How to Track Time Without Being Big Brother

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CEO Peter Coppinger discusses a time tracking experiment Teamwork.com is currently running—and how the company gives every team member the flexibility to manage their own hours.


Dan and I love to use data to improve Teamwork on every level. We like to compare time, analyze results, spot inefficiencies and then eliminate them. We never stop improving our software (Company Value #1), and we continuously look for ways to improve our workflows.

Up until the 1st of February this year, everyone in the company was logging their time on every task they worked on each day. This policy was in place to help improve productivity — and it worked well for the company for a long time. However, feedback from the team was nearly unanimous: the system of logging time on individual tasks and then ensuring it added up to 37.5 hours a week was starting to become a tedious time-sink.

Our Time Tracking Experiment

One of our company values is that we “Move Fast and Stay Highly Productive.” If the majority of our team felt that task-based time tracking was making them less productive we needed to take a look at some other options.

After weighing the pros and cons, we decided to try an HR experiment and move away from time tracking — switching instead to a simple clock-in/clock-out system.

Trusting Our Team to Manage Their Own Time

You’ve probably heard a lot of business leaders tell you that their employees are their most valuable asset, and we completely agree. In order for our company to succeed, we believe that we need to give everyone on the team here at Teamwork.com trust, respect and flexibility in exchange for their continuous hard work.

If someone needs to go to an appointment with their husband or wife for four hours—no problem!

If they want to take a two-hour lunch? No problem.

If somebody else needs to get a haircut mid-day? Again, no problem.

They just clock out and make up the hours some other time. We don’t micromanage these decisions and let our team find the best way to coordinate their life and work schedules.

As our company continues to grow, we want to retain flexibility without checking if everyone is putting in or making up the hours; instead we want the whole team to manage their own hours. In order to do this we put a few basic requirements in place.

Here are the guidelines I gave the team when the new clock-in/clock-out system was introduced:

  • Give us a good 37.5 hours of work a week. That works out to 8 hours a day, Monday through Friday, with 30 minutes for lunch.
  • Try not to miss the daily standup meeting, and please be available as much as possible during our core hours of 11am GMT to 3pm GMT.
  • If you want to work late because you are in the zone, go for it, and then feel free to take off early on another day.
  • Once this new clock-in/clock-out system is up and running, if we see anybody constantly working more than 40 hours, we’ll talk to you to ensure you are happy and that there is no danger of burnout. Burnout is a management fail.

Anticipated FAQs

Logging time on tasks has been something we’ve done here at Teamwork.com since the beginning, so I expected the team to have a lot of questions when I told them about our decision to experiment with a clock-in/clock-out system.

Here’s a list of the anticipated FAQs and the responses I posted on our internal blog:

Q: What about Support? Do we have to log time on tasks?

A: The system you guys have going on seems to work well, so I’m not going to interfere. However, you must still clock-in/clock-out, please.

Q: What about people who work part-time?

A: If you’re logging part-time hours on a monthly basis, continue with your current process.

Q: What if we take some downtime to play Bomberman or FIFA for an hour? Do we have to clock out?

A: I would like to avoid having to create a policy about this kind of downtime activity. Let’s try this: an hour or two of games with co-workers each week is something we are happy to support as part of social time at work. However, if you are going to have 4-hour long tournaments, that’s no problem, but you should be clocked-out.

Please use your common sense so we don’t have to make a policy. Think about what you need to do to hold to high-performance standards, and don’t leave your colleagues down.

Q: This feels like Big Brother…

A: I get why you might feel that way, truly. But we need to scale up and have some sort of system that works best across the entire company. Outside of this clock-in/out, you are free to work the way you want, so please try to see it as us trusting you to manage your own hours.

Q: But you should be able to see the work done by tasks completed?

A: Oh, stop the trolling. 😛 Not all work is written in discrete tasks, nor should it be.

We Still Love Time Tracking

Just because we’ve put task-based time tracking on pause to run an experiment doesn’t mean we’ve given it up forever.

