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Libby Marks

How to Introduce Time Tracking Without Alienating Your Employees

Time tracking often meets resistance. Here’s how to introduce time tracking successfully, address objections, and win around your workforce.

Time tracking is synonymous with micromanagement and mistrust. So when you want to introduce it into your project-based business, you’re likely to hear objections. Especially in light of recent press articles decrying ‘bossware coming to every computer’ to spy on remote workers 🙄

These histrionic headlines don’t help when you’re legitimately trying to introduce systems to improve productivity, performance, and profitability - as time tracking software is proven to do. 

In light of the negative dialogue about time tracking, some of our customers struggle to know how to introduce the idea and implement the change successfully. 

That’s why we decided to share our top tips for introducing time tracking without alienating your employees. 

To help us, we spoke to Caleb Flake, Practice Builder at Kimley Horn, for his expert insights too.

Common objections to time tracking & how to counter them

When you raise the idea of time tracking, your team might be:

  • Suspicious - ‘What are they going to do with the data?’
  • Cynical - ‘I bet the managers won’t have to track their time!’
  • Skeptical - ‘It won't work…’
  • Scared - ‘What if they think I don’t do enough in a day?’

Understanding the common objections to time tracking can help you reassure employees that there’s nothing to fear. Here are some of the objections we hear the most - and how to address them.

Objection #1: Time tracking suggests a lack of trust

Employees may feel that time tracking is being introduced to check up on them and how they spend their day. Some employees may feel that time tracking is an invasion of their privacy, particularly if the system collects detailed information about their work habits and productivity. 

Objection #2: Time tracking will lead to micromanagement

People might worry that time tracking will lead to micromanagement, and their manager will continually question why they spent the time they did on their tasks. They may feel that they are being watched constantly and feel that their autonomy is undermined. 

Since autonomy at work is one of the key factors in professional motivation and job satisfaction, this can be demotivating and counterproductive. 

Objection #3: Time tracking will TAKE time

Time tracking may seem like an additional administrative burden for employees, filling out forms and logging their hours. This can be particularly frustrating if they feel that their time would be better spent on more meaningful tasks, if they already feel overworked, or if they get into their flow only for it to be interrupted.

Objection #4: Time tracking doesn’t work for knowledge workers

In some more structured professions - like production lines - outputs directly correlate to the time spent on them. Knowledge work doesn’t work like that. 

Knowledge workers need time for creativity, problem-solving, collaboration… This means the time they spend on a task won’t equate to predictable outputs. If they think they’re being judged purely on time, they may fear they’ll be judged on speed rather than quality.

Objection #5: Time tracking justifies job cuts 

This assumption is more prevalent in times of economic uncertainty and recession. People fear their employer is looking to make savings and that time-tracking will justify redundancies. This can lead to suspicion, lower morale, and even exaggeration of the hours that they worked. 

When work gets thin, says Caleb, talking about utilization can be scary. People get worried. But the introduction of time tracking now isn’t a sign of downsizing. It just shows the business is being proactive about cost efficiency and profitability. It’s a good thing.

10 tips to successfully introduce time tracking

Now you know some of the common objections to time tracking and how to counter them, let’s explore ten steps you can take to make sure your time tracking implementation goes smoothly.  

1. Have a change management plan

Some businesses make the mistake of thinking that introducing time tracking isn’t a big deal. So they just tell their workers 'you need to track your time now'. And get a shock when they experience resistance - maybe even threats of resignations.

Organizations need to understand that time tracking is an emotionally charged concept - one that employees may experience a knee-jerk reaction to.

  • Some will have experienced time tracking as a source of control and criticism in past roles
  • Others may see it as a sign of distrust and erosion of their personal autonomy
  • A few might fear it’s the first step toward redundancies 

Given this context, organizations should implement a change management process and communication plan - giving employees the time, respect, and reassurance they need to accept the new requirement.   

Remember, people don’t fear change. They fear what it might mean for them. Understanding the assumptions people make about time tracking - and the emotions these elicit - can pave the way for a more empathetic implementation.

2. Clearly explain the rationale 

The benefits of time tracking and time tracking software are well documented - from increased operational efficiency to higher profitability. And what benefits the business, benefits its workforce. It’s important to communicate this big picture when introducing time tracking as a concept. 

For example, better resource utilization could surface enough capacity to take on extra projects, boosting business profitability and growth. This can lead to more opportunities for staff progression as well as improving job security. 

Also, time-tracking data can be used to create more accurate project forecasts in the future. This doesn’t just mean projects are more likely to remain profitable, but realistic project plans mean a more manageable workload for project teams. 

One of the benefits of time tracking is that it provides visibility into a project’s progress, explains Caleb, giving an example. If you know you need 30% of a project completed by a certain date, project time tracking helps measure whether you’re on course, so you can take corrective action now. That saves a lot of stress for everyone at the end of the project.

Given that one in six IT projects suffer schedule overruns of 70%, that alone is a pretty compelling argument. 

3. …And the individual benefits

When faced with a new task to take on, it’s human nature to ask ‘What’s in it for me?’. So make sure you’re equipped with the benefits time tracking brings for individuals. For example:  

  • Time tracking is a way to prevent workload issues - like consistent overutilization or excessive overtime - and improve work-life balance 
  • Time tracking helps the business right-size its workforce, to ensure equitable and manageable workload distribution
  • Time tracking helps identify irrelevant tasks you can start to delegate, eradicate, or automate - so you can spend more time on what you actually love to do (research by The Drum found that workers spend only 27% of their day on tasks that are directly related to their skills) 
  • Time tracking can actually improve focus by discouraging context switching between tasks 

4. Be transparent about the purpose

To help alleviate the suspicion that naturally accompanies the introduction of time tracking, be transparent about its purpose. Provide a clear statement that outlines:

  • Why time tracking is being introduced
  • What tool/methods you’ll use
  • What information you’ll be tracking
  • How that information will - and won’t - be used

If you are going to have utilization goals, be clear about them. This should help reassure people that there is nothing untoward about the new process - and build their trust and compliance. 

