How to discreetly monitor an employee's computer/Internet usage?
January 30, 2013 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for recommendations for software to track/monitor/record someone's computer/Internet usage. Windows XP, one user account.

My mom is a freelance bookkeeper and has a part-time hourly assistant, "Jane." Recently my mom noticed that Jane's productivity had been a bit low, and discovered by looking at the Chrome browser history that Jane has been spending a significant amount of time surfing the web. She is planning on talking to Jane about this next time she comes in, but this question is not about managing employees.

What I want to know is how my mom can monitor Jane's Internet browsing (and possibly overall computer usage, lest she switch to playing Solitare all day) from this point on. Presumably now that my mom is on to her, if Jane were to continue this behavior she would figure out how to clear the browser history and cover her tracks. I'm looking for some kind of discreet program that would allow my mom to occasionally check to make sure that Jane has actually working on what she is supposed to. This is complicated by the fact that Jane uses my mom's computer and doesn't have a separate user account, so any "parental watch" software that requires separate users wouldn't work. Ideally it would be discreet enough that it wouldn't be obvious to Jane that it's on the computer unless she really searched for it.

Less expensive is better.
posted by radioamy to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I use RescueTime to monitor my own computer usage. There are reminders when the computer goes idle, but these could be disabled.
posted by third word on a random page at 2:00 PM on January 30, 2013

Mod note: Folks, it's a pretty straightforward software question; you don't have to agree, but you do need to answer the question that was asked or move on.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:28 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, this article might help. I'd echo that you really need to be up-front about this with her, though.
posted by Drexen at 2:29 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Quick follow-up: The idea is not to make the situation any more tense than absolutely necessary. This is not a typical "office" situation - it's one 20-something girl who works very closely with my mom in her *home* office. My mom is hoping that one quick discussion will end the behavior outright and that they can move on from this.

That said, this behavior is especially not okay because my mom bills clients hourly, and she can't ethically bill for work that's not being done, so she wants to be able to check every once in a while. I will discuss with her the option of being more upfront with Jane about monitoring.
posted by radioamy at 2:39 PM on January 30, 2013

radioamy: I'm looking for some kind of discreet program that would allow my mom to occasionally check to make sure that Jane has actually working on what she is supposed to.
This isn't the same as monitoring her internet usage, BTW. An employee who wants to goof off ... usually will. Warning them that this is a problem, and their job is at risk, may help or fix the problem, but not on the internet is not the same as doing her work.

That being said, if it's just your mom and the worker, your mom could monitor server traffic. That way, unless the worker is using her phone to access the web, mom will know every time the internet is accessed. (There are bound to be little communications in the background; in this day and age nearly every damn thing talks to the web, but major data will stand out.)
posted by IAmBroom at 2:40 PM on January 30, 2013

I apologize that this isn't a direct answer to your question, but I suggest that you look into the laws in your jurisdiction related to employee privacy before you implement this. Where I am, for example, current employees have to be notified before any similar monitoring is undertaken by law, even in really small organizations. It doesn't mean you can't do it, but make sure you know how you can and that you cross your t's and dot your i's.
posted by Kurichina at 3:04 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

ActivTrak will do the job for free and appears to work on XP. The free-version is feature-limited, but it may serve your purposes anyway.

Activity Monitor is more sophisticated and allowes remote viewing of the activity, but it sounds like this is a 1-computer shop your mom is operating. It offers 15 days for free, and that may be all you need to address the topic.

Assuming that your mom and her employee come to an understanding that will lead to her continued employment, you might find some of these distraction-stopping tools/techniques useful. Some of them are more aggressive than others, and some are more voluntary than others. It's a simple thing to block all of reddit with the hosts file, while the FF plugin can allow 30 minutes of Facebook. Definitely want to use the hosts file to kill off a time-sink like MeFi, heheh.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:10 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, is there a reason that there needs to be only one user on the XP machine (or rather, does Jane have to use the same user as your mother)? I can see reasons of software licensing that might mean this answer is yes, but in case the answer is no, then one more question: Can you create a separate user for Jane, and if so, can that user run as a non-admin?

Even if not, you can use windows group policy, which can create all kinds of restrictions on user power-- prevent software installations, lock away solitaire, disable IE, and in general prevent the user from making changes to, say, the aforementioned hosts file.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:14 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recommend Jane, I've noticed that you're having trouble being productive lately. I'm concerned that you may be too distracted by the Internet. I'm going to help you rearrange your desk so your monitor is a little more exposed. I think that will help.

In a small home office, your Mom likely has a router, and could use it to track Internet sites; the how-to depends on the router. If you have a list of sites Jane likes to waste time on, you could easily create and edit the hosts file to redirect, say, to But it's really a supervision issue, and I'd handle it as such.
posted by theora55 at 3:16 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason she needs access to the internet? If she's using your Mom's machine, just create a user profile that can't access any browsers. When she asks, your Mom can guiltily tell her that *she* has been having problems with surfing too much at work, so she is removing the temptation from all her work computers.
posted by arnicae at 3:54 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had been using ManicTime for a previous job. It works quite well.
posted by zug at 5:11 PM on January 30, 2013

I would just like to point out that software will not give your mother the results she wants. What she wants is for "Jane" to work with the same productivity she used to. When I am being less productive at work, there's usually something not work-related going on - my stepmother's illness, a romantic breakup, health problems, etc. Stress increases the likelihood that one will be more distractible. So your mother "proving" Jane isn't working as efficiently will only increase Jane's stress and increase her distractibility. It might best for your mom to simply talk to Jane with compassion and genuine concern for Jane's well-being instead of jumping to the conclusion that Jane is goofing off.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:00 AM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

« Older Name change logistics, both practical and social.   |   Stand in the place where you work Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.