In the past few years, remote and hybrid work models have gone from rare offerings by modern companies to common models adopted by small businesses, enterprises, and mainstream employers alike. In the United States, approximately 92 million people are remote workers at least part of the time. More than a third of all Americans have been offered remote work on a full-time basis.
Many factors contributed to the rapid rise in these models’ popularity. However, the speed at which businesses had to adapt to this new reality meant that certain systems were not optimized or adjusted to many businesses’ new needs, such as keeping track of work hours (when employees clock in or clock out) and billable hours employees spend on specific projects.
Why Remote Time Tracking Is Not Easy
Work time tracking is a crucial process for businesses all over the world. Recent research revealed that globally, $7.4 billion is lost due to unrecorded work activities every day. Time theft is another significant problem, costing businesses $11 billion annually. Effective time tracking can help companies tackle these problems. A time-tracking app is also useful for employees to optimize their time management and productivity.
Despite the importance of time tracking, only a quarter of businesses use time tracker applications. The same number of businesses rely on physical timesheets or simple spreadsheets to track employee time and generate time reports.
Companies are reluctant to embrace solutions that could help them improve the way they track time, despite the numerous benefits of time and attendance software. Their reasons range from perceived high cost to disbelief that current systems are adaptable enough to work in remote and hybrid environments. While many time and attendance software platforms have a free plan and many are highly able to track remote employee time, it’s not a trivial matter.
Remote time tracking comes with unique challenges for businesses. Remote employee monitoring creates a need for solutions and functionality to help them track employee productivity without coming across as overbearing or adding unnecessary complexity to employees’ workdays.
Let’s take a look at the most common concerns head-on.
The Biggest Challenges of Remote Time Tracking and How to Avoid Them
Remote time tracking can be a challenge, especially for organizations that are just beginning to use time tracker technology. Unresolved, these obstacles can hinder your team’s productivity.
1. Employee Anxiety Over “Spying” or Micromanaging
Time tracking can be extremely tedious and unreliable when done manually. However, automating this task often requires giving specific software access to track what an employee is doing on their work device at all times. The time-tracking app uses this access to distinguish between productive time and idle time by monitoring app usage, the URL and programs an employee has on-screen, as well as signs of their physical presence, such as mouse movements, clicks, and keystrokes.
For businesses that offer Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs, this can be met with significant resistance. Many employees use a single device across work and personal hours, and the presence of tracking software can seem invasive.
If the introduction of such tracking processes is not managed carefully, employees can feel like they are being micromanaged, and for good reason— micromanagement is a common occurrence in American workplaces. 79% of employees reported experiencing micromanagement and 69% have considered leaving their current position in response.
Solution: Maintain Open Lines of Communication at All Times
A major contributing factor to employees feeling spied upon and micromanaged is lack of communication. It’s critical for managers to give employees an avenue to express their opinions and share their concerns about privacy, security, and management styles. It’s also important for managers to have an open mind when communicating with their employees and treat their concerns with the respect they deserve.
Leadership needs to cut workers some slack when it comes to productivity. No one can be 100% focused for hours at a time. In addition, the time a worker spends away from their computer is not necessarily unproductive. They may need a walk to think over a problem, or simply stare out the window while they formulate a perfect solution.
Some time-tracking tools take screenshots to monitor what employees are busy with. Even within the context of work, this can be considered invasive. They may be reading a confidential email from HR, requesting time off for self-care, looking at their payslip, or dealing with other sensitive information they’d rather not have recorded in this manner. They may even be entering their credit card details at the exact moment a screenshot is taken.
Through open lines of communication, employees can seek clarification about what aspects of their work will be tracked, and who has the necessary permissions to look at the employee monitoring tool’s captured data. Employers can also use these channels to share why time tracking is important. Be open about how time-tracking software can help them build more effective workflows and benefit them in both direct and indirect ways.
For example, an automated time track that monitors employee activity negates the need for time entries, so they win back hours of the week they would have spent on time allocation for the sake of client billing.
2. Inaccurate Tracking
Despite the availability of specialized time-tracking software, many businesses still choose to use outdated methods of tracking time such as paper or spreadsheets.
These methods of documenting employee work hours are highly susceptible to human error and are difficult for managers to verify. Time tracking data can give managers greater insight into how their teams work and give them a strong data foundation for making decisions in the future, but inaccurate tracking can undermine their ability to do so.
For employees, manual time tracking can be tedious and time-consuming. It can also be disruptive to their daily workflows. The detailed reports provided by time-tracking apps, on the other hand, is a huge asset in team management.
Solution: Automate Time Tracking Processes With Specialized Software
There are specialized project management tools and software solutions for many different business departments from HR to finance. Automatic time-tracking solutions allow businesses to automate highly repetitive and time-consuming tasks. This software also ensures that the time-tracking and productivity data reports that managers receive are accurate and reliable.
