A Buyer’s Guide – How to Choose the Right Spy Apps for Spying on Phone

Controlio represents the new way of thinking in the segment and even has real time video recording and live streaming capability that's also synced with keystroke tracking. Editors' Choice selection Teramind, takes video recording to a whole new level by enabling Optical Character Recognition OCR which can run through video files and recognize text on screen and on documents and make video searchable.

On-premises vendor StaffCop Enterprise also provides OCR functionality for screenshots and documents as well as video recording. The inclusion of video recording and live feeds leapfrogs screenshots and offers businesses a gapless oversight of employee activity and will likely be the norm moving forward. Employee engagement and work focus may no longer be the most viable objectives for performance evaluations. Pandemics, after all, have a way of turning things on their head.

Teams, however, still need to work towards common goals, and managers are expected to afford employees some leniency on defining how best to get their work done. With that in mind, the importance of organizational tools and systems becomes even more critical for distributed teams working outside of established office structures. The challenge becomes ensure that these tools can serve as helpful human resources HR solutions in addition to monitoring engines.


When larger employers hire new workers, they need to find a way to ensure that the employee is getting the supervision, training, and support they need out of the gate. That's enough of a challenge that market research firm, Statista , identified it at the top of a list of challenges that surveyed HR professionals associated with onboarding. While that's slightly outside-the-box thinking for employee monitoring technology, it clearly shows there's flexibility when it comes to using these solutions. While that's something to keep in mind when reading our reviews of these services, we did decide to focus our testing on the category's core mission: maximizing worker productivity.

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These products are designed to ensure that businesses are getting the productivity they expect out of employees. They also help enforce data security policies and protocols which are even more important now that company data is as distributed as the workforce that manages it. Particularly for large corporations that schedule thousands of shift workers in settings such as call centers , for instance, employee monitoring agents installed on company machines give these businesses complete visibility and traceability into their operations.

The employee monitoring agents also aggregate key data on employee productivity. For organizations such as government contractors or businesses that deal with sensitive financial, medical, or other personal customer data, ensuring compliance rules while keeping an eye on employees can be even more critical. So, if you are looking for comprehensive employee monitoring tools that offer a Big Brother-level of omnipresent oversight or if simply want Google Analytics GA to track office productivity metrics and improve efficiency, there is a range of employee monitoring tools available to fit your particular needs.

Today's employee monitoring technology offers unparalleled monitoring capability and can track employee's from any conceivable frame of reference. Using geolocation, keystroke logging, screenshots, video recording, and even access to web cams installed on remote PCs. Cloud computing offers the ability to capture terabytes of data which is stored online and easy for managers to access.

More importantly, this data doesn't just lie dormant, it can be run through complex algorithms to anticipate insider threats, measure individual and team productivity, as well as retrace various steps leading to any problems or data leaks. Once an incognito agent is installed on a machine sometimes hidden in the Running Processes list under disguised names , the most powerful employee monitoring tools can act as an all-seeing eye. It can see into everything from what apps an employee has open to with whom they're chatting to, what they're saying.

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It can even use automated logic such as keyword triggers and policy rules to let an admin know when employees do something they're not supposed to do. Thanks to advanced automation, software can now set various alerts and triggers to find patterns and compile employee transgressions into reports that can later be used to build disciplinary cases against employees. Today's tools can be installed on stealth mode, running in the background of user's PCs, or they can be applied with the user's knowledge so employees are aware that their PCs and smartphones are recording their every move.

This all starts with screenshots and customizable employee screen recording options. Depending on the employee monitoring tool, company admins can configure rules and settings to take screenshots at particular intervals, either once per hour, every 15 minutes, or even every 10 seconds or less.

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Some tools also support live screenshots or continuous video recording where an admin can check in live on an employee's machine or pull up the timestamped recording of a particular period of time. Some tools let you play, pause, or download screenshots.

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Most importantly, stored screenshots also carry metadata and can be incorporated throughout the monitoring dashboard to be pulled up as supporting evidence or supplementary data for whatever user activity or data point an admin is reviewing or investigating. The challenge still remains on the human end of the process, managers only have so many hours to pore through hundreds if not thousands of screenshots throughout an employees workday. Video recording is the next frontier and is already being offered by the likes of Teramind, StaffCop Enterprise, and Controlio.

Access to live or recorded video offers the most accurate forensic evidence and the ability to quickly search, scrub, and even search using OCR technology will make video the key differentiator for companies choosing the best solution. Beyond the images themselves, these monitoring platforms can have a startling degree of detailed visibility into every app, file, message, and even Zoom calls that appear across an employee's screen or within their system. Some of the most advanced enterprise monitoring solutions offer optical character recognition OCR on a user's screen to perform session mining on particular keywords.

