Home Spy Apps How Businesses Use Spy Apps for Employee Monitoring
Diana Ploscaru
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Companies are increasingly seeking more comprehensive employee monitoring methods due to the rising popularity of remote work. However, workplace monitoring isn’t new. In fact, most employers already track employee activity, primarily due to safety concerns.

They want to ensure the usage of business networks, devices, and data conforms to company standards. But new monitoring software uses go beyond that as they can also improve leadership practices, employee productivity, and workplace culture.

It’s worth learning more about these novel monitoring apps because they could also impact you. This article will explain everything you need to know about monitoring software – how it works, what data it can track, and what this means for businesses and their employees.

What is Employee Monitoring?

Employee monitoring is the surveillance of employees’ workplace activity.

This includes the workflow itself, but also the employee’s working hours, breaks, location on the worksite, computer activity, and workplace conversation like email exchanges.

Though employee monitoring has recently become a hot topic, the practice has been around for over a century in various forms.

It first started with the introduction of the clock-in and clock-out system, used for tracking employee work hours to ensure appropriate wages.

Since then, technological advances have brought us security cameras, ID swipes, and digital attendance systems – monitoring methods used to ensure workplace safety and track employee attendance. Employee tracking systems are the newest addition to this list.

An employee tracking system, also known as “bossware,” is a tracking software an employer can install on an employee’s work device, often a computer or smartphone.

Once active, the bossware monitors an employee’s digital activity, like their idle time, app usage, websites visited, keystrokes, and conversations.

Insightful bossware’s employee productivity report

Not all trackers provide the same monitoring features, as different solutions accomplish different purposes. However, their general use is preventing employees from leaking confidential company information, violating company policies, or using workplace resources illicitly.

Since the pandemic, search queries like “Can a work laptop be monitored at home?” also peaked.

Unsurprisingly, bossware has become the go-to solution for monitoring remote and hybrid work, helping companies document employee attendance, workflow, and compliance even when they’re away from the office.

Though their popularity exploded during the pandemic, it’s worth noting roughly 50% of large companies were already tracking their employees in 2018.

The use of such trackers is only expected to increase, although many people have expressed concerns over this practice.

Corporate Spyware – Pros and Cons

For the most objective view, it’s worth balancing both the benefits and downsides of bossware. To help, we’ve listed some of the key benefits and downsides below:

Pros

  • Detecting and solving work mistakes early on
  • Identifying unique employee work challenges
  • Ensuring good data safety and strong cyber practices
  • Motivating employees to improve their performance
  • Encouraging positive workplace culture

Cons

  • Privacy concerns for employees
  • Incomplete picture of work activity (can’t monitor brainstorming or problem-solving)
  • Increased stress, anxiety, or distrust of employees
  • Legal implications and international compliance for employers
  • High software costs

How Does Bossware Work?

Bossware works similarly to other spyware solutions, like parental control apps.

The employer must first install the app on the target device, typically a company-owned computer. Then, they monitor workplace activity through the spyware’s dashboard.

Example of an employee spyware dashboard (Monitask)

The spyware inventories the employee’s activity, generating quick dashboard reports. Based on these numbers, the employer gets a general overview of employee productivity, time spent on different tasks, breaks, internet use, and more.

Each corporate spyware is a little different in terms of installation method, transparency, the type of information collected, and special features like alerts and remote control options.

Let’s take a closer look at these factors.

Physical and Cloud-based Bossware Installation

Physical and cloud-based installation are the two ways to introduce spy apps on a device. Each method works on both desktop and phone devices.

Physical installation requires direct access to the target device. The employer can distribute the spyware installer through either an external device (like a USB) or a link but must run the installer and set up the spyware manually.

This method is time-consuming, especially when installing software and updates for multiple employee devices. However, cloud computing technology now makes it possible to install bossware remotely, provided the spy app has a cloud-based version.

Through cloud-based installation, companies can distribute and install employee spyware and software updates quickly and on multiple devices, with no physical access needed.

Remote installation is automatic and often discreet. Since employers typically install corporate spyware on company-issued devices, they won’t need to jailbreak the phone or change the computer’s antivirus settings. The device already removes all restrictions.

Visible and Invisible Bossware

Some bossware, like Insightful, have both visible and invisible monitoring options. Visible monitoring lets employees know they’re being watched, while invisible monitoring is completely hidden.

Hidden monitoring is a core feature of spyware apps but is not present in all monitoring solutions.

The only sure way for employees to know about invisible bossware is if the employer shares this information. However, tutorials on how to detect employee monitoring software also exist.

Invisible bossware is, understandably, the most controversial as it may not rely on the employees’ informed consent and can encroach upon their privacy.

