By: Birch Grove Software, Inc.
In the modern era of sophisticated technologies, it can be quite tiring to see people slog around watching over their workforce. This is more prevalent in modern-day offices since the chances of fooling the bosses in a desk job are quite more open than the physical jobs.
Not every office has the capacity to hire separate force for employee monitoring. Also, on paper, it becomes very strenuous writing down the clock-in and clock-out time of thousands of employees, then tracking it after a month, for calculating paychecks.
So much work to manage things, isn’t it? Well, modern technology does have a solution for employee monitoring, at least for office jobs. This solution is called Time Tracker Software.
This tool not only calculates the clock-in and clock-out time of employees but also comes with an Employee monitoring system too. This system helps in precise tracking of your staff, allowing the head team not only to see their computer activities live but also see their net productivity over the month.
All this can be useful in maintaining a workforce is large organizations. Let us see how these tools work.
Among many Time Tracking cum Employee Monitoring tools, we have on our hands ActivTrak, from Texas, USA. Founded in February 2012, this tool has grown as a leading choice. It is under the legal name Birch Grove Software Inc.
This tool is comprised of lots of resourceful functions for monitoring from popular ones like app monitoring, website monitoring, live screenshots, etc. to some unique ones like productivity charts, resource utilization, team behavior analytics, team efficiency, etc.
Currently, it comprises of about 30 members actively working to enhance the features in this tool. The best part of this app is its stealth feature, which many apps in this category do not have.
Most of the time, people can see their screenshots, live recordings, and website activities, thereby removing the surprise factor from the inspections. ActivTrak helps us in making things more cloistered. Also, it may be annoying to always be in the alert situation, knowing you are under prying eyes.
Many things can be done using it, and with this ongoing review, we are going to elaborate on all of them.
One of the most annoying things about these activity trackers is their setting procedure. Many times, the preset tools come with lots of complicated settings, which can make the work of staff more hectic.
The settings for office shifts, time zones, breaks, and many such customizations are crucial while monitoring employees. The task of making these activities easier is on the time tracker tools.
ActivTrak is one such tool that aids in a more straightforward setup process for tracking. To access it, the main requirement is to create an admin account first. The company head can create an account and then invite the underworking employees via Email and set up them in the monitoring zone.
Before we run into purchasing their services, we need to take our chances of exploring it. For that, go to the main website of ActivTrak. They provide a free of charge 14-day trial version.
This requires no credit card verifications, which is impressive, to be honest. Signup for the trial version and verify the account. After that, the main control panel will appear.
This dashboard has the list of every function and settings available in ActivTrak. After the setup, it will prompt you to add the list of employees. You can add the Email ID of these employees one by one or export the list later on.
This will send the invitees link to create an account for monitoring purposes. The option to set permissions are quite limited here. We can only choose from giving them admin access or read-only access. There was no choice for monetary access, project management access, HR, and so.
Regardless, for now, proceed to see how the data is revealed in the main panel. For that, after the employees are assigned their roles, we can merely sign-in for the admin account and start monitoring them.
As we said, admins are supposed to look at the logs from the website.
ActivTrak doesn’t have a very detailed offline setup. Due to that, admins need to login into their accounts via browsers and then see the main panel with employee logs.
The control panel of their setup is pretty much detailed. It may take a while for trainee users to understand what’s going on. For that, a help icon on the top of every stats can ease the job.
First-time users can go to the knowledge base and learn about different terminologies used by ActivTrak. As a pro-user and having used many activity trackers, we would say the setup is very close to another top product in this category called Hubstaff.
The top right corner of the panel consists of the information regarding user accounts, plan details, and the number of people being monitored.
The main logs that you will find here are quick stats, real-time, productivity, and top user & groups. They even have info for recent screenshots, top applications/sites, top categories, pending categories, and top alarm-risk scores.
On the top left corner, we can see the filter buttons. These filter buttons aid in separating the corresponding user or group. These buttons are to choose the date of logs, user/groups, page refresh, and print page.
As we can observe from above, these options are more than enough to give a clear picture of actions every employee is doing, and if it’s productive or not?
The first tab in it, Quick Stats, yields information about the net usage of websites and applications. They are categorized into productive/unproductive, undefined, and net hours.
