Small Business Productivity: Do You Need to Deploy an Army of Digital Spies?

keyboard public domainSome studies indicate that employees on average spend 16 minutes an hour on social media.

That can be a real productivity killer. The answer? Digital “tattle tale” software that monitors your employees’ computer and online activity…maybe.

I qualify this with a resounding “maybe” because before you jump into downloading the software that lets you keep track of what your employees are doing on their computers you need to consider one more side of the issue:

If you don’t deftly manage the introduction of this software and how you use it, you can kill team morale in a way that could be more destructive than the time your employees are currently wasting on social media sites.

The software

We’ll come back around to this issue in a moment, but let me give you a quick introduction to the players in this arena and the way this software works. Activtrak, Spector 360 and WorkExaminer are three of the major software providers.

While the software differs in pricing along with “bells and whistles” they all track what software your employees are using and where they visit on the Internet. They will send you screen shots and compile information into reports. Some will also give you the power to block access to sites. They are made for regular computers so you won’t be able to monitor smartphone or tablet use.

Activtrak has a basic free offer for three or fewer computers. Price points generally run from $25 to $115 per computer depending on which software you prefer and how many machines you need to equip; the volume discounts can be significant, but few small business owners will qualify for the best pricing.

Careful deployment

As I mentioned above, how you manage and use this software is extremely critical. With all the recent publicity about government spying on our online use via the NSA, people are very sensitive to this issue. And just as many fear the government misusing the data it collects, employees may fear a similar abuse from their employers.

It’s easy to imagine a situation where an owner detects online political activity from an employee that runs contrary to his or her political beliefs. Not only might that activity cause an immediate confrontation, it could color the owner’s views of the employee and lead to unjustified negative performance evaluations.

Listen to your employees

This illustrates how important it is to inform your employees that you are introducing this software and clearly define why you are using it. Give them time to adjust to the idea and bring their questions and concerns to you before you install the software. Further, if you go this route, be sure to update your policy handbook. I also need to mention that merely announcing your plans to start monitoring computer use often leads to employees becoming better stewards of their digital work habits.

However, there is one situation where you might not want to tell your employees about your intentions. If you are suffering from fraud or shrinkage that may be occurring through online manipulation or deceit, you may want to consider beginning your surveillance without informing you employees. If this is the case, be sure you know what you are doing and have good legal advice in case you need to take serious follow-up action.

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