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Tracking a Telecommuter

is there a program that keep track of time/activity?

10:27 pm on Jul 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Does anyone know/recommmend a program that can be installed on a computer of a telecommuter to keep track of time/activity? I just need to be able to get a more educated guess if the hours being reported for pay are similar to activity on the computer.

I hope I asked that correctly. I just brought someone on (hourly pay) to help me out with a few things - and since they are in a different state - telecommuting - I just need a program that can track activity and maybe automatically send me an email with the hours & mintues. I'm not sure, but I would assume it would do so by tracking keyboard and mouse activity.

10:52 pm on Jul 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I might be able to help. What sort of work is the person doing?
10:56 pm on Jul 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

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A lot of general stuff that I don't have time for - like helping a customer lookup an order, edit/add product descriptions, write content for site. Pretty general - but all requires using the computer. I realize there are pauses and breaks.... but I was just hoping to get some sort of report as I think some of the hours for pay are being inflated (on the telecommuter's part)

Know of any programs?

11:02 pm on Jul 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jdmorgan is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member


This should be a contract-by-the-job, pay for productivity, not by the hour. Otherwise, how can you possibly know if those clicks and keystrokes represent any useful work?

You can set milestones to break down the project into measurable progress steps. Periodically review the work, and then issue checks based on the worth of the delivered material so far. Obviously, the project is worth much more when it is finished and working, so build that into the payment plan. The effect will be reasonable pay during the project (enough to maintain the worker's interest, and dissuade him/her from walking away from it), and a bigger payoff when the finished product is delivered and passes testing, however you define that.

Computers cannot manage workers, that's a manager's job.


11:10 pm on Jul 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

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jdMorgan - I understand what you are saying, but it is difficult to have a contract on "phone calls" to lookup up orders, etc. Basically I brought someone on to help do the stuff I didn't have time to do as the site grew.

So, I'm basically looking for a program that can be installed on there computer that helps keep track of time. I know it won't be exact - but it will be a lot closer than not knowing at all.

11:21 pm on Jul 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

April, Jim made some really good points. I'd just like to add:

1. You should already have some idea of how long these tasks should take. Maybe the person will pick up more speed once they get some experience.

2. Is this your puter the person is using? If the machine doesn't belong to you, I would not advise installing anything on it without the owner's knowledge and permission ... that would be spyware.

Having said all that, I use an abbreviation expanding program called ShortHand which, among other things, counts my typed keystrokes as well as the ones created by the expander to let me know how many keystrokes I saved by using the program. Example, if I type "tol" it responds, "The patient tolerated the procedure well." IIRC, it costs $89. A 30-day trial version is available. It does not count mouse clicks. I wouldn't know how to go about reporting ShortHand's stats on my productivity to a third party as I have no need for such.

12:08 am on Jul 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You're correct, I do have a good idea how long these tasks take. Let me expand on the issue - this person had been helping me out for a few months here - but she moved and I thought it would be better to let her telecommute than look for someone else. Well, the workload with hours reported doesn't match up - so I would just like to try a program...just to see. (collecting data before confronting). Regarding the computer, yes, it's my computer as I let her take it with her when she moved... take as in use it for work - not for her to take ownership of it.

Hope that helps. Anyway - anyone know of any programs?

12:13 am on Jul 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Rather than having the user work from their actual desktop, you could set up something like terminal server and require them to log in to their remote desktop to work. You can set activity timeouts server-side and will be able to get a general idea of how much time the user spent logged in working.

Other than installing some kind of remote control software on the employee's system that lets you "pop in" and watch what they're doing without their knowledge, there really isn't any 100% guaranteed way to prevent remote employees from slacking off.

1:02 am on Jul 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Beat me to it, digitalv. This is how I "work from home" a bit for my boss. We use IBM AS-400 software with an enterprise-type front-end, and the IT guy ALWAYS knows how long I was logged on and working over the net. The program itself produces joblogs that show in MASSIVE detail exactly what you did, when you did it, how long it took you to do it, etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseam.

This is a pretty expensive proposition for what AprilS needs though....

What I think you might do instead, AprilS, would be to set up a logon-portion of a website for your employee to "go to work" on. Then you'd have server logs, and you could probably find some sort of "watchdog" proggie to enable you to keep closer track. I haven't ever tried this myself, but that's basically what the IT guy does, leaving the expensive software and server out of it.

