Tracking time can bring heaps of benefits for businesses of all sizes. How can you convince your teams to take on an admin task that will add even more time to their day? And does your organization need time tracking at all?
Should you track time across teams?
Regular time tracking can provide valuable data for planning future projects and monitoring any organization's employee performance, resources, and capacity. But time tracking is not the be-all and end-all for every business or team.
What works for your organization may look entirely different from your niche competitors. Alternatively, time tracking might improve productivity and workload visibility for one team but not for another.
Finding whether your business would benefit from tracking helps to dig deeper. Explore what you're trying to accomplish and what time and project management methods work best in practice, considering the specific needs of each team.
To determine if time tracking is the right solution for your team, you should review your current workflow for potential bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Here are some additional factors to help you decide if time tracking is the best way to go:
- Does time tracking make sense for your business model? Not every business needs tracked time data, like those with minimal billable hours or without the need for project management.
- Do you need to keep track of worked hours for legal compliance? If timesheets are a legal requirement for your business, tracking time is a necessity, and you will have to collect and maintain accurate records. You can prevent time-tracking forgetfulness in employees using automated software like Timely that runs in the background during a workday.
- Does tracked time help with employee payroll and other financial reimbursements? Time tracking is crucial to calculate salaries of certain jobs and variable pay, like overtime. Precise timesheets can also help in any payment disputes. However, some solo entrepreneurs and freelancers may find time tracking more helpful in evaluating their workload and efficiency, without directly relating the data to their income.
- Do you need data on employee performance? Tracking your employees' time can help you see which elements of their role they need support to boost their performance and productivity. Some employees may need help with their workload because specific tasks take them longer than anticipated or they lack access to the right tools. Others may deliver work on time but not at an acceptable quality.
Alternative planning methods for time tracking
The way to collect data behind project and workload planning can differ significantly across different industries and even within the same organization.
For example, a software development team in one business may factor in time tracking when working with clients on a contractual basis, while the same team working on a company's own product may use an alternative time management system.
Alex Macaulay, a Scrum Master at a sports tech company, uses story points within his squad. It's a widely-used metric in Agile environments. Each story point relates to the complexity of a single work unit rather than the length of time.
"The more complex an item of work is, the higher the value of story points," he says. "When using story points, we use the Fibonacci Sequence – as the complexity increases, the estimate exponentially increases, too."
Similar to time tracking, story points can provide historical data and trends to aid future project estimation and planning. In Agile environments, this is referred to as "velocity" and describes the amount of work a squad can do within a specific time.
"Velocity is generated from historical data, but it's important to also consider other historical and future impacts, such as a team member leaving, which will impact that team's velocity," says Alex.
Story points are just one alternative to time tracking. Ultimately, the best project and workload planning method benefits your team and business without creating an unnecessary burden on employees.
You may need to review what your teams struggle with and what other time management systems could help you tackle those blockages if time tracking does not work for them or the method does not provide the data you need.
How to introduce time tracking in your organization
Once you better understand why you want to use time tracking in your business, you're better equipped to introduce the idea to your employees. Even if you have valid reasons and data to back them up, it's still a good idea to have a plan on how to implement the new system and make it easy enough for your employees to adopt in their daily routines.
Be transparent and give valid reasons
Time tracking can be a significant change for employees in any organization. That's why it's all the more important to be transparent about the benefits of tracking time not just business-wide but also on a personal level.
Businesses can use the tracked information to improve project planning and monitor capacity. Still, employees can also use it to review their performance and see where they could self-improve.
Meryl D'Sa-Wilson, Content Marketing Manager at United World Telecom, agrees.
“Time tracking has become part of our workflow and we can use it to analyze how efficient we are as individual workers and as a team,” she says. “Specifically, we can identify activities that take longer and then find more efficient ways of completing them.”
“Iindividuals can balance out their workload, organize their day-to-day activities, and prioritize important tasks based on their time consumption.”
Beyond efficiency, better time management habits can boost productivity and positively impact career growth long after moving on from the current role. Tracking time also leads to increased job satisfaction, focus, and confidence, with 91% of workers agreeing better time management would also reduce stress levels.
Implement with empathy in mind
Productivity and profitability may be at the forefront of most businesses. But, it's essential to implement new processes, like time tracking, with an understanding of how employees might perceive the idea and how the organization will address any concerns.
Employee surveillance is present in different forms across hybrid and remote roles, ranging from time tracking, meeting recordings, and real-time location all the way to biometrics and eye movement.
To understand the impact on employee morale and trust, consider their perspective when choosing tracking methods. Some are more invasive of privacy than others, so empathy is key.
You can mitigate some privacy concerns by choosing a time tracking method that gives you enough data without overstepping boundaries. For example, Timely automatically tracks time users spend on different activities throughout the day but doesn't record screenshots, keystroke movements, or private conversations.
Make it a simple, stress-free process
The last thing employees need is an additional admin workload. After all, time tracking is still an activity. Choosing a system that doesn't disrupt their work or add unnecessary stress and hours to their day will help teams adapt to the new system with less friction.
Melissa Zehner, the founder of The Content Market, experienced both sides of the same process and saw how it affects employee satisfaction. Before running her own business, she worked for agencies. One agency had a streamlined time-tracking process, but the other didn't.
The first one had a simple and quick daily method for recording and billing work hours. In contrast, the other agency lacked budget integration with its time-tracking software.
"Consequently, many of us found ourselves spending more time than what had been allotted," says Melissa. "The overall tracking process was also much more complicated, so I often spent a full 30-45 minutes logging time each day."
Don't let time tracking become a disaster in your organization simply because you didn't test it thoroughly. Do a trial run to catch any potential roadblocks or limitations that may slow down and frustrate your employees.
Opt for automated time tracking
If you use a manual tracking system, like a spreadsheet, human error and inaccuracies are bound to happen. A single mistake in a logged timesheet can turn a report into a wasted effort.
Automatic time tracking, on the other hand, simplifies time logging and increases report accuracy. Teams don't need to remember every time they switch contexts and jump between tasks or projects, which is bound to happen on a busy day.
If employees log hours manually, it is easy to overlook smaller tasks like checking email. But spending an average of 149 minutes each day reviewing your inbox no longer seems like a small task when you see the software add it all up for you.
Having accurate data on how your teams spend time can explain why some team members burn out. If that's the case, you have the opportunity to address workload concerns before they become a larger issue.
Look after your teams with a suitable time-tracking method
Making big changes in any business can be scary, but it can also lead to great things. If you believe time tracking is the right direction for business, it's essential to have open communication with your teams. It's a two-way street, after all.
The secret to success is finding a balance between collecting valuable data and not causing any unnecessary stress or disruptions.