Remote work: how to track employee time and progress

Remote working has become a popular trend with both companies and employees in recent years thanks to the reduced cost and flexibility it brings. However, when workers are spread around the globe it can be a difficult task to for employers to keep track of what they are working on and the hours they are putting in.

Benefits of remote working

If companies like Automattic (WordPress) can run successful billion dollar businesses without a central office and with their employees clocking in from a variety of locations around the world, then the idea certainly can work well, but it can be difficult to implement for some firms. So what are the benefits?

The main benefit for businesses is the lower overheads. Offices are expensive pieces of real-estate, where companies need to pay for electricity, phone-lines, heating, A/C, internet, and more – and they are left empty for at least half the day! If employees work from home or a local co-working space then these overheads disappear, and instead companies just need to make sure their employees have a fast and reliable internet connection.

Automattic gives its employees a monthly $250 stipend they can spend on a co-working space, regular coffee refills, or a superfast internet connection, and that is significantly cheaper than running an office.

Meanwhile, employees often prefer remote working as it gives them the flexibility to choose both where and when they work. yes they may need to be online for group meetings or scheduled Slack conversations, but generally remote working gives them the freedom to fit work around the rest of their life – whether that is childcare or just more time with friends.

Moreover, if employees don’t need to head into an office every morning then they also don’t waste hours each day on the commute. Nobody enjoys the car, train, or tube journey into the office that chews through supposedly “personal” time and definitely personal money. A season ticket for the train can be several thousand pounds depending on where you work, and few people enjoy spending such sums just getting to and from work. Remote working makes the whole idea of a commute obsolete. Instead employees are free to work from home or find a local co-working space or coffee shop that is a short walk from home, saving time, money, and stress every single day.

Problems with remote working

There are a lot of positives to distributed offices, but it is not all plain sailing.

Firstly, not all companies are digital-first. Many businesses require employees to be in the factor, on the shop floor, or at the office to meet clients. These are not problems that can be solved with technology, and so there are various jobs where remote-working is simply not a possibility. Nonetheless, as more and more of us spend our days in front of a computer screen, remote working could be a reality for many more than it is today if a few issues could be solved.

For companies that can offer remote working, the biggest hurdle to remote working is tracking the progress and time of employees. If a worker no longer enters a building and on-site for reviews – how can they be sure what their employees are up to? Luckily, a variety of software tools are already available to address these issues.

Time-clock software with integrated facial recognition and GPS lets businesses know exactly when their employees are at their desks working hard. Trust is critical to a distributed business, but knowing that your employees are at least in front of their keyboards at home or at a nearby co-working space will give managers some confidence that their trust is well placed. If someone says they are working from home and it turns out they are logging in from Disney Land, then it is probably time to have a discussion.

Employees are also keen to be rewarded for all of their time and effort. If employees have been putting in late nights and early morning to get a project finished before a deadline, then they want management to know about their commitment and time clock software is there to help. Every moment they are at their keyboard and putting in the time is logged, and employers can see who has been their most valuable employees.

The others main issue businesses have with remote working – communication – is also solved by software. One might think that by working physically in the same room, team members will be best placed to discuss their projects and the task at hand, but in reality tools like Slack can be even more efficient. The instant messaging features mean all team members can be constantly discussing issues and also give them a way to go back through older conversations and the triggering and integrations means that progress can be more effectively managed through the app than it ever could in person.

Software may not be able to fix the main issue faced by employees who remote work, however, and that is motivation. The distractions of the home office can make getting down to work quite difficult at times, but people struggle with motivation in the office just as often. Personally, I find a co-working space gives the best mix of flexibility in terms of location and getting away from distractions at home, but other people manage through apps, work-boards, self-imposed deadlines, and a variety of other online and offline tools. everyone just needs to find the method that works best for them whether they are at home, at the office, or anywhere in between.

Photograph by Markus Spiske