- Pros2FA. Active Directory integration. Application monitoring. Automated alerts. Easy-to-use admin interface. Google sign-in. iOS app. Productivity tracking. Screenshots. Sensitive data redaction. User privacy features.
- ConsDoesn’t log keystrokes. No OCR for keyword search within screenshots. No blurred screenshot option.
- Bottom LineActivTrak is affordable, easy-to-use employee monitoring software that steers clear of omniscient oversight in favor of employee productivity metrics and team behavior analytics. It’s Google Analytics for your office.
There are three basic tiers we’ve identified in employee monitoring software. The first tier consists of powerful, enterprise-grade monitoring tools such as Editors’ Choice Teramind. The second tier includes the pure play time tracking tools that provide some solid monitoring functionality. And the third tier of tools that are marketed as “Google Analytics for your office.” ActivTrak (which is free for up to three users) exemplifies this third category of monitoring software geared toward measuring employee effectiveness, activity levels, and productivity.
ActivTrak sports a sleek, responsive administrative user interface (UI). It offers easy agent installation and great, productivity-focused reports and alerting. It consists of a solid core of monitoring tools and features built for data access control and user privacy. Because of these features, ActivTrak earns an Editors’ Choice as an affordable, less draconian alternative to enterprise monitoring platforms such as StaffCop Enterprise and Editors’ Choice Teramind. It is the best of the products we tested, with a clear focus on employee productivity and team behavior analytics versus holistic monitoring.
Pricing and Setup
ActivTrak is free for monitoring of up to three workstations with 3 GB of storage. The free plan (which does include ads in the UI) also comes with unlimited account IDs, activity log CSV export, HDD-based data storage, one screenshot per activity, as well as access to the real-time view and website blocking. There are also Basic and Advanced plans that each come with a free trial and a 30-day money back guarantee, in which the pricing scales by user count.
The Basic plan includes multiple screenshot alarms, unlimited data storage, the remote Windows installer, SSD-based data storage, and email support with no ads. The tiered pricing for this plan starts at a minimum of 10 users annually at $672 per year, which depending on the number of employees, ends up costing only a couple of dollars per employee per month. The pricing scales to $1,152 per year for the 20-user plan; $1,728 per year for 30 users; $2,400 per year for 50 users; and $3,840 per year for 100-plus users—each of which offers volume discounts so that the individual monthly cost per user is only a few dollars.
The Advanced plan is pricier but still offers volume discounts. ActivTrak’s Premium package gives you phone support, USB detection and file transfer alarms, faster data processing, a security audit report, Webhooks integrations, more payment and purchase options, global data center access, and a dedicated customer support representative. This plan starts at $864 per year for 10 users; $1,728 per year for 20 users; $2,592 for 30 users; $4,320 for 50 users or there’s an “Exact User Count” option for $7.20 per user per month (billed annually).
ActivTrak also has month-to-month pricing options for both the Basic and Advanced plans, and offers add-ons for on-premises hosting, data leak prevention (DLP), and SQL data access priced by custom quote. Overall, ActivTrak has some of the most flexible Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) pricing of the tools in this roundup. It offers far more affordable pricing schemes for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) than the hefty enterprise pricing of a tool such as Veriato 360.
As far as setup goes, the ActivTrak agent was about as easy to install as Teramind. The ActivTrak tracking agent is available for Windows, macOS, Chrome O, and a Chrome browser installed on any desktop operating system (OS), including FreeBSD, Linux, and others. On my test Windows 10 machine, I logged into my admin account and clicked the Install Agent button on the top right-hand side. When you first set up an account and log in, ActivTrak gives you a pop-up with a quick YouTube video that walks you through the agent install process.
Once downloaded, the ActivTrak installation wizard opened on my test machine and completed the install in a minute or two, with zero hassle on my end. The ActivTrak agent is stealthy, which means the application and file processes have incognito names so they go unnoticed. So, once the install was complete and I logged out of the admin account, the machine was ready for monitoring and showed up immediately in the management UI. Compared to the multi-step installation and compatibility issues faced when setting up the agent in tools such as InterGuard, ActivTrak was a breeze.
Along with Teramind, ActivTrak sported the most intuitive, cloud-based admin UI of any of the employee monitoring tools in this roundup. ActivTrak can sync with your Google account for sign-in and two-factor authentication (2FA), a nifty log-in and security touch not found in other tools. When you first log in, the Home dashboard gives you a number of at-a-glance statistics and data visualizations to get a sense of your team or organization’s productivity.
ActivTrak puts time tracking up top, showing aggregate productive and unproductive time spent in apps and websites, though you can easily filter the results to show specific users or groups. Scrolling down, there’s a selection of recent employee screenshots followed by a filterable productivity bar chart and user chart that breaks down productive, unproductive, and idle time. There are also pie charts below that which show a breakdown of top apps and websites visited. For all apps, ActivTrak records the title bar text, but for browsers, it collects an extra data field containing the full URL.
You can’t customize the dashboard widgets as you can in InterGuard and Veriato 360. ActivTrak also doesn’t have targeted views like Teramind’s Risk and Focus dashboards. But there is a real-time tab to see what apps and websites employees are currently using (along with device, OS, IP address info, etc.), with the option to take a real-time screenshot by pressing the Camera icon next to the user. From there, admins can even zoom in and read an employee’s monitor.
The main dashboard’s charts—and really all of the productivity metrics ActivTrak gathers—all stem from how the software handles categories. Managed in the Settings tab, categories classify apps and websites not only by which are productive and unproductive, but admins can also group activities by type, including banking, email, entertainment, games, shopping, social networking, and sports. The Categories and Productivity lists in Settings let businesses create and sort their own custom categories as well as add or delete apps and websites manually with a simple click. The list-based management UI is simple but powerful and let me add and remove websites with ease. You can also see a list of currently undefined apps and websites ready to be sorted. This is similar to Work Examiner, though ActivTrak also has a Blocking tab to take productivity classification a step further by physically blocking domains to increase employee productivity.
