3 tips for tracking employee productivity

It can be tempting to track employee activity to ensure they aren't wasting company time on unapproved sites or taking longer to complete projects than necessary. But there is a lot to consider before you track employee productivity.

boost productivity overworked
Credit: Thinkstock

Productivity trackers in the workplace are another result of big data. Employers can gain insights into how employees are using their time and offer ways to objectively evaluate performance. However, productivity tracking brings up questions of employee privacy, what metrics to track and how much employers should monitor.

Alice Chin, founder and CEO of Your Other Half, a human resources and operations outsourcing firm that helps businesses fine tune productivity, says there are certainly benefits as long as these considerations are handled correctly. In her own business, productivity tracking has helped fine-tune efficiencies, and she's helped numerous clients implement similar systems.

"I think productivity and time-tracking software can be useful in understanding where time leaks are in your business and closing them, in refining or automating repetitive processes, and determining employee, product or service profitability, especially if an employee works across multiple projects," she says.

Be transparent

If you decide to implement productivity tracking software of any kind -- whether you're tracking email, calls, websites visited or time idle -- you need to be as upfront as possible with your employees. Celeste O'Keefe, CEO of The Dancel Group, a multimedia technology company, says that in her business, she tells employees during the hiring process about productivity tracking.

"If you monitor your employees, make sure they know. Don't keep it a secret. When an employee is first hired, we sit them down and explain the process and what [the software] will tell us. We also have them sign an acknowledgement that we are monitoring them," she says.

Chin suggests being clear with employees about what the objectives are and what the company hopes to gain from tracking productivity. Giving your employees clear objectives around productivity tracking means there won't be any surprises on their end. You can even bake in incentives for employees who actively track their time and participate in the program. But once you create a plan -- you need to stick to it.

"If you tell your employees your goal and then use the data in a different way, it will absolutely wreck your employees' confidence in you as well as any successful adoption of the software," she says.

[ Related story: How to find where lost productivity hides ]

Not all employees work alike

Another important factor in any productivity tracking initiative is that not all employees get work done the same way. Some might prefer to take frequent short breaks, while others work through the morning to take a longer break. Others might get more work done at home, after hours, to allow themselves a quieter day in the office. If you're only tracking data like "time idle," without considering other metrics like deadlines met or projects completed, you risk finding problems where they don't exist.

O'Keefe says that she doesn't just look at the time spent working -- she also looks at end results. She cares if workers meet deadlines and wants to be sure that they produce quality work. Whenever she notices problems in a final product, she uses data collected to go back and look to see where things can improve or what might have delayed the employee. It's especially helpful with new employees -- she can look at the data to see where they may be struggling and where they might need extra training. It's a useful way to help employees get comfortable in the job faster or to help your more seasoned workers polish their skills.

"I regularly talk to my employees about their productivity, but I use it mostly for training. If the software shows they are idle for periods of time, that's OK. Employees need time to think," she says.

She also notes that it's not uncommon for people to be on social media for work purposes -- if they manage a Facebook page, need to learn more about a client or are designing ads for different platforms, that isn't considered time wasted. O'Keefe says that she stays keenly aware of these situations, and always takes into consideration the employee's job description before she just assumes they're wasting hours on social media.

[ Related story: How workplace distractions can actually boost productivity ]

Set clear goals

If you start tracking employee's productivity, Chin says you need to have "clear goals in mind for what you want and policies around what is and is not acceptable." Before you even broach the subject with your employees, you need to figure out what you stand to gain from tracking and what metrics are important.

"For instance, one client of mine allows you to not track time if you are doing non-computer based work in the office, but if you're working remotely you have to track all time. Whatever your agreement, it must be clear and written down, so it can be referenced by the employee and remain consistent," she says.

Deviating from the guidelines set could spark dissention among employees, says Chin. Once you establish a policy, you need to ensure you don't deviate from it. She recommends tracking performance to measure how long projects take to complete, ensure employees are engaged, to refine broken process and determine the most successful projects and products.

Most importantly, Chin advises businesses to never track more than they need to and to consider whether or not they actually need insights into certain data points. "Employers should ask themselves whenever reviewing employee data, 'How is this relevant to my employee's job performance? Why do I care? Is this important, or just a distraction?"

Related Video

CIO wants to know… Does Microsoft's Women in STEM ad veer too close to blaming the victim? Read the story, then join the conversation
New! Download the CIO March/April Digital Magazine