Employee Wellbeing

How to Effectively Monitor Employee Internet Usage Without Turning Your Workspace into a Police State

May 24, 2023

Picture this: you're at home, in your pajamas, with a fresh cup of coffee, ready to tackle your workday. Suddenly your phone lights up with a notification, and before you know it, you're knee-deep in a TikTok rabbit hole. Hours later, you're left wondering where the day went, and your to-do list is still a mile long. Can you relate?

Well, you're not alone! With the endless distractions of the internet, it's no wonder why managers are starting to feel like they need eyes on the back of their heads. As remote work becomes the new norm, companies are exploring ways to monitor employee internet usage. It may seem like an invasion of privacy, but at the same time, managers need to monitor their remote teams to make sure they’re being productive.

To put it in perspective, think of it like this: if you were working in an office, your manager would be able to see what you're doing at your desk. It's no different when you're working remotely, except instead of physical space, it's a virtual space. Plus, as long as you’re using ethical ways to monitor employee activity, it wouldn’t be an issue for your team.

By the way, the widespread suspicion among employers/managers regarding employees wasting work hours isn’t totally unfounded. Just consider these stats:

  • The average employee spends around 8 hours per week on personal tasks and mobile devices while at work.
  • Only 60 percent or less of an employee's work time is spent on productive tasks.
  • A Salary.com survey found that 64 percent of U.S. employees visit non-work-related websites every day, and 39 percent spend one hour or more per week on non-work-related websites. 
  • A recent survey by Screen Education found employees spend over two hours daily on their phones at work.

That's a lot of time wasted that could be spent getting work done! Therefore, by monitoring internet activity, managers believe they need to keep a check on their remote teams. 

But that’s where a lot of managers go wrong. 

We mentioned earlier that monitoring employee activity shouldn’t be a problem as long as it’s done ethically. There is a significant difference between monitoring and surveillance, and the latter can potentially harm the trust between employers and employees. Managers often start using surveillance tactics thinking of them as just another way to monitor remote teams… it’s not!  

A 2021 study commissioned by ExpressVPN and Pollfish surveyed 2,000 employers and employees working remotely or in a hybrid model. It found that 56% of employees feel stressed and anxious about their employer surveilling their communications, causing 41% to constantly worry about being watched and 32% to take fewer breaks. These alarming findings reveal the need for employers to balance productivity monitoring with respect for individual privacy.


  • Data suggests employees physically present at the office tend to waste more time.
  • Remote work has made it harder for managers to monitor employee productivity.
  • Monitoring employee internet activity is not the same as spying on them.
  • Employees who work remotely may feel their privacy is being invaded and that trust with employers can be damaged.
  • There needs to be a balance between monitoring productivity and respecting individual privacy.

Recommended For You: Employee Time Tracking vs. Employee Monitoring: Which Approach is Better and Why?

Overstepping Boundaries: When Managerial Monitoring Becomes a Privacy Invasion

Managers have a delicate balance to maintain between monitoring their employees and respecting their privacy. While it is necessary to keep tabs on the work and ensure that everyone is meeting their goals, there is a fine line between monitoring and invading privacy. Here are some common ways that managers often go wrong and cross that line:

Over-monitoring employee activities

Managers may feel the need to track every move their employees make, but this can quickly become invasive. Employees should be given a certain level of autonomy to complete their work without feeling like they are being watched constantly. Managers need to strike a balance between monitoring progress and giving employees the freedom to do their work in their own way.

For example, a manager who installs software on employees' computers that tracks every keystroke and website visited is crossing the line. This kind of monitoring can make employees feel like they are being spied on and can damage the trust between the manager and employees. 


Micromanaging is a common issue in the workplace that can make employees feel suffocated and reduce their productivity. When a manager is too involved in the day-to-day activities of their team members, it can be difficult for employees to feel like they have any control over their work.

Case in point: a manager who constantly checks in with employees throughout the day, even for minor tasks, can make employees feel like they are not trusted to do their job. This can lead to a decrease in morale and motivation.

Monitoring personal activities

Managers need to remember that their employees are individuals with personal lives outside of work. While it may be necessary to monitor work-related activities, it isn’t appropriate to monitor personal activities.

It goes without saying that a manager using GPS tracking to monitor an employee's whereabouts outside of work is crossing the line. This kind of monitoring can be seen as an invasion of privacy and can damage the relationship between the manager and the employee.

Don’t Miss: Employee Productivity vs. Hours Worked: What Matters More?

