How to Monitor Employee Internet Activity and Usage

The workforce management landscape continues to evolve. Remote workers face the usual productivity challenges alongside an uptick in viruses and security issues like hacking or phishing. 

While taking steps to monitor user activity is nothing new, knowing how to implement modern tools effectively can be tricky. There are several variables to consider. You might already be asking yourself questions like:

  • How will I keep malware at bay?

  • Should employees use ethernet or Wi-Fi on their home network?

  • How will I secure connected devices like laptops and desktop computers?

Figuring out how to securely manage a remote team isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Let’s take a closer look at how monitoring internet activity can help.

What is internet activity monitoring?

In the workplace, internet activity monitoring is keeping track of your employees' online activity. This could include monitoring their browser history, file transfers, messages, or keyboard and mouse activity.

Businesses and organizations often monitor user activity to see real-time productivity metrics for each employee. It's also helpful for securing their networks against threats or attacks.

​​Internet threats are real and can cost a company time, money, and reputation. Companies can install advanced monitoring software on their network and computers to stay vigilant.

Types of internet activity that can be monitored

​​Employers can implement several different types of internet monitoring for their employees' work devices. These best practices help companies maintain the safety and security of their workplace network.

Browser history

Companies can access an employee’s browser history to see what web pages they have visited. Computer activity monitoring can be done on Windows, Mac, or browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Mircosoft Edge.

IP address tracking

Some employers will check their employees’ IP addresses for security purposes. This way, employers can determine if their employees log in from secure, work-approved devices.

File transfers

Even seemingly harmless file transfers are vulnerable to malware attacks. Make sure employees enable two-factor authentication for better security. Monitoring software will help you pinpoint whose device started the issue if something goes wrong.

Keystroke logging

Also called keyboard capturing, this process involves recording the keystrokes made on a computer. Companies use keystroke logging for troubleshooting, monitoring unauthorized activity, collecting details on security issues, and more.

Some tools will go as far as recording the length of the keypress, the name of the key used, where text is recorded, and more. Employers should always be transparent about how they use keystroke logging. Reading up on the latest laws about employee monitoring and getting buy-in from your team is crucial.

Sent or received messages

In most cases, the recipient and destination of each sent message is recorded. Monitoring software may log the contents of the message as well. More advanced software can detect when secure information (like credit card details) is shared via unprotected email.

​​Is it legal to monitor employees' internet activity?

Employee computer monitoring is legal in the United States. However, some states require signage to make employees aware of monitoring practices. Another option is to create a monitoring policy that employees will sign that grants the company official permission to monitor online activity.

If your organization considers implementing internet activity monitoring, you should create an employee computer monitoring policy.

Benefits of monitoring internet activity

Taking the time to oversee employee internet activity is becoming increasingly important — especially as companies around the globe continue to transition to a remote workforce. Most companies have opted for automated software that tracks employees and provides reports based on employee activity.

Implementing this type of software allows you to:

Identify productivity issues

Productivity can take a lot of work to achieve both in and outside the office. Help your employees avoid social media sites or online shopping by using URL logging.

Enforce internet usage policies

Going through an employee's browsing history can provide a general idea of whether they are violating company policy. This also helps manage employees more effectively because you know when they spend their time on an app or web page that hurts their productivity.

Oversee application usage

Apps are used a lot throughout the day. Whether the employee is on their personal computer, a mobile device, or in the office, the right tools can track their computer activity and internet use. Managers can use this data to pinpoint inefficiencies and potential issues.

Monitor bandwidth consumption

Measuring bandwidth usage is a great way to spot potential malware threats. If your organization is experiencing a lot of network activity, you may be under attack.

Troubleshooting the issue is crucial. In many cases, an employee went to the wrong webpage, resulting in a malware attack on the system. When you monitor internet activity, you can help prevent future threats.

Protect against viruses or hackers

Malware is one of the most common issues that remote teams face. Fortunately, network monitoring can help you deter hackers hoping to exploit your employees.

If you find that your IT team is consistently troubleshooting issues, a virus or hacker may have already infiltrated the system. Monitoring tools can help you retrace your steps and see where the breach occurred.

Track idle time

What do employees do when they finish their projects? Employees will often browse the internet in the office to pass the time. Some may even scroll through social media sites on their phone until something else comes up.

