The shift to remote working that resulted from COVID-19-induced lockdowns was abrupt and difficult for many businesses to navigate, and even now, there are companies that have yet to fully adapt. Even the most reluctant managers have come to accept that there are some advantages to it (more flexibility, lowered operational costs, etc.), but there are also some major negatives that must be addressed and overcome.
Chief among the list of negatives is the lack of direct oversight. When you have everyone working together in a shared physical space, you can always tell what people are getting done: anyone who tries to get away with frittering away their time will surely be caught out by their colleagues and suitably chastised by their superiors. But when everyone is scattered, it becomes so much harder to know who’s pulling their weight and who’s wasting resources because they’re taking advantage of the situation (or simply because they’re struggling).
This is where time tracking enters the picture. By implementing a time tracking system and mandating its consistent use, you can steadily gather data about how your employees are spending their days. But once you have that data, what should you do with it? In this post, we’re going to look at five steps that you should take. Let’s get started.
✅ Confirm the accuracy
The first thing to do is go through the data to check that people have actually been using the time tracking tool correctly. Have they logged the required hours (regardless of how they’ve distributed those hours)? Tagged tasks appropriately? Are there any clear signs that certain employees have logged time that they didn’t actually spend on anything in particular? If you get the impression that your workers have misused the system (whether deliberately or accidentally), you need to review the entire process.
In addition to ensuring that your documentation makes it abundantly clear how the tracking should work, you should outline the potential consequences of bucking the system. For example, you could state that anyone repeatedly found to be logging their time in misleading fashion will be subjected to a full performance review that could lead to their dismissal.
Note the word repeatedly there. It isn’t a great idea to get strict right away; these are stressful times, moving to a time tracking system can be odd for someone who hasn’t needed to track their time before, and taking that approach is likely to turn people against you. Instead, give people time to adjust, then crack down on them if they don’t manage it.
Something that will help with this is making it entirely clear why you’re eager to track company time. Explain that it isn’t about policing your team for the sake of it, and you’re not trying to push them to spend every single moment of their workday operating at peak performance. Instead, it’s about identifying productivity bottlenecks, figuring out when people need more support for particular tasks or projects, and checking that you’re charging clients enough for the work done. Once they know they have no great cause to worry, they should be more open to the change.
✅ Adjust your scheduling
If you’re not already using clear scheduling, then you should certainly implement that: smart time management requires it, and productivity demands deadlines to push work ahead. But if you do have scheduling in place, you’ll likely find that the tracked time shows some issues with your arrangement. For instance, you may notice that an important task keeps being given short shrift due to being scheduled for the end of the week. If so, you could move it to Thursday.
Alternatively, you might spot that various tasks for one particular project are being spread out instead of concentrated. Since there’s inevitably time lost in transitioning between different projects, it makes all the sense in the world to reposition them. The result will be improved efficiency and fewer inconsistencies between tasks.
This isn’t something you’ll figure out in one fell swoop. Instead, you’ll need to make some changes, see how they affect productivity, and make further changes informed by the results. There will be unexpected consequences of your alterations. Take that example of concentrating related tasks, for instance: while it’s better in principle, it’s possible that allocating too large a block to one particular project will result in the employee responsible losing productivity. Having gaps between tasks is often important.
Accordingly, you may need to revert changes that you felt entirely confident would work faultlessly. Provided you’re willing to rethink your approach, you should be able to make excellent progress across the coming weeks and months. You’ll be able to achieve major improvements, honing your scheduling until your lineup is productive and efficient.
✅ Review your productivity and task management software
Today’s remote working wouldn’t be possible without the SaaS industry’s vast range of productivity tools, and the next step is to review your software lineup to see where you could make some changes. After all, you may discover that a particular type of task is taking so much longer than others — and not because it’s inherently harder or more dull, but because the software being used to manage it is insufficiently intuitive or powerful.
Start by looking at the tools you use to govern everyday operations: most notably task management software, communication software, and HR software. Even website maintenance can eat up more hours than it needs to if you’re not using an efficient content management system or a fully-featured web hosting provider. For the latter, using a managed hosting solution (such as that offered by Cloudways) will ensure that essential but otherwise time-draining tasks like server maintenance and performance monitoring are handled in the background while your in-house teams focus on more pressing engagements.
Automation in general should be a key component of everyday operation. If you’re not making full use of it, this is the perfect time to review your entire workload. It does take time to implement complex automation, which is one of the biggest reasons why so many companies still avoid it, but it all comes down to a simple value proposition: lose a moderate amount of time for a few weeks and you can save a small amount of time indefinitely. Operate for years to come and the return on your investment will be staggering.
Business communication, meanwhile, must walk a fine line between being overly formal and allowing too much idle chit-chat. If something like Slack isn’t cutting it, a less fun option — such as Microsoft Teams — might be able to deliver the balance you need. It all depends on what your employees prefer and what you need at a managerial level. Check out some reviews, read some comparisons, and reach your own conclusion about which system to invest in.
✅ Look for positives to reward
We touched upon why you shouldn’t get overly strict — in that vein, there’s actually a lot of value in looking for reasons to be positive. When you first get people to track their time, they’re likely to feel somewhat self-conscious. To settle their nerves and make it clear that you’re not looking to attack them, you can look through the time tracking data to find things to reward.
Maybe someone took much less time than expected to complete a key task to a reasonable standard. Perhaps someone took a lot of time for a task but the result was clearly worth it. You’ll need to look at the work produced through the logged tasks, of course, but it’s time worth spending. If you can highlight some laudable efforts, you can show that there’s no reason to be intimidated by your time tracking system (and improve morale at the same time).
As for the nature of the reward, well, that’s up to you. The easiest tactic is to offer a financial incentive for those who get their tasks done in a timely fashion. It doesn’t need to be overly generous: just enough to show people that they will get something out of working harder than they technically need to. Alternatively, you can provide some extra leave, or even use their evident dedication to advance the top performer’s promotion prospects.
✅ Hold a company meeting
Lastly, once you’ve done everything else here, you should hold a full company meeting to discuss your findings (and your resulting actions) with your employees. If there are mitigating circumstances behind accuracy issues, you can hear about them at this meeting. You can see what people think of your scheduling changes, how much they like the existing software, and what motivates them to do exceptional work.
Remember that rolling out a time tracking system can increase the formal divide between you and your workers, reminding them that you’re not their peer or their friend. Instead of allowing resentment to brew, return to the earlier note that it isn’t about them personally — and that you’ll be tracking your time as well as a show of solidarity. That should help the situation.
Additionally, place great emphasis on the point that you don’t expect anyone to rush. The presence of incentives for great performance isn’t about inciting a competition to see who can complete tasks most quickly. After all, you’re looking for speed and quality, and increasing the former too much will inevitably compromise the latter (you can’t rush perfection). You largely want people to be more aware of how they’re spending their time, making it less likely that they’ll end up wasting hours on tasks that don’t warrant that much attention.
Gathering time tracking data is just the start: if you don’t use it sensibly, it won’t achieve much. By following the five steps we’ve been through here, you should be able to make good use of your tracking information. Good luck!