Key Findings

  • 60% of companies with employees who work remotely are using monitoring software to track employee activity and productivity
  • Among employees whose activity is being monitored, 53% are spending 3 or more hours per day on non-work activities
  • 88% of employers terminated workers after implementing monitoring software
  • 81% of companies that implemented monitoring software saw an increase in worker productivity

As remote work becomes the new norm, one of the major challenges facing employers is how to ensure their employees are maintaining productivity.

Enter employee monitoring software, which tracks how much employees are working, which websites they visit, where they are working, and more.

A September survey of 1,250 employers in the U.S. by Digital.com gauges how many companies have installed work monitoring software on their employee’s devices, what they’re looking for and what the results have been.

Employers mostly concerned with productivity, time theft

Sixty percent of employers with remote employees are currently using monitoring software, while another 17% are considering it.

The top reason why employers require monitoring software is to better understand how employees are spending their time (79%). Employers also want to confirm employees are working a full day (65%), and ensure they aren’t using work equipment for personal use (50%).

Employers are primarily tracking their employees’ habits by using software that monitors web browsing and application use (76%). Other popular monitoring tools that employers are using include software that captures random screenshots (60%), blocks content and applications (54%) and logs keystrokes (44%).

While software monitoring systems may work in the short term, small business consultant Dennis Consorte encourages employers to focus on what could be the root of the problem.

“As an employer, you could try blocking social media websites and prohibiting text messages and other personal communications, but people will always find a way around your rules,” he says. “Try to give your team a sense of purpose instead. Give people a reason to want to spend more time on their work, and they will spend less time on distractions.”

Half of employees being monitored spend 3+ hours per day on non-work activities

Twenty-seven percent of employers have employees who are spending 5 hours or more per day on non-work activities. Another 52% have employees who spend 1-4 hours per day away from their workstations or browsing the internet.

Only 7% of employers say their employers are focused on work all day long.

3 in 4 employees using work hours to browse social media, websites

What are employees doing when they’re hardly working instead of working hard? Most commonly, they’re visiting websites and social media for personal use (78%).

Other common forms of time theft detected by monitoring software include employee absences from workstations (60%), and working a second job (52%).

If employees are spending more time surfing the web than completing their work, Consorte encourages employers to reflect on what they can do to improve worker morale.

“When an employee feels mistreated or underpaid, they’re more likely to engage in time theft,” he says. “This can happen when the company mission and core values are not ingrained in the culture, so people have no sense of purpose when they come to work. Add on low pay compared to the value they produce, and you’ve got the perfect storm for bad behavior.”

14% say employees are unaware of software

The majority of employees know that their bosses are virtually looking over their shoulders. Eighty-six percent of companies using monitoring software informed their employees—but 14% have not.

While Consorte acknowledges that disclosing to remote employees that they are being monitored may feel awkward, it’s worth it in the long run. A failure to do so could cause the employee to feel their privacy has been invaded without consent, and they could lose trust in their employer.

“Frame it in the most positive, yet truthful way possible,” he advises. “Your messaging should be that you trust your workers, and just want to verify how time is spent, in order to identify ways to improve productivity.”

88% of employers terminated workers after implementing monitoring software

At most companies using monitoring software, bad behavior came back to haunt employees. Twenty-five percent of employers terminated between one and 10 workers as a result of monitoring their productivity habits, while 21% terminated between 51 and 100 employees.

Only 12% of employers surveyed did not fire anyone after implementing monitoring software.

Majority of employers saw worker productivity increase after installing monitoring software

Overall, using monitoring software appears to achieve what it is intended to do. Eighty-one percent of employers using monitoring software report an increase in employee productivity after the software was implemented.

For 10% of employers, the jury is still out on whether it’s making workers more productive, while 9% of employers did not see any improvement in productivity.

However, according to Consorte, monitoring software may be motivating employees for the wrong reasons.

“Often when employers see a lift in employee productivity after installing monitoring software, it’s likely due to fear rather than inspiration,” he says.

Employers in advertising, IT most likely to use monitoring software

Not all industries have adopted monitoring software at equal rates. Our survey finds the use of monitoring software is most prevalent in advertising and marketing (83%), computer and information technology (77%), construction (71%), business and finance (60%), manufacturing (60%), and personal care services (52%).

The use of monitoring software is more common in these industries because “these are fields where clients are often billed on an hourly basis,” Consorte says. “Therefore, employers may want to cover their bases with tracking software, in case clients question the legitimacy of billable hours.”

Meanwhile, fewer than half the employers in fields like education, healthcare, and retail are using monitoring software to ensure their employees are properly focused and productive.

Employees in construction, advertising and marketing, business and finance, and IT are the biggest time thieves, according to their employers.

Thirty-nine percent of construction employees, 32% of employees in advertising and marketing, 29% of business and finance workers, and 28% of IT employees spend 5 or more hours per day on non-work activities.

As a result of this misbehavior, 34% of manufacturing employers and 30% of construction employers fired 51 to 100 workers.

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Digital.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 American employers who have some or all employees working remotely were surveyed. Appropriate respondents were found via a screening question. This survey was conducted on September 13, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please contact Julia Morrissey at [email protected]