Prior to 2020, only 6% of all employees worked remotely. After the COVID-19 pandemic, that number jumped up to 13% and only continued to rise. Now in 2023, it’s projected that 25% of the workforce will engage in remote work in one form or another.
While that’s great news for employees who enjoy the increased flexibility of working from home, it poses a significant challenge for managers. In particular, higher-ups need a reliable way to monitor the productivity & work hours of their remote workers. After all, you have to make sure that your employees are focusing on their tasks during the workday and aren’t getting distracted by household chores, streaming services, or family members.
There are many ways to go about this, including time-tracking apps, project management software, timesheets, screenshots, spreadsheets, and asking team members to track their own progress.
Yet, not all employee tracking methods are effective, and some can make employees quite uncomfortable.
For instance, some companies chose to engage in rather invasive & questionable monitoring practices, such as watching/photographing their employees via their webcams.
That’s why you need to develop a noninvasive game plan for monitoring the progress of your remote team — unless you want to see a noticeable dip in your employee productivity and morale.
To make things easier on you, we’ve compiled the most effective techniques for remote employee time tracking from around the web. Read on to discover how you can track your remote workforce without coming off as too invasive.
What is remote employee time tracking?
Employee time tracking refers to keeping track of an employee’s work hours and productivity.
In traditional work environments, employees clock in and out using time clocks while on the job. In this case, they’re often under direct supervision during the workday. As such, employers always knew where their employees were and what they were working on. If an employee began neglecting their tasks and wasting time, it would become immediately apparent to their manager/supervisor — and they would receive disciplinary action.
This traditional form of time tracking has long been used as a way to manage employee productivity & performance, but the advent of remote work has thrown a wrench into the works. With some team members absent from the office, it becomes more difficult to track employee activity. After all, you don’t want to pay your team to watch Netflix, so you need to have a way to keep track of their activities during billable hours.
According to a recent survey, companies that tried out employee monitoring tools discovered 53% of employees were engaging in nonwork-related activities for 3 or more hours of the workday. That shocking discovery led to layoffs, which eventually provided a boost in productivity and profitability once the employee monitoring software was fully implemented.
While you don’t want to violate anyone’s privacy, you’ll need some sort of time-tracking solution for remote workers. Otherwise, your team may start neglecting their duties — either intentionally or unintentionally.
Another reason to implement employee monitoring tools is to ensure that your employees aren’t using company equipment for personal use (think company phones, tablets, laptops, printers, etc.).
Employers have many options for tracking remote employees, including programs that:
Take incremental screenshots of what employees are working on.
Log each individual keystroke from remote workers.
Block inappropriate content and applications (like streaming services & social media sites).
Besides software, organizations can also use spreadsheets, task lists, and self-reporting from employees.
The benefits of tracking remote work
If you trust your team, you may wonder why you need to track their activity in the first place.
However, there’s a difference between trust and having no system for accountability.
Using a time tracker will let your employees know that you’re paying attention to what they’re doing, which creates accountability. Otherwise, there’s nothing to discourage them from taking excessive breaks, wasting time, or stepping away from their work entirely.
Besides creating accountability, remote employee time tracking also provides the following benefits:
It saves time. You likely spend quite a bit of time monitoring & managing your employees. With intuitive time-tracking software, you can automate many of these processes to save a ton of time. Your remote employees will know they have to stay focused on their work, and you’ll have time to focus on other things.
Frees up office space. The more remote workers you have, the less physical office space you’ll need to occupy. As such, you’ll be able to either downsize or repurpose your existing offices, which is a plus.
It makes billing clients a breeze. A handy time tracking tool will make billing your clients effortless, as all employee hours are automatically logged.
It makes task management a possibility. Without monitoring tools in place, you’ll have no way to keep track of your team’s progress on specific tasks and projects. Tools like Asana make it easy to find out where your team is at on their assigned tasks in real-time.
No stress in hiring new remote workers. Without employee time tracking in place, there’s always a bit of stress involved in hiring new remote workers. Namely, you want to know that they’ll actually spend a full workday on their tasks instead of wasting lots of time. A solid method for tracking remote employees will make that anxiety a thing of the past.
You can administer feedback. As a manager, providing your employees with constructive feedback is a huge part of what you do. Yet, it’s impossible to give feedback if you have no idea what your employees are up to during the day. With monitoring tools in place, you’ll be able to identify team members in need of coaching.
It boosts productivity. As stated before, many companies saw a noticeable boost in productivity after implementing remote employee time tracking. That’s because they discovered some employees were wasting up to 3 hours a day, which is a huge blow to productivity. Without time tracking in place, the very same thing may be happening at your organization, which is why it’s so crucial.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why remote employee monitoring is well worth your while.
5 ways to track & monitor remote employees
Now that you know why remote employee time tracking is a necessity, it’s time to learn some reliable ways to implement it. Before we dive in, don’t forget to be completely transparent with your remote workers about how you plan on tracking their time & monitoring their progress.
Let each team member know the importance of remote employee time tracking and why it has to happen. Also, clue them in on your methods so that nothing comes as a surprise. If you’re going to use a monitoring tool that takes periodic screenshots of their workspace, you’ll definitely need to let your team know beforehand.
This level of transparency will help your employees better understand & accept your decisions, which is what you want.
Without further ado, here are 5 ways to handle time management & track your remote team’s productivity.
#1: Track their email activity
The average professional spends 28% of their time writing, sending, and responding to emails. However, that percentage jumps up to about 50% for remote workers.
Why is that?
It has to do with the increased volume of emails due to the rise in remote working after 2020. In fact, estimates state that the overall volume of emails rose a whopping 44% after the pandemic. That means your remote workers will spend the majority of their day in their email inboxes, which is why you need a way to track their activity within it.
