Bosses are tracking how long you're working — and using it to judge your performance. It's a terrible way to get the best out of workers.

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Bosses are tracking how long you're working — and using it to judge your performance. It's a terrible way to get the best out of workers.
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  • How should productivity be measured? Desk workers and executives disagree.
  • Many companies with remote or hybrid workforces use tracking software to monitor their workers.
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The jury is still out on whether fully remote workers are less productive, but many companies seem to be coming to this conclusion — and acting accordingly.

But overly focusing on how long someone's sitting at their computer, whether at home or in the office, may not be the best way to gauge how well they're doing their job. Employees and workplace experts say there are better ways to measure productivity.

Tech giants such as Google, Amazon, X, and Meta have started requiring employees to work from the office more often. At the same time, some companies with a fully remote or hybrid workforce are relying on employee-tracking software to keep tabs on workers when they're not in the office.

In a March ResumeBuilder.com survey of 1,000 US business leaders, 96% of respondents working at organizations with a primarily remote or hybrid workforce said their firms used some form of employee-monitoring software. Only 10% of those companies were doing so before the pandemic, the survey found. Many respondents said the software was being used to monitor web browsing. Some said their company used it to block content, track keystrokes, and capture random screenshots of workers' screens. Sixty-three percent of the leaders said they strongly believed introducing the software helped boost productivity.

There's also tracking going on for those who need to work in person. JPMorgan's monitoring system, for instance, tracks office attendance and time spent composing emails, Insider reported last year.

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As office attendance and productivity tracking become increasingly common, more companies are using it to evaluate, discipline, and even fire employees. Employees who break Meta's return-to-office rules, for instance, risk termination, according to the company. About three-quarters of respondents in the ResumeBuilder.com survey said they had fired employees based on findings from their tracking software.

But if US companies are truly concerned about maximizing their employees' productivity, some of them may be doing it all wrong.

A report this year from the workplace-messaging company Slack found a lack of agreement about measuring productivity between employees and executives.

"Based on our data, visibility and activity ranked at the top of leaders' go-to metrics," the Slack report on global survey results from desk workers and executives said. "However, most individual contributors prefer to be measured based on what they produce, through team goals and KPIs."

Aaron Terrazas, the chief economist at Glassdoor, told Insider that there's a "rich debate" going on about what exactly productivity was in a remote setting compared with in an office. Terrazas said that traditionally, economists and probably many executives believed that this would be time spent in the office, visibility, and the revenue an employee generated from their hours working.

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"Our economy is no longer kind of a manufacturing economy, and creative work is not necessarily sitting in front of a screen," Terrazas said. "We are starting to recognize that a lot of workers who are in front of a screen in an office aren't necessarily productive and a lot of workers who look like they are out for a run or doing laundry — that is kind of ways to spark creative productivity as well."

Robert C. Pozen, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management who has written about productivity, told Insider: "The notion of tracking hours is so antithetical to being productive."

This kind of tracking, Pozen said, gives "a false sense of accountability" because hours are not a "very good proxy for productivity." The key to figuring out productivity, Pozen said, is "to figure out what your high-priority objectives are, what your success metrics are, and then to focus on them and not to get hung up by how many hours you work."

Companies don't need to stop keeping tabs on attendance, but it may not be helpful as a productivity measure. Paul Rubenstein, the chief people officer for the people-analytics company Visier, told Insider that work contribution was a good measure versus attendance. Rubenstein added that attendance was still important.

"Just telling people to come to the office or back to the office without any purpose to it is silly," Rubenstein said. "People won't connect to it."

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It remains to be seen whether tracking will become the new normal.

"As managers become more comfortable in managing a remote workforce, and as younger workers become managers and have been working more of their career remotely, software monitoring will hopefully become antiquated and the focus will be on results and not the amount of time worked," Stacie Haller, the chief career advisor at ResumeBuilder.com, said in a statement.

How does your company track productivity, and how do you feel about it? Reach out to these reporters at mhoff@insider.com and jzinkula@insider.com to share.

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