Employee time tracking: the complete guide to monitoring employees in the workplace

Monitoring employees' computer use in the workplace may be controversial, but stats speak for themselves: companies that monitor employee internet usage report 30% productivity boost within the first month.


Studies show that people waste as many as 8 hours a week - close to one full day a week - on non-work tasks. Note that this time does not include lunch breaks and other resting moments throughout the workday, but the time people spend on their mobile phones, surfing the web, doing online shopping, etc.

Now, let's do the calculation: with the average hourly wage of $22.23 per hour (as in October 2017], companies in the USA are losing more than $8500 a year on every person they employ.

Boosting your team's productivity by 30% means saving more than $2500 a year on each employee on the team. Got a team of 10? Save 25K every year. You get the point - the larger your team, the bigger your savings. Therefore, it's no surprise that as many as 66% of employers have implemented a time tracking system and track employee hours in their company.

In this guide you'll learn:
  • The types of employee monitoring.

  • 3 reasons why companies monitor their employees.

  • What to look for when choosing an employee time tracking system?

  • How to explain time tracking to your employees?

  • The dos and don'ts of employee monitoring.

The dos and don'ts of employee computer monitoring

The types of employee monitoring

Employee monitoring is the use of various methods to gather information about the worker's computer activity and locations of staff members. There are many and varied types of employee monitoring - here's a selection of the most commonly used:

Computer monitoring

Often used as a synonym for monitoring employees' computer and internet usage. Time tracking software collects data about programs, apps and URL's a person has used during the workday, and for how long. That way, managers can track employee hours and make sure the company's time is used productively.

The top industries using employee time tracking are marketing and IT, followed by web development and web design.

Call monitoring

Phone monitoring is mostly used at call centers for reasons of quality control. Recording employees' interactions with clients allows managers to make sure that everyone provides customer service according to the company's standards.

Apart from the quality control, the phone recordings are also often used for trainings - workers listen to their conversations for self-evaluation.

Email monitoring

More than 50% of larger companies monitor their employees’ emails in order to make sure workers don't waste company's time, as well as for security reasons.

Companies monitor their employees' emails to protect confidential information leaks. Managers also admit that email monitoring is a way to detect and stop potential abuse or inappropriate behaviour. Simply put, letting employees know that they are monitored helps employers protect both their business and employees of the company.


Time-clocking basically means tracking employees' times of arrival and departure using a time clock app. That allows employers to keep an eye on their workers to make sure they're not late for work and don't leave before the workday is over.

Some companies use electronic cards or chips that employees must scan upon arrival and when leaving the office building. Other employers use time tracking systems that start automatically and log the arrival time when the employee turns on the computer.

GPS tracking

Companies usually use GPS to track employees who spend most of their time "on the road". A very classic example are truck drivers, taxi drivers, visual brand merchandisers, and other professions that include driving a car for work purposes.

Attached to their vehicles, the GPS tracking system allows managers to keep track of their employees and plan daily routes more efficiently. Employee GPS tracking is also commonly used to make sure the car is not used for private reasons unless the company's policy allows it.

Now that you know the most common types of employee monitoring, read on to learn why companies decide to track their employees in the first place.

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The dos and don'ts of employee computer monitoring

Monitoring employees in the workplace - the 3 reasons why

Every company has its own reasons for monitoring employees in the workplace. Most often, the need for monitoring employee computer usage emerges after disputable or inexplicable situations.

For example, when an employer notices that the team is constantly missing deadlines without any obvious reason and can't find the answer through employee performance reviews. Or the staff feels annoyed to write weekly reports, so employee time tracking is a way to automate the process and save the team's time.

Either way, here are the three most common reasons why managers of companies – large and small – use time tracking for business and monitor employees in the workplace.

Employee monitoring boost productivity and motivation

One of the most common reasons why companies use time tracking is to monitor the productivity of its employees. That's totally understandable when you think how much time people waste every day.

Managers monitor employee computer activity because they're interested where people spend their work hours. Time tracking allows the employer to make sure that everyone dedicates their office hours to the work-related tasks that they are paid for.

Besides, studies show that when employees know they're being monitored, they become more disciplined and motivated to stay on task. That explains the instant 30% productivity boost that companies report just a week after they start to use a time tracking software.

In the larger scale, team monitoring creates a transparent, open and honest company culture. People are more disciplined and motivated to do their best.

Employee tracking helps plan resources more effectively

It says that you can't improve what you can't measure. Similarly, you can't optimize your workflow when you don't know how much time and human resources each project takes.

Look - stats show that on average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over time. That's why tracking your past projects is important, so you can better estimate your future project costs and deadlines.

Similarly, historical data from your time tracking software can make you rethink the allocation of human resources. For example, if your sales team spends just 5% of their time on a customer that generates 50% of your monthly revenue, you may want to assign more time for this customer because there's a great chance for even better results.

Time tracking is crucial for remote employees' management

Recent research indicates that by 2022, as much as 60% of people will be working remotely. Employee time tracking makes remote employee monitoring much more effective, since managers can follow the progress of task completion without asking for weekly or daily reports.