In particular, you need answers to the following questions:
Who are they emailing?
How many emails do they send & receive in a day?
How quickly do they respond to colleagues, leads, and important clients?
What’s their busiest time of day?
What is their average response time?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you determine how busy your remote workers are at any given time.
Not only is that useful to see who’s pulling their weight, but it can also clue you in on which remote workers have the largest workloads. That way, you can assign new tasks to employees that aren’t as overloaded to increase productivity.
Programs like EmailAnalytics allow managers to view detailed reports on their remote worker’s email activity in a visual format. You’ll get to use a combination of line graphs, pie charts, and metrics to monitor the inboxes of your remote workforce.
#2: Use project management software
Many companies turn to project management software like Asana and ClickUp to keep track of their remote workers. These programs are also excellent for collaborating with a team of remote freelancers, such as writers and graphic designers.
They’re cloud-based, so you can access all project information & team communications in one location.
As the manager, you can assign specific tasks to your team that include:
Messages from colleagues.
Attachments (word documents, videos, etc.).
Each team member has a unique dashboard where they can see their assignments & due dates. Once an assignment is complete, they can mark it as such. Some programs even provide further detail for task completion, using status updates like ‘in progress’ or ‘almost done.’ Platforms like ClickUp offer built-in automatic time tracking & time reports.
You can use them both to gauge how long your team spends on each specific task, which can give you a clearer idea of how they’re spending their time during the workday.
In Asana’s advanced plans, you can also estimate the amount of time needed to complete a task and then compare it with how long it actually takes a team member to make it happen.
For smaller businesses and startups, a project management tool like Trello can suffice, and it has an extensive free version. It uses kanban boards and cards to organize projects & tasks, and it has a highly intuitive interface that’s effortless to pick up and start using.
#3: Use manual task lists and timesheets
If you don’t want to use any software tools at all, you can opt to handle remote employee monitoring manually. While this method can save money, it does tend to be more time-consuming than the other options. Still, if you prefer doing things old-school, there’s no reason why you can’t create your own task lists and time sheets.
You can use spreadsheet software like Excel to create both, although time sheets are a bit more complex.
In particular, you’ll basically have to take it on faith when employees self-report their work hours & time spent on specific tasks.
Task sheets are more straightforward, as the task is completed or it isn’t.
Don’t forget to add due dates for each assignment to elicit a sense of urgency in your remote employees. Otherwise, you may fall behind with your projects due to your team procrastinating.
Also, pay close attention to the amount of work you assign to each employee. The last thing you want is to overburden one worker while the rest of the team twiddles their thumbs without much to do.
#4: Time clock software
Another option is to have your remote team clock in and clock out just as they would at your physical office. There are many programs out there that enable you to do this, such as TimeTrakGO.
It provides a time card for each employee that uses puzzle pieces to visualize clock-in and clock-out times — and it boasts highly accurate timesheets. You can view the time cards for your entire team on one screen, which makes it easy to identify missed punches & mistakes. You also get the option of viewing time cards by each week, month, or pay period.
The Projected Hours feature lets you instantly see any employees that are about to hit overtime, which will save you quite a bit of money.
The software also makes it easy for your remote team to clock in and out, as there’s a mobile app they can use on any type of mobile device.
The platform also works on any web browser & operating system, including Chrome, Android, Linux, and IOS. While time clock software offers no way to track progress on individual tasks, it does provide an organized way to track your team’s billable hours for payroll purposes.
#5: Employee self-reporting
Lastly, if you have a lot of trust in your remote team, you can implement a self-reporting system. That’s where your team reports their hours & progress on tasks by themselves.
One way to go about this would be to have your team send you an email at the end of each day where they summarize their duties for the day and if they feel overworked or not.
This can be effective because you’re letting each employee tell you if they feel they’re capable of taking on new tasks. This type of self-analysis can have a positive effect, but it’s crucial to remain cautious. That’s because placing all the trust in your employees to report on their workloads can lead some to misrepresent themselves. For instance, an underworked employee may claim to be overworked.
To avoid this, you should still implement some sort of objective tracking system alongside self-reporting.
The top tools for remote employee time tracking
Now that you know a few ways to track your employees, you’re probably wondering which tools & apps are the most reliable for managing your workflows. The following tools will help everyone track their remote teams, from small businesses to enterprise-level companies.
First, let’s look at Hubstaff, a true powerhouse for tracking your remote employees.
Its core features include:
As you can see, Hubstaff even allows you to track your employees by their GPS location, which will let you know if they’re actually at their home working.
Formerly Tsheets, Quickbooks Time is a fantastic employee time tracking tool that integrates with HR. It’s usable from anywhere (there are both mobile and desktop apps), and there’s a built-in messaging system — which is handy for keeping in touch with your team while monitoring their progress.
Even if you don’t have Quickbooks Time open, it will send you automated email notifications whenever something happens. These are entirely customizable, so you have control over what activities (or lack of activities) trigger email notifications.
Other functionalities include detailed time card reports, staff scheduling, and payroll integrations.
Do you already use Asana, Trello, or Slack in your organization? If so, then Toggl Track is an excellent time-tracking tool to use, as it seamlessly integrates with all three.
That means you can use Asana to assign tasks to your team while Toggl Track logs the total time they spend working on them. That way, you can accurately assess if an employee’s self-reported hours are accurate or not.
Toggl Track also features the following:
Toggl Track also has an intuitive interface that’s easy to pick up and start using on day one.
Concluding thoughts: Remote employee time tracking
Those are the top methods and tools for tracking your remote workforce. It’s clear that remote working isn’t going anywhere, so it’s crucial for companies to adapt to it instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist.
With a proper time tracking system in place, you’ll be able to successfully operate your company without seeing any dips in productivity or revenue.