The exercise of time tracking — the documentation of your daily tasks and the time you need to complete them — can provide useful data for strategic decision-making. But, how does it impact employee trust, accountability and performance? See what remote team experts have to say.
As shared office space becomes less of the norm, remote teams may be pondering how to track time and productivity. Over the years, society has moved away from the likes of punching time cards to super-sophisticated software tools that help customize the process to our needs. Remote team time-tracking can be exceptionally helpful — particularly when the team is distributed across locations and time zones.
The goal for remote team time tracking is usually twofold:
To that effect, it’s easy to see why distributed, remote teams may find time tracking useful. The growing popularity of remote work has seen an explosion in the adoption of time tracking tools like Clockify, Hivedesk, Toggl Track, and Harvest, among others. However, remote teams’ time tracking, in its actual implementation, comes with cautionary tales aplenty. Namrata Satija, a remote social media strategist, reflected on how time tracking tools are utilized by managers. “The managers may not necessarily be using the system with the explicit intent of scrutinizing or nitpicking, but in practice, they ended up creating an environment of distrust," she said, "Because anytime there’s a strain on resources, these time-based indicators were haphazardly brought into question to hold us accountable.”
Time tracking success depends on the implementation process of the tools, including establishing clear motives behind time tracking, how involved the employees were in this decision, and customizing the process for varying job roles.
Can organizations benefit from the positives of time tracking systems, and minimize the side effects? Short answer: yes. Long answer: a conscious effort must be made to implement a healthy accountability system that favors productivity. This effort should not come at the cost of trust or employee well-being.
Here are some good implementation practices to follow:
Right off the bat, it is imperative to address employee queries about privacy concerns.
For example, remote team time tracking is often confused with employee monitoring — a known cause of stress for employees. Involve employees in the roll-out process to set the intention that time tracking will be beneficial and not oppressive.
Secondly, don’t rush into it. The intention behind remote team time tracking should be to increase employee empowerment, not disenfranchisement. In their book Above The Line, creators of the Heartstyles Indicator Stephen and Mara Klemich explain the role of trust when adopting new ideas. “Some companies are constantly changing how they do things in the hope of shaking up their culture. Yet without a long-term vision and an intention to create a courageous, honor-driven culture, it can all just be floundering and chaos.”
If possible, do a pilot launch first to try out the system. Set reasonable expectations from this data. Do not, for example, expect the employees to be productive all 8 hours. Or, to be available for collaboration when they’re trying to ‘deep work’. Be open to making adjustments based on feedback from employees.
While remote team time tracking provides crucial insights into the best performing areas of each team member, it can be tempting to question every moment tracked. This nitpicking robs remote workers of their independence and their right to feel human at work.
Dr. Ashwin Naik is the Founder of Manah Wellness which runs organizational wellness programs. Naik says, “Every human being is engaged in some employment for survival, but more importantly for safety, belonging, and meaning. By policing every moment of work, we send a signal of deep distrust and create a space that has no psychological safety. Employees might comply, but it’s bound to impact their morale and well-being.”
The antidote to this lies in empathetic leadership, which can be encouraged through the sensitization and training of leaders. It is also important to understand that remote team time tracking will not be a magical panacea for performance-related issues. Time tracking is also not a substitute for imperfect communication practices.
In remote work, managers often wonder, “How do I know if someone’s working if you can’t see them?”. It’s a question Basecamp partners Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson answer in their book It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work. They advise managers to focus on outcomes, “The only way to know if work is getting done is by looking at the actual work.”
Having a transparent system to measure performance can be a game-changer. Managers can quantify the outcomes and output instead of focusing on the amount of time spent alone. And even then, make allowances for personal issues, unproductive days, interruptions, and emergencies.
The talent team here at Virtasant agrees, and takes a human-touch approach to time management, “We can have [one person] working 9 hours per day and might have not made much within these hours and another person might have delivered more within 5 hours of work. So we should consider communication, absenteeism, personal initiatives, etc.”
For organizations that find usefulness in remote team time tracking, the data retrieved should be a starting point. What ensures success in remote teams is reasonable expectation-setting and robust communication, facilitated by an environment of trust.