Here's how team management with the use of a time tracking software works:

For example, a remote employee is given a task to complete by the end of the week. Once defined, the task is out of your hands until the deadline comes. Most managers rely on their employees, yet still admit they want to track the progress - just to make sure everything goes according to the plan and timeline. A computer monitoring software allows managers to take a quick peek at their out-of-the-office employees to make sure they spend their time on the right tasks.

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The dos and don'ts of employee computer monitoring

What to look for when choosing an employee time tracking system?

There are hundreds of time tracking softwares out there, and each of them offers its own set of features. Here are some of the features your chosen employee time tracking system should include:

It starts automatically

Employees should not pay attention to the software. Instead, it should be something that works in the background and starts automatically when the person turns on the computer.


Asking your employees to remember to start and stop the tracker will only make them more annoyed regarding the new app - it's extra work for them. Therefore, choose a software that's unobtrusive and doesn't require any manual involvement, so your employees can forget it exists.

It lets you track individual projects

Employee time tracking per se won't give you clear answers to questions like which tasks and projects are the most time-consuming, or how much a certain project has cost for the company (and was it worth it?) Therefore, it's important that your time tracking app allows you to split the time worked by individual tasks and projects.

Not only your time tracking app should allow you to split your time by projects, it should also let all your team members devote a part of their work time to these projects, so that everyone's input counts.

It helps you see the big picture

Employees are not afraid of time tracking, they're afraid of micromanaging. That's why it's important that your chosen software gives you summarized data and lets you see the big picture without going into details.

Let me explain:

As a manager who trusts their employees, you probably don't care what work non-related URLs, apps and programs they're using. As long as the total time they spend on work non-related things doesn't exceed eg. 30 minutes a day, there is no need to scrutinize your employees' Internet usage.

An employee time tracking software that allows you to categorize URLs, programs and apps into productive / unproductive will let you see the overall productivity of each person without further examination.

It gives your employees privacy

One of the biggest argument against time tracking is that it invades employees' privacy - people feel insecure, as if the management can see and judge their every step. But here's the truth - your employees' private life doesn't stop because they're in the office. And sometimes they need to make that doctor's appointment during work hours. But the management doesn't need to know that.

When choosing your time tracking software, look for a feature that allows employees to get off the radar when they need to. Give them some private time during work time, which is reported, yet the internet usage is not tracked. That way you'll still be able to see how much time your team spends on private things during their office hours, while letting them keep those things private.

It lets you manage your remote workers

With more and more companies hiring remote team members, the challenge of managing out-of-the-office employees becomes an important topic. Therefore, when choosing an employee time tracking solution, look for extra features that ease the management of remote employees, such as real-time tracking and time tracking with screenshots. Such features allows managers to closely monitor employee computer usage, even if they're miles away from the office.

The real-time tracking feature allows you to see what everyone’s current active app is, and that way know which task each of your remote employees are working on. Meanwhile, the screenshots feature allows you to capture your employees' screen at certain time intervals, therefore minimizing the risk of cheating.

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The dos and don'ts of employee computer monitoring

How to explain time tracking to employees?

Whenever anyone starts talking about employee internet monitoring and time tracking, employees tend to storm out. Fearing increased control and invasion of their privacy, employees perceive time tracking as their enemy.

Time and work tracking is not the employees' enemy. It's the lack of communication between the management and the team. So, once you've made the decision to use time tracking in your company, take the time to explain it to your team.

Instead of presenting time tracking as a tool for management to keep track of how employees spend their time, teach your team to use the software for their own growth and benefits. Because employees don't care why it's important for the company, they're looking for the "what's in it for me". So give it to them.

Here are some benefits employees can enjoy from time tracking:

It saves time

Look - from time to time, we have those days when we work like crazy, but at the end of the day, nothing is really done. Not knowing where the time has gone, we can't learn from mistakes and become more efficient in the future.

Using time tracking software is a way to help people discover their biggest time sucks and change their unproductive habits that hinder their professional growth. The most successful people don't have more hours a day than the rest of the team, they are simply better at their time management. Time tracking gives you the information you need to get better and master your time management skills.

When you think about it - what benefits the most from time tracking, are the teams of highly motivated and ambitious people.

It helps to notice hard work

It can be very discouraging when you work harder than anyone else, but it stays unnoticed. Some people work harder and that should be acknowledged. Using the data from the time tracking app, managers can easily notice their best-performing and most dedicated employees.

For example, let's say you notice that some of your employees spend all their workday on work-related programs, while others take frequent (and long) breaks scrolling through social media or shopping online. It's unfair to ignore the effort of those team members who are all-in, and put them in the same box with those who are slacking.

When presenting time tracking to the team, let them know that you'll take the data into consideration when discussing promotions or raises. That way, your best employees can rest assured that their dedication won't stay unnoticed.

It helps managers to realize how much time things take

Whenever I hear someone saying, "here's this small task that should take you 5 minutes", I feel like I could literally explode! Because that small task will probably take me at least an hour to complete.

