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Increasing Productivity in Remote Teams: The Role of Time Tracking Apps


Are you finding ways of improving your production output from your virtual team?

Are you tired of not getting value for the money spent hiring a remote work team?

But you have been told that hiring remote workers has a lot of merits.

Hiring remote workers makes having the best of the brains from all over the world possible. Yes, it is a fact.

The absence of physical office space means a reduction in cost. Yes, that is a given.

For those concerned about the environment, a reduction in the number of people moving every day to and from their place of work will reduce the release of greenhouse gas. Well, that is a noble act.

However, are you sure these workers who are out of sight are indeed providing value for the money spent? Finding the correct answer to this question will significantly improve productivity.

Finding ways to measure the impact of the remote teams remains a big worry for hiring managers of remote teams.

The goal of any business (either for-profit or non-profit making) rests on achieving the highest productivity in its activities. This principle is true since all strive to derive the maximum satisfaction from our dealings.

Therefore, productivity refers to the measure of the performance of both the human and non-human resources in a business setting. These two production factors convert the inputs received into an output that has more value to the customers the business serves. No business owner sets his or her stall out to create a company that doesn’t add value to the customers its serve.

From the preceding, we established that creating value is the primary goal of any business. This goal can either translate to the revenue increase in for-profit companies or achieving their mission for non-profit making organizations.

Thus, measuring how the business utilizes all its resources helps to know where the organization needs improvement. Here in this article, we will use the labor productivity equation as our guide. The formula calculates productivity as follows:

Although using this formula seems a bit simple, however, the main principle holds for measuring how productive the workers are.

Saying this, a lesser amount of time worked should produce a more significant return of output which is above the industry average.

Hence, the central theme in measuring how productive a team revolves around the number of hours worked.

But, before we proceed further on how to track the time spent working by our remote teams, let’s look at other methods of measuring how productive a team is.

Other Methods of Measuring Productivity Apart From Time

1. Increasing Revenue Method

For some managers, the bottom line is the amount of money made during a particular month, quarter, or year compared to previous time frames.

Does this sound like a manager you have come across?

Yes, people take this approach. Just make the company more money per review period, and you are free to do as you like.

However, does this approach maximize all the benefits? Well, each person has their guiding principle.

2. Customer Feedback or Satisfaction Method

Have you heard the phrase; the customer is always right?

Sure enough, it is a common phrase. Apart from time tracking, there is a shift in recent times from product focus to customer focus in creating company policy.

Creating buyer personas and finding the stage a customer is in his or her buyer’s journey has to lead to the creation of other metrics to determine productivity.

How long will this customer focus shift last? Time will tell, but it a correct way to grow a business.

3. Clock In and Clock Out Method

Using this method of measuring productivity derives its value from the fact that once workers register their presence, there will be tasks completed.

In this method, teams can monitor the progress report of tasks at hand without stress and adjustments made based on the members available to complete tasks.

Using this method also relies on time, but the focus revolves around attendance rather than output.

A closer look at all the above-listed methods shows that none of them beats the proper tracking of working hours of remote workers.

Or we can say that along with these methods, using good time tracking software will add other metrics along with measuring the actual time spent working.

Thus, we can see the importance of time tracking as a useful tool for improving and increasing our productivity.

However, we need to pause and ask ourselves an important question which is the fact that does the installing of the time tracking software alone improve productivity?

This question is quite crucial because being humans; we shouldn’t treat remote workers as inanimate objects that respond to a set of binary codes.

Therefore to make the time tracker work correctly, understanding the human elements of those workers is quite essential. Doing this will go a long way both in assisting in the use of the time tracker to measure productivity and increasing the production output.

One of the best ways to help integrate your team of remote workers is to engage them in virtual team building activities aimed at building trust, and friendship among these diverse individuals across the world.

Also, due to the virtual nature of communication, the team leader or the manager of the remote team must be an excellent communicator of ideas.

Both as the manager and a member of a remote team, following the principles of communication, helps resolve issues before they get out of hand.

The process of communicating tasks to be delivered helps remote teams better understand what the team leader and other members expect from them and aids proper team functioning.

By doing this, it also aids in cutting out time-wasting activities.

It is, therefore, crucial that the whole remote team abide by the principles of communication to avoid conflict.

7 Principles of Communication in Remote Teams

i. Always pass across a complete message.

Due to the virtual nature of communication, team leaders and members should try to remove assumptions from their thought process when communicating with other team members.

Even if a new message builds on an earlier one, reminding the receiver of the previous status helps produce a complete picture in the mind of the receiver.