For us, the best use of time tracking involves comparing estimates to actual time spent, but aside from that, time tracking each minute isn’t the best use of our time. Many of our users, especially agencies, find task-based time tracking indispensable for billing clients, budgeting and time management. If you’re reading this, I’d encourage you to experiment and find the approach that works best for your company.

In order to use time tracking effectively, I want to introduce a feature to Teamwork Projects that will require time to be logged on any task with an existing estimate. Creating a habit of adding estimates to tasks will give us useful data to help us understand how we’re workingand ultimately make better estimates on new features. That will come in time.

Until Next Time…

Next week, I’ll discuss how we celebrate failure as well as success here at Teamwork.com, so make sure you subscribe to have the post delivered to your inbox.

Until then, if you have any questions or comments—leave them below!

36 Comments

Gráinne Forde

Hey Shannon,

This is a feature we’re testing internally at the moment. We don’t have an exact timeframe on release at the moment but we have taken note of your email address and added you to the beta testing list 🙂

Gráinne

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Steve Palmer

may i please be tagged into beta testing as well if possible iam currently introducing teamwork to our company and this is one of the requirements we are looking for thank you

Steve Palmer

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Gráinne Forde

Steve,

I’ve taken note of your email address and added you to the beta testing list for the clock-in/clock-out feature, we don’t have an exact timeframe on release just yet but you’ll be contacted when we do.

It’s great to hear you’re in the process of introducing Teamwork Projects to your company. To help you and your team get the most out of Teamwork Projects I’d highly recommend joining one of our webinars if you haven’t done so already. Just click here to see the current schedule.

Thanks for checking out the post and taking the time to leave feedback.

All the best,
Gráinne

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Christopher Fox

Tracking time has been a point of contention for many in our small company. Having to do it on a task based level is daunting for many but we need time assigned to projects in order to analyze if we estimated properly or if there are overages do to scope creep.
As a middle ground, many on the team log their hours on Friday by matching up what was on their calendar for the the week. They do it all at once using the time logging feature under Everything. This gets us close enough for our purposes and is a bit less tedious.

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Gráinne Forde

Christopher,

Thanks for checking out the post and taking the time to tell us about your company’s experiences with time-tracking. We have a couple of other posts on the subject of motivating your team to track time that I think you might find valuable.

If you’re interested in checking these out here are the links:

How to Motivate Your Team to Track Time
Time Tracking, How to Not Hate It (Guest Post by Nick Johnson from SurgeFront)

Another suggestion would be for your team to try the Teamwork Timer desktop app (if you haven’t already) as many users have said this makes it faster and easier for their teams to log time as they go.

Gráinne

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Peter Coppinger

p.s. we have a clock-in/clock-out feature in beta; let us know if you want early access.

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Gráinne Forde

Joe,

Great to hear you’re interested in testing! Your email address has been added to our beta testing list.

Gráinne

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Gráinne Forde

Agnes,

We don’t have a time-frame on release just yet but I’ve added your email address to our beta testing list 🙂

Gráinne

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Gráinne Forde

Petar,

I’m just jumping in and replying here to let you know that we have added you to the beta testing list.

All the best,
Gráinne

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Joe

Is this clock in/out system a function of Teamwork or a separate bit of software you are using? Or do you just expect the first task of the day at X time and the last task to end at Y time?

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Gráinne Forde

Joe,

The clock-in/clock-out feature is something we’re testing internally at the moment. Currently, we don’t have an exact timeframe on release but we’ve taken note of your email address and added you to the beta testing list!

Gráinne

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Leanne King

Hi Joe,

We don’t have a date for this yet unfortunately. I’ll be sure to send an update once we have something.

Leanne

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Gráinne Forde

Pam,

It’s great to hear you’re interested in testing! We’ve added your email address to the beta testing list.

