's worth.  

The proliferation of bring your own device (BYOD) arrangements has led to another question in employee monitoring: How can employers monitor their employees' own devices without violating their privacy rights? The general recommendation is that a well-crafted BYOD policy should include an agreement that explicitly describes how and why data will be captured, and employees should be required to consent to this monitoring prior to being permitted to use their own device at work. However, as BYOD grows in popularity, the possibility that state legislation could crop up around the issue also grows. It's important for employers to keep an eye on any legal developments around BYOD that include regulations on employee monitoring. 

Small Business Employee Monitoring Software: What to Look For

Cybersecurity has gone mainstream, but businesses typically focus on external threats. Managing those threats is important, but what about your internal security? Could employees be leaking vital business information, accessing inappropriate content, or simply wasting time goofing off on the clock? Internal vulnerabilities exist to your network as well, and that's where employee monitoring software comes in.

To ensure employees are informed of what is acceptable and what is not, devise an acceptable use policy. These policies mitigate threats from misuse of devices or malicious activity, and they're enforced through the use of content filtering and internet management software – tools which are baked into the most comprehensive employee monitoring software on the market. To give your acceptable use policy teeth, you need an effective employee monitoring solution.

The best small business employee monitoring software helps you manage and enforce your acceptable use policy without investing too much time in it. You'll likely want a business internet filter that tracks user profiles with time limits, as well as real-time threat detection to block sites whose content has not yet been classified. You may want to consider supporting employee devices as well to monitor their mobile activity.

Here are the main aspects to pay attention to in your search:

Monitoring and Blocking Features

Always consider the different types of monitoring features an employee monitoring application offers. For example, how much do you want to control your employees' internet time? Will you allow them to surf the internet during breaks and lunches, or not at all? Are there some websites that your employees need to access in order to do their jobs and help your business grow?

Some software applications allow you to select times when the internet or sites are blocked and times they're not blocked. Most applications also allow you to create user groups, each with their own rules and permissions. Blocking disruptive sites and creating customized permissions for specific groups is one way that business internet software can help increase your productivity.

Also consider the specific areas of computer activity you want to track. The most comprehensive programs keep detailed logs of the websites your employees' visit and the applications they use, along with emails, online chats, keystrokes, created and downloaded files, print jobs, inserted devices, and even their physical locations when they're on company devices.

You may not want to keep such detailed tabs on your employees, but make sure that the software covers everything you need to monitor. For example, software that is strictly focused on filtering web content, such as ContentProtect, usually won't have all these features. If you do opt for a full suite of features, they are usually customizable, so you can choose what to record and in how much detail, as well as when exceptions are in order.

Reports and Notifications

Pay attention to how software's reports and notifications work. It should provide regular reports (at the intervals you choose) with easy-to-read statistics and visual breakdowns of employee habits. For more detailed information, though, you'll need extensive notification options, and the best software gives you control over when and how you are notified. For instance, you may choose to be alerted if an employee downloads a document online or tries to access a forbidden website. Since notifications alert you to specific occurrences and reports give you a staff-wide overview, you'll get the most out of your software when you use both options together.

Archive Storage

If you travel a lot and manage your network and employees remotely, then you want remote access to your internet filter data. In addition, make sure your office web monitoring software includes automatic archiving. You never know when you may need to review an employee's internet history.

Consider choosing internet filter software that will record your employees' online searches and take screenshots of their monitors. These can come in handy if you ever find yourself in litigation with a disgruntled employee and need to back up your claims.

Ease of Use and Support

Good internet filter software should be intuitive to use and not leave you in the dark if you have questions. The best programs have visually appealing interfaces that clearly lay out all your options without feeling cluttered or overwhelming. Administrative users should feel confident using the software, with a good grasp on all your monitoring options, after just a few minutes of clicking around.

In case you do have issues, though, you'll want to go with a company that is easy to reach. It's ideal to have help options via phone, email, live chat or online ticketing, though even some of the best companies only offer one or two of these support avenues. Live chat is typically the fastest way to connect with a representative.

Some companies charge you extra for ongoing upgrades and support after the first year. You can forgo this option, but you'll run the risk of operating outdated and possibly insecure software without help from the manufacturer. Fortunately, most companies have extensive self-help resources on their websites that you can always refer to, such as how-to guides, video tutorials and FAQs pages.

 

Our Methodology

Our first step in reviewing employee monitoring software was to examine an extensive list of vendors to see which companies were still in business, how they stacked up in terms of user reviews, and whether they had any glaring complaints or issues filed with the Better Business Bureau. We also examined their websites to get a sense of what their solutions entailed. From there, we selected a pool of finalists from which we would determine our best picks.

To determine our best picks, we studied each program's list of features more closely, ensuring that it offered all the most important features, as well as more advanced features that would give administrators more insight or control over employee activity. We also downloaded free trials so we could test the software for ourselves and determine usability. We also compared pricing and put ourselves in the shoes of a small business on a budget.

These are the primary features we considered in our review:

  • Ease of use
  • Web activity monitoring
  • Email monitoring
  • Live chat monitoring
  • Social media monitoring
  • Keystroke logging
  • Video feeds
  • Remote control capabilities
  • Reporting
  • Tech support

We also looked for any additional features that might be useful or effective.

Negotiation Tips

Most employee monitoring software companies are transparent with their pricing and post rates on their websites. However, if you have a lot of employees, most companies encourage you to speak with a sales representative for custom pricing. Look for the following discounts as you compare costs:

  • Volume discounts: Many companies offer lower prices when you purchase a higher number of licenses.  
  • Annual prepayment discounts for cloud software (SaaS): The few companies that offer cloud-based employee monitoring software typically offer a discount if you pay annually rather than month to month, which can amount to as much as two free months of service.  
  • Nonprofit and educational discounts: Several companies note on their websites that discounts are available for these types of organizations.  
  • Coupon codes: Though these are not as common as the other discounts we saw, some companies have fields for coupon codes on their checkout pages. You may be able to search for codes online or call the company to find out what promotions are available.  

Common Employee Monitoring Software Questions & Answers

Have an employee monitoring software question of your own?
Ask an Expert

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