Managing staff time

The dividing line between work and personal time is becoming increasingly blurred. A flexible, self-regulating approach to time management will benefit both employee and employer, argues Simon Norris of software supplier Temperus.

The dividing line between work and personal time is becoming increasingly blurred. A self-regulating approach, in which staff are free to organise their own time in a responsible way, can offer significant benefits to employee and employer, argues Simon Norris of time management software supplier Temperus.

While the myth of the nine-to-five lives on, the average office worker no longer has a working day that their parents would recognise. The twin forces of technology and globalisation have transformed our working lives, and switching off and tuning out is becoming increasingly difficult.

The relationship between office hours and working hours is becoming less clearly defined, and the growing popularity of sites such as Facebook, YouTube and eBay provides an ever-increasing source of distractions for staff. In response, managers are under pressure to ensure that employees fulfil their contracted working hours and that this time is used productively.

One solution that is increasingly popular is the selective blocking of websites. Lloyds TSB, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Transport for London are just four organisations that have recently implemented such restrictions. Yet this approach can lead to frustrations among staff, and can give the impression of an increasingly intolerant and inflexible working environment. Blocks can often be easy to bypass by using one of the wealth of ‘proxy’ sites that replicate content from sites such as Facebook under a different domain name.

The problems don’t end there. Blocking often involves a high level of inconvenience and administrative overheads for IT departments. And providing staff with ‘block-free’ periods at scheduled times – such as lunchtimes – can cause work to suddenly grind to a halt, along with customer service and productivity.

Using the internet for socialising or other non-work related activities is clearly different from using it to access illicit, illegal or discriminatory material. For these, blocking and disciplinary action are appropriate. As a means of helping employers to ensure that staff use their time effectively though, blocking is an inflexible strategy that does little to help employees – and organisations – to benefit from many of the advantages the internet can provide.

Fortunately, alternative solutions are starting to emerge. One approach is to install software that measures the time employees spend using different websites or computer applications. By providing the employer with a clear breakdown of how working time is spent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, such a system can help ensure that staff are working effectively and meeting their contractual commitments.

Of course, it is vital that time management software is introduced in an open and transparent manner, and presented as a tool to encourage self-regulation rather than a sinister means of surveillance. Rather than feeling they are being ‘nannied’, staff should be treated as adults – and encouraged to respond in kind.

If this balancing act between flexibility and control can be pulled off, the data collected by time management software can be analysed to provide broader insights. For instance, comparing the productivity of staff working from home with those in the office can help to shape policies for home working, while statistics showing variations in productivity by time of day, or by day of week, can help managers to schedule internal meetings and other activities to best effect.

It is clear that patterns of work are changing, and there is no evidence to suggest a likely reversal in the trend for flexibility. As we come to rely more heavily upon technology in both the work and personal spheres of life so employers and employees alike will look to technology to help them to monitor and improve their own working practices. A system that works to inform and protect both parties will surely equip them well to deal with the changing face of working life.

See also: The rise of flexible working – Is it right for your business?

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.