New HR Software Tries to Assess Productivity

No matter where they sit, employees at DeskTime have a grand view. Full-length windows at the company’s headquarters give a panoramic vista of downtown Riga, Latvia, about 5 miles away.

The ability to see at a distance is a metaphor for DeskTime, whose time-tracking software gives companies a window into employee productivity. DeskTime represents a new twist on conventional time-and-attendance software used for administrative and pay purposes.

DeskTime’s automated software collects and updates information in real time, such as the number of employees at work, how many are absent or outside the office—even who appears to be slacking off.

More important, it offers a measurement of productivity by sorting a company’s commonly used applications into three broad categories—productive, distracting and neutral—and monitors which employees access them and for how long. The resulting data are presented in graphs and charts in a dashboard format that is visible to managers and every employee.

DeskTime’s software collects fine-grained data, too, such as the time an employee clocks in or out, the percentage of time spent on productive tasks, and the period of time during the workday when the employee is most productive.

The system eliminates manual entry of time-and-attendance data. “You set it up once and don’t have to touch it ever again,” says the company’s CEO, Julia Gifford.

Software to track employee hours, provided by big vendors such as Kronos Inc. and Oracle Corp., has been around for years. Closely related are vendors of keystroke-monitoring software, which typically includes a surveillance feature to ensure employees don’t break company rules on Internet use.

Crowded Field

But DeskTime is part of a new breed of human resources vendors whose applications focus more on productivity than compliance. Among DeskTime’s rivals in this category are New York-based Harvest; TSheets of Eagle, Idaho; Seattle-based RescueTime; and Toggl, a startup based in Estonia, in Eastern Europe.

The potential to monitor employees minute by minute conjures up Big Brother, but DeskTime wasn’t designed for snooping, Gifford says.

“We encourage clients to leverage the information in a way that motivates employees to boost their performance and productivity. They need to be transparent and let employees know why the software is being used and the type of data it is collecting,” Gifford says.

Some customers have asked about more invasive features, such as screen captures and keystrokes, “but we’re just not comfortable with that.”

Companies have reason for concern over how employees use their time. Between 60 percent and 80 percent of workers spend time “cyberloafing” on the job, despite company policies that forbid it. So says a study to be published in May in Computers in Human Behavior, an academic journal.

The goldbricking results in lost productivity and exposes companies to potential legal risks, according to the report by associate business professors Joseph Ugrin at Kansas State University and John Pearson at Southern Illinois University.

The professors’ findings echo a survey of 3,200 workers last year by It reported that nearly two-thirds of employees acknowledge visiting nonwork-related websites each workday.

On the flip side, measuring productivity is an inexact science, especially in the case of knowledge workers. Rather than spending time in a productivity application, an employee might reflect on improved product features or a clever marketing campaign—work that won’t be captured merely by reading a graph.

The trick is to use these tools in ways that benefit employees, says Mary Ann Masarech, a lead consultant with BlessingWhite Inc. “Time-tracking tools can support engagement if they actually help people in their jobs,” such as enabling a project manager to track margins or assess if the time spent on the project is worth it.

“If the tool is only used as a policing device, then it can become a business practice that undermines engagement,” Masarech says.

There are situations in which employers are limited in their ability to monitor employees or prohibited from doing so altogether. Union contracts, for example, may restrict an employer’s monitoring while public-sector employees may have limited exemptions under the Fourth Amendment, according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy group based in California.

Growth at DeskTime

None of that really came into play when the idea behind DeskTime was first conceived, Gifford says. Before it was marketed as DeskTime, the software was used internally to track employees’ time and attendance at Draugiem Group, a business incubator and creator of a Latvian social network. Draugiem has launched more than 15 startups in Latvia, including DeskTime in 2011.

Draugiem Group has expanded rapidly to more than 100 employees, making it difficult for its makeshift human resources function to keep pace. “We realized at Draugiem that if we were having trouble keeping track of employees’ time, then other companies probably were having the same problem,” Gifford says.

DeskTime developers later added functions to enable companies to do more than capture data on time and attendance, Gifford says. The company, headquartered in Riga with U.S. operations in Santa Monica, California, says its software has been licensed to about 90 companies globally, encompassing 12,000 users.

Among the customers is Fueled, a New York-based company that builds interactive mobile Web applications. It uses DeskTime’s reporting feature to generate a daily productivity report that gets emailed to employees.

The purpose is to get employees to compete to be the most productive, says Rameet Chawla Fueled’s founder and CEO. “It lets the entire team see who is working most productively. It’s more of a higher level thing to increase our overall production.”

About the Author:

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor. Reprinted from Workforce

It’s Mobile HR Software — But it’s Not an App

While some companies are using human resources applications written specifically for iPhones and other mobile devices, a far larger number of organizations are tapping into Web-based services that are mobile enabled. The difference is subtle, but important. True mobile apps are written specifically for smartphones and can only be used on the devices they’re designed for—Android phones, BlackBerrys, iPhones or Windows phones.

Software services that are “mobile optimized” or “mobile enhanced” are basically websites or Web-based applications that are engineered to work well and look good on any mobile device, whether it’s from Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics or Research in Motion. The only things anyone needs to tap into these services are Internet access and a Web browser.

Today, more HR technology vendors offer mobile-enhanced software or services than true, mobile-native apps, and some industry watchers expect it to stay that way. Many of the biggest tasks that HR staffs want employees to handle themselves—like updating a personnel record—happen so infrequently it doesn’t justify the extra expense of creating an app when the cheaper alternative of modifying an existing website will do.

“Is that something you are going to use an app for? No,” says Jason Averbook, CEO of consultancy Knowledge Infusion. Instead, he predicts companies will continue to use more mobile-enhanced apps and only adopt apps that workers already use outside of work, such as tools for collaborating with co-workers.

Sonic Corp. is one company that’s opted for mobile-enhanced software over true mobile apps. The food chain is slated to begin offering a mobile-enabled hiring assessment service from PeopleAnswers Inc. in early 2013. Sonic wants to make it easy for job seekers to use a smartphone to apply for a position at its 3,500 Sonic Drive-In locations.

PeopleAnswers began offering a mobile-enhanced version of its screening and hiring software in May, and by the end of 2012, the company expects several hundred customers to have incorporated it in their career websites. The number of job seekers using it to apply online, though still small, has already doubled, according to PeopleAnswer Chief Operating Officer Ira Grossman. Eventually, “We expect the majority of candidates to come through that way,” he says.

Recognition services provider Achievers Corp. sells a mobile-enabled service for employee recognition programs that works on smartphones, tablets or desktop computers. When introduced the service to its employees, the company highlighted the fact that it worked on mobile devices, and “It’s been a huge hit,” says Nicole Vereen,’s senior manager of recognition programs.

Since they’re not technically apps, don’t expect to find mobile-optimized HR services on iTunes’ App Store or the Google Play store. The best way to track them down is to look on the “Products” or “Solutions” pages of a technology vendor’s website, or talk to a vendor representative to see what’s available.

Reprinted from Workforce Management

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