Once you’ve determined that is it important to track your technicians’ time in the field, how do you go about selecting the right app, building the relevant structure that properly categorizes the labor, and most importantly establishing a time-tracking culture within the company? It can be done!
Picking an App
There are three major considerations when picking a time-tracking app: your existing infrastructure, accessibility, and ability to report.
Existing Infrastructure: If your company already uses an existing system to track CRM, billing, and other data for your clients, consider using its built-in time-tracking tool. The more tied together your data is the better (in other words, when time is tracked in a comprehensive system it’s usually tied to an open work order or service ticket).
However, keeping in mind how accessible the system is and how well it has the ability to create reports, it may be better to go with an independent tool if your existing system is either antiquated or not fully used across all client-facing employees (such as Quickbooks or D-Tools). An antiquated system is unlikely to have a time-tracking app for every mobile device and computer.
Accessibility: Tracking time for service teams is extraordinarily difficult because they tend to be in unpredictable places (both physically and virtually). It might be your coordinator at the office on a computer or a service tech providing some advanced phone support while on the road. It could even be a service tech on a client site without access to internet. You want to make sure that time tracking is easy – because if it’s not easy then it won’t happen.
Ability to Report: The system needs to be able to easily produce reports that you can use. It should be able to report separately on clients, projects, team members, and task types.
At OneVision Resources we used the time tracking tool Harvest. It has an app for every platform and integrations with virtually every other web app out there – two things that make it very accessible so it was easy for anyone on the team to enter their time. It also has excellent reporting and filtering capabilities.
If you’re not going to use built-in time-tracking functionality within your existing company’s apps then I highly recommend using Harvest.
Building a Structure, Categorizing Your Work
Organizing your time entries is important so that you can extract meaningful conclusions from the data you’re gathering.
Clients and Projects: Every family or business you work with should be considered a “Client.” The work you do for that client should be categorized into one of two types of “Projects” — day-to-day service or one-off projects. Additionally, we use the “Project Code” field in Harvest to separate the project types.
As a side note, every single one of these Projects should have a corresponding agreement. No work should be performed without an agreement of some sort so that you know how you’re always getting paid for work you’re performing (even if that means some of the work is part of a warranty contract – make sure you have it in place and set up a project in your time tracking system to track that time appropriately).
Client: Smith (Jane and John)
SVC – Service
PRJ – New TV in Family Room (Apr, 2015)
PRJ – System Upgrade (Jan, 2014)
As we finish projects and send the final bill, we archive the project from Harvest. Any service call that came up in relation to that project clearly only had one place to be tracked – in the “SVC – Service” project.
Tasks: Time entries should be delineated in such a way that you can make decisions with the data you glean from tracking all this time. At first we attempted tracking time by type of work (Finish, Programming, Project Management) but found that while it may have worked for the projects team it did not work for our service team. For the service team we focused on two separate concepts: the type of work and the type of request.
We knew we needed to track travel time which naturally led to a separation of time spent remotely (from our office) and on-site (in the client’s home). But we also learned it was important to track whether the time was pre-scheduled (“Normal”) or last-minute (“Urgent”) so that we could understand how to price our service plans.
This led us to the following task list:
Normal – Remote
Normal – Travel
Normal – On-Site
Urgent – Remote
Urgent – Travel
Urgent – On-Site
Establishing the Culture to Track Time
At OneVision we set up a project for every single engagement – whether it was a project or a service agreement. Many clients never had anything more than a Service project while others had multiple ongoing traditional projects. But every client, by the time they finished their first project with us, had a Service project for their lifetime of their relationship with the company.
Anyone who was client-facing was held accountable for their time tracked and expected to track 10 hours/day (if full-time). This took into account the fact that
a) our time-tracking system rounded entries up to the nearest 15-minute increment so time totals would be rounded up, especially on the service teams where multi-tasking with client issues was inevitable, and
b) we knew our team was putting time in after-hours
We reported on this time tracking daily and we followed up with those individuals who were not able to track at least 90 percent of their time. Employees even had to track their time spent on sick/vacation leave, lunch, personal (such as bathroom breaks), and internal meetings. We wanted to know where it was all going.
The premise here is that the only number you know with 100-percent confidence is the number of hours your team should be putting into the company. For us it was 10 hours/day/FTE (full-time employee). The assumption we’re making is that if the team is tracking all their time then you’ll get an accurate representation of where that time is going. True or not, this is likely the best path to data accuracy you have.
With that in mind we ran reports every week showing us the “accuracy” of our time tracking data.
Accuracy = Number of Hours Tracked
# of Client-Facing Employees x 50 hours
We expected to see 90 percent+ every week. As you can imagine our team executed on this perfectly right out of the gate.
Just kidding! We were awful at tracking this data and had a very hard time getting accurate numbers. We found that accuracy was near perfect for hourly employees, but salaried employees were incredibly bad at tracking 100 percent of their time. The explanation for the disparity is obvious (the former wouldn’t be paid if they didn’t track their time), but the remedy to the situation was not as clear.
We tried having meetings with the team showing them the difficulties we had in understanding our own costs and profitability without this data. We debated docking their pay if they didn’t track accurately (after all, since billable hours were the lifeblood of our business we could argue that them not tracking time led to us unable to bill appropriately) – let me tell you right now that your HR-hat wearing professional will probably not allow this. We thought about paying little bonuses if people accurately tracked their time but didn’t like the notion that we had to give bonuses to get our team to execute on the basic responsibilities of their job.
What worked in the end was a two-fold approach:
- We updated everyone’s responsibilities to include accurate time tracking and explained that their reviews would be dependent upon it.
- We put one person on the team in charge of reporting on time tracking daily and following up with team members at the end of every day to make sure the data were logged.
This ultimately solved the problem and we began to see 90 percent+ accuracy levels for many weeks consistently on end. Once the team recognized that their jobs/bonuses depended on this data they began tracking it more reliably but it was when we put one of their own in charge of making sure the data was input every day that’s when we witness the biggest change.
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