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Employee time tracking doesn't have to be creepy

Written 27 November, 2018, 4 minutes to read

Few tasks are hated as much as time tracking, and it isn’t just because historically it’s been a fiddly and frustrating process. While time tracking is a completely unnatural task, it’s also something that makes us feel bad. We associate it with distrust; that our employers need proof we are working and need to watch us.

But it shouldn’t be this way. Time tracking is one of the most useful tools we have to get more from our individual time and energy. By seeing exactly how we use time, we can address time drains, distractions and broken workflows to become masters of our work. There’s huge opportunity to enable employees in there – we just need to ensure our employee time tracking isn’t creepy.

Is Big Brother watching you?

“Tracking” – as a word we immediately associate with being “watched” or “monitored”, there’s no surprise that people are nervous about the concept. No one wants to work for a business that spies on them or tries to catch them out, and as an employer you shouldn’t want to either; lack of trust completely destroys company culture.

But even if you agree with all the above, your choice of time tracking tool can completely undermine you. Many tracking tools do carry ingrained biases that work against employees. If the tool you’re researching mentions anything about surreptitious screenshots, browsing history or mouse movement tracking, alarm bells should be sounding. It’s textbook creepy and everything time tracking shouldn’t represent.

Thankfully, not every time tracking tool was built to monitor people. Tons of time tracking tools are trying to undo the damage caused by creepy tracking tools. They are designed to protect employee privacy and data ownership, and promote functionality which empowers people to learn about their time data within a safe, private space.

Time tracking isn’t about policing people

The first thing to understand is that, far from working against employees, the right time tracking tools can actually enable them to become more autonomous and self-sufficient. Here are just five time tracking benefits that have nothing to do with policing!

Productivity

Once you can identify the jobs that take too long, you can focus on what holds you back. It could be anything from clunky project communication, needless rounds of approval or review, scope creep or distraction by other competing tasks. The only way to review and optimise your performance is by seeing exactly what holds you back.

Reliability

Once you know how long different tasks tend to take, you can make more accurate estimates for projects costs and duration. In addition to making your own schedule more manageable, it also works to strengthen team collaboration and client relationships; everyone can work better with a clear and dependable plan of action.

Time management

The time management insights revealed by tracking are immense. Managers can instantly see who’s doing too much overtime, who’s falling behind and who’s consistently ahead of schedule. Using this data, you can then start refining your time management expectations and be in a better position to proactively supporting employees, instead of waiting for them to come to you.

Capacity

Following on from the point above, time tracking also helps ensure a fair workload for all and protects staff against burn out. With just a few clicks you can see who has capacity to help out, who could use extra support and who has too much on their plate. It’s essential insight for intelligent resource management.

Operational efficiency

Obviously, employees need to add value. Time tracking allows you to review your team’s billable to non-billable percentage to address your own operational excesses. By seeing where all your internal costs are going, you are better placed to introduce effective change that allows employees to focus on their real work – from introducing tools to automate admin, to outsourcing specific tasks to online services.

How to get employees on board with time tracking

If employees are actually going to take to your new time tracking tool, they need to know it will actually work with them instead of against them. They need to be clear on the purpose of time tracking in your team and actually feel safe using your tool.

The best way to ensure this? Get them to help pick the tool. If it truly will serve their interests, employees should be able to trial the tool for themselves and explore all functionality. There’s no point investing in a time tracking tool if it doesn’t fit into your team’s workflows, or requires a huge learning curve just to get started. Plus, by involving them in the process of choosing a tool, your employees will be more invested in it.

You should also ensure you choose a trust-first time tracking tool. Look for information on how employee data is tracked, stored and shared. Timely is a good example of this – instead of letting colleagues see employee activity by default, it records their data to a private timeline only they can access. Only once they approve activities by logging them to their public timesheet can others see it. Without protecting individual privacy, your time tracking won’t appeal to anybody.

Ultimately, you need to communicate that you’re not keeping tabs on your team; you’re offering them a means to individual control and self-management. You’re investing in a tool that trusts them to manage their own time and helps them get better at doing it. And you’re not going to pick anything they don’t feel completely comfortable with.

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