Most companies implement RFID systems to find out when people start work. It is very simple to set up system to send a notification when someone is late or is not working long enough. It is even simpler to do it this way and forget what is really important for your business.

If you manage a call center, a capital fund, a bank or other organization where starting at a specified time is crucial — you probably have a policy in which employees have to arrive a little bit earlier to be 100% sure they will be ready to work from the exact time. But how would you behave if you have to set up a rule for employees who do not need to do their work at specified hours? I mean ‘does not have’ from external issues — customers are not calling, the capital market is not running without you and so on. You pay people for the time they give you so you probably set up a policy like — you need to get in by 9.00 a.m. and spend 8 hours. To make it simple you just need to scan your RFID card at the entrance. If you spend less than 8 hours you will need to cover this time later.

This approach seems to be fair. And it really is! If you’re a shitty organization you will get more of … and if you’re cool one … you know.

Field report

In last 3 years I’ve been a leader in a team of analysts, who conducted research on employees’ engagement and productivity in about 30 organizations with different cultures, employees, goals and results. There are two short examples of them, which are highly representative for all.

Please note that both organizations mentioned are similar. They employ about 500 office workers who handle a lot of administrative and customer service work. We chose groups of 100 employees to analyze. If you ask any of them how they start their workday and what their main problem in being effective is, they would say...

Organization 'A' employee

I usually start my work at 7:15 a.m. It’s not necessary to arrive directly on time. We have a policy that you need to arrive between 6 and 8 a.m. and people in my office decided to arrive all together at 7:15. It’s mainly because we have to call customers who are not paying on time. We start to call from 9 a.m. but you have to prepare all the papers before, to be effective later. Our flex time is the reason we have an RFID system which collects information about the start and end of our worktime. We just need to scan our RFID card when entering and exiting. If you would not cover 8 hours, you will have to do it later. I start my work instantly because when 9 a.m. passes you won’t have time for anything else. I like my work mainly because of great friends. Our boss is not so bad. She’s very demanding but she’s also fair. If you ask me for obstacles to effectiveness — it would be our IT which does nothing to improve our CRM performance. Sometimes loading of case details took 2 minutes. It’s ridiculous especially when you have debtor waiting on the phone.

Organization 'B' employee

We don’t have flex time. We need to start work at 8:00 a.m. You have to be on time because even a delay of one minute has to be explained and you have to stay longer the same day. There was 15 minutes flex time while in our city there were a lot of roadworks and there was a lot of traffic jams. The rule is a little frustrating because our duties are not so time sensitive. If we do it at 9 or 13 it does not matter. Our work is to contact organizations that would like to get financial aid to empower non-governmental people activity. We organize financing rounds and prepare and control agreements with them. It’s very important job. Year by year we have more founds and more organizations trying to get them. In our organization no one seems to see that we need more people to handle with duties. Our boss understands us and fights for new posts but for 3 years nothing has changed. The main problem with our effectiveness is that we don’t have enough hands to work even we have more funds to spend.

What distinguish them?

These short stories are real. I heard voices like that thousands of times. But what’s deep in them? Is there something we can use to make our organization better? I’ve prepared a lot of KPI during these research projects. One of them shouts to me the most. On the chart below there is the difference between the time of arrival at work and the first 5 minutes of productive work. I call it ‘average prep to work time’. Let’s look on the results.

Average prep time
Figure 1. Average time needed to start productive work

Source: Lab1 insights — 189 employees, 13 full weeks research (2015-2016)

Yes. In the organization where a lack of new posts is the main problem, the average employee (of ~100) needs 54 minutes to start doing anything correlated with work. What are they doing in the meantime? Nobody knows. In ‘A’ organization there are just 14 minutes between getting into company premises and the first 5 productive minutes. Here are some points.

Research results comparison:
Org. 'A'
Org. 'B'
  1. 26% of employees declares that technical issues are main problem of the organization.
  2. Average productivity level is above 95%.
  3. Average total activity time is above 6 hours per day.
  4. Average prep time takes about 3% of the total working time.
  1. 49% of employees thinks that lack of enough workforce is main problem of the organization.
  2. Average productivity level equals 80%.
  3. Average total activity time is above 4 hours per day.
  4. Average prep time takes about 11.25% of the total working time.
  1. It looks like a voice for flex time but it was not an objective in these research projects. It just shows that flex time does not disturb in getting quick to work.
  2. In both organizations a TNA system is used and needs to cover 8 working hours a day. Even though it exists and employees need to stay on premises it does not mean they work in this time.
  3. In the same time executives from both organizations are satisfied that there are fair rules for employees and nobody cheats when it comes to working time.
  4. Even if you implement solution that works well in one organization it DOES NOT MEAN it will work the same way in yours! Be inspired by others, adopt some interesting things but measure how they work.
  5. On basis of our research projects – there is a HUGE role for mid-managers. It’s their task to translate executive vision into employee language. If they are poor at that or they disagree with that vision, they will find a way to blame executives together with employees.
  6. Employees start to blame others (people) for poor results when they feel they could do more. It’s much easier to talk about feelings than to start working on yourself.

How we count avg. prep time?

We gather metadata from TNS, phone centrals and Lab1 software all together. Than we are looking for gap between entrance signal and first metadata signal from phone central or Lab1 software on your computer. We translate these signals if they were work-connected or not. If they were it’s prep time. For both organizations we based it on 13 full working weeks and 189 employees.

This article is only a short example of how activity metadata can be used to let your organizations look deeper into management conditions. Well used insights like this reduce retention, remove obstacles and make your company just a better place to work. If this sounds interesting to you, please send me a message. We cooperate globally as consultants or as software provider.

About author

Mateusz leads the Lab1 Workforce Analytics team. Although he studied to be a lawyer and economist, his love of technology and management challenges* led him to discover patterns in human activity using data analysis. You can meet him at major HR Tech events or connect via LinkedIn.

*He built from scratch one of most popular consulting companies for local government in Poland.

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