Monitoring outside of work hours

Managers need to be mindful of their employees' time and avoid monitoring them outside of work hours. While it may be tempting to check in on employees during off-hours, it is important to respect their time and allow them to disconnect from work.

For example, a manager who sends work-related emails or messages to employees during the weekend or after work hours is crossing the line. This kind of behavior can make employees feel like they can never fully disconnect from work, leading to burnout and reduced productivity.

Asking for personal information

While it may be necessary to collect some personal information from employees, such as emergency contact information, managers need to be careful not to ask for too much personal information. Employees have a right to privacy, and managers should respect that.

A manager who asks employees for their social media login information is crossing the line. This kind of request is invasive and can make employees feel like their personal life is being scrutinized.

So, basically, managers need to be mindful of their employees' privacy and avoid overstepping their boundaries when monitoring their activities. By finding a balance between monitoring and respecting privacy, managers can create a positive work environment that encourages productivity and trust. Remember, employees are individuals with personal lives outside of work, and respecting their privacy is essential to building a healthy and productive workplace.

But Why Do Managers Monitor Employee Internet Usage In The First Place? 

Before we talk about why managers need to keep an eye on their remote team's internet usage, let’s be real - the internet can be a real rabbit hole. One minute you're checking your email, and the next thing you know, you've spent an hour watching cat videos on YouTube. I mean, who doesn't love a good cat video, right? But if you're a manager, you don't want your team members getting lost in the online abyss and not getting their work done.

So, where might your team members be spending their time online? Well, there are plenty of tempting distractions out there. Here are a few examples:

Social media:

We all know how addicting social media can be. Between scrolling through your Facebook feed, checking out the latest memes on Twitter, and double-tapping photos on Instagram, it's easy to lose track of time. But if your team members are spending too much time on social media, they might not be giving their work the attention it deserves.

Research suggests employees typically spend a minimum of 90 minutes per day browsing social media accounts while at work. This amounts to 7.5 hours of scrolling over the course of a week! Yikes!

Entertainment websites:

Okay, let’s admit it; a lot of us are guilty of spending too much time watching videos on YouTube. But if your team members are spending hours on end watching funny cat videos or binging their favorite Netflix shows, they might not be as productive as they could be. (A 2017 Netflix report found 37 percent of its users acknowledged that they watched the streaming service while working.) 

Online shopping:

Who doesn't love a good online shopping spree? But if your team members are spending too much time browsing Amazon or checking out the latest deals on eBay, they might not be getting their work done. (57% of U.S. employees engage in online shopping at work.)

News websites:

Staying informed is important, but if your team members are spending hours reading news articles online, they might not be focusing on their work. They might need to put down the newspaper and get back to work.

Gaming websites and apps:

Let's face it, online gaming can be a lot of fun. But if your team members are spending too much time playing games on Steam or Xbox Live, they might not be meeting their deadlines.

So, why should managers care about where their team members are spending their time online? Well, if team members are distracted or not working efficiently, it could impact the entire team's productivity. Plus, if one team member is slacking off, it could create resentment among other team members who are working hard to meet their goals.

As more and more companies transition to remote work, managers face the challenge of ensuring their team members are productive and efficient, even when they're not physically in the same office. One of the critical aspects of this is to track employee internet usage and see where they spend their time. Here are some reasons why managers need to do so:

Ensure productivity:

When employees are working remotely, it's easy to get distracted by the countless distractions available on the internet, from social media to online shopping. By monitoring their internet usage, managers can ensure that their team members are staying on task and not wasting time on non-work-related activities.

Prevent security breaches:

One of the biggest risks associated with remote work is the potential for security breaches. If employees are not careful with their internet usage, they could inadvertently expose sensitive company information to hackers or other malicious actors. Managers who monitor employee internet usage can ensure that their team members are following company security protocols and not engaging in risky behavior that could compromise company data.

Manage remote team morale:

One of the biggest challenges of remote work is ensuring that employees feel connected and engaged with their team members and the company as a whole. Managers who monitor employee internet usage can identify any signs of disengagement or isolation and take steps to address them. For example, if an employee is spending a lot of time on social media, it may be a sign that they are feeling disconnected and need more opportunities for social interaction with their team members.

Read More: What is a 2-2-3 Schedule, How Does it Work, and How to Make it Work for You

A recent survey conducted by ResumeBuilder.com, which polled 1,000 business leaders with remote or hybrid workforces, found that 96 percent of U.S. business leaders now use employee monitoring software to keep their teams on task and productive. That's a massive jump from just 10% before the pandemic outbreak. 

