How to explain the need for time tracking to your team

Marijana Stojanovic

Last updated on: February 21, 2024

Time tracking has ingrained itself as an invaluable asset to any company, regardless of its size. When used properly, it causes growth, financial stability, and increased workflow and job satisfaction. However, most teams will be unsure about tracking time, as it doesn’t come with a bad reputation.

Many companies that offer workforce management software and services have time tracking as a small part of their rigorous employee monitoring methods. A recent CNBC feature How Employers Could be Spying on You While Working from Home has left many people (justifiably) wary of any kind of software that tracks their work performance.

That’s where we come in, to help you bring down some of that fear, and show that introducing a simple time tracking software will not affect their privacy. That it can, in fact, protect their rights as employees, and make them form better habits overall.

Most common concerns about time tracking at work

Will time tracking be used to invade my privacy?

Let’s address the elephant in the room – employee monitoring and privacy.

People are afraid that time tracking is a gateway to constant monitoring and greater scrutinization.

In a 2018. BBC article, a number of employees came forward to tell their tale about how employee monitoring made them anxious, fearful, and stressed. Many emphasized how the tracking tools were implemented with claims they will help overall performance, yet did everything but that.

In the same article, one truck driver mentioned how the installed camera and microphone made him concentrate too much on his performance (speed limit, driving score, etc). So much, in fact, that he put less focus being in the moment while actually driving. Such high levels of pressure can lead to poorer performance, and result in burnout almost certainly.

Aim to track time for the right reasons. Don’t just use it as a test run for full-on employee monitoring, because you are undoubtedly going to lose more than you can gain.

Will it be expected of me to be fully productive for all 8 hours?

Even though we are in the 21st century, we still expect 19th century workflow.

Since the Industrial Revolution, workers were expected to work upwards of 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. The Fair Labor Standards act in 1938. managed to rectify this by limiting work hours to 40 hours a week, simply because the nature of labor has changed.

So why are we still treating work the same way?

Steve Glaveski, CEO of Collective Campus, points out how modernization, technology advancements and the internet have drastically changed the way we work, from how it was back in 1938. The modern workplace is much different, and we can’t expect full focus and productivity during the entire 8 hours.

German startup Rheingans Digital Enabler was the guinea pig in an experiment by its own CEO, Lasse Rheingans. He wanted to see if his employees could shift from an 8-hour workday, to a 5-hour one, believing it would improve their productivity and quality of work. Needless to say, the experiment was a success, and the employees themselves felt improvement, because they didn’t feel the pressure to try and be productive for the entirety of their workday.

They were less likely to succumb to distractions and overtime.

Rheingans’s example proves the numerous scientific claims that no one can be productive 8 hours a day, and that CEOs and managers shouldn’t expect that. In the same way, explain to the teams that they won’t be expected to be hyper focused all the time. That time tracking is a way to find their peak hours, and learn to prioritize their tasks better.

And who knows, with enough data and improvement, maybe your company could switch to a 5- or 6- hour workweek, without any financial losses.

Is time tracking a form of punishment for underperformance?

There are employees who will see time tracking as a means to punish underperformance. Put yourself in the shoes of a person who’s just been told the entire staff will have to track their time and submit reports. Right off the bat they can think several things:

  • Am I doing my work wrong?
  • Are we underperforming?
  • Do the managers not trust us?
  • WIll time tracking be the only way to value my work?

It is expected that their first thoughts will almost always be negative. Because when a manager wants to see how much time you spend on each activity, you feel the need to give more than 100%, or you’ll get a “slap on the wrist”. And we go back to the pressure – stress – burnout pattern.

Highlight from the very beginning that time tracking will not be used as a tool to hand out penalties or as grounds for termination. Instead, address the real reasons immediately – expediting certain processes, seeing where teams collectively can pick up the pace or loosen up a little, or be more informed on which team members can take on more tasks vs those who are already overwhelmed.

Will time tracking be used for micromanaging employees?

It is not uncommon to find managers and CEOs who see time tracking as an excuse to oversee every little aspect of their employee’s work time.

Reggie Scales, Senior Vice-President of Vonage, has made the now-infamous claim in a CNBC report: “[Employees] know we’re watching, which is always good.” It is the perfect representation of the image many employees get when time tracking gets implemented.

Their every step will be monitored, scrutinized, and they will receive piles upon piles of feedback and/or corrections. While some will see this as an opportunity to show their worth, the majority will be uneasy even with tasks they’re great at. It’s the fear of:

  • “How come the same task took you 15 minutes less than yesterday?”
  • “Your teammates finished everything by the deadline, I see your report is late”
  • “Why is this task taking you longer than usual, when you have everything you need?”
  • “I see you have a gap in your schedule, how about you get on those emails?”