Caleb explains:

It’s important to build trust around time tracking. Make it clear that people aren’t going to be fired on the basis of the hours they log. It’s about project managers being able to measure workload, prevent underbilling, improve profitability, etc.

Sample time tracking statement

ABC Agency uses time-tracking software to monitor resource utilization. This allows the agency to thrive and grow by:

  • Ensuring equitable distribution of work between teams and individuals
  • Optimizing utilization between billable and non-billable activities 
  • Preventing overutilization that harms employee well-being
  • Surfacing capacity to take on additional work
  • Knowing when to recruit new resources 
  • Improving project forecasts using data
  • Billing clients and approving payroll accurately
  • Supporting the development of time management skills

We use XYZ time tracking software to automatically record teams’ time against specific projects. The software records how many hours each individual spends on specific activities towards a project each day - both billable and non-billable. 

Our target is for every individual to achieve an average 80% utilization rate and - within that - for 80% of that time to be billable. This reflects industry best practices for a balanced, productive workload. 

We recognize the value of knowledge work is not measured in minutes and hours - but by the creativity, energy, and quality that our people bring to their work. That is why the data collected by our time-tracking software will be used to support the objectives above. It is not - and never will be - used to:

  • Judge individuals’ performance in comparison to others
  • Question their speed of execution or create time-based KPIs
  • Determine the future of their role at the agency

5. Lead by example

People will be more inclined to trust time tracking if they can see it applies to everyone in the organization, rather than being a top-down dictate. Make it clear that managers and senior leaders will also be tracking their time. Consider the following activities to support a successful implementation.

  • Onboard senior managers to the new time-tracking software first, so they can champion it from personal experience
  • Make senior managers’ time-tracking information available for anyone in the organization to view 
  • Get leaders to share their time-tracking tips as part of the broader rollout

6. Make it easy 

One of the main objections to time-tracking is that it can become a time-sink in itself. Manual time tracking via spreadsheets - for example - takes people away from the task at hand, interrupting their flow and breaking their concentration. It can also be prone to human error. 

An automated time-tracking tool can collect information unobtrusively in the background. Features like auto start and stop timers, and activity dropdown lists can help people track their time quickly and get back to work. 

Mobile access or apps can help people log their hours wherever they are, while it is fresh in their minds, rather than having to wait until they’re at their desk (and may have forgotten). 

To make things as easy as possible, don’t go too granular. There’s no point asking people to provide more information than you plan to use.  Giving people too many choices - for example, with an endless list of activities - can result in confusion over how to classify their work.

7. Provide support and guidance

As people get to grips with tracking their time, they’re going to have questions. It’s important to provide guidance to reduce confusion and possible discrepancies in data. For example:

  • What to track and how to categorize different activities
  • What to do about short activities like loo breaks or making a drink
  • How to record time helping colleagues with their queries  

Don’t just provide written documentation or rely on the software’s own help section. Consider recording a Loom video, for example, to show walkthroughs of common questions. 

8. Monitor and incentivize compliance 

Once time tracking is underway, it’s important to monitor how it’s going. You can’t just set and forget it. You need to ensure people are tracking their time accurately and consistently. And you need to deal with anyone still resisting the change. 

Incentivize compliance by recognizing and rewarding teams and individuals that are consistently completing their time logs. Whether that’s as simple as a thank you at a team meeting or a more formal ‘gamification’ of the process.

Depending on the reward structure at your organization, you may be able to tie compliance to your bonus structure, says Caleb.

If you can show that time tracking improves utilization and forecasting, you can make the case that - over the year - it creates capacity to take on additional work. That extra work generates more profit, which translates into better bonuses.

9. Demonstrate meaningful impact

To reinforce the value of time tracking to your employees (not just the business), tell people when it’s resulted in a team win. For example, imagine time tracking red-flagged the fact the team is continually over-utilized. If this results in work being reallocated or additional resources being recruited, let them know. 

For example, ‘As a result of you tracking your time diligently and accurately over the course of this project, it became apparent that we were under-resourced. I’m pleased to say the data you provided helped build a business case to recruit another full-time developer to the team. They start next Monday.’ 

(Cue spontaneous outbreak of high fives). 

10. Encourage the right mindset

A final tip from Caleb is to encourage the right mindset about time tracking. 

When you’re billing a client by the hour, time is literally money. You need your team to treat that money like it was their own. People should be invested in using that time and money efficiently. Delegating what they don’t personally need to do. Finding ways to do the same work but faster. Everyone should feel responsible for delivering quality and value. Time tracking shows you care about the project, the client, and the outcomes you deliver.

If you’re a healthy team with value-aligned teammates, you might find you already have it 💪 And that will make introducing time tracking much easier.

Track time easily with Runn

Runn's time tracking features give you real data to compare your plans with reality and keep projects on track.

  • Track your projects with simple, quick, and informative timesheets - for fast, no-fuss entry with daily or weekly entry options.
  • Use Runn's Time Tracking Chrome extension so your team can see what is scheduled each day and instantly record time as they work.
  • Record non-billable time and get reports on how much time is being spent on non-billable work and potential losses.
  • For a reliable status of your projects, use timesheet entries in project forecasts. So you only use real data to inform your decisions, every time.
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