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Most modern managers rely on some type of productivity or time tracking software to understand their workers’ productivity habits. Unfortunately, this software can’t tell you everything.

As with most forms of technology, productivity software isn’t a catch-all solution to eliminate your problems; it’s a tool, and the secret to using it effectively is to be judicious, understanding where its strengths and weaknesses lie.

So what is it that productivity software can tell you about your employees’ work habits, and where does it come up short?

What Software Can Tell You

Productivity software is adept at giving your objective, quantitative data about what your employees are doing. For example, it can typically tell you:

  • How long certain tasks and projects take. Any software with time tracking integration can tell you how long it takes your employees to complete certain tasks and projects. This is valuable for a number of reasons; it can help you gauge your employees’ efforts, recognize problematic tasks, and reward your best employees for an exceptional performance.
  • Employee efficiency. Performance tracking software is also good for conducting employee performance reviews—at least to an extent. It’s easy to compare two workers against each other, and zoom in on efficiency issues as they arise, especially as they become chronic.
  • Billing information. Many employers use time tracking as a way to handle billing efficiently. With independent contractors, you can figure out the rate for a given project instantly. You can also use employee hours to determine what to bill your clients.
  • Relative ROI (to an extent). If you know the hourly rates of your employees, you can also gauge the relative ROI of each task or project. For example, if it took your employees 20 hours to complete tasks that resulted in a $20,000 project, you can consider it a win as long as you’re paying them less than $1,000 an hour.

Where Software Falls Short

However, more subjective factors are more difficult to determine:

  • Sources of inefficiency. Your software may be able to tell you that your employees are taking longer to complete tasks than they should, but it can’t tell you why. For example, if your employees show a drop in productivity, you might never be aware that it’s due to a window treatment that isn’t letting in enough natural light.
  • Employee software use. You should also treat self-reported hours with a slight degree of skepticism. Employees have the power to start and stop a time tracking clock at will, and may even be able to log hours retroactively. Accordingly, there’s an honor system in place.
  • Methods of improvement. Performance tracking software might help you see where an issue exists, but it can’t give you firm recommendations on how to improve. If a project has a negative ROI, it won’t help you learn why.
  • Morale, retention, and longevity. Performance isn’t the only worthwhile metric to track for your employees. Performance tracking software can’t tell you much about morale, or about your rates of employee retention.

Relying on Multiple Tools

Your best path forward is to rely on productivity software as one of several tools you use to monitor, analyze, and understand your employees. Obtaining both quantitative and qualitative data, from multiple sources, will help you establish a better-rounded perspective, and provide you with all the insights you need to make a judgment call.

No system is perfect, but some productivity software platforms are inherently better than others. If you’re interested in upgrading your current performance-related software, make sure to sign up for a trial of SAP’s core platform.

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