The tab beside it, Real-Time, is used to monitor the live actions of each staff, and the list of active users. For each active user, the title of current window or existing URL is displayed.
It is instrumental in giving live info to the monitoring team. This is one exclusive feature of this software. The only other similar unique feature we can think of is live screen recording. Some activity monitors allow the admins to record the screen of the inspected members.
The Productivity Tab gives the users an insight into the way the users expended the net hours. It can be sorted based on day, week, month, or year. They are separated by a bar graph showing groups for productive/unproductive time, Idle, or undefined time.
If you click on the bar graph of these activities, it will open a separate tab and show the entire info about that time, for each employee under surveillance.
The tab Top Users & Groups does the same thing as above except that it returns a comparative bar graph of the data depicted above.
Then you see the Screenshots Tab, the one that is very common in employee monitoring tools. You can either sort them via a recent or one screenshot per user.
The later one gives more new info about screenshots and separates it for different users. After this, we see the tabs showing Top Applications & Top Websites, another vital feature for activity monitoring.
Both of them are shown in the form of pie-charts. The distribution is done based on the apps used.
There is one issue here, however. There is no filter tab to pick a particular group or employee. To do that, you need to choose the User Filter from the top. Many similar apps have given the users selection in the activity pie-charts.
Hovering the mouse over any of the activities on the chart shows the net time consumed by it. The website chart returns the info about the domain of the visited sites.
Moving on, we explore the Top categories Tab. As we have seen info about various apps and websites above, we can categorize them into something, isn’t it?
For example, sites like ABC.com, nytimes.com, RT.com, etc. can be put under the news category, sites like developer.android.com, google code, GitHub, etc. can be placed under tools category.
Even programs like Word, Access, Excel, etc. be put into the work category, you can add Minesweeper too in it if you want. This categorization allows the admins to see in one look at what types of work their staff is working on and if they are productive or not.
Each of the above categories can be assigned statuses like productive, unproductive, etc. At the end of this panel, we have the info regarding the alarm triggers.
The alarm feature is a unique one, as it will notify the admins for any unwanted actions while it is monitoring the system. For now, it just shows the list of prohibited activities done by users.
This ends the things we can view in the main panel of ActivTrak. Amazing features, isn’t it?
The general procedure many people follow is to go through each feature and then try to configure them. But here, we will start by exploring the settings first.
This is to give readers an idea about what things are customizable in it. Now, there are many items we can configure in the time tracker before we start monitoring the employees.
Access the settings tab from the side navigation menu. This settings menu has options to configure app categories, productivity, manage groups, people, aliases, and lastly, configure the time-zones, real-time monitoring, and work-shifts.
In the Categories Setup, admins can configure the applications into a particular category. So, what will we gain by doing that?
Since it is an automated monitoring tool, it will assign some apps as productive or unproductive. With that, it will assess how much productive an employee was, based on their usage time.
Since the usage of the app may vary from company to company, ActivTrak has given us the option to edit it as per the requirements. We can modify the current apps in the list and assign them into a category, or add new ones.
You can also create your category and input the apps in it. Apart from these apps, web URLs, domains, etc. can be added too.
Similar to this, we can set the status of all these apps and websites in the Productivity Settings. As the name says, this section will let you put a productive/unproductive tag on apps and websites.
You can see the total productive hours of each staff member on the main dashboard itself. Only three statuses can be assigned here, i.e., productive, unproductive, and unlisted.
It would be nice if we can add a few statuses manually. The next section is to edit the groups. In the segment Groups, admins can create new user groups and assign them accordingly.
Based on these teams, we can assign them projects, productivity apps, and thereby monitor them easily. To add users into these, things become a bit tricky.
Admins first need to select a group from the list, and then click add members from the top menu. This will open another pop-up with the list of all the users invited into the team.
The thing is that we can filter the user based on a computer name or aliases only. Due to this, a lot of confusion arises. Let us say in an organization there are 50 computers.
Not all the systems will be assigned unique names. Many of the computers will have the same system names. This can pose a lot of confusion. To make it better, they need to add the email ID field as well as a date filter.
This will make it easier to search team members out of the list of 100s of the member by merely using their email ID or even by their joining date.