Whether by OCR or by enabling support for monitoring specific desktop or web apps regularly used by employees, the most piercing employee monitoring tool will parse email messages, chats, instant messages IMs , and other personal or team communication apps. They'll monitor whatever parameters or even specific keywords an admin has set.

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The more advanced solutions can even find credit card numbers and financial records through screenshots and videos, and send corresponding alerts triggered by these very specific details. This deep tracking applies to tracing documents and scanning file names as well.

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The software will often capture the attached document or file so an admin can view it. So, if an enterprise's C-suite executives want to know whether employees are chatting internally about the company's CEO or CTO, they could simply set up automated keyword triggers to receive an email alert or have all mentions aggregated into a report. This rules-based automation can be extended to a variety of parameters or user behaviors if a company so wishes. For instance, rules can be set to prevent employees from sending company data through personal channels or from downloading an app or file that isn't IT-approved, or even from inserting USB thumb drives into company PCs.

Not all platforms can go this deep into automation. However, the ones that can will either trigger user notifications to stop the action, or simply send an alert or update an audit log. This all speaks to a more fundamental question: Is your business investing in an employee monitoring tool primarily to improve productivity and efficiency? Or do you truly want or need full oversight into everything employees are doing and saying on company time and machines, to a meticulous degree of detail?

Depending on your organizational needs and what value you're looking to gain from implementing this kind of solution, your choice of employee monitoring tool and the ways they can be applied could be vastly different.

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  • The range of software we tested varied from basic time trackers that offer some added employee monitoring to full-blown, data-driven digital surveillance systems. For example, Hubstaff, Workpuls, and VeriClock are pure-play time tracking tools that offer some deeper employee monitoring features. These products give you great core time-tracking features plus features such as mobile GPS tracking for workers in the field. They also give you attached notes and photos, screenshots, or basic monitoring of apps used and URLs visited.

    Workpuls is an employee-friendly tool that enables end users to turn the monitoring feature on or off and is suited to distributed teams and situations where monitoring 9-to-5 activity is not ideal.

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    These tools offer website and app monitoring features plus screenshots, keystroke and file tracking, and board admin customizations including proactive alerts. Note that these capabilities are centered around improving productivity rather than policing employee activity. Data is funneled into reports and dashboards that can monitor and aggregate productivity metrics as well as a fair amount of insights-driven business reporting.

    Finally, there are the platforms that feel almost omniscient in the depth of monitoring, automation, and comprehensive data they provide. These tools are the closest to invasive Big Brother-like internal surveillance systems, depending on how deeply an admin wants to customize what data and monitoring vectors are being tracked for each employee, or how much automation and alerting to layer on top. This tier of tools also provide what is essentially full-blown business intelligence BI reporting and data analytics on the back end to process and analyze all of the employee data being collected.

    Pricing varies for all of these tools. But most employee monitoring tools set their price by the number of users or endpoints, meaning the number of employees for which agents are installed on their machines. Costs tend to scale based on user capacity and volume discounts kick in for larger organizations. However, tools such as InterGuard also offers additional add-on modules for premium functionality.

    If you're looking for software you can buy outright rather than via a monthly or annual subscription, then StaffCop Enterprise offers perpetual licenses per user, though this involves on-premises versus cloud-based installation. Ultimately, the Editors' Choice awards for the products tested in this roundup went to Teramind and Veriato Cerebral for enterprise-level monitoring and to ActivTrak for productivity-focused monitoring that's better suited to small to midsize businesses SMBs. While InterGuard and Veriato Cerebral have comparably vast feature sets and monitoring capabilities, Teramind stands alone in the level of automation admins can configure when it comes to user-specific rules and alerts, and additional advanced functionality such as live OCR, historic playback mode, remote desktop control, and audio support for microphone and headphone monitoring in call centers.

    StaffCop Enterprise packs a selection of monitoring tools and automation features to match Teramind, but their value is lessened by an involved on-premises setup and virtual machine VM provisioning process as opposed to Teramind's seamless installation. Teramind was also one of the easiest tools we tested to install agents, configure the admin dashboard, and get up and running fast without much hassle.

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    • ActivTrak, and to a lesser extent, Workpuls, are ideal options for SMBs or even enterprises that don't need the full-blown Big Brother oversight of Teramind and want an easy-to-use platform for tracking employee productivity and efficiency metrics. Veriato Cerebral's application of artificial intelligence AI for risk assessment is second to none and its outstanding security focus earns it our Editors' Choice selection.

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