The individual freedom of each employee on how they will sort their priorities and do the work is gone.

Not to mention that we all deal with personal issues, unproductive days, teammates’ work, interruptions, etc. We’ve also dedicated an entire article to this topic, and it can be eye-opening for many team leads looking to understand their teams’ time tracking concerns better.

With all that being said, how can you soften the initial blow when announcing time tracking implementation in your teams? Additionally, how can you explain the need for it that will quickly alleviate any or all doubts?

Addressing the expectations of time tracking

Make sure your reasons for tracking time are ethical and meaningful.

In the previous section, we’ve highlighted practices that treat time tracking as a tool that hinders progress rather than aids it. Here are some things to reflect on before deciding to talk to your team. Ultimately, these reflections can help you approach the team more confidently, and prepare for questions that will inevitably ensue.

Time tracking can vastly improve time management

And not in the sense: When people see how much time they waste, they’ll suddenly become more conscious of their choices and get better.

Instead, try looking at this statement from the perspective of self-improvement. Time tracking can improve personal time management, and reveal a lot about what and how we prioritize. Emphasize these personal benefits when talking to your teams:

  • They will become more organized;
  • Their work-life balance will improve;
  • They’ll make quicker and better choices;
  • They’ll learn how to prioritize, etc.

And these are just some of the benefits. In the article “How and why to keep track of daily activities and habits”, we’ve outlined even more benefits you can use as presentation material. It comes with practical advice and expert opinions advocating for time tracking.

Time tracking is not a band-aid for poor management or communication

If productivity is the problem, it could be because of poor management, communication channels not working (or being utilized) properly, unsatisfying working conditions, etc.

Experts at PPM Express have an admirable track record of inquiring CEOs about the reasons for company financial losses. Most commonly, these are:

  • Failures to keep up with the market;
  • Poor working conditions;
  • No contingency plans;
  • Conflicts and poor communication.

But, as witnessed by them, a lot of those same CEOs turn to time tracking as a simple fix, thinking the losses both in time and money, might be because employees fail to track time.

So, you will want to first make sure that everything in your office and teams runs smoothly before introducing time tracking. Otherwise, those outside factors will have a major impact on the data.

In the following section, we address specific steps on how to prepare, conduct, and follow up a successful meeting where you will explain the need for time tracking to your team.

How to communicate the need for time tracking to employees

Explain to your team why to track time - cover2

Right off the bat, you will need to fight off the stigma time tracking brings with it.

You want to address employee concerns directly. The common problems we have listed in the first section aren’t necessarily the same ones your teams/employees might have. So, here are some ways to introduce time tracking as a positive change, while considering the teams’ doubts.

Agree on the basics and set down rules

It’s always a good idea to have team leads or managers gather for a meeting to discuss time tracking and how it will help them. Setting some ground rules among them first will eliminate any future confusion when reading the data you collect. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Why your team will track time;
  • When will you look at specific hours spent, and when will you focus on results only;
  • WIll weekly or monthly reports be necessary;
  • How to implement time tracking in project management and deadlines;

The aim is to find common ground so time tracking can work for you, and not as a point of contention or conflict. Worst thing that can happen is that some teams begin to lag behind, others realize it takes too much time and effort, which can bring down the whole “infrastructure” you’ve built.

Make a “soft announcement”

Much like a soft launch, a “soft announcement” serves to introduce the idea of time tracking to the staff, without any particular details. You let them know there will be a meeting, and the general idea of what will be discussed. It’s best to do this a few weeks before getting into time tracking, a month at most.

Remember to emphasize that time tracking will be a good change. Focus on its positive impact on both teams and the projects and add that it won’t jeopardize anyone’s employment (as this is the first concern that commonly comes to mind).

That way, you allow some buzz around the office to form naturally, instead of having leaked (possibly wrong) information floating around. Keeping information from employees raises concerns and makes them fearful that they will be closely monitored and lose their freedom.

Make employees feel heard

About two weeks before introducing the practice send out an anonymous form where employees can write out their concerns about time tracking. Since many employees will rarely be wordy in forms despite anonymity, offer different ways of filling in information to ensure the best possible responses. For example, you can try:

Multiple choice answers:

What worries you most if the company implements time tracking?

  • I’ll seem unproductive.
  • I’m afraid I waste too much time.
  • It’s an invasion of my privacy.
  • Time tracking doesn’t accurately reflect my workflow.
  • There are too many distractions.
  • I’ll forget to track time.
  • Other: _________________________________

Or opt for open-ended questions:

Do you have experience with time tracking? Has it worked for you?

To conduct these kinds of surveys, you should work closely with your HR representative. Cover as much ground as possible to address multiple concerns beforehand. The data you collect should be presented as the first order of the meeting, once the time comes.