The truth is, managers whose job it is to organize workflow and assign tasks often have no clue how much time certain tasks actually take. They have never done them! As a result, employees are often overloaded with unrealistic deadlines, which leads to frustration and sometimes even true despair.

Tracking employees means getting to know their work specifics better. Explain to your team that when they track their time, it helps the management realize the volume of their work tasks. As a result, there will no longer be impossible deadlines and unrealistic expectations anymore.

When presenting your time tracking software to the team, start with a story they can relate to - a situation that made them frustrated and angry. Then, explain how time tracking can help them avoid such situations in the future.

It saves employees from overworking

As a manager, you want your team to be happy and well-rested. That improves job satisfaction and productivity. However, the problem with medium-sized and large teams is that the management can't possibly check on each employee and make sure they take care of themselves by taking breaks and leaving work at a reasonable time.

Look, I used to work up to 16 hours a day. Then, one day my boss saw my time tracking report and pointed out to me that I should not stay that late so often. Not just because it's unhealthy, but also because he noticed that the next day I was extremely unproductive after my extremely long shift. Staying late in the office didn't help me get more done. It did, however, make me more tired and unable to focus the next day.

Let your team know that employee time tracking is one more tool for the management and HR to follow the well-being of the team. It's not forbidden to stay a little longer in the office, but working double shifts every other day is a no-no - for the employees' own good.

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The dos and don'ts of employee computer monitoring

The dos and don'ts of employee computer monitoring

Okay, so now you understand that employee monitoring in the workplace has its benefits and you've made the decision to track employees' computer usage. You've even chosen the solution that fits your needs and are ready to get to employee computer monitoring.

But wait a sec!

Before you get to tracking, here are some dos and don'ts to remember to keep the management out of trouble, and your team - happy.

DO inform your team

Employee monitoring is for increasing transparency between the team and the management. It's just ethical to let your employees know they're being monitored, otherwise you're practicing double standards.

DON'T interfere with your employees' private life

Don't ever use time tracking to stick your nose into your employee's personal life, even if something private is caught on the software. Monitoring your employees is one thing, using the data to interfere with their private lives, is unethical and illegal.

DO use time tracking to boost motivation

Allow your employees to see how they're doing in comparison with their colleagues - it's a way to boost their self-motivation. Because no one wants to be the worst-performing member of the team.

DON'T threaten your team

Acting like the Big Brother is ineffective in the long-term, so don't monitor employee computer activity with the aim of intimidating your team. In other words, don't confront your employees about every little thing - fear is not the route to productivity, especially when it comes to knowledge workers.

DO look at the big picture

It's important that you see the whole picture and only pay attention to extreme cases and continued patterns. For example, do pay attention to the employee who's constantly missing deadlines, but don't make a scene out of a one-time delay.

DON'T micromanage

Unless you want to lower your team's morale and increase the employee turnover rate, don't use time tracking for micromanaging. Give your employees autonomy and use employee internet monitoring as a tool to help them stay on track.

5 best apps for employee tracking


DeskTime is a powerful and automatic employee tracking software that works in the background, never interfering with your work. It offers powerful features for productivity measurement, attendance tracking, and effective workflow management that boosts performance for teams and individuals alike. DeskTime also measures employee productivity based on the usage of apps that the team admin designates as productive or unproductive. It will not only track attendance and time worked by every person on your team, but also provide a breakdown of how much time is spent on each project, client, or task. It also allows managers to take desktop screenshots to see what their employees are working on at the exact moment and minimize the chances of slacking off.

Time Doctor

Time Doctor is a mix between time tracking, employee monitoring, and project management. It's a diverse tool that records what web pages and apps each employee uses. Managers will receive a weekly report outlining which websites and applications were used and for how long. Individual users will receive the same report outlining their own time usage statistics. The app includes other employee tracking features, as well as online timesheets and payroll, project management and budgeting, screenshots and activity levels, integrations, and more.


Workpuls is an excellent replacement for manual time entry systems. This software tracks attendance and hours in real-time and generates timesheets automatically according to the tracked work time and other data. It gives you very detailed information about your team allowing you to track what employees do during their time at work. It offers useful features like employee monitoring through computer activity tracking and regular screenshots, project overview and budgeting, as well as automatic time mapping.


Hubstaff is an app that lets you track employees in terms of time and productivity, and turns the data into convenient timesheets. Managers can review the timesheets, approve or ask for specifications, as well as manage employee absences. Additionally, Hubstaff offers GPS timesheets with employee location data that can be especially useful for companies having remote teams or workers in several locations.

Toggl Track

Toggl Track is a flexible time tracking app that can fit into any workflow. It allows you to create projects, log tasks within the projects, and then set an easy one-click timer to track your hours as you begin working. It offers an easy-to-use timer that syncs tracking across multiple devices in real-time. The app eliminates unprofitable projects, uneven work distribution, and manual admin while keeping track of your team's productivity and structuring huge amounts of data.