Ditch time tracking (and other remote employee monitoring) in favor of team building

Ask yourself – would you like to be monitored while working? I bet every one of you will answer – hell no…
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Ask yourself – would you like to be monitored while working? For example, via taking screenshots, mouse movements or camera shots? I bet every one of you will answer – hell no.

So, why many companies still use time tracking as monitoring for remote employees?

It’s money, stupid, you’ll say. An employer wants to be sure that he pays for the real work. A time tracking makes sure that a remote employee/contractor is not slacking off over a paid time.

Why the same approach is seldom used for in-office employees, then? The answer is they are physically close which allows a manager:

  1. To monitor them indirectly: through non-verbal signals.
  2. They are a part of the team – not isolated outsiders.

A remote employee is often an isolated outsider. He is given tasks that are clearly described and have a determined output. He has to work as autonomous as possible without many interactions with the onsite team.

Isolation of remote employees buts them into conditions that they must work under time tracking. They are not an integral part of the team. That is why it seems better to give them well-determined tasks. And control their execution through such straightforward mechanism as time tracking.

Wouldn’t it be better if a remote employee was a full-fledged team member? In this case, there would be no need to control him. He could have been an integral part of the creative process instead of just completing tasks.

In this case, a team could save time on describing tasks in details, which can be overwhelmingly time-consuming. Instead of that the team could hire a remote employee and work with him as the team member fully including him into the creative process.

Some of you would say, that it’s impossible, because the remote employee is out of sight, and pretty much out of mind. You’d better give him a detailed task then wait for the result. It’s just simpler.

The primary reason for that is the lack of ways to communicate with them as close as with local employees.

Communication with remote employees is transactional. A manager sends a message, waits for the reply. Video calls often have to be scheduled because there is no way to see if a remote employee is available for the call. Communication with the remote employee if a set of online meetings with smaller text transactions.

Continuous communication is the key

How much money is wasted on the miscommunication with remote contractors? A lot. You schedule an online meeting. Finally, you meet online, quickly discuss things, and he goes back to work offline. Then after some time, it appears that the guy has misunderstood many things and did his job not exactly as you expected. You schedule another meeting and go through everything again. Then again and again.

Imagine if your remote employee was sitting behind the nearby desk inside your office. Wouldn’t it be convenient and easy to give him directions, discuss problems? It would be much faster, communication would be clear and easy. You could guide the direction of work more precisely, could correct mistakes sooner than later.

Why all that would be possible? Because he is nearby. He is present – visible, hearable. He is ready to be approached. He instantly can hear what you say.

Having such instant free-flowing communication allows you to treat a remote employee, not like just a tool, but more like a teammate. There won’t be necessary to demand him working under time tracking. You’d rather just work with him as with a team member.

It would be more convenient for the employee himself. He’d feel more involved and connected rather than being used as a tool. The system that also doesn’t take into consideration time he spends on thinking the work through.

Both parties win from such communication.

How can we have a continuous communication while working remotely

Live video communication is the obvious alternative for in-office communication.

I think we can have a live video communication only when the privacy of each user is respected. Such communication should respect privacy by design and by default.

Nobody wants to be watched, that is why standard video conferencing tools like Skype or Zoom wouldn’t fit that purpose. Because these tools don’t have any protection embedded in their designs to protect from such behavior.

Among all tools present on the market, unfortunately, there are no tools aimed for live video communication.

That is why I created an experimental tool that provides live video communication with an individual sense of privacy.

The privacy is achieved by having every user blurred by default:

And that’s not all. The design allows to control privacy, be fully aware of your visibility for others and have time to prepare for closer contact with another user.

I won’t go into details about my design. You can check it out here.

Conclusion

Time tracking is a necessary evil for working with remote contractors, because of their isolation from the rest of the team.

Such isolation makes communication difficult. It is difficult because it is transactional. Scheduling each communication transaction takes time and effort. That is why the employer wants to minimize the number of such transactions.

An employer gives remote employee tasks that are well-defined. Tasks are detailed and well-defined to minimize the number of communication transactions. In the case of a contractor, since there is a detailed job description, it is easy also to attach a fixed budget with time estimation.

To make sure that such a detailed task is executed on time and on the budget it is easier for the employer to take a straightforward approach – to use time tracking.

There would not be a need for time tracking if there was a possibility for the employer to communicate with a remote employee in an ad hoc fashion. He would just ask informally and periodically how things are going and get feedback.

P.S.

I encourage you to try VideoWorkLink (VWL). This is an experimental tool for live video communication with remote employees. It provides an individual sense of privacy that makes it easy to remain connected via live video without feeling discomfort.

Make your remote employees a favor – let them communicate their progress via live video instead of controlling them!

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Author: Oleg Galkin

Founder of VideoWorkLink. Software engineer and entrepreneur with 12 years of experience.

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