Dedicated time-tracking solutions provide managers with a single source of truth for productivity data. This data can also be easily shared with other departments if the need arises. This is a critical insight for workforce planning purposes. For example, an HR team that has indisputable proof that a team is working hard, yet struggles with capacity, can easily quantify the need to hire more workers. If the issue is not capacity, but team productivity, the HR team can also see this based on the data.
With these solutions, managers can prevent problems such as time theft while giving team members a convenient way to report their productivity. While this is incredibly helpful in small teams where every employee’s time makes up a significant part of the overall effectiveness, time is just as much a concern in large teams. Companies with hundreds (or thousands) of employees will lose great talent when the workload and burden of productivity are not equally carried by all.
3. Inadequate Activity Logs
Time tracking is about so much more than knowing what employees are doing. Activity logs can give managers an insight into how existing workflows help or hinder productivity. It can help teams find areas of inefficiency or ineffectiveness and can give managers an idea of how they need to change in order to improve.
Effective activity logs can also help team leaders identify the best performers and single them out for recognition. However, remote teams can find it difficult to consolidate this information in a way that gives managers an effective overview of team productivity.
Solution: Establish Policies to Manage Tracking Data Effectively
Data is the key to managers understanding their teams—especially when they’re working remotely. A well-aligned remote employee time-tracking software solution can help managers collect this data and place it in a single location. Specialized software can also help to display this data in an intuitive manner, highlighting actionable areas and historical trends to understand how changes in workflows affect employee productivity.
Business leaders must be able to establish policies that make such processes effective. Remote teams can be spread across multiple locations. Managing productivity and accountability in asynchronous teams is challenging, especially if it is a matter of tracking billable hours. It is important that each team member follows a consistent method of tracking their time. These policies must be designed with the team’s end goal in mind and communicated clearly to every team member.
However, outdated time-tracking methods such as spreadsheets and manual logs can be extremely difficult to manage with multiple versions of the same document often being stored in several different parts of the organization.
4. Poor Cooperation Across Departments
Businesses have struggled with managing information silos for decades, and the popularity of remote work has only entrenched these silos further. Without easy ways for employees to collaborate across departments, team members have no motivation to seek out information from other parts of the organization.
Solution: Eliminate Information Silos With Interoperable Software
Business leaders can use interoperable software to close the gaps between operational departments. Even if each department is using specialized systems to manage specific tasks, it’s imperative that these solutions exist as part of an interoperable solution stack.
Effective time tracking requires employees, managers, and HR teams to work together and share data in an effective and efficient manner. For example, a task management tool that feeds directly into a company’s payroll solution. A company may also use freelancers or temporary contractors who have very few touchpoints with the company. A workflow where their time and contribution, as well as their eventual invoicing, are visible to all departments makes the process a lot more transparent and collaborative.
When a new solution is identified, managers must evaluate how it integrates with the solutions that are already in use. Data needs to be able to flow easily between solutions so information can be shared easily and without barriers for remote team members who might otherwise have struggled to find the information they needed.
5. Poor Remote Project Management
Project management involves managing tasks and budgets during a defined period. Business leaders are under significant pressure to ensure that projects are completed within certain timeframes and budgets.
While most teams set goals early on, these goals are often static and don’t change to respond to the reality on the ground. This can create an extremely stressful work environment and demotivate employees.
Solution: Constantly Evaluate Expectations and Goals
Remote time tracking allows managers to predict if a team will meet its goals with existing workflows and productivity levels. Real-time data empowers teams to consistently evaluate the effectiveness of current working practices and change strategies if needed. Once a data collection system is in place, it’s crucial that managers view and analyze this information at regular intervals.
Once a workflow is run via a centralized system, the communication around it, and the time this takes, are also negated. For example, if a key feature or component of a project is running late, a project management tool can send notifications to the rest of the team and update downstream deadlines automatically.
Naturally, time and attendance system features should be customizable to what your organization needs and wants to measure. If you are making your organization more focused and more effective by tracking time, the tools you use are creating bottom-line value.
Some Last Thoughts on Time Tracking
These challenges can hinder productivity and prevent identifying problem areas before they affect organizational profitability. Armed with these tips and a better understanding of how remote time tracking works, business leaders can gain better insight into how employees spend their time at work without compromising on important considerations such as privacy and respect.
Remote teams rely on many desktop apps, mobile apps, and other forms of technology to communicate, share information, collaborate, and more. Time tracking is no different.
Business leaders should consider specialized tools that can serve their own unique time-tracking needs; for example, a global remote workforce might want to find a solution with support for multiple time zones, while businesses with BYOD policies might opt for solutions that place a greater emphasis on privacy and security. The right solution can help you overcome the most common time-tracking challenges that remote teams face.