2:57 am on Jul 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Since Terminal Services comes standard with Windows 2000 and higher, and you can connect to it both with a freely distributable client and through remote desktop which comes with Windows XP, switching the user to this type of environment won't be expensive at all if you already have Win2k running.
6:26 am on Jul 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

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I like the idea of a "time out". I can't believe I never thought of doing something like that in the admin site I built. I could just set a time out of like 10-15 minutes.... if no activity it would require her to login again. I can log how many times a login was required. Thanks for the idea!

Does XP have a feature built in to where I could just pop in and view what she is doing "without her knowing"? In the past we have done remote assistance through Windows Messenger - but that is a pain and she knows I'm watching and/or in control. If not, can anyone recommend a program?

3:22 am on Jul 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

let me ask you this...if she were working in a cubicle at your location, would you install a hidden camera to watch her work?

seems to me, you either trust her or you don't. rather than sneaking around or spying on her every move, enlist her help. Ask HER to time her calls, and then assign general time durations to different types of calls. if you work on this together, she will become aware of any time wasting she might be doing.

if it's phone work, you have every right to randomly monitor her calls to test for phone manner, problem resolution, etc. It will also enable you to get a sense of how the client/customer is treating her. If she has difficulty dealing with certain customer types or issues, construct predesigned scripts. all call centers do this. I worked for several winter seasons at Eddie Bauer call center many years ago so I can tell you that having a basic script gives you structure to better manage call efficiency, gives you handy scripts that can get you out of a tongue-tie or handle a difficult customer. It also gives you a base upon which to improve. It becomes fun to compete against yourself.

if she was a good employee for you before, give her the benefit of the doubt before tracking her like a criminal.

let me ask you this: how efficient are YOU when somebody is standing right behind you while you are performing a task? Moreover, how efficient are you when your boss is standing there watching every move?

yeah...that's what I thought.

just give it some thought before you engage in secret tracking and put yourself in her place before you make a decision. you may end up losing a valuable worker in the process.


6:03 am on Jul 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I didn't intend on this becoming a discussion on employee work ethics. I was just hoping to see if anyone knew of a program.

pixelkat - when you worked at Eddie Bauer - did people see you come to work? I'm sure they did. That is all I want to do! I don't want to check how fast she is working, etc. This has nothing to do about a manager looking over someone's back. It is a totally different ball game having a telecommuter. I don't look over her back....I don't even know if she is in front of her computer most of the time. When she worked next to me I knew when she sat down next to me and when she left for the day [Did I keep track of her hours... NO - I let her do that, but at least I had a ROUGH idea at the end of the week if what she reported seemed right]. I was not watching over her back AT ALL. BUT, I could tell if she was here...and if she was working. I am too busy to watch someone else work. I just want someway to be able to see if she is present...and working - period. Like others here have pointed out already - something like this would be better done on a contract basis - pay for work completed. However, since I already was paying by the hour - that's the way things are for the time being.

If you haven't paid a telecommuter "by the hour" then please don't judge me so harshly. I have NO intention of "looking over someone's back". I just want to know if someone is there. I'm sure you may think differently if money was tight and you were paying out of your own pocket.

I am a one person show - I don't have a phone system like large companies do - I don't have a PC system designed to keep statistics on what a employee was doing on their computer at what time. I don't even want something like that. I just simply was wondering if there was a way to see if a telecommuter is present...on the computer.. working.

I didn't intend on this becoming a discussion on employee work ethics. I was just hoping to see if anyone knew of a program.

10:48 pm on Jul 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

AprilS - what you're wanting to do is NO DIFFERENT AT ALL from punching a time-clock.

It's just another way of having the employee do so.

From another angle, where I work right now we have an employee who takes work home with her on weekends. This is not stuff done online like I do when I work from home, this is basic clerical paper-shuffling. Now the problem here is pretty much the same as yours AprilS - the stuff this employee takes home IS quantifiable by how much I and the other employee who handle this job during the week get done.

Just at this point in time, we ALL know the employee in question (who has certainly been doing this job long enough to be as fast as the other two of us are) is padding her hours. It's pretty hard to provide verifiable proof though - so I've been detailed to keep surreptitious track of how much she hands over on Mondays (which believe me I'm not happy about, but for various reasons I'm the logical one to do this).

Of course, even in a family owned corporation, you do not anymore just get to fire someone, you have to PROVE that you have cause. And that's what AprilS wants - a way to PROVE that her employee IS up-straight on the hours she's claiming to work, or to prove she's padding them....

11:04 pm on Jul 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

April - pop over to www.tucows.com and do some diggin around. I'm constantly amazed by the stuff I find there :)

Also - let's try and stay on topic here. April asked for suggestions on how to do something not on whether or not she should do it. Let's do our best to help her here.