A great many businesses are currently work remotely. Even organizations that had never before seriously considered remote work have been forced to learn the ropes as they try to minimize disruptions and maintain productivity. While remote work can be extremely beneficial in terms of employee performance and engagement, not all businesses have the right processes in place to ensure remote work is a success. There are a lot of kinks to iron out and a lot of questions to answer, the most common of which might just be: “Should we be tracking employee hours?”
Some business leaders think of tracking employees’ time as a normal part of monitoring progress and efficiency, while others argue that such time tracking emphasizes the wrong metrics. As with most performance management processes, the issue isn’t a clear-cut one. But what does that mean for your company?
Why Do Companies Track Working Hours?
Companies usually choose to track employee hours, often via time-tracking software, with the best of intentions. They want to maintain standards, not pry or micromanage. Some CEOs find that tracking time offers accountability and a sense of urgency, while others may like having insightful data about average task times.
“I think tracking employee hours is incredibly valuable, as you can know how long a given task has taken an employee, allowing you to forecast their hours in the coming weeks for other tasks,” says Michael Lowe, CEO of Car Passionate. “This helps you save money by [allowing you to] allocate reasonable hours, and [it] avoids employees being on shifts for longer than needed.”
Does Tracking Hours Show a Lack of Trust?
Some sources suggest that tracking employees’ time signals a lack of trust. Having to account for every single hour can make employees feel like their employers are out to get them — a feeling that can be made even worse by time-tracking software that takes screenshots of employees’ computers as they work. This kind of damage to employee trust can be hard to turn around.
Robin Young, CEO of Fitness Savvy, says he does not use time-tracking software because he doesn’t want employees to feel like he has “a trust issue.”
“This can cause negative feelings and anxiety — I know that is how I feel if I think I am not trusted to get a job done,” Young says. “If you have a list of tasks which need completing, you should trust the employee to complete them. It is usually pretty obvious if things are not being completed in a suitable time frame, at which point, you can raise it as an issue.”
Dennis Vu, CEO and cofounder of Ringblaze, agrees.
“I have never been in favor of using time tracking at work because I feel like it’s a horrible way to micromanage the people that work for you,” Vu says. “Ask any manager that tracks their employees’ time if they want someone tracking their own time. Most will say ‘no’ because it’s an incredibly frustrating feeling [when you think] someone distrusts you so much that they monitor your every move.”
Ethar Alali, director of Axelisys, insists that the use of time-tracking software is actually indicative of a bad company culture: “A firm’s inability to adapt without falling back on micromanagement is a symptom of much bigger problems. As the saying goes, a company’s culture is the worst behavior the owner is willing to accept. If they still want monitoring software, the problem isn’t in the employee, it’s in the boss!”
Working for Longer Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Getting More Done
When it comes down to it, tracking time might be ultimately fruitless. After all, hours worked is a poor indicator of productivity. Just because an employee works for longer doesn’t mean they will accomplish more work.
For example, an employee might struggle with a task for hours before finding their stride and doing productive work. In many cases, this is okay, as this adjustment time might pay off down the line. However, if you’re tracking time, you are directly comparing this employee’s performance to that of another employee who might be productive from the very first minute, allowing them to go above and beyond. Based purely off the number of hours each employee works, you’d think each employee accomplished the same amount of work!
Measuring Goals Instead of Hours
Many organizations choose not to track time at all. In fact, companies like Netflix even offer unlimited time off. Companies like this shift the focus from time spent at a desk to tasks completed and goals achieved.
Pierre Larose, founder of Calça Thai and Hippie-Pants.com, shares this philosophy: “We have a lot of freelancers as part of a distributed remote team but never use time trackers, even when the freelancer volunteers to use them. We feel it is more important to set clear objectives and foster a goal-oriented culture, rather than micromanaging a freelancer’s working hours.”
Weiting Liu, founder and CEO of Arc, agrees: “We don’t believe that seeing people at their desks is a good way to measure productivity. Instead, we measure productivity based on transparent results. We track progress and milestones weekly and give regular updates at both team- and company-level meetings.”
However, Liu also notes that “the success of this approach also depends on the quality of the team. We aim to hire people who are self-starters, curious, and engaged. If your team and company culture is good, you won’t have a problem.”
“I would rather have top-notch work that meets a deadline than think about how much time someone spent on it,” adds Shane Hebzynski, founder of 3 Cats Labs Creative. “If I have to [track employee time], I think that shows that I’m not working with the right people. It’s a recruitment issue.”
As we all adjust to a new world of work and new ways of doing things, we’re bound to encounter plenty of difficult questions like whether or not employee time should be tracked. While these issues rarely have clear-cut, “right” answers, one thing is always true: Every initiative and software tool should be carefully considered before any decisions are made about implementation.
Stuart Hearn is CEO and founder of Clear Review.