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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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Time Tracking or spying? How to measure staff efficiency without breaching privacy

Time tracking software is a powerful tool for small business owners. It offers many amazing benefits - including the chance to identify hidden costs, productivity killers, and underperforming projects. It promises the visibility your business needs, helping you see where profits are made and lost.

But time tracking also has a dark side.

The practice raises difficult ethical questions. Is employee monitoring justified, and to what extent? Can you really track time without invading staff privacy and damaging team morale? There are no easy answers, but it’s important to consider these issues.

The ethics of time tracking

Over-zealous time tracking can cause widespread anxiety. No-one likes the feeling of being ‘spied on’ by the boss. In worst case scenarios it becomes detrimental to productivity, as staff are so self-conscious that they struggle to focus. It may even generate resentment and bitterness towards management.

There are also the ethical boundaries of time tracking to consider… Some consider privacy to be a basic human right. Others believe employees should be entitled to do personal tasks at work, as long as they’re hitting business targets.

While these concerns are legitimate, most businesses will still attempt to implement some form of time tracking. When done the right way it’s a huge asset to any company. But like all powerful tools it needs to be used responsibly - or you risk demoralising and alienating your workforce.

So how do you implement time tracking that won’t send your staff running for the hills? Follow these 9 tips to preserve privacy and trust, while still gathering valuable data.

Tip 1: Use reputable software

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Online time tracking software has a number of benefits. Firstly, it’s faster and easier than filling out paper timesheets, saving you hours on admin. It helps you collect accurate information and reduces the risk of human error. With just a few clicks you can analyse timesheet data and generate insightful reports.

Secondly, using reputable software helps to build employee trust, by showing them that time tracking is a legitimate business strategy. Learning to use new software can also be an incentive, as it looks good on staff CVs and resumes.

And of course, time tracking software is kind to the environment. You’re not wasting hundreds of reels of paper because the entire system is in the cloud. It’s also worth noting that you won’t risk losing precious information if there’s a fire or office disaster.

Ready to go digital? First you need to decide which tool is right for your business. Luckily there is excellent software available for almost every kind of time tracking - it all depends on what you want to achieve.

To see what your staff are doing at work, check out this list of the best attendance tracker tools. To track time spent on jobs and generate invoices, sign up for a free WorkflowMax trial. Or to stay on task while working from home, try these 8 powerful time tracking apps.

Tip 2: Be transparent

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Secret time tracking is a huge breach of privacy and basically amounts to spying. When your staff inevitably find out, it will have a disastrous impact on trust and morale.

Instead you should strive to be open, honest and transparent with your staff. Explain the new policies, how the software works, and exactly what will be done with the information gathered. Make sure they understand the justification for time tracking and how it benefits the company. This means your employees are less likely to feel victimised.  

Once time tracking is implemented, be sure to include details in future employment contracts, so new staff know exactly what to expect.

Tip 3: Avoid favouritism

Avoid favouritism at all costs. Just because you like a certain employee, it’s no justification for loosening their timesheet requirements. Employees in the same roles should be subject to consistent time tracking standards.

This isn’t just good practice, it’s for your business safety. If you single someone out for stricter monitoring you could be accused of discrimination, landing your company in serious hot water. Consult a professional if you’re unsure how to track time consistently and in accordance with the law. 

Tip 4: Be sensitive

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The information you collect from time tracking is often highly sensitive. Maybe you discovered that Mark has an addiction to online casinos, Tim is flirting with a woman who isn’t his wife, or that Lucy likes to read saucy adult novels during work hours.

Even if staff members are wasting time (or worse still, breaching company policy) this information shouldn’t be shared with third parties. Be sure to protect the sensitive data you gather, so it can’t be found by prying eyes or nosy colleagues. A cloud based software with encryption and passwords is usually the safest route (forget about a filing cabinet).

And of course, always discuss personal issues with employees in a one-on-one situation. Never single individuals out in front of the group - public humiliation is not a good motivator. 

Tip 5: Make it fast

Time tracking is designed to increase productivity. So if your staff are wasting hours fiddling with paper timesheets, manual data entry or outdated systems, it defeats the whole purpose.

Make it quick and as easy as possible for your employees to enter time. Mobile time tracking means your staff can log their hours from anywhere - whether they’re at the office, at home, or hiking through the southern alps. You can’t beat the convenience of submitting timesheets on a smartphone.

You should also be systematic about when staff enter time - either at the end of the day, or immediately after a job. This helps to cement it as a habit. 

Tip 6: Incentivise it

Your employees might be wondering “What’s in it for me?”. And fair enough. You want staff to invest their energy in time tracking, so give them a powerful incentive.

Offering agile working environments is a great way to motivate staff. This means letting them work from home (or wherever they please) even if it’s just once a week or fortnight. Most staff will agree that time tracking is worthwhile if it means they can avoid the office and a long commute, improving their work life balance.

Another possibility is introducing a ‘work from anywhere week’ once a quarter, or even just once a year. Some companies allow their staff to travel during this time; doing their usual work from cafes, beaches or co-working spaces in exotic locations. It’s a fun way to experiment with the exciting possibilities of remote working, without committing permanently.

You could also implement a rewards scheme for sticking to time tracking policies. Award points to staff based on timesheet punctuality, accuracy or enthusiasm - and let them redeem these for gifts or bonuses. 

Tip 7: Keep it #human

 Time tracking is a powerful tool but it needs to be used wisely. Some companies monitor precise internet activity with screenshots, but this can feel invasive for full-time staff who need to do various personal errands during the day. Reading emails may also be considered a big invasion of privacy.

That’s why it’s important you take a human and compassionate approach to time tracking. Ask yourself what activities need to be monitored, and to what extent. If certain information has no bearing on your business (such as the content of personal emails) it shouldn’t be collected or read.

Be clear with employees about policies, so they know when non-work activity is permitted. You might have a designated period each day when personal browsing is allowed online. Enforce the rules consistently, and never monitor activities you’ve promised not to spy on. You can also be more lenient when workloads are low. 

Tip 8: Ask for feedback

This is a crucial step when implementing any new process. Always give your employees the chance to give feedback, through confidential channels. An online poll or survey form is a great way of getting their honest opinions, and lets them do it quickly and anonymously.

Finding out their real opinions, even if they’re negative, gives you the chance to review problems. And simply the opportunity to vent feelings can improve team morale. Try these 4 killer methods for gathering honest employee feedback. Use open ended questions which encourage thoughtful answers.

Tip 9: Offer training

Don’t expect everyone to grasp a new time tracking software immediately. Staff shouldn’t have to waste time teaching themselves, feeling confused, or digging through online help libraries.

If you can set down and offer dedicated, hands-on training your time tracking system is much more likely to succeed. The more confident employees feel, the more likely they are to use the software. This also reduces the risk of errors and complaints.

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When used effectively time tracking is a brilliant and indispensable tool for your business. But first you’ll have to convince your team it’s a good idea! If you’re still struggling to get them on board, check out these 10 tips for persuading reluctant staff.

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