As the EU makes employee hours tracking mandatory, many companies are coming into contact with time tracking tools for the first time. For many it is dangerous territory – riddled with fear and suspicion – but it really doesn’t have to be.
Time tracking isn’t inherently “good” or “bad”; your approach towards it will ultimately determine its value. This guide is all about how to leverage transparency, empathy and trust to introduce time tracking so that your team thrives by it.
Culture is the lynchpin in every company’s time tracking journey. Fail to respond to your team’s needs or protect its values, and your time tracking efforts will fall flat. Time tracking can introduce stress when people feel their independence and ways or working are threatened, and many harbour negative preconceptions about what it will mean for their privacy and how their work is perceived.
But implement it the right way, and time tracking can really bolster your culture. It enables people to master their productivity, facilitates information sharing and collaboration, and fosters more self-aware and supportive teams – and can even help protect worker rights. What’s more, since time tracking can now be automated, it doesn’t even have to add a new administrative layer to your team’s workflow.
But how do you get there, exactly? How can you introduce time tracking in a way that elevates your employees instead of intimidating them?
Having helped hundreds of companies make time tracking work, we’ve found the best strategies are always built around this foundation:
To ensure time tracking isn’t interpreted as something sinister, you need to clearly communicate to your team exactly why you’re introducing it. A lack of open, honest information quickly breeds distrust, while a clear understanding of motives and benefits makes people much more secure and receptive to new ideas.
Lay out exactly what it will mean for people and how they will benefit from it. If you’ve chosen time tracking for the right reasons, it should support your employees’ interests – not just your company’s. A few common employee benefits include:
- Protecting against burnout
- Ensuring a fair allocation of work
- Showing who has capacity and who is struggling
- Making overtime visible and regulated
- Revealing how people work best
- Highlighting distractions, low-value tasks and scope creep
- Identifying workflow inefficiencies and broken processes
- Surfacing unconscious behaviours and unproductive routines
- Providing team transparency over project progress
- Enabling more effective timelines and schedules
This step is all about leading with empathy – recognising the ways time tracking could potentially hinder employees’ wellbeing and ensuring they don’t happen. You need to reassure employees and gain their trust, and that means being firm on what time tracking won’t mean.
People become hostile towards time tracking when they feel their privacy and professional dignity will be compromised by it; especially when it isn’t clear how any information collected about them will be used or interpreted. One of the biggest ways to allay this fear is to set boundaries and clarify processes.
You need to stress that time tracking will not become a single source for evaluating individual performance or quantifying progress. It provides a useful benchmark, but it won’t be used in isolation to understand the quality, productivity or “success” of work. It won’t replace in-person management or reduce anyone’s value to a set of figures.
Similarly, it’s not there to spy on you or enable an intense form of digital micromanagement. It’s there to help managers support and help employees more proactively, to give teams new technical advantage when collaborating, and help employees manage their own professional space with greater autonomy.
But beyond words, you actually have to act on those promises; which leads neatly to our next point…
You can’t ensure time tracking won’t infringe employee privacy unless the tracking tool you use actively protects them. Time tracking just won’t work long if it doesn’t ensure mutual respect between employees and their employers.
It’s something we’re extremely sensitive to at Timely, which is why our time tracker is based on a model of employee consent. Everyone’s tracked data is completely private and accessible to them alone, and they decide what to share. All employees can review their timesheets, activity and project tasks to ensure they are fully correct and representative before making them public to colleagues and managers. Employees feel comfortable using the tool, and managers protect an honest and open working culture.
The reason we’re so hot on this is because there are a load of time tracking tools that do the complete opposite. Tons of tracking software carries ingrained biases that work against employees. If the tool you’re researching mentions anything about taking candid screenshots, capturing employee browsing history or monitoring mouse movements, steer clear.
But employee-first time tracking also relates to “usability”. You need a reliable, user-friendly tool that won’t constantly interrupt your employees or create new admin for them. We personally hate manual timers and spreadsheets, which is why our tracker also automates the whole time tracking process. It automatically tracks what you work on and creates timesheets for you, so everyone can get back to the work that actually matters.
You need to offer flexibility and openness throughout the entire testing and onboarding process. When you test a time tracking tool, consider the learning curve it involves and the training resources you’ll need to provide to help people get started. Then use the data you generate to present the tool to your team. Being open about your experience and sharing examples from your data makes you vulnerable, and helps to build trust in your ideas in doing so.
But instead of just testing a time tracking tool by yourself, consider running a pilot with a small group of employees to gauge how they find it. Since they’ll be the ones actually using the tool on a daily basis, they need to see whether it’s easy to use and understand how it will fit into their workflow.
Above all, stress that nothing is concrete. If you try out a tool for a while and it just doesn’t work for your team, you can change it. Actively encourage team feedback about time tracking, and make it a priority to help employees maximize its benefits in one-to-one meetings.
Crucially, keep discussion going and act on concerns – when people feel you actually care about their wellbeing and interests, they’ll be much more likely to accept a new technology.