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Timesheets rarely get a
lot of good press among employees. Admittedly, they often live up to their bad
reputation: nobody likes to sign a ton of papers just to “prove” they had put a
given amount of work time.
On the other hand,
however, timesheets can be truly beneficial for both managers and their
team members. The key is to select the right tool for your team, establish
processes you can follow regularly and support everything with ongoing communication.
In this article I will outline a couple of ways in which you can gather
insights from your team’s timesheets.
Let’s start with the
question at hand:
Simply put: timesheet
management is a practice of monitoring and analyzing timesheets (recorded work
hours). It can also involve taking
different actions e.g. calculating employee payroll or invoicing the client
based on these timesheets.
The working time used to be summarized on a
sheet of paper, hence the name of the timesheet. Nowadays, online timesheets
are much more popular, although there are several options here as well: from
simple spreadsheets to AI-powered software tools.
As I’ve mentioned at the top of this
article, timesheets are notorious for being rather unpopular among employees.
Let’s dive into this topic and try to answer a question that is being raised
Are timesheets evil?
Not necessarily, but there are definitely
cases in which timesheets are an utter waste of time
that may greatly contribute to people’s dissatisfaction with their workplace.
See, historically, timesheets have been a
way to prove that people have actually done their work. That’s where things get
problematic. First of all, this can easily create a culture in which people
feel that their timesheets are more important than the effects of their work.
It doesn’t feel good to have to prove that you worked or that you’re being that
closely watched (and timed) by your supervisors.
Also, this doesn’t incentivize people to be
more efficient at work. Why look for better solution if you can just log more
time in the timesheet (and possibly get paid more)?
This is not to say that paying by the hour is necessarily
bad, even in the project setting. While in this text we don’t go into detail
about using timesheets to determine one’s monthly earnings, we understand that
it’s an important use case for companies who e.g. work with freelancers. This
is why we’ve created a separate guide on calculating employee
Finally, people are really bad at
remembering how much time they’ve actually spent working on something. This is
why filling out timesheets at the end of the week or, worse even, a month is
closer to writing fan fiction than collecting reliable data.
All in all, we can say that timesheets have little effect
- You and your team
understand their purpose and see the value,
- Timesheets are filled out
regularly and truthfully,
- The quantitative timesheet
data is supported with regular communication to gather more descriptive
insights (more on that below)
- A suitable form of
timesheet is employed.
The latter aspect is something worth
emphasizing as many teams still rely on simple spreadsheets to do the job (most
companies have thankfully moved on from actual sheets of paper). It’s a step in
the right direction, since an online document can be easily updated and
accessed by multiple team members if needed, but it’s still a sheet that needs
to be filled out, which is not the most convenient thing to do.
Modern time tracking tools often come with
start/stop trackers that can be switched on and off by one click. Others offer
beacons that automatically record clocking in and out.
From the managerial perspective, another
important aspect is that the timesheet
software is paired with a leave management tool. People need to be
able to record their working time as well as their time off, otherwise you
might end up worrying about empty timesheets of someone’s who’s just on
Using software that serves also as your
team’s schedule gives you an extra value of being able to compare the planned
working hours with the recorded ones. Data-driven project managers can use this
insight to evaluate the state of their project and whether anything should be
That’s just one example of how
timesheet management can support PMs in delivering their
tasks but there are more. In fact, I’m going to dedicate the next section to
ideas as to how you can use your team’s timesheets to the benefit of the team
and the project.
timesheet management: use cases
Calculate the cost of your projects
A must-have for companies who operate on
time & materials contracts. Since you’re billing your clients for the labor
your team puts into the project, you might simply use their timesheets as the
base for your invoice. Many resource management tools allow you to export the
timesheet data or share it externally.
Find room for improvements and savings
Analyzing your team’s timesheets is a great opportunity
to dive deeper into the data and identify improvement opportunities. Many time
tracking tools offer an option to tag recorded time entries with predefined
categories or add comments to them. This way you can analyze how much time of
your team goes into non-billable activities. Granted, a lot of it is probably
well-justified, but you might also see worrying patterns. What could they be?
An abundance of meetings could be a red flag. People spending a lot of time on
administrative tasks would be another one. It might turn out that investing in
collaboration or knowledge-sharing tools could be a money saver in the long
run. Your team morale will also benefit from a more robust process.
Historical data, such as timesheets, can be also used to
forecast recruitment needs. Looking at numbers from previous years or months,
companies are able to spot trends that are likely to happen again.
problems before they escalate
Sometimes project difficulties are fairly simple to
notice just by looking at the recorded timesheets. For example, people may
start logging a lot of overtime in order to deliver the next milestones.
It’s a good practice, however, to regularly compare your
team’s recorded time entries with the estimated schedule. This will allow you
to spot any inconsistencies before they result in missed deadlines.
Another important thing to keep in mind when it comes to
timesheet management is that timesheets
can’t replace regular communication with your team.
The numbers will provide you with information that
something happens. But in order to understand the “why”, you need to discuss
matters with the project team. Not only will you be able to get to the bottom
of the problem, but it’s also a great way of building a workplace culture in
which employees are actually heard and respected. As such, they’re less likely
to treat timesheets like a necessary evil hanging over their heads.
won’t tell you everything you need to know about your team’s effectiveness or
the quality of work, but they can provide important signals for project
managers to act upon. Creating a deliberate and transparent policy of timesheet
management, backed by open communication with your team will help you keep your
projects under control while maintaining high employee satisfaction.