Working from home is becoming more popular, in part due to pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because employers are starting to realize the massive benefits of having a remote workforce.
Working remotely can increase productivity, give you more flexibility in hiring, and save you tons of office-related expenses. But there are also some downsides to consider.
Notably, many managers new to a work from home environment are worried that their employees won’t stay on task. That’s why there are dozens of remote work monitoring software tools available to help you monitor employees working remotely—but with so many options available, how do you know what to choose?
Table of Contents
- Reasons to Monitor Employees Working From Home
- Types of Remote Work Monitoring Software Tools
- Remote Employee Monitoring Software: Activity Trackers
- Remote Employee Monitoring Software: Time Tracking
- Remote Employee Monitoring Software: Task & Project Management
Reasons to Monitor Employees Working From Home
If you trust your employees, you might be reluctant to monitor their activity. But remote work monitoring has a variety of positive effects—and they’re not all about managing distrust.
- Keeping employees on task. When employees know they’re being monitored, they tend to be more productive; this shouldn’t be surprising. The mere fact that you’re monitoring your remote employees will incentivize them to give their best performance. There is a psychological component to this, as well – it’s called the Hawthorne Effect, which says that people modify their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. In other words, simply knowing that you’re being monitored improves your performance!
- Keeping employees accountable. This is also a way to keep employees accountable for their actions. If they claim they didn’t have enough time to finish a project, you can see whether they were busy with other tasks.
- Rewarding exceptional performances. Employee monitoring isn’t just about punishing people for not doing their jobs efficiently or productively; it’s also about rewarding the employees who give you exceptional performances.
- Balancing workloads. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, most teams end up with unbalanced workloads; some employees are overworked and overwhelmed, while others don’t have enough tasks to do. Employee monitoring helps you identify the sources of unbalance, and redistribute workloads appropriately.
- Billing and accounting. Some tools allow you to integrate employee tracking with payroll, billing, accounting, and other financial practices. For example, if you bill by the hour, you can track employee time expenditure and immediately convert that time spent into an invoice that you can send to your customers.
- Hiring flexibility. With the right tools, you can be confident that you know what your employees are doing at all times—even if they’re working fully remotely. This can give you more confidence in hiring people you might not otherwise consider, even if they’re going to work in an entirely different country.
- ROI and strategic planning. Performance monitoring is also good for calculating your return on investment (ROI) for various projects, and giving you insights for other modes of strategic planning. For example, you might be able to accurately calculate the true costs of a given project based on employee time spent on that project; was it worth it, or should you be charging more?
Types of Remote Work Monitoring Software Tools
Remote work monitoring software tools come in many varieties. For example:
- Time trackers. Time tracking apps are designed to keep track of employee time. Typically, employees can start and stop a built-in timer whenever they begin or end a task. They can also add or change time retroactively. Within the platform, tasks can be categorized and organized, and administrators can track high-level trends.
- Activity trackers. Activity trackers attempt to give you even more details about how employees are spending their time. For example, they may take regular screenshots of your employee’s screen, or track which websites they visit and apps they open. Email tracking is included in this category. With an email tracker, you’ll be able to see how many emails your employees are sending and receiving; you’ll also be able to track essential metrics like average email response time, which is a critical KPI for sales and customer service teams.
- Project management/task trackers. Project management platforms are designed to help managers organize information related to high-level projects and low-level tasks. They frequently involve task tracking, employee communication, and other features that revolve around getting projects done efficiently.
Most of the work from home monitoring tools we’ll be covering in the next section attempt to hybridize these features. For example, many project management tools also have built-in time trackers. For this reason, many of the tools listed below could be listed in multiple categories, but I’ve listed them in their dominant category below for organizational purposes to help you find the right tool depending on your purpose.
Remote Employee Monitoring Software: Activity Trackers
These are the best work from home monitoring software tools for tracking employee activity:
First up, there’s our own EmailAnalytics. It’s unique from all the other tools in this list because it offers email activity tracking, which isn’t available with any of the other tools. And with email being a primary source of communication with remote workers, it’s a fantastic way to measure productivity. EmailAnalytics is a robust email tracking tool designed to help you track employee email activity metrics like how many emails they’re sending and receiving, their average email response times, and even their busiest times and days of the week. With this information, you can get a feel for how busy your employees truly are, and how effectively they’re communicating with clients, leads, customers, vendors, and each other.
ActivTrak is remote worker monitoring software with a free version that supports monitoring up to three users. With it, you’ll be able to track activities like website visits and app usage, and apply content filters and other controls as well. The paid version includes even more advanced features, like USB device detection and security audits.
There’s also Teramind, a comprehensive employee monitoring tool that offers time tracking and activity tracking. It also gives administrators the option to create and enforce specific policies, like limiting traffic to certain websites, and can alert you about problematic user behaviors.