Remember, an assumption has no place in communication.

ii. Always pass across a correct message using the right channel

Fact-checking messages before passing them across helps team members avoid wasting precious energy on unproductive tasks.

Also, using the correct language and mode of communication ensures all team members are on the same page in the communication process.

Adhering to a popular writing style and avoiding grammatical errors helps in passing across the correct message.

iii. Always be courteous to team members

Sure we all want to get things done and do not like hold-ups in the process.

However, team leaders and members need sometimes to be considerate of their other workers’ conditions.

Being friends with and courteous in addressing team members can make them go the extra mile in attending to our request, and this will lead to increased productivity.

Remember, politeness cost nothing but gains everything.

iv. Always have a concrete message to pass across to the team member

Team leaders and members need to be sure of the importance of the message to be passed across before firing the email or call.

Team leaders and members should avoid passing across information in piecemeal when the full picture remains vague. Doing this causes unrest in teams, and this is felt most by virtual organizations due to the different time zones.

Therefore, whatever information that comes into the communication channel must be concrete and can be acted upon by the receiver of the message.

v. Always be clear in the deliverables required in a message.

Most times, the means of communication of virtual teams always come in the written form through email and chat messages.

Therefore, perfecting the art of writing in simple and clear sentences while avoiding fuzzy words helps communicate ideas better.

Expect when the situation demands a long post, keeping the information to a few sentences helps the receiver clear grasp the intent behind the message.

vi. Always consider the difference in the time zone of the other remote team members. 

By being considerate of the difference in time zones of remote teams, it will help understand the best time to send messages and schedule meetings.

Also, if virtual team members send messages which requires a reply, differences in timezone may delay quick responses.

In such cases, exercising patience, and finding other tasks helps guide against being impatient.

Hence, checking the time zones where each team member resides helps in making the communication process better.

vii. Always find creative ways of communicating ideas to team members.

Writing a wall of text doesn’t look too appealing.

Sometimes, words alone might not convey the true meaning of our intentions.

This imperfection in written words stems from the fact that when communicating, we use both the verbal and non-verbal means when passing across messages during face to face interaction.

Therefore, adding emojis and emoticons to messages help bridge this gap when virtual teams communicate.

Motivating Virtual Teams, a Complementary Tool to Time Tracking

Apart from communicating their ideas out in a proper way, one other factor relevant to setting up productive virtual teams centers on adequate motivation.

Paying wages or salaries is a given once remote employees choose to exchange their skills in return for money.

However, money alone can’t provide the human interaction comfort and friendship available in an office setting.

Hence, managers of remote teams need to find ways of motivating their employees in the absence of face to face interaction.

7 Strategies for Motivating Virtual Teams  

i. Give opportunities for professional growth.

Similar to the brick and mortar office staffs, providing remote team members with training and development programs benefits paid for by the business helps in inspiring and motivating them.

These training can be in the form of webinars or on-site training close to their location.

Remember, the training acquired will lead to improved skills and ability. Doing this will, in turn, improve their productivity on their job.

ii. Provide a clear path for career progression

Having a clear path for remote teams similar to office workers helps increase trust and promotes loyalty.

Once remote workers have a career ladder to climb, they will not feel dispensable, and this will lead to an increased commitment on the job.

Knowing that they can aspire and rise to levels will motivate them towards providing an excellent job.

iii. Reward excellence

Recognizing and rewarding excellent performance by remote team members makes them know that their contribution to success is appreciated and acknowledged.

This recognition can be in the form of a pay rise and bonuses.

Or it could be in the form of an all-expense paid weekend trip to a relaxation destination in the remote worker’s location.

Whatever the way the business chooses to reward excellence, the bottom line is to recognize members that perform an outstanding job that their efforts won’t go unnoticed.

iv. Set aside time for socializing

Hey, being adults and confined in a working environment doesn’t mean relaxation is off-limits.

Making all communication messages formal and about tasks creates a rigid working environment.

Scheduling time for socializing and making the first minutes of virtual meetings for chit-chats helps strengthen team bond and motivate team members.

Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

v. Create an avenue to meet remote team members in person

Efforts should be made by it a point of duty for remote team members to meet once a year in spite of different location. In doing this, it helps motivate remote employees by making them look forward to such events.

However, for large teams, creating regular regional meetings can serve as a build-up before the main event at the end of the year.

vi. Provide flexible working hours

Account for the difference in time zones across the world and accommodate such into the business policy of the company.

For remote teams, doing this motivates them through making them know that the company values their welfare.

vii. Create an out of work relationship

This point should be an organization-wide policy. Efforts at getting to know other people in the lives of both office and virtual team members help to show that the team truly cares for each other.

