Spying or Productivity Tracking: What’s Ethical for Employers?

By Guest Author | productivity | November 5, 2021

It’s no surprise that the number of remote workers has steadily increased over the past two years. Because the COVID-19 pandemic and the delta variant are still impacting communities worldwide, many companies have adopted either a full-time remote staff or enforced a hybrid model, where employees work from home for part of the week but are usually in-office. 


With an unprecedented amount of remote workers, more employers are looking for viable solutions to monitor them. Whether using time-tracking software or issuing company-owned devices, surveilling employees is becoming normalized across various industries. 

However, ethical concerns regarding employee rights and reasonable monitoring are expected due to this emerging trend. 

Here’s what to know about remote employee monitoring, what’s available to employers, laws regarding employee privacy rights and some of the best monitoring practices companies should adopt. 

Examples of Employee Monitoring Software

A recent report shows that demand for employee surveillance software has increased by 58%, according to Top10VPN. While there is a growing demand for this type of surveillance software, there’s still debate over whether or not these tools are genuinely helpful for businesses or if they violate an employee’s right to privacy.

Below are some examples of productivity tracking software companies worldwide are leveraging to gain valuable insights about employee productivity. 


Prodoscore offers productivity intelligence tools for its clients. Using artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP), Prodoscore helps companies gather insights about their employee productivity. A score is generated for each worker, and scores can be compared so managers or C-suite executives can find opportunities for improvement.


One of the more popular time-tracking tools that also measures productivity is Hubstaff, which allows employers to learn more about what an employee is spending their time working on. Hubstaff is downloaded onto an employee’s desktop, and an organization can choose which features they’d like to have on, such as:

— Desktop screenshots
— App and URL tracking
— Activity rates

Hubstaff measures productivity by logging keystrokes and monitoring the user’s mouse or touchpad.


ActivTrak delivers analytics and insights to measure and optimize productivity. Employers that use ActivTrak can better understand how their employees work, which ones are burdened with too many tasks, who could use more projects and more. ActivTrak has over 9,000 customers across 94 countries to date. 

There are other examples of employee productivity software that can inform employers about their staff performance. As these tools become more popular, you may be wondering: Is this legal?

Legal Landscape for Remote Employee Monitoring

The ethics surrounding remote employee monitoring are murky. There is little to no legislation in the U.S. that directly addresses it, with one exception: the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986. Additionally, some states have laws in place that protect employee privacy to some extent. 

The ECPA is a federal law that allows employers, under certain circumstances, to monitor employees’ verbal and written communications. Depending on state and local laws, employers do not have to receive consent to monitor their workers, while some regulations require this level of transparency.

For example, Maryland, California and Illinois have laws requiring all parties involved in electronic communications or phone calls to consent to monitoring. Connecticut and Delaware have laws requiring employers to give notice before monitoring begins.

While there is a clear lack of legislation that directly addresses employee monitoring, there are ways for employers to monitor productivity properly. Companies must consider many underlying factors before implementing new monitoring software. 

How Do Employees Feel About Being Tracked?

Many employees have mixed feelings when they know their employer is monitoring them. A recent survey conducted by ExpressVPN shows some interesting findings regarding workers’ views of monitoring. 

Here are some key statistics:

— 56% of employees feel stress and anxiety about their employer monitoring their communications. 

— 41% constantly wonder if they are being watched.

— 32% take fewer breaks because of employee monitoring.

— 48% of employees would be willing to reduce their pay if it meant not being monitored, and one in four would take a 25% pay cut.

— One in three employees don’t believe their employers monitor their online activities, and 15% didn’t even know it was possible.

Employers can use these measures to help them make informed decisions about whether or not to begin monitoring their employees. While achieving high productivity levels can be highly beneficial for a business, employers need to decide whether privacy and avoiding potential feelings of resentment are worth it.

It’s commonly known that any relationship built on a foundation of distrust is not a relationship built to last. What can employers do to properly monitor worker productivity without causing rifts within the organization?

Best Monitoring Practices for Employers

Companies interested in measuring productivity can refer to these tips to maintain positive relationships with their employees. 

Adopt a spirit of transparency and let your workers know they’re being monitored. 

— Use employee monitoring tools as a supplemental measurement rather than a form of punishment. 

— Understand what is being monitored and ensure you set performance goals for employees.

— Know your objective — without a true business purpose, monitoring may not be necessary for your remote workforce.

Keep these tips in mind if you plan on implementing employee monitoring software into your operations. 

Use Employee Monitoring Tools for the Right Reasons

Employers want to ensure their employees achieve high productivity levels rather than sit on the couch in pajamas and stream their favorite Netflix shows. However, hiring someone should establish a certain level of trust and accountability. No one should feel like they’re being spied on.

High-performing employees who reach their goals and provide meaningful outcomes for your business shouldn’t worry about being monitored. The key to effective performance monitoring is to be transparent and open about why you’re tracking in the first place. Be sure to take other measures to help support your remote employees. This lets them know you care about them and want to see them succeed.

  • Devin Partida covers startup and business tech stories. Her work has been featured on Entrepreneur, Startups Magazine, CIO Insights and Business2Community. To read more from Devin, please visit her personal website here