All the best,
Gráinne

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Oscar Rocha

Nice post Peter ,

we already have this free timing schedule on our digital marketing agency around 4 years and we just ask to capture, with common sense, when they spent time to continue some project taks.

I want to share my experience with it

First of all Its really comfortable to have the freedom and independence of your time.. i can start my work day at the time i want and end, i can make any pauses i want and continue on my house at night if want to, all the things i do i just registered on teamwork… But

the main problem i see is that there is some people who don’t like to capture time, feeling is a waste of time or they just forgot to do it when the meet a customer or something else.. its about discipline.

Each month i made a monthly report sended to evryone on my agency showing the time spent to what happend with every project x user || area x project || historycal project || top people with high time per project, and some conditionals to know if they are capturing or not.. this mail report is send to evryone with a fun redaction and some epic gifs related looking for my main objective of this report: “Read the report and be concient of each project status and efforts” (btw my average time to do this report is 7 hours)

i made my objective, and with this i try to make them feel a bit public embarased of their captured time. The public common think is a powerfull tool to “motivate” them to show others that they are working too as the team does.

Still not good results with evryone black doll and sometime find some cheaters, but new people seems to react better on their timing capture forming discipline on it.

We are planning to improve some gamification rewards & $ bonus with this report trying to motivate users to keep reporting their time.

Im glad to share this experience with you guys

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Gráinne Forde

Oscar,

It’s great to hear about others’ experiences with time tracking — so thanks for sharing yours with us! I especially like the idea of sending that report to your whole team (I’m also a big fan of using GIFs so really enjoyed your mention of this addition!).

Let us know how you get on with using rewards and bonuses to motivate the team to keep on top of reporting.

All the best,
Gráinne

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Phil Cook

I completely disagree with your view of the value of time tracking. Time tracking is burdensome, non-productive work which distracts people from what they should be working on – regardless of its creative application. Not to mention it’s a huge morale and job-satisfaction killer (I left a previous job just because I couldn’t stand having to document every hour of what I did). Completion of tasks are the measurement of progress, not how much time is spent working on them. Now, we’ve all been faced with having no choice but to track time due to hourly billing contracts with customers – but it should be the exception, not the rule. I use required time tracking only as a performance mitigation ‘penalty’ for those routinely not meeting deadlines. What’s especially egregious is the use of time tracking as a time-card system, denigrating highly skilled professionals to clock-puncher status. You’re mistaken to think that people aren’t going to just ‘fudge’ the numbers a bit to make sure they come out to the 37.5 hrs/week, or to think that those who work more than that are going to track that time (they’ll stop tracking when they’ve hit the minimum). I’ve learned that in order to maximize productivity you to get as many administrative tasks (such as time tracking) out of the way of skilled people and let them do what they do best. Mandated time tracking is a roadblock to progress – flat and simple.
Just my $.02

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Leanne King

Hi Phil,

Thanks for reading. I think it’s different for everyone. For instance, time tracking is necessary for many of our customers who are running agencies and need to bill against that time. A smaller company might not feel the same need to time track. For us, in the last 3 years we’ve gone from 15 people to 100 people (and we’re not slowing down) so this is something we’re trying. If it works for us we’ll continue, if it doesn’t, we won’t. I feel it’s important we try things before writing them off.

Leanne

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Oscar Rocha

Maybe is the perspective of each one..

I find many advantages that registering time on teamwork has. Special to an analtytical department who wants to optimize costs and plan future projects. Also personal rising and a way to supports all the work done. Improve quality and see lvls of people.
Its just Teamwork doing teamwokr!

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Gráinne Forde

Mark,

Thanks for taking the time to let us know you enjoyed the post 🙂

All the best,
Gráinne

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Gráinne Forde

Raymond,

We don’t have a time-frame on release just yet but I’ve added your email address to our beta testing list 🙂

Gráinne

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Darren

Its great that you’re sharing ways your company uses your own tools.

We are trying to clock just 6.5hrs out of 7.5hrs a day, giving flexibility, and are testing how this works.