Reason for engaging in remote work varies and covers a wide range of reasons.

Such a reason can be disability or standing as a caregiver to loved ones, including a host of reasons.

Knowing the significant partner of remote team employees also help create a means of reaching out during cases of emergencies.

It is vital that once team leaders and managers master the art of effective communication and attitude motivation of remote staffs, the next step is efficient time tracking.

Time tracking ties together the knot of productivity improvement and is the most critical item in the principle of goal setting of any organization.

The goal-setting principle dictates that goals set by any organization must be Simple or Specific, Measurable, Attainable or Assignable, Relevant or Realistic, including the last and most important factor of such goal being Time-Bound.

7 Benefits of Time Tracking

i. The first benefit to be derived from time tracking apps centers on the fact that it helps measure productivity.

Using time tracking apps helps to reveal the efficiency of personnel and procedure operations put in place by an organization.

ii. By using time tracking apps, it provides the manager with the clock in and clock out times of virtual employees. It also provides the report on what activities virtual employees do at any given time frame.

Having this information helps managers nudge the team members in the right direction when they detect a loss of focus.

iii. It helps in giving an accurate idea of the number of billable hours worked. By capturing all tasks performed by members of virtual teams, managers can identify and remove the personal activities of employees from amount billable to the organization.

iv. Time tracking apps help keep teams focused on the task at hand. Most of the apps have a feature that provides a warning to users when they are not working on agreed tasks.

Such distractions can come in the form of visiting social media sites, being idle behind the computer or sleeping off during times logged on the app. The app prompts users to return to the task at hand and failure to do so will lead to deducting the time spent not working on the agreed job.

v. Most of the available time tracking apps can be used across different devices. This flexibility allows users to shift platforms without any problem and the time worked can be easily tracked.

Being able to use the app on personal computers, mobile phones, tablets, android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and on the web gives enough freedom. Managers can check progress and virtual teams are sure they can work on any platform and prove the number of hours worked.

vi. The use of time tracking makes it easy to reward hard-working remote team members. Team members who always work above the week’s allotted time and provide results can be noted and rewarded.

Also, team members can use the tracked timesheets to prove to the team leader their importance to the business and ask for a raise. On the other hand, erring team members can be spotted at a glance.

vii. Having a time tracking app shows a business is professional in its dealings. For regulatory bodies and tax filing, having a time tracking app can be the first point of call to solve many queries.

7 Time Tracking Apps and their features

There are dozens of time tracking apps available in the market, and choosing the right one depends on many factors.

Here we will compare 7-time tracking apps and compare them across some selected features.

FeaturesClockifyHarvestHubstaffRescue Time Time DoctorTimelyToggl
Free PlanYesYesYesYesYesNoYes
IntegrationsTrelloYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
AsanaYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
JiraYesYesYesNoYesNoYes
Base CampYesYesYesNoYesNoYes
PlatformsWebYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Chrome ExtensionYesYesYesYesYesNoYes
Firefox ExtensionYesNoNoYesNoNoYes
Andriod appYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
iOS appYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Windows Desktop appYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Mac Desktop apYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Linux Desktop appYesNoYesYesYesNoYes
SupportPhoneYesYesNoYesYesYesNo
WebYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
InvoicingNoYesYesNoYesYesNo
Keystroke MonitoringNoNoYesNoYesNoNo
Screenshot RecordingNoNoYesNoYesNoNo
Apps MonitoringNoNoYesNoYesNoNo
Emailing ReportsNoNoYesYesYesYesYes
Data ExportingYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Offline Time TrackingYesYesYesYesYesNoYes
Idle Time MonitoringYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Manual Time EditingYesYesYesYesYesNoYes
Add Projects & TasksYesYesYesNoYesYesYes
Video TutorialsYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
          

As can be seen from the table above that, each of the time tracking apps provide almost the same basic features.

Also, they allow users to test their tools for free for a limited period before making a purchase.

However, for some advanced features such as adding multiple users and increasing functions, the users are requested to pay a fee to access these benefits.

Playing around with the free version allows team leaders to choose the one they believe is easy for their virtual teams and allows for a smooth flow of activities.

Doing a thorough rating of the time tracking app during the free trial period ensures that money spent on monitoring productivity is well spent.

Author Bio:

Awwal Lawal is a freelance writer, with a passion for exploring opportunities in the remote work space. A lover of outdoor activities especially home gardening and in his leisure time likes to play Scrabble. You can connect with him on Twitter @hawwal and LinkedIn @ Lawal Awwal.

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