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Debunking Time Tracking in IT Companies often use time-tracking to foster efficiency and exercise better control. There is no way to automatically measure if someone working from home is as effective as they are in the office. This is some measure, however not comprehensive

By Puneet Kumar

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It's very difficult to get employees to productivity by using time-tracking and questioning them on it.

Due to the post-pandemic work arrangements, more and more companies – especially in IT – use time-tracking solutions on their systems. Not only is this trend wasting money and time (oh, the irony!), but it also sows distrust among the employees and lulls managers into a false sense of being on top of their tasks. Here's why.

How people work

Each position and each person is, of course, unique, but there are objective, general trends that can be observed. Let's take software developers, for instance - they cannot be effectively measured in terms of time spent on specific tasks. Especially talented individuals can work a few hours and claim that as an output for the whole day. Often, their self-assessment is accurate.

In these cases, and most cases in general, time-tracking doesn't help, and never really converts into productivity or even business. You cannot box any creative form of work into time, and writing code is as much an art as it is a science.

Seeds of distrust

It's very difficult to get employees to productivity by using time-tracking and questioning them on it. Not only it wastes time and money, it also creates an environment of distrust, where employees are encouraged to find ways around it.

There are ways to fool this system, and then it's not justified for managers to spend time thinking these are the right ways to monitor. For instance, these tools track which links you spend time on. I could be on my office laptop on an official page and watch a movie on another screen, and the system wouldn't be any wiser.

Who knows if someone spent two hours on YouTube watching funny videos or actually trying to learn something – like ReactJS or an alternative technology? The time-tracking tools often don't go in-depth, all they can state is that time was spent on YouTube, but YouTube can be a platform for both – entertainment and learning. So, the purpose is defeated. But instead of just talking to the person, the manager spends time analysing data that doesn't give the full picture.

Why do companies use time-tracking?

Companies often use time-tracking to foster efficiency and exercise better control. There is no way to automatically measure if someone working from home is as effective as they are in the office. This is some measure, however not comprehensive

These software solutions help companies measure where time is being spent. If someone is watching YouTube for hours, or a movie on Netflix, in an office setting it can be seen, but not in a work-from-home scenario. Desk time software enables them to see if someone spent hours on Netflix, indicating that this person was not working. These software solutions help in a certain way, but they are not entirely helpful because, as stated before – a smart person who wants to find their way around it can do so.

So, at the end of the day, it's not helpful. The companies who make these products might give a false impression that it is doable, but it's not. There'svery little that can be done with the tools and data if they don't provide an objective picture. You might think that everything fine, whilst employees might be slacking off 50% of time, or quite contrary – you might accuse someone of being unproductive, while they were researching ways to genuinely help the company. Neither case leads to trust and productivity.

The human factor

No matter what software solutions you end up using, it should be the managers' responsibility to control the workflow, set goals and timelines, and check-in individually with their employees. Managers cannot realistically rely solely on software for this purpose.

Managers, if they are hands-on and understand the system, can sense if there are issues. They know how much time a given task takes. If it takes 20% more time, that can be accounted for, but if it's 40, 50, sometimes 100%, then it's time for them to step in. Their evaluation will do better.

Daily monitoring, not portrayed as monitoring but as managers being smart and understanding what is being done, is a better alternative. Some companies use SCRUM as one of the development methodologies, which mandates daily meetings to discuss what was done yesterday and what will be done today, are there impediments? This is a very good way for an engaged manager to get indicator.

So, what should you do?

It's about being engaged with your employee, your domain, and your product. Evaluation should occur not through tools, but through engagement. The time spent on skewed data and imperfect tools would be better used engaging with people and the product.

By shifting the focus from time-tracking to engaged managers and effective communication, IT companies can create a more productive and supportive work environment for their hybrid or remote employees. This approach will not only improve employee satisfaction and engagement but also lead to better overall performance and success for the company.

Effective communication channels, such as daily stand-up meetings or regular check-ins, can help remoteemployees beconnected and engaged with their team and work.

5 Strategies for Engaging Remote Employees

  1. Maintain effective communication: Ensure that team communication isn't one-sided and that managers actively engage with employees to make them feel heard. As a leader, it's important to understand that things that work in a physical space may not work the same way in a remote setting. For instance, in an office, you can get an immediate answer to a question, but in a remote setting, you may need to give concessions and be patient. This has been a topic of transition for me personally, as well.
  2. Overcommunication: In a remote setting, it's better to overcommunicate than to undercommunicate. Regular group check-ins and one-on-one meetings can help maintain engagement and foster a sense of unity among team members. For example, when asking a question, it can be helpful to send additional communication (e.g. a follow-up) question along with the first one. This ensures that when the person responds, they have the full context of the query.
  3. Use the right tools: Utilize employee management apps, project management tools, and other technologies to facilitate communication and collaboration among remote employees.
  4. Host virtual team-building activities: Organize online events or games to foster social interaction and connection among team members. Promote a culture of camaraderie and support.
  5. Don't rely solely on time-tracking: Instead, focus on evaluating employee performance based on the quality of their work and their contributions to the team.
Puneet Kumar

CTO, Dyninno India

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