When I started my company, I swore that I would never fill out another timecard again. After all, owning your own company should come with some perks and filling out daily timecards was one of the things I loathed most about working for the man. While employers will argue that timecards are essential for project tracking and staff accountability, it’s pretty obvious to those subjected to this daily exercise in creative storytelling that timecards are a waste of time.
First of all, relying on timecards to track project progress is a joke. Effective project managers should know where their projects stand based on actual results, not the number of hours that employees claim they have worked on a given task.
We all know the drill. For each day worked, employees input a detailed accounting of the projects they worked on, the tasks performed, and the number of hours – or fractions thereof – spent on each task. At the end of each billing cycle, a report is generated that shows the total time that employees billed to a given project on their timecards. Hours are multiplied by individual billing rates and a total dollar amount is generated. Then, after all of that… the project manager just bills what they can justify to the client based on actual results!
Next, timecards are inherently inaccurate and actually encourage dishonesty in the workplace.
What if employees have logged hours to a project in excess of the project budget? No problem. Just minimize additional hours allocated to that project and focus on projects with more budget. Meanwhile, the over-budget project still needs to get done. Where do those hours go on the timecard? To the project with extra budget, of course.
What about the inevitable non-billable time spent attending office meetings, checking emails, and (gulp) filling out timecards? If it was less than an hour; just round down or bill it to ‘project administration.’ Employees need to keep their utilization rate up if they’re going to survive the next round of layoffs!
Fudging timecards in order to meet utilization goals or avoid project write-offs doesn’t necessarily make one a bad person; but it certainly puts employees in a bad situation when they are rewarded for dishonesty and encouraged to round up or down in order to make the numbers work.
So, why fill out timecards at all? The best I can figure, there is an inherent mistrust that employers have towards their employees. Requiring staff to document every minute of the workday gives a sense of control and accountability to management. The reality, however, is that a high performance team doesn’t need an outdated system of time tracking in order to hold each other accountable and excel in serving their clients. Their results, not their tracked hours, speak for themselves.
In today’s climate of flexible work arrangements, remote offices, and unlimited vacation policies, the employer-employee relationship is built on mutual trust. If there is an underlying fear that employees are going to waste time or cheat the company, timecards are not going to fix that.
I fully recognize that timecards are so embedded into the culture of most companies that questioning their necessity is like questioning the need for an office coffee machine. However, if starting a company has taught me anything, it’s that implementing practices simply because “we’ve always done it that way” is a recipe for mediocrity.