Outside of the main and real-time dashboards, most of the more detailed monitoring data is found in the Reports tab and the Screenshots section. As far as screenshots go, ActivTrak lets you see the latest screenshots by user, which I was able to click in a slideshow-like viewer through the screenshots taken of my test machine. You can also look at a historical view of screenshots filtered by user, date, or productivity categories. There’s no live or recorded video feeds; you can’t view historical playback recordings as you can do in Teramind. But the real-time screenshot feature is good for capturing photo evidence of an employee’s work (or lack thereof) at a moment’s notice. Screenshots can be configured on a user-by-user basis and can be snapped every 10 seconds at a minimum. Plus, you can check a box to take multiple screenshots at a time. One missing feature here is the ability to blur screenshots for privacy as you can do in Desktime Pro. But if you spring for the DLP add-on (explained later), then ActivTrak will take extra steps to ensure privacy of sensitive data.
An important note on ActivTrak’s monitoring is that the platform intentionally does not log keystrokes. The company says employee monitoring platforms that record keylogging are sometimes classified as malicious by antivirus programs (which I experienced, annoyingly, during installation and testing of InterGuard). Instead of recording keystrokes, ActivTrak puts greater emphasis on screenshots and does track mouse and keyboard movement (just not specific keys and commands) to determine if a user session is active or idle. Unlike Teramind, however, ActivTrak doesn’t currently have the capability to run optical character recognition (OCR) on screenshots to search images for specific keywords. However, the company confirmed it is working on a content analysis tool to do just that.
Reporting and Alerts
You can navigate to specific reports by clicking into each chart on the main dashboard. However, ActivTrak also has a list of data breakdowns in the Reports tab of its navigation menu on the left-hand side. The Top Websites, Top Applications, Top Categories, and Top Users reports are self-explanatory. They show you tracked productive and unproductive time atop the page and then a list of websites, apps, categories, or users, with durations and usage percentages filtered by users or computers. There are also some useful breakdowns, such as the ability to click into subpages and page titles, search for a screenshot, or create an alarm related to the activity entry you’ve identified.
There is also a Productivity report, which can show you a timestamped progress bar of an employee’s productivity over the course of a single day, week, month, or even year. Finally, there’s the Activity Log, a most comprehensive report that shows every timestamped employee action across apps, websites, etc., with corresponding screenshots if applicable. So, if an employee spent an hour on Reddit, you can then go into subpages to see what they were looking at or look at the unproductive activity in the larger context of their workday. All reports can either be downloaded as a CSV file or saved directly to Google Drive. When sorting and exporting report data, clicking the Columns tab on the top right-hand side lets you check which data fields you want your report to include.
ActivTrak doesn’t have OCR keyword search for screenshots yet but it does offer keyword tracking through alerts (referred to as Alarms). In the Alarms tab, I was able to set up notifications to trigger with some automated logic, such as whether a description or URL contained a specific keyword or phrase or if a user executes a particular action, such as plugging in a USB device.
I was able to set my test alert to take multiple screenshots every 10 seconds if the term “job search” came up in an employee’s activity, and even display a custom pop-up message to the employee to let them know their action is not allowed (for instance, if they exceeded an allotted daily time on social media websites). ActivTrak also lets you set up both email and Webhooks notifications for any alert. You can also send other email-based reports and alerts, including a Weekly Digest report of all your office activity and productivity metrics.
Google Analytics for Your Office
ActivTrak takes pains to avoid being labeled as spyware or Big Brother-like, and includes a number of features to drive that point home. In the Settings tab, I was able to set a custom agent schedule so that ActivTrak only monitored activities during work hours, which is particularly useful for remote workers. And the software includes both Groups and Access tabs for admins to group users into particular teams or departments, and then only give managers access to view monitoring data related to the employees they directly oversee. There’s also an audit log that shows all admin and manager activity within the system and, most importantly, a “Do Not Track” feature that will cease all monitoring on a machine even if an agent is installed.
The most important privacy feature, however, is if your organization springs for the DLP feature available as an option under the Screenshots tab. Here, ActivTrak actually lets you redact items such as email addresses and phone numbers, passport and credit card numbers, social security numbers, insurance information, and other sensitive personal and financial data so that it will not be logged or stored. This is only available in the Advanced plan as an add-on feature.
ActivTrak does not have the depth of monitoring of Editors’ Choice Teramind or other enterprise players such as InterGuard, StaffCop Enterprise, and Veriato 360, and that’s by design. Of the three tools we tested with a focus on productivity metrics—ActivTrak, Desktime, and Work Examiner, ActivTrak is the easiest to set up and use. It offers the most privacy features, great productivity metrics and reports, and automated alerts. Priced affordably by scaled volume, ActivTrak is our Editors’ Choice for businesses looking to drive productivity and efficiency in their offices with targeted data gathering but don’t need or want to pay for full-on, Big Brother-like employee surveillance platform.
By Rob Marvin Associate Editor, Business
Rob Marvin is the Associate Editor of PCMag’s Business section. He covers startups, business and venture capital, and writes features, news, and trend stories on all manner of emerging technologies. Beats include: blockchain, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, augmented reality, enterprise IoT, legal cannabis tech, social media, the mobile app economy, digital commerce and payments, cloud, Big Data, low code development, containers and microservices, deep linking, M&A, SEO, virtual assistants and voice AI, chatbots, and enterprise software in general. Rob was previously an editor at SD… More »
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