Steal Mode on Insightful

As for visible bossware, different providers allow varying degrees of transparency and control for employees. For example, employees might:

  • See the tracker running, but only access their data on demand
  • See their tracked data and reports at all times
  • Delete some of the collected information, like screenshots
  • Turn the tracking feature on and off during breaks
  • Clock in and out of work through manual time entries

The employer can still see when someone turns off the tracker or deletes data. Visible bossware doesn’t have the same questionable reputation as invisible spyware.

Still, employees might feel uneasy when not informed about what information is being tracked.

What Can Bossware Do?

Bossware can collect virtually any type of data about employees’ computer or phone activity through various features, including:

Attendance tracking The bossware automatically records the time an employee clocks in and out of work.
Activity and productivity tracking The software records active and idle time on the device. Some bossware also generates a productivity score based on these metrics.
Apps and website monitoring The software tracks what apps and websites employees visit when they access them, and for how long.
Email and message monitoring The software records all incoming and outgoing emails and chat messages.
Browsing history monitoring The software registers all internet searches, including incognito ones.
Call history monitoring Phone monitoring apps keep track of made and received calls, including deleted ones.
Keylogger This feature registers everything typed on a keyboard, including deleted text.
Mouse tracking This feature monitors mouse activity, including cursor placement and number of clicks.
Screen recording Some monitoring apps provide a live screen view, while others take timed screenshots at preset intervals.
Mic and cam recording Monitoring software can turn a device’s microphone and camera on for live audio and video monitoring.
Removable storage device monitoring On desktop, the software registers data about external devices (like USB, SD cards, or CDs), including device name, connection time, and duration of use.
Printer activity monitoring This feature registers when and how many times employees use a printer.
Automatic alerts The software automatically alerts the employer of suspicious activity or breaches of company policy. The employee may also get a notification when this happens.
Remote device control Some bossware gives the employer full control over a device. Sometimes, this lets them restrict functions or even lock the employer out of the device.
Location tracking Employers can track the location of a phone or laptop through GPS and Wi-Fi, even when the end-user has a VPN.

Not every bossware provides all these features. Most providers have feature packages tailored to specific company needs. Typically, though, bossware takes screenshots and tracks attendance, productivity, app use, and website visits.

Is Employee Tracking Effective?

Employee tracking solutions are extremely effective for monitoring workplace activity. The growing popularity of corporate monitoring software is proof of this, as more and more employers adopt this technology to keep tabs on their workforce.

According to a 2021 ExpressVPN survey, 73% of employers use bossware records to make decisions on performance reviews.

Thanks to screen recording features, activity tracking, and detailed analytical reports, employers can use tracking software to ensure workplace productivity and make informed business decisions.

An example of bossware app monitoring (Insightful)

However, tracking isn’t always guaranteed to improve performance.

Bossware sometimes has a paradoxical effect, decreasing employee productivity.

According to a study by Thiel et al. (2021), monitoring can diminish employees’ sense of agency, leading to a displacement of responsibility. The result is a lack of motivation, job dissatisfaction, diminished productivity, and increased deviance.

Employees unhappy about workplace surveillance are more likely to take unapproved breaks, disregard instructions, and intentionally work slower to draw out tasks. Surveillance can also increase stress and anxiety levels and diminish employee trust.

To avoid these pitfalls, companies must maintain transparency and effective communication.

When employees receive thorough information about monitoring policies and the scope of data collection, they’re less likely to lose their trust and sense of agency.

Employee monitoring is legal, though certain conditions and limitations apply depending on local data privacy laws.

The US Electronic Communications Privacy Act allows employee communication monitoring for legitimate business purposes. This includes phone conversations, email exchanges, and other digital data.

Furthermore, according to the Stored Communications Act, companies can legally access all information stored on company devices or cloud storage.

However, to monitor private information like social media or messaging apps, employers need their employee’s written consent.

Bossware like Insightful might screenshot social media activity

Beyond federal law, state laws also apply. In New York and Connecticut, for example, employers must explicitly notify their workers about spyware use and document their informed consent.

Several other states like California, South Carolina, and Florida also have extensive privacy rights acts to protect employees’ data.

Provisions include the employee’s right to know about, delete, or correct inaccuracies in the data and the right to limit access to sensitive personal information.

Employers hiring globally must comply with international laws.

In the EU, UK, Norway, and Iceland, employee monitoring is only legal when it complies with GDPR laws.

The GDPR requires informing employees about data collection, and limiting the collection of sensitive personal information.

In both the US and Europe, companies are legally obligated to protect employee data. In case of a data breach, workers can sue their employer and ask for compensation.

How to Use Employee Monitoring Software the Right Way

Monitoring software can add value to a business, helping companies maintain workplace safety, employer compliance, and data security. But when implemented incorrectly, it poses important moral issues and even legal concerns.

To mitigate these risks, it’s best to devise a clear strategy to balance business objectives, employee privacy, and legal compliance.