Also, if we can assign color codes to each group, it will be really beneficial in identifying them. For separating the user names, we can also use the function Aliases to assign other names to the accounts. These things are much manageable in Hubstaff.
As mentioned in the group section, a similar problem persists here. The filters to identify a person are confusing and limited to logon domain, user ID, number of records, and last log-time.
As we can see from these filters, differentiating users is much more rigorous. Once again, this needs to be rectified.
Just like this, we can also assign computer aliases. But still, the problem remains the same as before. We hope ActivTrak comes up with better filters, which can reveal user identity in more targeted ways.
After so many sneaky methods to monitor the employees, is it possible to skip observing a few of the staff members? Why not?
In most activity monitors, once the application is installed, and the schedule is set, the data collection is automatic. To stop this, we need to remove a person’s profile from the list entirely.
Instead of all that hassle, ActivTrak utilizes a DND mode. As we see in browsers, the Do Not Track mode blocks the websites from tracking you.
Just like that, the DND mode in ActivTrak will stop tracking/monitoring the assigned user. The best part is that these users are excluded from the license limit.
Out of every configuration settings we can assign, the configuration to input the work shifts, time zones, and real-time monitoring are the key ones. Without them, the entire tracking goes waste.
So, what’s so essential in these settings? Well, for starters, the schedule decides the work-shift of your employees. It can be your regular 9-5 job or night shifts, or something else.
Setting time-zones allow the monitoring of distant employees. It might be a night for you, but for some remote employee, it may be his work time. You wouldn’t want to trouble each other at awkward times.
For the first setup, Scheduling, it is the part where we manage the work shifts of different staff. Just head to the settings tab and choose Scheduling.
From here, you are directed to the section with the lists of work shifts. Click on an individual schedule, and it will show the list of staff in it and their timings too. You can edit, duplicate, or delete it.
For making a schedule, hit the create new schedule button on the top of this panel. From there, there are sliders given on each day of the week. Adjust these sliders to manage the work timings.
You can split these timings too and omit things like lunch break from being monitored. There is an issue here, though. The method used in these sliders is a bit complex. Plus, there is no delete button to remove a wrongly selected slider. You will need to clear an entire selection instead.
The better solution will be to allow us to add timings directly. Plus includes a section for tasks like lunch, tea breaks, meetings, etc. Products like Hubstaff, TimeCamp, Time Doctor, etc. have much better scheduling features. ActivTrak can make it much better.
Overall, once you have chosen the work timings, add a name to it and then click Save. After that, you are again moved to the front panel to pick the users. For that, select the list of schedules. Here, the names of all the staff members are given, which we can easily manage.
As per the shift, we can create multiple menus and assign people to it like night shifts, weekend shifts, etc. Moving users seemed a bit strenuous, though. With all these, we would say that they can make this setup much more manageable, like in the products mentioned above.
The next part of this topic is managing time zones. Sadly, the setup isn’t that advanced. Here, the assigned time zone is universal; i.e., it applies to every user. We can pick a time-zone, date format, and then time format.
The reports will need additional adjustments for oversees staff. It can be relieving if we can assign different time-zone for a team. Nevertheless, such setup requirements are rare, and so one can work on with the current one.
Now, the last part of the configuration setup, i.e., Real-Time settings. As much it seems exciting, there is nothing but literally a single button here.
The button is toggle switch that can turn the real-time feature ON/OFF. What is this real-time feature? Well, that is to be explained later on.
All the settings are up to the mark except the issues with the filtering part. In many environments, especially in groups, aliases, etc., it was difficult searching and adding a user. The process was more confusing due to the lack of individual identifiers like email ID, enrollment number, etc.
We hope that they work on easing it. Overall, it is smooth and lag-free. Now that we have arranged things, we can finally move on to see the real data generated using the above settings.
The core feature of ActivTrak is to track the activities that you do on your device. The tracking not only includes the active time spent on the machine but also checks if the services used were productive or not!
Among these features, there are several things for us to test and review.
One of the most useful as well as unique features of ActivTrak is Real-Time Monitoring. Now, some people may argue what is new in it? Many other similar products do that.
Well, many other products in the market only reveal the current app usage. They do not publish the real-time tasks or apps a person is using. Of course, we can use screenshots for that.
