Currently, a great many businesses are having to work remotely. Organisations that have never before seriously considered remote working are learning the ropes and trying to minimise disruption and maintain high levels of efficiency and productivity. While remote work can be extremely beneficial in terms of performance and employee engagement, not all businesses have the processes in place to ensure remote working is a success. There are a lot of kinks to iron out and a lot of questions to answer, and one of the most common is, should we be tracking employee hours?
Time-tracking software is a common fixture in many organisations. But should it be? Some business leaders think of it as a normal part of monitoring progress and efficiency, while others argue that such monitoring places focus on the wrong metrics. As with most processes relating to performance management and employee engagement, the issue isn’t clear-cut, and while some businesses seem to utilise time-tracking software without issue, other businesses might misuse it as a micromanagement tool, ultimately damaging trust, morale and productivity.
Why Do Companies Track Working Hours?
Companies usually choose to use time-tracking software with the best of intentions. Their intention isn’t to pry or micromanage but to maintain standards. Some CEOs find that using such software provides accountability and a sense of urgency. Furthermore, when businesses need to factor in how long a given task takes, some business leaders find that time-tracking software can be hugely useful in providing insightful data. As Michael Lowe, CEO of Car Passionate, says:
“I think tracking employee hours is incredibly valuable as you can know how long a given task has taken an employee, allowing you to forecast their hours in the coming weeks for other tasks. This helps you save money by allocating reasonable hours and also avoids employees being on shifts for longer than needed. I just use it as a rough guideline to make sure we will be on schedule.”
Does Tracking Hours Show a Lack of Trust?
Some sources suggest that by measuring time worked, you are demonstrating a lack of trust in your employees. Having to account for every single hour, while having screenshots taken of their work, might indicate that an employer doesn’t have faith that they are using their time efficiently. This kind of damage can be hard to turn around.
Robin Young, CEO of Fitness Savvy, has decided not to make use of time-tracking software in his organisation — a company that has always employed remote employees and freelancers. Robin says:
“I don’t want employees to feel like I have a trust issue. This can cause negative feelings and anxiety – I know that is how I feel if I think I am not trusted to get a job done. If you have a list of tasks which need completing, you should trust the employee to complete them. It is usually pretty obvious if things are not being completed in a suitable time frame, at which point, you can raise it as an issue.”
Dennis Vu, CEO and Co-Founder of Ringblaze, agrees:
“I have never been in favour of using time tracking at work because I feel like it’s a horrible way to micromanage the people that work for you. Ask any manager that tracks their employees’ time if they want someone tracking their own time. Most will say no because it’s an incredibly frustrating feeling that someone distrusts you so much that they monitor your every move, every second of your time. If you track your employees’ time, it just shows that you have no faith in your own people.”
Ethar Alali, Director of Axelisys, goes a step further and insists that the use of such software is actually indicative of a poor company culture:
“Most firms that advocate the use of monitoring software have a broken culture. Not only that, but [they] are naturally suboptimal in their workflows. A firm’s inability to adapt without falling back on micro-management is a symptom of much bigger problems. Moving to more adaptive structures reduces stress, commuting times and waste, and all that can be ploughed back into employee pay and conditions or customer savings, giving the firm an edge over their competition. What business doesn’t want that? As the saying goes, a company’s culture is the worst behaviour their owner is willing to accept. If they still want monitoring software, the problem isn’t in the employee, it’s in the boss!”
An Employee Working for Longer Doesn’t Necessarily Get More Done
When it comes down to it, tracking time might be ultimately fruitless, as it’s a poor indicator of productivity and work accomplished. Just because an employee works for longer doesn’t mean they will accomplish the same amount of work as someone who has worked fewer hours.
For example, an employee might struggle with a task for hours before finding their stride and doing productive work. In many cases, this is okay, as this adjustment time might pay off down the line. However, if you’re tracking time, you are directly comparing this employee’s performance to another who is productive from the very first minute, meeting deadlines early and going above and beyond. At this point, you have to question, what metrics are worth tracking, and which are truly reflective of work done?
Measuring Productivity by Tasks Completed and Goals Achieved
Many organisations choose not to track time at all — in fact, companies such as Netflix go a step further, offering unlimited holiday time. Companies like this operate by shifting the focus from time spent on a task to tasks completed and goals achieved. This is something that can be successful in any organisation, regardless of its size or focus.
This is a philosophy employed by Pierre Larose, Founder of Calça Thai & Hippie-Pants.com:
“We have a lot of freelancers as part of a distributed remote team but never use time trackers even when the freelancer volunteers to use them. We feel it is more important to set clear objectives and foster a goal-oriented culture rather than micromanaging a freelancer’s working hours. In other words, we prefer a task-based measurement instead of a time-based one.”
Weiting Liu, Founder & CEO of Arc, agrees:
“At Arc, we’ve never had a culture of time tracking. We don’t believe that seeing people at their desks is a good way to measure productivity. Instead, we measure productivity based on transparent results. We track the progress and milestones weekly, and give regular updates at both team- and company-level meetings. I think the success of this approach also depends on the quality of the team. We aim to hire people who are self-starters, curious and engaged. If your team and company culture is good, you won’t have a problem. Trust your team — they know what they’re doing!”
Shane Hebzynski, Founder of 3 Cats Labs Creative, adds:
“I’m not so concerned about how much time is being spent on a project. I would rather have top-notch work that meets a deadline than think about how much time someone spent on it. The product that we deliver to the client is what is most important, not how much time each individual spent on making it happen.”
Shane adds that the whole issue could come down to good hiring:
“If I have to [track employee time], I think that shows that I’m not working with the right people and it’s a recruitment issue.”
As we all adjust to a new world of work and new ways of doing things, there will be further questions seeking answers. And while the “right” solution will never be clear-cut, and different software will suit different organisations for a number of reasons, the opinions above demonstrate that not all software is essential — and some require careful consideration before we implement.