With remote employees, you also have to monitor if they’re on their work devices at all. The best time tracking tools will keep track of these break periods as idle time.

How to monitor employees’ online activity

There are two main ways to monitor internet activity:

Configure your router to monitor internet activity

​​The first step when configuring a router to monitor computer activity is ensuring the computer is on Wi-Fi with a strong internet connection.

  • Find the IP address on the back of the router. If it’s not labeled there, here’s how to find it on Windows, Mac, and Linux:

    • Windows: Open the Command Prompt, type' ipconfig', and hit enter

    • Mac and Linux: Run IP R

  • Open your web browser and enter the device’s IP address. Hit the enter key.

  • Find Administration in the router settings. When you see the word Log, enable it. This will start recording the internet traffic.

Once this is set up, the company can track all network activity. These steps should also work with a wireless router. If you run into any firewall issues, troubleshooting should help solve the problem.

Proxy Servers and Firewalls

Employers can use proxy servers and firewalls to monitor and filter internet traffic within the organization's network. These tools can block access to certain websites or categories of websites deemed inappropriate or non-work-related. They can also generate logs of internet activity for review by administrators.

Use computer monitoring software

While configuring your router to monitor traffic does track all internet browsing activity on your network, reviewing that data can be time-consuming. Computer monitoring software is useful for much more than logging a list of visited websites.

Hubstaff’s employee monitoring software helps businesses and companies remain transparent while protecting their investment and employees in real time. Employers can:

  • Monitor activity

  • View apps and URLs visited

  • Capture screenshots of employee devices

  • Analyze trends for smarter spending

  • Increase employee productivity

Challenges of monitoring employee internet usage

Privacy concerns

When you track employee internet usage it can raise significant privacy concerns. Plus, when employers monitor internet usage, employees may feel their privacy is being invaded, leading to decreased morale and trust in the employer. Employers must balance protecting their interests and respecting employees' privacy rights. The first step is informing employees of any employee monitoring tool or time tracking software they need to use. 

Legal compliance

Depending on the jurisdiction, legal regulations and requirements regarding an employer’s ability to monitor employee internet usage may exist. Employers must navigate various laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union or state-specific privacy laws in the United States. Please comply with these regulations to avoid legal liabilities and penalties.

Technical challenges 

Monitoring employee internet usage requires implementing appropriate technical solutions, such as software or hardware tools, to track and analyze internet activity. However, these tools can be complex to set up and manage effectively. 

Additionally, with the rise of remote work and the use of personal devices for work-related activities, employee internet monitoring across various devices and networks presents technical challenges for employers. Ensuring the accuracy and reliability of monitoring systems while respecting employee privacy adds to these technical complexities.

Considerations when monitoring internet activity

While employers have reasons for monitoring employee internet use, there are some things to consider. Enforcing a harsh monitoring policy on employees could alienate them.

Of course, using employee monitoring software secretly can violate labor laws and lead to even stronger feelings of distrust. Besides, monitoring remote workers working on their laptops with their Wi-Fi connection can be difficult. It can get even trickier when those employees use a VPN at home to mask their IP address and web activities.

When monitoring internet usage, being transparent about your policies is the best solution. If you’re using monitoring software, let the employees know about it. The last thing you want to do is violate ethics. You can damage employee performance and trust when you employ internet usage monitoring without transparency.

Closing thoughts

As the way we work changes, so does how we manage our teams. ​​As a result, employees' internet usage monitoring is on the rise, but employers need to be careful.  

When used the right way, internet monitoring can help enhance organizational safety protocols. By monitoring computer activity, companies often see benefits like increased productivity, fewer security risks, and more accountability across the organization.

However, employers must consider what is and isn't ethical before they monitor employees internet usage. When monitoring employees internet usage, you’re responsible for keeping their data safe and ensuring they are informed of the data you’re monitoring. 

Hubstaff offers incredible tools for employee time tracking, client invoicing, and automatic payroll, just for starters. Learn more about the various solutions Hubstaff‘s workforce productivity and internet usage monitoring software can do for your team. Schedule a Hubstaff demo or try a free 14-day trial today.

For a secure and productive workforce

Get Hubstaff employee monitoring and time tracking software. Easy to use, all-in-one solution.

Try free for 14 days