If you’re an agency wrestling with profitability, you know the target number: a 60% billable ratio. That leaves about twenty hours a week for your employees to do non-income generating activities, such as making phone calls, doing research, and attending internal meetings. 

In reality, however, most agencies struggle to get their billable ratio over 40%. 

If you’ve already exhausted all the most popular solutions to this problem–minimizing meetings, equipping team members with collaborative software, automated data entry, etc.–you have a deeper problem on your hands.  Your team isn’t engaged. On an individual level, they’re getting distracted from their work and having trouble getting back into a steady rhythm. 
The first step to nipping this problem in the bud is pinpointing when and why individuals go astray. That’s where time-tracking tools become incredibly useful. By reviewing what is happening throughout the day, your team members can learn their best and worst work habits and address them one at a time. And you can empower each employee to work in a way that gives them a sense of mastery over their time.
Many agencies avoid the topic because the phrase “time-tracking” alone screams Big Brother. Your employees can easily get the impression that you’re trying to micromanage them by questioning how they spend every minute.
Here’s how to navigate that fine line and secure buy-in from your team to track time. 

Lead by Example: Track Your Own Time

How to Motivate Your Team to Track Time | Business man looking at watch

Last year, Mark Zuckerberg released a video revealing the new Facebook headquarters. It went viral because it showed that Facebook’s CEO supported the open-office floor plans popular across Silicon Valley. 
Zuckerberg made the new office layout work because it was a universal rule that applied to everyone, including himself. By following his own rules, Zuckerberg both dispelled his employees’ fears–perhaps about putting work habits out in the open–and showed them that open offices can benefit anyone.
Managers can show their teams that time-tracking is valuable by monitoring their own time. For employees, this signals two things:

  1. My manager clearly thinks this tool is worthwhile, otherwise they wouldn’t use it; and 
  2. My manager is willing to let her supervisors view her productivity logs and no one seems to be micromanaging her. If I start time-tracking, it doesn’t mean I’ll be scrutinized.  

To use the old adage, actions speak louder than words. By showing that time-tracking is a helpful tool, it tells employees that time tracking reaps positive outcomes. When managers model great outcomes, it inspires their employees to follow suit.

Time Tracking Sparks Professional Growth–for Every Employee

Getting your employees to hop aboard the time-tracking train won’t happen if managers approach their employees and only talk about output. But managers can engage their employees by explaining how time tracking can help every single employee grow professionally. 
How to Motivate Your Team to Track Time | Team Meeting
Time tracking is so useful because it doesn’t just show people how much they work–it shows individuals how they work. That is, tracking time makes employees more cognizant of how they work, while they work. It prods them to notice when and why they lose steam, and then make a calculated decision about how to make the best use of their time.
Armed with new knowledge and figures on how they work, employees can create plans to improve their productivity, with results they can actually measure.  
For example: an employee notices that it consistently takes them two hours to brainstorm ideas for a customer. With that number in mind, employees can start to reduce their time incrementally by fifteen minutes every week until they reach a target of one hour or less.  
Even better: employees can use their time tracking results as a jumping off point in 1:1s with supervisors.
All of this will show employees that they can benefit from thinking about habits that poise them well for growth in the future. And they’ll be doing that on a higher and higher billable ratio.

Reward Employees Who Track Their Time

Some employees may recognize the benefits of tracking time. But for them, learning new software and the stresses of Big Brother may seem like too much hassle.
Switching over to new systems may even look like a waste of time when you’re striving for efficiency. Some employees may feel that the time they’re spending learning new software could be better spent on billable work.
The best way to motivate your team to overcome their resistance and start tracking their time now is to keep it optional, but offer short-term rewards to employees who give it a shot. Rewarding your employees for giving it a shot can balance and override those rewards’ costs.
Here are some ways to reward your employees: 

  • Profit-sharing, by giving employees a small portion of the profits from the projects they completed.  When you have a higher billable ratio, you’ll see returns specifically from your own work even sooner (stay tuned for an article on how to do this!).
  • Reward employees with $60 when their personal billable ratio reaches 60%.
  • Offer free lunch on Fridays to employees who track their time for a whole week.
  • Celebrate employees who are consistently productive in public forums, like via a high-five on 15Five or a shout-out in an all-hands meeting.

 How to Motivate Your Team to Track Time | High 5 teamwork GIF
However small your rewards are, finding noticeable ways to recognize those who do try time-tracking will incentivize skeptics to give time-tracking a shot. The more people try it, the more your team will produce billable work.

Increase Output and Employee Engagement

Time tracking stands apart from other strategies for improving workplace productivity. Unlike other tools, time tracking makes employees aware of how they’re working and gives clear metrics they can use to improve and become more efficient.
Managers can motivate their teams to track time by logging their own time, framing it as an opportunity for professional growth and rewarding those who give it a shot.
All of this sets your employees up for success–at your agency with a higher billable ratio, and with better productivity habits that your employees will thank you for.