Hubstaff is a remote employee monitoring software that combines screenshots, time tracking, and automated reporting to make working from home simpler (and with more accountability for employees). It also measures activity related to keyboard and mouse usage, so you can tell whether your employees are truly working.
SentryPC is another somewhat comprehensive remote employee monitoring software tool, giving administrators the ability to monitor employees remotely. You can log keystrokes, receive alerts whenever a user is inactive, filter different types of content, and even take periodic screenshots to see what your employees are up to throughout the day.
iDoneThis is a unique entry on this list, giving your team the ability to self-report on their daily progress. With this tool, each individual on your team will participate in a daily check-in, where they’ll explain the tasks they’ve completed, their current projects, and any challenges standing in the way of their productivity.
Remote Employee Monitoring Software: Time Tracking
In this category, I’ve listed the top time tracking tools for work from home monitoring. These apps specialize in time tracking.
7. Time Doctor
Time Doctor is one of the top names in the field. With it, you can track time automatically or manually, generate automatic reports, and track things like website and app usage (while taking screenshots to see if your employees are on task). Be sure to check out our in-depth comparison article featuring Time Doctor vs. RescueTime!
Harvest is a time tracking tool that’s designed to be as easy to use as possible. It works with a number of project management and other styles of app on the market, and it allows you to analyze your work with intuitive reporting.
RescueTime is a productivity platform that functions somewhat like a time tracking tool. It allows you to track website activity and tool usage throughout the day, and gives you the opportunity to block sites you find distracting. It also has built-in alarms and notifications to alert you of different events.
One of the downsides of traditional time trackers is their reliance on manual entry, but Timely attempts to automate things. With it, you’ll get a reliable digital record of how your team has spent their time throughout the day. You can also use it to manage projects and tasks, as you would with a project management platform.
TopTracker is a great remote employee monitoring software tool if you’re interested in integrating your time tracking into billing and invoicing. With this tool, you’ll be able to track the time you’re spending, take screenshots, then create, send, and process invoices—all within the same platform.
Hours is a simply named time tracking tool that allows you to keep running timers for multiple tasks at once, giving you the ability to switch between tasks easily throughout the day. Like many of the tools on this list, it offers built-in reporting and the ability to transform your tracked time into invoices easily.
ClickTime offers easy online timesheets and time tracking functionality. It works like most other types of time tracking software, giving you transparency into how your employees are working—and whether your projects are going to be on time and/or in budget.
Designed for freelancers and people working from home, Timeneye is employee monitoring software that offers stress-free tracking. With it, you can actively monitor your projects, track employee time, and ultimately, increase productivity.
Toggl is another popular option in the time tracking world, in part because it’s so simple to set up and use. Within a few minutes, you can start tracking your time as it relates to individual tasks and projects. It also features more than 100 app integrations, so it can work with almost any other tool in your arsenal.
Created and offered by Quickbooks, TSheets is a tool designed with remote workers in mind—but it can also be used in traditional businesses. Use it to track attendance, time expenditure, and more. You can also use it to connect to other platforms (like your payroll software) and generate reports so you can analyze big-picture trends.
Remote Employee Monitoring Software: Task & Project Management
The following remote employee monitoring software solutions focus on task and project management tools.
The first project management tool on this list is Asana, which is ideal for creating and assigning tasks, as well as communicating and managing priorities. Divide your projects into tasks and subtasks, split your team into subgroups, and use reporting to track activity over different periods of time.
Basecamp is another fine addition in the world of project management apps. It’s full of simple, straightforwardly designed tools to help you create projects, assign tasks, talk about projects in process, and of course, track time. You can also report on your progress, and analyze your past performance.
Next, there’s Trello. Trello is a project management platform that allows employees to collaborate on projects, track their time, and organize projects and tasks. It utilizes boards, lists, and cards to keep things simply organized, and managers will appreciate Trello’s advanced reporting feature, so you can see exactly what your team has been up to.
HiveDesk allows you to automatically track time spent by your employees. It also has built-in timesheets (which are ideal if you’re hiring freelancers), a task management system, activity tracking, and the capability to capture screenshots.
Everhour works as both a time tracking tool and as a project management tool, so you have all the features you need to stay on top of your remote employees. With it, you can review a comprehensive dashboard that pulls tasks, projects, and other data from all your other platforms. You can also use it to track individual and collective team time expenditure, assign tasks, and more.
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Are you interested in getting more out of your remote workforce? Or are you looking for a better way to balance workloads between your team members. Start with a remote employee monitoring software tool like EmailAnalytics!
We covered the basics of the EmailAnalytics app, so we won’t repeat ourselves here, but it has the power to tell you everything you want to know about how your employees are working from home. Sign up for a free trial today, and see it in action directly!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics, and co-host of the podcast The Entrepreneur Cast.