What are the benefits of time tracking?
Whether time tracking is an asset or a liability to a company is the central question for everyone who considers stopping the practice. Since we did fulfill the legal conditions for simplified time tracking, we decided to let go of detailed time tracking where every activity needs to be tracked. But before doing so, we evaluated common beliefs about the process of tracking time to see if some granularity could still serve our purpose. With our findings, we debunk the most common time tracking beliefs:
Belief 1: Time tracking is useful so that people don't work too much.
It has repeatedly been shown that poor work-life balance and long working hours negatively affect mental and physical health. But is time tracking really the solution to that? Tracking time, especially when the data is shared with managers and/or co-workers, can become a race to overtime. Some employees try to show dedication by putting in long hours, even when it is not required. Thankfully, we believe our transparent peer-to-peer culture does not encourage actions to seek validation from peers. Taking this into account, we advise to:
- track time on one's side when it is not possible to autonomously compensate overtime (say, because of project requirements such as a sprint or a hard deadline).
- immediately (and we mean immediately) raise the question with the project's responsible role and with one’s talent mentor. This allows to discuss alternative solutions such as hiring additional peers or rescoping the project.
Belief 2: Time tracking is useful to establish trust between employer and employee.
Detailed time-tracking allows employers to see if an employee has been clocking the hours they are reporting. Employees cannot suspect others to take extra-long lunch breaks when they have been eating at their desk. Everything is transparent. Everything is fair. Everything is good... or is it?
Employees do not owe employers all their attention, time, and will to live. Today, it is common to take employees' availability for granted during the entirety of their working hours. Are they not available, there is a tendency to suspect they have not been working. But, people are sometimes just focused on another task or having a creative session away from their screens.
We decided to remove detailed time tracking to be closer to our human and simple values, leaving peers empowered to organize their workday as suits them and perform at their best. Speaking of which...
Belief 3: Time tracking is useful to measure employee performance.
The practice of tracking time comes from the industrial era, where employees would clock in and out of factories at every shift. Time tracking was highly linked to performance, as it was easy to calculate the ratio of output (manufactured goods) over input (time).
Today, more than three-quarters of Swiss businesses operate in the services industry. The output of the services industry is brain work, such as events, software, legal defenses, design, or patents. How can we hope to measure employee performance with the time it takes to develop what are fundamentally ideas (expandable, blurry, unfixed concepts)?
In addition, time tracking and the rigidity of obligatory daily hours (make it worse with required physical presence) fail to recognise people's different focus and creative styles.
We ditched detailed time tracking also because we believe peers should have space to adjust work to their life, and not be required to adjust their life to work. We simply could not stand for inclusion and at the same time risk forcing team members into a system that does not suit individual working styles.
Belief 4: Time tracking is useful to know how much you should bill for a project.
Even though we are firm believers that great projects are about value creation, not hours spent, it remains useful for us to observe which projects went seriously over time. All the time tracking in the world cannot save an inadequately scoped project, but we can learn from our mistakes to better plan future work.
Since time spent on a project is a key metric to us, we have decided to go for the simplified time-tracking with autonomous over- and undertime compensation, but require production roles to track the time they spend on projects. Everything else (admin, communication, finances, events, commutes) is left out.
Should I stop time tracking?
First and foremost, we advise you to work out what legal implications abandoning time tracking could have for your company. Once you work out the minimum requirements, we recommend studying every belief in the light of the company culture you have – or wish to promote.
In our experience, autonomy can do wonders for work-life balance and establishing trust. Performance does not look the same depending on the business, the person, or the era. Projects that go wrong don’t go wrong because of poor time tracking; they go wrong because of poor scoping.