From protecting your company from theft to ensuring your workplace is free of harassment, there are many reasons business owners might want to monitor the digital footprints of their employees. But doing it right -- legally and ethically -- should be a top priority.
Create a technology policy: Get help crafting a technology-use policy with online tools such as the customizable forms offered by the ePolicy Institute. The firm's form kit ($99 one-time fee) can help you outline your rules for using and tracking email and instant messaging, Web surfing and blogging and software downloading on company devices. It also offers a template for creating social media policies ($49). Make sure your policies also cover employees' use of their own devices while at work and when accessing company data.
Tracking use of computers and smartphones: A slew of products are available for tracking activity on company devices. Be sure to use reputable, reliable and secure software, and avoid anything smacking of spyware or malware.
SpectorSoft makes products that can record everything that occurs on company devices and provide reports about suspect activity (from $99 for one basic license to $2,875 for a 25-person office). Administrators can direct the software to monitor specific people and give particular managers the right to set policy and review collected data, all of which is encrypted while moving across your systems and when sitting in storage.
Monitoring social media usage: An array of companies has emerged that aim to help companies monitor employee activity on blogs and sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and to enforce their policies. For instance, SocialLogix can assess the level of social media use -- or abuse -- at your company (one-time fee starting at $2,000), uncover what employees are doing and saying, and alert you to potential problems (about $10 per user per month).
Blocking websites: Many companies use secure Web gateways or Web filters to monitor employee use of the Web, block malware-laced sites and keep employees from accessing sites in categories of concern -- from news to porn to gambling.
Among the most popular providers of such tools is Websense (about $50 per user). Other well-regarded providers include Blue Coat Systems and McAfee. Some monitoring programs also offer Web filtering.
Which tools do you use to keep an eye on what goes on in your office? Let us know in the comments section below.
Riva Richmond is a freelance journalist who has covered technology for more than a decade. She focuses on computer security, privacy, social networking and online business and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other national publications. Previously, Riva was a technology reporter at Dow Jones Newswires and regular contributor to The Journal's "Enterprise" small business column.