During the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, more and more employees are being forced to work from home. Accordingly, business owners and managers are looking for ways to monitor employees working from home.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to monitor employees working from home so you can effectively measure and monitor these employee workloads—then optimize them to benefit your business.
Here are a few quick links to further resources to help you monitor employees working from home during the COVID-19 crisis:
- 10 Employee Productivity Tracking Software Tools
- 15 Working From Home Productivity Statistics
- 51 Working From Home Tips Scientifically Proven to Boost Productivity (send this to your employees!)
- 17 Employee Productivity Stats Every Manager Needs to Measure
- 21 Employee Recognition Ideas to Keep Your Employees Motivated
- 21 Essential Tools for Remote Teams
Why Monitor Employee Workload?
Why is monitoring employee workload so valuable for your company?
- Balancing and delegation. First, you’ll have the opportunity to balance your employee workloads, and/or delegate work to the most appropriate people. For example, let’s say you have a team of 5 people, all working on the same types of tasks. Among them, 1 person has 10 tasks assigned to them for the week, 3 people have 15 tasks each, and 1 person has 25 tasks assigned to them. Understanding this workload balance allows you to shift at least a few tasks from that overworked individual to people who can better accommodate them, ultimately resulting in more tasks being completed in a timely manner.
- Burnout prevention and morale. Don’t neglect the importance of employee morale. In general, according to working from home productivity statistics, employees who work from home tend to be happier, less stressed, and more productive. Happy employees tend to be more productive employees, and stressed or overworked employees tend to leave. Monitoring employee workloads helps you proactively identify when your employees are taking on an unsustainable amount of work, so you can work with them to achieve a better balance. This is especially important for the overachievers on your team, who might take on more than they reasonable can in a bid to exceed expectations.
- Weak link management. Inevitably, you’re going to hire some weak links, who either aren’t interested in pulling their weight or who aren’t naturally disciplined enough to achieve their full potential. Monitoring employee workloads helps you pinpoint team members who aren’t taking on enough tasks, or who aren’t speaking up when they don’t have enough work on their plates. That way, you can work with these people to help them improve and produce more for your organization, such as these ways to motivate employees to maximize productivity.
- Sources of inefficiency. Workload monitoring is also a good way to notice when you’re running some inefficient or unproductive processes. For example, if you notice that your employee workloads are constantly unbalanced, it could be a sign that your task distribution system isn’t efficient. If you notice that one of your busiest employees also has one of the smallest workloads, it could be a sign that they aren’t spending their time wisely.
How to Monitor Employees Working from Home
So how exactly can you monitor employees working from home?
The high-level view on employee workload monitoring is that you need some way to quantify your employee workloads, and this is easier for some business models and some departments than it is for others. For example, if you have a team of employees who are producing consistent types of materials in bulk (like assembling things at a factory), you can easily associate workload with the number of such projects available (or completed in a given period of time).
For roles with more nebulous or qualitative standards of work, you’ll have to be more creative in how you monitor work-from-home employee workloads. Fortunately, you have several options to choose from:
1. Email volume.
In most modern professions, email is a fantastic telltale of the amount of work someone is managing at any given time. Email is a tool for communicating with other people (which is a form of work in and of itself), and also a tool for assigning projects, delegating tasks, and signaling updates. Accordingly, the more emails someone is sending and receiving, the busier they likely are.
If you want to measure email volume, you’ll need a tool like EmailAnalytics to do it. EmailAnalytics allows you to connect with your employees’ Gmail or G Suite accounts, so you can monitor various statistics related to their email habits. For example, you’ll be able to learn how many emails they’re sending and receiving, who their top senders and recipients are, their busiest times of day and days of the week, average email response times, and more. With this information, you can quickly determine who on your team is busiest, who isn’t pulling their weight, and how you might rebalance workloads to optimize productivity and efficiency on your team.
2. Time tracking.
Your next option is using some kind of employee productivity tracking tool to keep tabs on how your employees are spending time throughout the day. Time Doctor and Toggl are two of the big names in this field, but you could use just about any tool that allows you to track and analyze employee time usage.
These tools usually encourage your employees to start and stop a built-in timer, as appropriate, whenever they begin a new task. Depending on how you manage this implementation, you could mandate that employees track all their work throughout the day, or only use it for certain types of projects. Either way, you’ll be able to log in and see how your employees are using their time, evaluating which of your employees are busiest with productive work and which ones have time to fill.
