Remote Teams and Time Tracking:
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

John Reeve | April 16th, 2020 | ,

As more teams find themselves working remote, time tracking is just one of the many important practices that a business must consider. Especially those businesses that bill for their time, or have reporting requirements, or simply want to know where their time is going. Time management plays a critical role in communicating and collaborating with a remote team. But, the first step to managing your time is understanding where it’s going. Time tracking can help by quantifying your efforts in terms of hours and minutes. However, there are a few things to look out for before your remote team starts tracking their time.

Time tracking is one discipline that we know very well. In fact, we have over 20 years of experience, not only tracking time, but also designing and developing time tracking software. Here are some things we’ve learned along the way… the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

Discover the Truth

Find out exactly where your time is going. Where your efforts are being wasted, where they’re most effective. Once you know how your team is spending their time, you’ll know how to spend that time more effectively. Time tracking takes emotion out of the equation and provides you the data you need to make sound business decisions that will have the greatest impact on productivity and profits.

Benchmark Your Efforts

Time tracking is a great tool for quantifying the day-to-day and creating a baseline of your team’s current efforts. Use this data to find out which projects are getting too much attention, or too little, or which team members are spending too much time in meetings. Then set goals for your team and measure their progress against the original benchmark. Setting goals that everyone can agree on is a great way to improve productivity.

Build Culture

Time tracking brings people together and builds culture. A team must work together to estimate a project and then collaborate on every task until the project is done. A collaborative workflow that includes tracking time is even more important when working remote, where people are no longer in the same room. When a team is estimating each project, and tracking their time against that estimate, they are collectively going to improve their estimations over time. This is just one benefit of a time tracking culture — ensuring each project is more predictable than the one previous.

The Bad

Big Brother

Time tracking is not a tool for keeping a close eye on employees. Nor is it a tool for enforcing an eight hour work day policy. One of the advantages to working remote is that the team can self organize and manage their time in a way that works best for them. Using time tracking as a way to monitor and control the team will only alienate them and kill morale.

Comparing to One Another

One thing that public school taught me is that standardized testing is a terrible way to measure progress. The same is true with time tracking and remote teams. Do not measure and compare one person’s efforts to another based on hours worked alone. If one person takes more time to complete a task, that’s OK. Use the data to manage your team better, and don’t measure them using an unreliable standard set by the fastest worker.

Quotas

Do not try to account for every single minute of your work day. This is an unrealistic goal. A more realistic goal is to simply improve from where you are now. I’ve seen remote teams increase their billable hours by up to 30% by adopting time tracking best practices. But I have yet to see any team successfully track every minute of their efforts, much less even want to.

The Ugly

Win Some, Lose Some

One of the most popular reasons for not tracking time is that a business knows it’s going to lose money on some projects and come out ahead on others. And they’re OK with that as long as they break even by the end of the year. That would not have worked out very well for the Man with No Name, now would it? No, he’d be dead. Time tracking can help you earn a profit on every project, and make the end of the year a more predictable and enjoyable outcome.

Mutiny

Time tracking only works if the team buys in. Don’t force it. Roll it out in a way that helps everyone get on board. Track time on one or two projects at first, and work out the kinks. Find out what does and doesn’t work. The last thing you want is for your remote team to think you’re ruling with an iron hand, so they take over the ship.

Apathy

People have to want to track their time. If there is no incentive, they simply won’t do it. And then you’re back right where you started. It takes time to track time. Give your team the room they need to make it work, but also give them incentives along the way. This can be as simple as setting goals for the team as a collective. For example, try and beat the project estimate and tie that into a bonus. Or, let everyone go home early on Friday if they’ve successfully tracked time every day of the week. Give your team a reason to care and they’ll embrace time tracking.

Why Time Tracking Matters

Good time management is one of the most important practices a remote team needs to embrace to be successful. But, it really helps to know where your time is going beforehand. Time tracking gives your team the data they need to work more efficiently and improve their overall productivity.

 

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Intervals is online time, task and project management software built by and for web designers, developers and creatives.
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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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