10 Reasons Not To Time-track Your Employees

I’ve been in companies that time-tracked my time as a designer. I can say, I don’t like doing it. There’s only one case where I am willing to do it: in a client-billable situation, like in agencies or software development houses. Even in that case, it should be restricted to only the hours that we actually bill to clients.

In this article, I’d try to refute the reasons people would time track their employees.

1. I need to know what my employees are doing

If you really need to micromanage in the first place, then you’d better not hire your employees in the first place. You hire someone because you believe in them, and create an environment full of trust. A trust that your employees will do good job for you.

Set product/user goals and let them achieve them.

2. I need to make sure my employees spend 8 hours a day

Some employees really need 8 hours to complete their workday, e.g. a customer service officer (even that, they do it in shifts). Some other employees (“makers” — designers, engineers) can finish something in less hours or even more hours. The sales guys and directors can spend just two hours on a multi-million dollars investment meeting. My friends in ad agencies and banking work even harder, for more than 10 hours a day.

But let’s admit it, even in these 8 hours, you don’t continually work on something. You take smaller breaks. In ad agencies environment, it can be like this:

10am-11am: Work on a project
11am-12:30: Client meeting
12:30–13:30: Lunch
13:30–15:00: Work on a project
15:00–15:10: Send work to client via email
15:10–18:00: Nothing, wait for client feedback
18:00: Go home.

Not yet.

18:02: Client sends feedback via email, and demands that it be done today.
18:02–18:10: Fret continuously and curses heavily over client.
18:10–22:00: Work on that damned project.

See? Ideally, we count “work in a project” or meeting hours as the real billable hours, but do we include the “waiting time” as part of the 8-hour minimum work hours in a day? No, right? Because they simply don’t care.

The point is that to do good work or answer business problems, it takes various amounts of hours to get them done.

There are also health implications in working longer hours.

3. If we can finish a job within 2 hours, we should do more!

If a good designer can do a first-iteration design in two hours, a beginner designer might take double or triple those hours. This is with assumption that the designer does a proper workflow of research, sketching, thinking, and executing. Years of experience makes people do something faster and more efficiently.

When I started learning to use Sketch app, it took me hours to replicate what I usually did with Illustrator. Now, I can do Sketch much, much faster.

But wait, does that mean that the good designer can produce more in the next 6 hours or so?

Perhaps, but consider if working more on a project at this stage will actually make it better or worse. “The more we work on a project, the bigger the chance for error is,” that’s what my past manager said.

Just don’t work more hours just for the sake of putting more hours into it.

Also, if you know someone would do more good (or great!) work in 2 hours, you should pay him more.

4. But I paid him to do this kind of work 40 hours a month

The amount of money you paid someone isn’t to do 40 hours work. It’s to try to find solutions to your business and user problems. It can take less, or more. If it takes more than 40 hours, will you be willing to pay more? No, right?

5. Our team needs to be transparent so I can report to my boss

Blame your boss then. The team’s worth of work should shine in the results. We can track time all we want but if the result sucks, it sucks.

6. I need to know who’s working on what and what the milestones are

There are various ways we can do this. We can do daily stand-ups, or daily check-ins, but without the hours. I like how Basecamp team does it:

There is no hour involved, just a description of what one has worked on in a narrative format. There’s also a visible, transparent result. I personally think this is better than just saying “I worked on X” and that’s it. This shows that the person has actually spent a good use of his time, no matter how long.

7. But this doesn’t work in big teams.

Then, your team is too big.

8. I don’t have a big team but my team needs to scale.

Scale slowly and try removing the hours.

9. I have remote team members. How do I even track their work?

If you don’t trust them in the first place, don’t hire them. Maybe fire them now?

Or a good solution: make weekly checkins, but without the hours. Demand them to show results instead of proving how many hours are spent in them.

10. But my team members will procrastinate

We all do. Bosses do, but we never demand them to work more (e.g. “Hey boss, I saw you play golf last time. Why don’t you meet more people and sign more deals?”). Designers do. Engineers do. Salespeople do. As long as we create a culture orientated on results, we can care less about how employees spend their time.

Try it and you’ll see less people turnaround.

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Reflections on digital product design, travel, food and the in-betweens. Finding my compass.

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