We ask every team member to keep accurate time logs of what they are working on and submit them on a weekly basis for approval. Sometimes new team members are concerned about having to register what they're doing on a daily basis, but after a brief explanation of why it’s important, they're usually good to go.
This post is an overview of why we feel time tracking is important and how to use it to help you manage a remote team.
When you first transition to remote work the concept of tracking your time may sound unnecessary or even invasive. The idea of keeping a detailed log of things you do (or don’t do) and that someone else will be checking it sounds uncalled for if you are a productive team member, and downright threatening when you don’t feel secure in your position.
For contractors, it’s often seen as a hassle, but one that more and more clients require.
As remote work becomes more common, the use of time tracking becomes the norm. Tools like Beebole, Harvest, and other time trackers become more popular. Some are simpler, some more invasive (looking at you, Time Doctor), but they all help you do the same general thing: keep track of what each team member is doing during his or her working hours.
So, why in the world would we track our time? Tracking your time brings some accountability and creates trust in a remote working relationship. There are benefits for both managers and individual team members. Let’s look at them separately.
Benefits of time tracking for managers
Feeling of progress
As a team manager, there are a few things that you don’t have when you work remotely:
The ability to look around the office and see your coworkers
Asking quick ad hoc questions to your teammates by the watercooler
Office wide working schedules
Unless you are having frequent check-ins and receiving regular reports, you could be left with the feeling that you don’t know whether projects are advancing. While receiving regular updates is important, there are just some things that take longer than others, and reporting on them frequently is not productive. Since you can’t “see” people working, you don’t have a sense of whether your team is working hard or slacking off.
While you could argue that you need to trust your team, building trust takes time, and some team members actually do need help getting on track. Time tracking for remote teams helps you fill part of this void.
The ability to look around the office and see people working gives managers a sense that their team is not slacking off having access to time logs and seeing their team’s hours can give managers the same feeling.
Like it or not, people get “stuck”. They’ll spend hours or days attempting to resolve a problem that with a little help from someone more experienced they could resolve immediately. Sometimes team members are inexperienced and don’t know the best or most efficient way to do a task. As a manager, you want to reduce the amount of “stuck” and “inefficient” time to a minimum. Having access to detailed time logs helps you figure out who needs more accompaniment and helps you better assign your resources.
Legal and financial backup
Having accurate time logs helps a management team resolve many issues across the remote workplace. For account managers, it helps justify work being billed to their clients in the event of a dispute. For HR teams it helps them figure out overtime payments and days off. For the finances team, it helps in finding the cost of hiring and maintaining each team and their profitability.
Benefits of time tracking for remote team members
Time tracking is not only useful for managers but also brings quite a few benefits to the individual contributors logging their time.
Slacking off is easy when working remotely. Netflix can be distracting, and so can your chat windows and social media. Tracking time is a great way to keep ourselves accountable and focused.
When you track time you are taking notes of what you spent your time on, and you want to make sure that whatever you invested your time in was productive. I’ve personally experienced increased productivity simply by tracking the time I spend on different activities and reviewing them on a regular basis.
Tracking time also gives you a better sense of your actual workload and the time you are spending on work every day.
For contract workers, detailed time logs are an essential tool to ensure that they are billing their clients for the correct amount, as well as a good backup when clients challenge what a contractor is charging them. For employees, detailed time logs can ensure that overtime is respected, that work schedules are followed, and work is assigned fairly.
Logging your time in a detailed way and then sharing those logs with your manager can create an additional level of trust in the working relationship. Trust needs to be built over time and providing accurate time logs gives your employer or client the feeling that you are focused on what you need to do and are working to achieve it.
People often feel that they are perfectly responsible and efficient, and that how they spend their time at work should not be questioned. When working solo this is not an issue, and there are many productive freelancers and entrepreneurs doing their thing and reporting to no one.
Working solo is not the same as working as part of a team. In a team each member has different responsibilities and needs for information that time tracking can help bridge: HR departments need to know how long and when you are working, managers need to be able to assign work effectively and ensure that progress is being made, financial departments need to track the profitability of various projects and billing departments need to ensure they are charging their clients the correct amounts.
Remote time tracking software also brings tangible benefits to individual contributors by helping them keep themselves accountable and providing important evidence of the good work they’ve been doing. While time tracking does require some extra work and a little mental effort, it is an important tool to bridge part of the gaps that make remote teamwork challenging.