This method has some weaknesses, however; for example, time tracking isn’t ideal for keeping track of things like phone calls and impromptu meetings, and there’s always the chance your employees are fabricating their time usage.
Be sure to check out our list of the best time tracking apps here.
3. Project management apps.
Project management apps come in many different varieties, but they all have the same purpose: helping your business manage, organize, and assign tasks related to various projects.
When you get a new project, a project manager or supervisor will create it in the app, at which point they can assign employees to work on that project. At any point, you can log in and see which employees are assigned to which projects, and if any employees need more tasks to fill their day. Trello and Basecamp are some top names here, but there are hundreds of apps to choose from.
These apps aren’t ideal as an all-in-one employee workload monitoring tool because they leave so many unanswered questions. For example, they don’t typically address employee tasks not relevant to a particular project (like, say, organizing their email inbox), and different projects may come with different levels of responsibility or time commitment, making them hard to quantify.
4. Task lists.
Task lists can work within the context of project management apps, but they focus on individual tasks assigned to people, rather than high-level projects. They offer a few key advantages over merely using project tracking; for example, you’ll be able to see if a project is disproportionately distributed, like if one employee has 70 percent of the tasks associated with that project assigned to them. You can also track tasks not associated with a particular project, like administrative responsibilities.
There are also a few problems with using task lists for monitoring employees working from home. For starters, you’ll need some kind of system to evaluate the relative burden of each task; not all tasks will serve as an equal unit of responsibility. Creating and managing tasks also becomes work in and of itself; supervisors or employees will need to make new tasks for everything they do, and remember to check them off when finished. Accordingly, even the best task systems end up having discrepancies that reduce the accuracy of its tracking.
If you trust your employees, or if you have a small team, you could also institute some policy related to self-reporting. As a simple example, you could have each of your employees send a brief report to a manager or supervisor at the end of the day, explaining which projects they’re currently working on, how busy they feel, and whether they feel capable of taking on more responsibilities.
This is useful because it allows for some degree of subjective analysis; workers can determine for themselves whether they’re underworked, overworked, or whether they have a balanced workload. Of course, this also allows for some room to misrepresent workloads. Even if you have implicit trust in your employees, it’s a good idea to have some objective form of measurement, independent of this system.
6. Managerial supervision and reports.
Instead of asking your employees to volunteer information about their current workloads, you could task your managers and supervisors with actively monitoring, reporting on, and if necessary, rebalancing employee workloads. Give them the freedom to choose whichever combination of employee workload monitoring tools they wish to use, and provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
Chances are, you’ll need to use this in combination with one or more of the other strategies on this list. The big difference here is that your supervisors will be empowered to adjust their approach as they see fit, and your employees won’t be directly responsible for the tracking or reporting process.
7. Subjective factors.
Most of this article has described systems that favor objective methods of tracking employee workloads, particularly for monitoring employees working from home, and for good reason; objective evidence is highly reliable and easy to analyze. But you might also want to incorporate some level of subjective analysis, especially when it comes to employee morale.
Pay close attention to how your employees behave when they’re in the office, and use those behavioral cues as your guide for establishing their current workload. For example, do you notice that one of your employees seems grumpy, or more stressed than usual, and is staying late to catch up their work? They might have an excessively high workload. Is one of your employees meandering from cubicle to cubicle, and hurriedly minimizing their web browser whenever they notice a supervisor walking by? They probably have a smaller workload than they should.
Every possible method to monitor employees working from home is going to have strengths and weaknesses, so choose the method or combination that most closely fits your business’s needs. And don’t be afraid to help train your employees how to be better at working from home! You can start by showing them these 51 work from home tips that are scientifically proven to boost productivity.
Are you ready to start monitoring employees working from home, and take control over your team’s productivity? The best app to start with is EmailAnalytics. With EmailAnalytics, you’ll be able to visualize and monitor incoming and outgoing emails, busy email times and days, and dozens of other metrics meant to help you understand the workload of your team. Sign up for a free trial today, and learn how EmailAnalytics can drastically improve your business!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics, and co-host of the podcast The Entrepreneur Cast.