Time tracking is a controversial topic. It evokes images of teams clocking in and out of a factory floor or being tethered to their desks for 60 hours a week. Of course, those scenarios are awful. I don't want to dismiss the very real ways that time tracking can become a horrible way to run a team, but I do want to tell you why I believe it should be used--and how.
Before we get into the rationale, I want you to question your assumption that time tracking makes you a control freak or a micromanager.
For a brief moment, let's imagine together an alternative way of looking at this, in which you have time tracking set up not because you don't value your team's time (and their ability to finish their days on time and have a life afterward), but because you do. Time tracking is the path toward work-life balance, not away from it. The only way to do that is by understanding how their time is being spent--and what it's being spent on.
Still with me? Here are three reasons you should use time tracking--not just for your business' benefit, but also for your employees' benefit.
1. Tracking your employees' time helps you make good spending decisions.
Businesses often view the use of internal resources as "free" and the use of external resources as an investment. I believe that's foolish. Let's say you have an employee who has never built a website before, and your business needs a website built. If you aren't considering the value of your employee's time, you could easily assign them this job, and then they spend 100 hours learning, tweaking, and finally refining a project that an outside specialist could have done in 10 hours.
Assuming your internal and external resources receive about the same hourly rate, this is a huge mistake for your business from a return on investment perspective, and an error that is all too common. And, it's not great for productivity.
Now, take that one step further. Imagine you decide to do a content marketing campaign, which will mean your employee is writing two articles per week for 10 weeks. In order to acquire the same number of customers, you could also run a Google AdWords campaign for $500. How will you know what's the best spending decision if you aren't tracking time?
2. Time tracking means better management of working hours.
The natural assumption is that managers use time tracking to see if their team is working enough. In my experience, that's never the issue. But, if you think your team isn't working enough, time tracking isn't going to solve or diagnose that problem--you've got a deeper underlying problem that starts with either motivation or poor hiring technique.
In an office environment, it wouldn't be uncommon for a manager to walk around the halls in the evening and encourage the team to go home if they felt that people were working too hard. But in a remote setting, there is no similar way to know if work hours are getting out of hand. Time tracking provides early warning signs for burnout or the need to hire additional resources.
3. Time tracking will help you pinpoint priorities.
What's most interesting to me is not how much people are working (unless, of course, we're worried about burnout), but the potential of each individual to manage their own use of time.
Time tracking allows me to hold myself accountable to whether or not I have focused on my most important work each week. Without monitoring, there's no real way to see that. Giving employees the power to see this for themselves grants them agency over their workday which naturally increases productivity.
With great data comes great responsibility. If you do set up time tracking, you need to make sure you are using it for good, not evil. Time tracking has a bad rap because some micromanagers use it to push people to work more or turn the business into a (virtual) face time culture. What they should be doing is using it to foster work-life balance for members of their team.
So, if the reason you want to use time tracking is to get more hours out of your team or catch someone using Facebook, this is not the tool for you. However, if you buy into Stephen Covey's belief that "the key is in not spending time, but investing it," then the natural solution is to get better visibility of how your business uses time, which can only be done effectively through time tracking.