But I’d love to get beta access to your clock in/out feature.

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Gráinne Forde

Hi Darren,

Interesting to hear how your company is also experimenting with time-tracking! We don’t have an exact timeframe on the beta release of the clock-in/clock-out feature yet, but I’ve added your email address to our testing list so you’ll be one of the first to hear when we do.

All the best,
Gráinne

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Rafael Cao

Hi,

We are an architectural office, we started around 10 years ago with the system you described, we have been adjusting it with the time and it works very well. It requires discipline and monitoring but is worth.
It is important to introduce the change in terms of trust, respect and flexibility as you mentioned instead of only control.

We still use an excel workbook that we developed, since I haven’t found a time tracking software that gives us the following features:

1. The total estimate working time per month (7.5 hours a day), which differs every month according to the working days within the month.

2. Clock-in/clock-out system that gives us the amount of hours we spend working in the office or outside the office, like at home. You have the flexibility of clock-in and clock-out few times during the day.

3. The time spent working (office/home) matches with the time spent on projects, management, training, etc. This helps us to monitor easier our own time and also to have a double check daily and monthly about the info we are providing.

4. During the month you can monitor the balance between the expected working time and your actual time plus the estimated time for the rest of the month, in order to organize your time in the following days to work more or less hours depending on your status.

5. If at the end of the month your balance is not “equal”, between expected and actual, the amount of hours (positive or negative) are moved to the next month, or if extra time is paid then we start from scratch next month.

6. We have check marks to indicate that all the information matches.

The system is simple but it gives you an insight in the relation between time spend on projects, working hours and time management each day/week/month.
Once we went for flexibility we needed to provide a system or platform that helps us to track time, otherwise it is easy to get lost, forget to track time or to get confused, which can affect the projects.

So, I suggest you, by experience, to go all the way as you have been doing it with Teamwork projects, I trust you can do a great job.
I hope our experience can help you, you can always contact me.

Would be a pleasure to try the beta clock-in/clock-out feature when you come with it.

All the best,
Rafael

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Gráinne Forde

Rafael,

Thanks for checking out the post and your time-tracking related feature suggestions. Hopefully, the release of the clock-in/clock-out feature will be a step towards your team relying completely on time-tracking in Teamwork Projects and moving away from using that excel workbook. We’re still testing the clock-in/clock-out feature internally at the moment but I’ve added you to the list for beta testing.

All the best,
Gráinne

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Andrew Janes

Hi,
All of my team work onsite with clients to implement projects and cover each task with them on a one to one basis. This is our approach and works really well for both us and the client.
Currently we don’t track time as it’s a real “ball ache” (sorry ladies) for the guy’s (and girl’s) when they are client facing but, and I was just thinking, would it be possible for time to be tracked automatically when a task is opened and being worked on.
As a software provider we are always trying to reduce the number of “touches” (clicks) and could see this being a real advantage for you as the clock would start the moment you open the task and therefore finish the moment you close it and move onto the next. Furthermore, it would log the time that the client spends on each task in response to being trained on each area within the project.
Estimates are great but are, only estimates and therefore this feature would give a true value to every task worked on and remove the need to remember (and possibly guess) as to how long was spent on each task.
Most of all, no employee would need to log time as Teamwork will do it for them, all automated.
Please let me know your thoughts.
Andy Janes (iCabbi)

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Gráinne Forde

Andy,

That’s a really interesting request and I definitely see the value in what you’re suggesting. I’ll pass this onto our developers by adding it as a +1 on our request list to try and move things in the right direction.

All the best,
Gráinne

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Rick

I know many people interested in time tracking are not aware of this wonderful interface built right into Teamwork. It’s under People. Select a person and see their time for the past 2 weeks represented in an easy to read bar chart.

http://bit.ly/2rfsBGQ

Is a day missing any logged hours? For many, that’s more than enough auditing for most to not be onerous. Staff can even check this themselves at the end of the week.

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