But, won’t it be better if we get more info on running apps rather than mere screenshots? Well, for that, you have to explore this setup first.
In the Real-Time Tab, we can see the list of currently active devices. From there, we can view so much info about active devices. This information includes screenshots, computer name, app title & description, and many such details.
These are all real-time information. The best part is the screenshots. Click on the screenshots icon. Now opt for the time interval. You can pick from 0.5 seconds, 3, 5, 9, 12 seconds, and so.
We can pick a smaller time interval to get live stream monitoring. The only problem we saw here was once again with filtering. This time, apart from the screening of names, it was challenging to pick the suspicious activities from it.
Since there is no indication if an activity is productive, unproductive, or suspicious, checking the list of 100s of employee can turn really dreadful. For that reason, ActivTrak must give some sort of quick filter, for productive/unproductive apps, and even color codes for suspicious activities.
All of them must be included as part of the QOL update. These are not meager suggestions but essential items that can ease the work of monitoring staff.
Now, if you feel this data is too much to process, try to switch to Tile View. In this view, only basic info like computer name, app title, current URL, and screenshots are shown.
The filter above this section is effortless. If the organization is small and much manageable, we can assign the names of the systems as per some numerical order and then monitor them from here. But still, better screening methods are needed.
This is another feature often seen in activity monitors or time tracker tools. Some tools only provide screenshots at preset time intervals, and some allow changing the time interval of snapshots, while some even allow live video recording.
The surprise is that ActivTrak includes both of these features. As you know, taking screenshots is pretty basic. The software takes the screenshot of a user’s device and stores it.
This screenshot gives info about what the person did in the mentioned time-stamp. The screenshots taken from the person’s computer are uploaded automatically on the cloud server of ActivTrak.
So no worry about saving them on your system. However, you can also keep these screenshots on your local network. Now, there are multiple options in the screenshot section.
The first option is to see the most recent ones. It shows a single screenshot per user and is taken recently. This gives a quick overview of what the monitored user is doing.
Next comes the screenshot history. As you might guess, this section has all the screenshots taken so far from every users’ device. There are filters given here to sort the screenshots based on the user name, device name, date, or particular app/URL.
From here, admins can zip all the screenshots and download them. The folders in the zip file are arranged automatically as per the user names. The size of the screenshots isn’t significant. You can export them to Google Drive too.
The third section is to see the configured notifications. Whenever someone visits a forbidden website, we can generate a surveillance system that can alert us and take multiple screenshots too.
Click the New button in the notification center. In the next menu, we can add the prohibited app or website’s title. Then set the access limit. Pick the option to take multiple screenshots.
The only tricky part is that the minimum time for usage of a restricted app as well as taking their multiple screenshots is 10 seconds, which is perfect for normal conditions.
Once triggered, it will take screenshots and alert you. Truly amazing!
Taking screenshots isn’t a big deal. Anyone can code such a tool. The main issue lies in the critical feature, i.e., the privacy of employees being monitored.
Employees won’t be using the company accounts all the time, will they? They might be working with sensitive info like credit cards, license info, phone number, IP address, healthcare number, and others such info that is super private or secretive.
To protect them from prying admins or third-party, the company can buy an addon Screenshot Redaction. With these features, all kinds of sensitive data mentioned above are blackened in the screenshots.
The entire feature has a compliance of privacy organizations like HIPAA and COPPA. The AI feature will instantly redact such info as soon as screenshots are taken.
ActivTrak must be proud to include such a privacy feature in their setup. The add-on isn’t costly and only costs $9/GB/month. This is nothing if you want to keep employees’ data private. The monitoring staff isn’t some trustworthy soothsayer, and so this feature gets A+ ratings from us.
Lastly, in the screenshot section, we have Screenshot Flagging. Like the redaction feature above, the flagging system works by identifying the content of the screenshot like NSFW, Violent, medical, etc. It is a watchful use of AI by ActivTrak to safeguard screenshots.
Finally, there is no live video capture in ActivTrak. But, there is an add-on that provides something similar. The Video Playback add-on records a video of 30 seconds before and after an alarm is triggered, giving a proper picture of the suspected scenario.
This will ensure that no false positives are returned by the system, which can harass the employees unnecessarily. With this, we end the list of visual monitoring features in ActivTrak.
