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Most executives are accustomed to tracking a wide variety of variables that affect our organizations: capital expenditures, return on investment, amortization rates, operating efficiency — you name it. Not only have we become more focused on tracking data and analytics, but we have developed a wide array of tools to help us put this information to good use.
Ironically, when it comes to one of our most important assets in today’s knowledge-worker economy – time – our methods for tracking it remain stuck in the nineteenth century. As managers and decision-makers, we have done little in the last several decades to modernize our approach to address time management and productivity.
Altering the way we think about tracking time is particularly important given recent arguments that the United States is facing a productivity slowdown. Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University, notes that labor productivity has been growing at an average of only 1.3% annually since 2005, compared with 2.8% each year in the previous decade.
Additionally, thanks to the Department of Labor’s final rule updating the overtime regulations, time is becoming an even more valuable asset that needs to be measured in tandem with other processes, such as project management, in order to ensure wage and hour compliance. The consequences for inaccurately tracking time have even greater legal consequences now that the salary threshold for who is eligible for overtime pay has doubled.
To make sure that we advance our thinking about how we manage time, we must learn to look at time the same way we do other manageable business assets. Here are a few ways that managers can foster better time management for today’s digitally astute and outcome-focused workforce.
Define what “valuable” time is
In today’s workplace, so much time is wasted throughout the day as a result of distractions (i.e., social media) and excessive meetings. While it is not feasible to fully eliminate interruptions, understanding the amount of time lost on a daily basis because of these distractions is necessary to identify what “valuable” time looks like. Not every work hour is created equal, so managers should determine which activities they consider vital for contributing to 1) their business objectives and 2) the organization’s profitability.
Tracking employee work hours via a one-dimensional time clock system is one way to determine how much each person contributes to the bottom line.
However, that alone does not reveal how people can best utilize their time in order to maximize productivity and achieve their company’s objectives. Modern time and workforce management systems can provide a granular and analytical view that ties back to productivity and profitability goals. By viewing employee time holistically, executives can develop real, actionable recommendations on how everyone can better spend their working hours. For instance, they may implement tactical changes such as reducing 30-minute weekly sitting meetings to 15-minute standing meetings, which ensures conversations are quick, to-the-point and time conscious. Efforts like this may seem small but can make a big impact when looked at over a period of time.
Foster a results-oriented work environment
Productivity should be quantified by results, not by hours spent. A 2014 study from Stanford University shows that productivity starts to slide around the 50-hour per week mark, meaning more time does not necessarily equal more output. With this in mind, HR executives can take an active role in helping to promote a workplace culture that clearly defines what success means, as well as make it attainable so that employees understand what to strive for. This includes:
- Helping managers teach their staff to prioritize what is urgent, and train them to focus on those assignments first instead of being distracted by less pressing tasks
- Developing a precedent for managers to set expectations with their employees about what is realistic to accomplish in a given day
- Designing a structure that assigns individual accountability. By promoting this type of transparent culture, time will become valued and measured by results that are achieved.
Needless to say, time tracking is not a favorite activity for employees. People usually need to be reminded to do it in the first place, and when they do, they often track inaccurately and not in real-time, which can impact billing, payroll, resource planning and more. With a resource as valuable as time, however, precision is key. Giving employees the ability to track time via a mobile app can remove the tedious part of time tracking and ensure more accuracy – sometimes all employees need to do is review and approve their timesheets.
HR can play an important role here by helping managers move away from ineffective manual time tracking and to an automated mobile process.
Unlike money, equipment and personnel, time is a true non-renewable resource. As HR works with management to identify what valuable time looks like, instill a results-oriented environment and update time tracking methods by going mobile, time will inevitably become a more measurable, usable asset for the company.
No pun intended, but time will tell how the extent of more measurable processes will have on productivity, profitability and compliance with changing labor regulations.