Keeping Tabs from Afar: Tips for Effective Internet Monitoring of Remote Teams

So, how can managers effectively monitor employee internet usage, especially in a WFH set-up? Here are some tips:

Set clear expectations:

Make sure that your team members understand what is expected of them in terms of internet usage. Provide clear guidelines and policies that outline acceptable and unacceptable online behavior.

Focus on results, not activity:

While it's important to monitor your team's internet usage, it's equally important to focus on results, not activity. Make sure that your team members understand what their goals are and how their work is contributing to the overall success of the company.

Provide feedback and support:

When you do identify areas where your team members could improve their internet usage habits, make sure to provide targeted feedback and support. For example, if an employee is spending too much time on social media, you might recommend that they try time-blocking or other productivity techniques.

Not to be missed: The Undeniable Productivity Perks of Letting Employees Work Remotely

Use privacy-centric time-tracking software:

There are a variety of monitoring and time-tracking tools available that can help managers track employee internet usage. These tools can provide insights into how much time team members are spending on specific websites and applications, as well as identify any potential security risks. 

However, it's important to respect your team members' privacy when monitoring their internet usage. Make sure that your policies and procedures are clear and transparent, and that your time-tracking software only monitors activities that are directly related to work - timegram can help you do that.

How timegram's Unique Features Set It Apart from the Rest

Managing remote teams can be challenging, and monitoring employee productivity without intruding on their privacy can be especially difficult. timegram is a remote time tracking and monitoring software that offers an ideal solution to this problem:

Privacy-preserving Measurement: Highlights instead of Screenshots

We believe in privacy-preserving ways of measuring employee productivity. Instead of taking screenshots, we use the Highlights app to record employees' time and activity on different tasks. The app then groups each activity into relevant app blocks. Employees can later review their entire day’s activity and remove any non-work-related activity before sharing their time logs with you. This enables employees to keep their privacy intact. On the flip side, you only receive accurate work-related time logs without clutter - a win-win for everybody!

Promoting accountability: Trusting the team with work 

With timegram, you don’t have to keep an active check on employees during the day. You know you’ll receive a concrete time log from the employee at the day-end. Trusting employees with work and eliminating micromanagement from the equation motivates employees to perform better and be more productive.

Purely Productive Insights: Efficient Dashboard for Managers

timegram comes with a dedicated Insights module that dives deep into employees’ working patterns and shares information about their outputs, capacity, top projects, and more so you can identify where they’re acing or areas where they’re struggling to perform. 

This enables you to take a few steps back and review which projects to assign or how to improve the overall productivity of the employee down the road.

Accurate Productivity Measurement: Planning with KPIs

timegram provides an accurate measure of productivity and helps managers plan projects with clearly set KPIs. The clean, visual timelines on the dashboard make it easy to assign tasks and monitor progress efficiently.

Learn more about timegram’s key features. Or sign up now and take your remote team management game to the next level right away! 


Can Employers Monitor Employees' Internet Use?

Yes, employers have the legal right to monitor their employees' internet use in the workplace, as long as they inform their employees of the monitoring policy beforehand. However, the extent to which an employer can monitor their employees' internet use may vary depending on the jurisdiction and applicable laws. 

How Do Companies Monitor Internet Activities?

Companies can monitor internet activities using software that records keystrokes, tracks website visits, analyzes network traffic, and monitors email and instant messaging communications. They may also use hardware devices such as routers, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems. However, companies must follow applicable laws and regulations and ensure that their monitoring activities do not violate employees' privacy rights.

How Do I Know If My Employer Is Monitoring My Internet Use?

There is no surefire way to know if your employer is monitoring your internet use, as they may not always disclose the details of their monitoring policy. However, if you have signed an agreement acknowledging that your internet use may be monitored, or if you have noticed a decrease in your computer's performance, unusually slow internet speeds, or if your employer has brought up concerns about your internet use, it may indicate that your employer is monitoring your activities.

Does Remote Team Time Tracking Ensure Better Performance?

Remote team time tracking can ensure better performance by promoting accountability and helping employees prioritize work, but several other factors also come into play. Clear communication, goal-setting, and performance feedback are also important to ensure better employee performance. The effectiveness of time tracking depends on how it is implemented and integrated into the overall management strategy.

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Fatima Mazhar

About the author

Fatimah has over 10 years of experience working with words. When she's not writing, she’s busy setting multiple world records for watching the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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