As we have observed until now, the visual monitoring in this tool is fantastic. Especially the use of AI to hide particular info is un-matched. In comparison, it surpasses products like Hubstaff, Time Doctor, TimeCamp, etc., with its unique visual monitoring features.
Taking screenshots and warning the employees that do time-pass in work hours is quite tedious. Over time, it tends to spoil the work environment and results in clashes too.
Mostly, the monitoring department can be on the lousy side if they are doing their work honestly. And if they are wicked, they can harass honest staff members too. From both sides, the trouble is too much to handle.
So, what is the best solution? Well, if you do not want employees to play minesweeper or surf Facebook in work time, just block them. Easy-peasy, isn’t it? You now need not monitor the screenshots to catch prohibited tasks.
Just head on the Block Tab from the left navigation bar. In this section, you can put apps and websites into the block-list. Now, there are two tabs here. One is to create groups and others to select the domains to be blocked.
In the first part, we can create separate groups for separate staff. The social media staff needs all the social sites’ access, whereas the documentation staff usually won’t need them. Something like this, we can separate them based on their work needs.
Adding domains and apps on the block list is pretty elementary. Just make sure you assign groups and their blocked apps appropriately. Also, ask the team members what they often use and make sure you don’t block helpful websites/apps.
Next up, we get to review the alarm feature. We can set up alarms too if the staff visits restricted domains or apps. Unlike the above functionality, we can even shut down their apps/websites, send the admins notifications, and also send them warning messages via email or a pop-up.
All these acts can be set in the alarm feature. This is much better if you just want to keep a solid watch and record the prohibited activities the staff members did.
The condition set for the alarm to trigger is exhausting. We can either pick title bar, time duration, description, IP, URL, etc. and even set multiple conditions using them. We can even set the risk levels in it to sort high-risk restricted activities.
This concludes all the monitoring methods used in ActivTrak. Having observed from above, we can surely tell that they have tried their best to improve this section, and also kept in view the privacy of the staff members. Let us now finally jump to see the last reports.
What is the point of all the monitoring efforts above, if we are unable to prove them. Also, wouldn’t it be great if we can go to one section and see the net results of monitoring above?
The reports section can be accessed from the left side navigation bar. There are several tabs in the reports section, each giving some detailed statistics.
Theses tabs in the reports section provide full data on Used Websites, App Categories, Productivity, Working Hours, Activity Logs, Raw Data Access, etc.
The names above are very much self-explanatory. The logs generated are very complex, and so rarely you will find anything disturbing about it.
All the records can be exported either to the Google Drive or can also be downloaded in CSV format.
Reports like app activity, product categories, productivity levels, risk levels, etc. are shown in the form of bar graphs. This makes it easier to stipulate the admin’s work of monitoring.
Just by looking at the lowest level of the graph, we can pick low performers or code violators.
The last one in the reports section is the RDA, Raw Data Access. You might have heard of the word SQL sometimes in your computer experience.
It is nothing but a database management system. This feature, RDA, lets the admins access the raw data directly related to each staff member.
It is usually not for novice users unless they have some prior experience using SQL. This item is an add-on feature, and so only buy it if you really need the raw monitoring data.
In our view, the data in the reports section is highly optimized, and so you wouldn’t need the raw data to examine it separately.
This puts an end to the reviewing of the entire setup of ActivTrak.
Having gone through every bit of ActivTrak’s features, we have some final words. ActivTrak has really managed to get words like “amazing/cool” to come out very often, in our heads.
The ease of setup, all-inclusive tools in monitoring, privacy features, optimized reports, real-time monitoring, etc. have significantly increased their value in the market, making them one of the top time trackers.
The plans are a bit cheaper compared to similar products like Hubstaff, Harvest, Time Doctor, TimeCamp, etc. But, these products also offer paycheck calculations, invoice generation, and all such monetary stuff.
Maybe due to that, the pricing is less comparatively. ActivTrak must try to integrate these monetary features and provide a wholesome package to users.
But still, we would recommend users to crack ActivTrak services. The trial version is always there for your skepticism. They just need to improve staff filtering. Other than that, ActivTrak will work for all your employee monitoring needs, regardless of the company size.