03 February 2015

Tracking productivity without micromanaging

With the blurring of work and personal lives, how can you ensure your staff are productive without micromanaging everything?

While smartphones and other personal devices offer benefits for employers, enabling your staff to work outside of office hours, they can also increase the likelihood of non-work distractions. Therefore, it’s perhaps not surprising that some employers start to question how much time their staff are spending on non-work activities while at work.

But how can you track activity and productivity without micromanaging your staff and giving yourself more work in the process?

Lost or low productivity is a serious problem for businesses, as it translates to inefficiency and lower profits. For example, in’s annual Wasting Time at Work survey of American workers, 89% said they waste at least some time at work each day. The majority (31%) said they waste around 30 minutes each day, but almost as many said they wasted an hour.

Tracking staff productivity

It used to be commonplace to clock in and out at the start and end of their shift, while delivery firms have used GPS tracking for years. This means that the customer can track their delivery in real time, but also that employers can check the drivers are working efficiently. Surveillance software is also available that enables employers to check what websites staff are visiting and how long they’re spending on them. They can therefore ensure no-one is slacking off or accessing websites that they shouldn’t.

The trend in wearable tech is also slowly filtering over to the workplace and is being used to monitor activity in some cases. For example, two years ago Tesco was accused of using electronic armbands to monitor how hard their warehouse employees were working.  While the official use of the bands was to increase efficiency, enabling staff to scan stock rather than using old school pen and paper, the devices can also track work rates and break times.

Other tracking methods include a range of apps and software that monitor time spent on projects. For example, DeskTime gives employers the ability to automatically monitor both individual and company-wide results, so that you can see where time is being lost and who is most or least productive.

Does tracking work?

There is some evidence that these methods can work. For example, by measuring the time a worker takes to fulfil an order, you can identify the slower workers and ensure they speed up, increasing overall efficiency. By doing this, you may find you need less workers, resulting in more profit for your business.

However, most of the methods outlined above focus on measuring time, which isn’t necessarily the same as productivity. For example, a worker may complete a task quicker, but the output quality may be lower.   

These methods also don’t take into account the fact that big brother style tracking activities can alienate staff, because they suggest that you don’t trust your team, which can seriously lower staff motivation.

Alternatives to tracking time

An alternative to tracking time is to track output instead – whether projects have been completed on time, budget and to an acceptable standard. Or track goals on a regular basis, not at a yearly appraisal. If the goals are set to contribute to your business targets, by monitoring the goals, you’ll be well on your way to meeting your targets. If you really prefer the tracking method, at least make sure you involve your staff so that they see the benefit to them too. uses a good analogy, suggesting you try to be a personal trainer to your staff, rather than an overbearing parent. If your staff are engaged and motivated, they’ll be encouraged to work to the best of their ability. Therefore, measure staff satisfaction and engagement instead. Studies have shown that companies with the most engaged staff have higher productivity rates, as well as better levels of customer satisfaction.