Keeping tabs on the way your team use email and the web

keeping tabs on employees

Our clients sometimes ask us for the best ways to keep tabs on how their staff use the web and email. Increasing numbers of companies are keen to monitor internet and email use and with this in mind, we thought we’d give you some information on how to do this.

If you’re an employee reading this, the best plan is to always assume that everything you do on your computer at work will be audited and logged to ensure internal compliance. On the whole you’ll never know that this is happening, whilst on the other hand it’s almost impossible to be certain that it isn’t! So this might be a good time to stop browsing your social media feed and start reading…
Employers, on the other hand, often find the most effective strategy is to think about how much work their employees have to do, rather than trying to monitor or control what they’re doing online. If they don’t have enough work to do, the simplest option is to give them more!

In addition, one of the simplest, easiest steps to take is to restrict what you’re employees can do; you’ll find that even cheap routers can be set to restrict websites and/or their content. This would, for example, give you the option to restrict access to certain websites at certain times of day. We have one client who blocks the access his staff to Facebook between 9am – 5pm, allowing access before or after the office working day. This is a great way to ensure your employees don’t spend valuable working time chatting online.

The monitoring of emails is a little more contentious and if this is a route you’d like to go down, it’s vital that you check the legality behind it first. In the majority of cases, making monitored employees aware of what you are doing is of paramount importance. You don’t have to necessarily tell them why – just make sure that they’re aware that it is happening.

Monitoring staff emails

If you’d like to know what your staff are sending or receiving through email then you’ll need to have a server. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an on-site or a cloud-based server; almost any server will give you the capability to open your employees’ emails.

To read your employee’s emails you’ll need to obtain permission from whoever maintains your server; however once this has been provided you should be able to have access fairly easily. On the other hand, if you don’t have your own server then monitoring emails will be very difficult. The majority of the time any record of the email will be on the individual employee’s computer and if they delete it, getting it back will be almost impossible.

A number of email servers such as POP3 don’t allow monitoring but those that can include GoogleMail and Exchange. If you’re not sure what kind of email you have and would like further advice, we’d be happy to help so please get in touch.

Instant messaging systems

Although instant messaging is a very useful way for companies to encourage communication between teams, they can be a nightmare to audit. Conversations can become locked within an employee’s personal account or specific machines, or simply lost in the ether.

If you and your team can’t manage without IM, you’ll have to start thinking about setting up your own system as this is the only way to ensure an audit trail. However, if your team use personal accounts on Facebook, for example, tracking what they are saying to each other is going to very difficult indeed. It’s worth checking out instant messaging platforms such as Microsoft Lync, Sazneo or Brosix as they all offer full audit trails.

How to monitor office web use

This is comparatively easy although it does come at a price. To get started you’ll need a reasonable quality router or server. Microsoft TMG is expensive at more than £2500 for the hardware and software alone, but it does produce user-friendly reports. Some routers will also generate reports of web use but these also cost into the thousands.

If you are having problems with your staff spending too much time browsing the internet, this doesn’t necessarily have to be solved through monitoring. Bear in mind that restricting content will help ensure security; routers can be used to filter traffic and to safeguard against malicious software being downloaded onto your company’s computers.

Taking things up a notch

If certain members of your team are causing problems there are a number of steps you can take to keep tabs on everything that happens in your network. It is possible to install software designed to provide individual reports, or even reports on your entire team. You could, for example, receive a daily report on how much time is spent on Facebook or even how many words each person typed that day. Software such as this will log everything – from the click of a mouse to every key stroke – before giving you the information in the form of a graph. Despite the complexity, this type of software isn’t prohibitively expensive, usually costing around £150 per employee and is virtually untraceable – even by the most technically savvy.

What do we think?

Provided our team are performing well and meeting their targets, we feel that monitoring is largely unnecessary. We restrict monitoring to two areas: during staff training to ensure that communication with clients is as it should be, and if there is a problem with a particular person and we need to get to the bottom of what has been said and when.

We feel that it’s only in situations where there is a major problem that monitoring should come into play and that there are better ways to find problems. Getting to know your team a little better is a great example and a far more cost effective use of your time. If you do think there’s a problem however, and you’d like us to help, please get in touch and we’ll happily chat things through with you.

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