Here are the most important considerations to ensure appropriate use of employee monitoring software:

  • Consulting Local Laws: Employers must tailor their monitoring practices to federal, state, and international laws. We strongly advise seeking expert legal assistance to ensure full compliance and avoid legal pitfalls.
  • Full Transparency: Transparency maintains employees’ trust and encourages cooperation. Inform the team about your monitoring policy and methods, including – the software used, how it works, what data it collects, and to what purpose.
  • Open Communication: Include the employees in the decision process and let them ask questions and make suggestions. Hearing their concerns and boundaries can help you find a compromise between business objectives and employee privacy.
  • Written Policy & Employee Consent: Having a written policy communicates you’re committed to lawful monitoring practices and are ready to take accountability for legal mishaps. Letting employees give written consent also supports their sense of agency.
  • Monitoring Activity Within Reason: Limit monitoring to company devices only. Avoid intrusive or excessive tracking, like recording employees during breaks, accessing their social media content, or using keyloggers to reveal sensitive details.
  • Securing Collected Data: Ensure the data is only available to authorized users and protect the information from damage, loss, or theft. It’s also a good idea to securely delete older information when you no longer need it.

Having a clear monitoring strategy is also important for choosing which tracking software best suits business objectives and needs.

Top Employee Monitoring Apps in 2024

With so many monitoring solutions available, you might struggle to identify the best fit for your business.

To help you make the most informed choice, we’ve researched and picked some of the most comprehensive and reliable apps for various monitoring purposes.

For business applications in particular, we recommend Insightful, Monitask, and CleverControl as our top picks.

Best Employee Monitoring Software Top Choice For Starting Price Standout Features
Insightful Comprehensive productivity monitoring $6.40/user/month – Personal dashboard for employees
– Engagement levels monitoring
– Insider threat detection
– Trend reports
– Invoicing integrations
Monitask Projects and team management $4.99/user/month – Apps and internet tracking
– Team analytics
– Multiple integrations (Slack, ClickUp, Asana, and more)
– Accounting summaries
CleverControl Strengthening company security $4.70/user/month – Removable storage monitoring
– Search engine monitoring
– Cam and mic recording
– Face recognition

Whether you’re interested in accounting integrations, data security, or insightful productivity reports, one of these apps could be the answer to your business needs.

You can also check our article on the best employee time tracking software to study even more options.

Top Employee Spy Apps in 2024

Besides desktop devices, employers sometimes need to monitor company-issued phones. Unfortunately, not all corporate monitoring software works on mobile devices. In such cases, we recommend mobile spy apps as an alternative.

Phone spy apps, like mSpy, are made for personal use, so they’re best suited for small-scale monitoring. Their main use case is parental control, but many have versatile monitoring features suited for employee tracking as well.

Here’s a summary of the best phone spy apps for personal use and business applications:

Best Spy Software Top Choice For Starting Price Standout Features
mSpy Monitoring general device activity $11.66/month – Monitoring app usage time
– Timed screenshots
– GPS alerts
– Viewing deleted SMS messages
– Monitoring browser history
uMobix Ensuring authorized use of company device $13.44/month – Video and audio streaming
– Viewing renamed contacts and deleted info
– Remotely restricting phone functions
– Deleting or restricting apps
Spynger Data protection $10.83/month – Email monitoring
– Blocking WiFi connections
– Screen recorder
– GPS tracker
– Access to saved files

Usually, phone spy apps are more intrusive and can monitor private conversations, access social media content, and capture keyboard strokes (including passwords and banking details).

If you plan to use such spy apps for corporate monitoring, we strongly recommend advising employees not to use company phones for personal purposes.

Read our article on the 10 best phone spy apps to learn more about phone monitoring solutions.

Should You Use an Employee Tracking System?

Employee monitoring software is a worthy investment with significant advantages. A comprehensive bossware can help your business on many levels, including data security, employee productivity, and team management.

However, to reap the full benefits of bossware, you should also be aware of its potential downsides and take steps to mitigate them. With a transparent, employee-friendly monitoring policy, you can avoid privacy concerns and increased anxiety levels for your team.

You should also remember productivity reports don’t capture the whole picture. Tracking software only monitors computer activity, missing processes like brainstorming and problem solving. For a fair assessment, you shouldn’t rely solely on productivity reports.

FAQs

How do companies spy on their employees?

Can employers use spyware to track program usage by employees?

What software do companies use to spy on employees?

Can a company use cameras to spy on employees?

References

Diana Ploscaru

Diana Ploscaru

Diana is a seasoned writer with over four years of freelancing experience. Using her keen interest in statistics and data analysis, she specializes in crafting informative and practical content across various interesting topics.

In her free time, she enjoys studying foreign languages and going for hour-long walks to reach her daily step goal.

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