Allow for in-person discussions

If possible, your HR should let everyone know that they can also come to them in person, to voice their opinion. Some employees articulate their thoughts better verbally. Sometimes, answering questions on paper can be perceived as an empty gesture, that their concerns will be ignored.

Set up a meeting to introduce time tracking

A week before the meeting itself, send out a mass email outlining all the points that will be addressed. Employee concerns, your aims and goals with time tracking itself, what tool will you use, what help will be provided, etc.

Keep these points short and concise. This email will give employees enough time to prepare questions and remarks they may have forgotten to mention in the survey. Additionally, knowing the order of the points discussed, it’s more likely people will know when it is time to jump in with the right question, instead of asking something out of context and causing a digression.

💡 Note: A good practice I’ve witnessed and personally employed is to encourage people to bring notebooks or even just as piece of paper. Because sometimes during the meetings, they might find additional questions they’d like addressed, which could slip their minds by the end.

9 steps for introducing time tracking to your team

When you actually get to introduce time tracking, the following steps will ensure you communicate everything clearly and precisely.

1. Keep the introductions short

No one likes long meetings, especially when they have better things to do, or when “they could have been an email”. Thank everyone for coming, and once again introduce the order of business you’ve previously established. Also announce that you’ll be answering all of their questions at the end.

2. Start with the concerns and address them first

Using the data collected from the survey, point out the biggest issues employees overall have with time tracking. This lets them know they’ve been heard, and reinforces the fact that they have a say in the company matters.

Afterwards, reveal specifics that you’ve negotiated with team leads in the beginning of the process, and how it will affect each department/team.

3. Explain the following 5 key points to your team

Here at Clockify we advocate for using time tracking as a way to better one’s overall life. I don’t wish to overwhelm you with detailed information, so the list will be kept short. Each point will have a link to those topics, should you want to explore them further.

  1. Tracking time helps them communicate their overtime and negotiate benefits
  2. It helps them easily identify distractions and wasted time
  3. They become more aware of their overtime and can prevent burnout in time
  4. They know when they’re eligible for compensatory time
  5. It prevents clerical errors and time theft – it’s hard proof that protects their rights

4. Provide plenty of data

Prepare some data beforehand (it’s best to use infographics to keep the meeting dynamic). Find case studies of companies that made time tracking work to their benefit. With the uncertainty of what time tracking brings to the table, some might rush to Google and find examples where time tracking had failed. This will make them defensive and have them provide counterpoints, to which you should also be prepared.

5. Have HR present

As a side note, make sure to have an HR representative present throughout the meeting and the adjustment proces. Have them sit among the employees, and join in on the discussion if possible. Their presence will provide you with support during this difficult task. At the same time, they can quell any doubts, confusion, or combativeness that could arise among the teams.

6. Be open for Q&A

Last, but most important, allow people to share their opinions. Keep it an open forum, unless it’s mainly crickets and tumbleweeds. Then you can opt to ask specific questions and see if they spark a discussion.

7. Make a follow-up email after the introductory meeting

This is a great way to summarize the meeting, and you can keep it as detailed, or succinct as you wish. If that sounds like too much work, we have a list of best time management apps for 2020, among which is Otter, an app that records meetings, then transcribes and timestamps them to generate a report.

8. Provide resources

A few days after the meeting, once the information had settled, send a mass email with a compendium of resources. From how to manage their time better, to how to use time trackers, and how to turn it into a habit, so it almost becomes automatic.

If you’re unsure where to start looking, here are some articles to get you on the right track:

💡 And if you want more practical material, we offer a vast number of free resources and templates for you and your teams.

9. Reassure teams that they will get help with the software

One issue we haven’t broadly addressed but is worth mentioning, is that a lot of people are afraid they will look silly if they fail to learn how to use the time tracker. The best course of action is not to ask directly who has issues learning (because very few will admit it), but instead offer a crash course and 1:1 help from operations, your more tech-savvy employees, or the software’s own developers. Those who offer on-site help, that is.

To summarize

When children are afraid of monsters in their closets, we know that it’s actually fear of the unknown. Their rooms are dark, silhouettes are everywhere forming spooky shapes, there are noises outside and inside their personal space. Left to their own imaginations, it’s no wonder they construe the scariest scenarios.

The process doesn’t change all that much when we get older. In much the same way, something as simple as time tracking can seem more frightening when our brains don’t have enough factual information. By employing the methods we’ve laid out, you can turn on the light in that dark room, and open the door of the spooky closet to show that there’s nothing to fear. Address their concerns with information, compassion, understanding and plenty of reassurance.

Marijana Stojanovic is a writer and researcher who specializes in the topics of productivity and time management.

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