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Pay no attention to that widget recording your every move

Ann Bednarz | Feb. 24, 2011
Ever wonder how much of a time suck Bejeweled is? Or how often your legitimate work-related research on the Web deteriorates into recreational browsing? Now there is software that will tell not only you, but also your boss and your coworkers.

Corporate RescueTime users can track their time and productivity individually and as part of a group. "We built the ability for people to see how they're doing compared to members of their team or, depending on their security levels, how they're doing against the average of their team," RescueTime's Hruska says.

An employee on a 10-person team might notice he is spending 50% more time on social networking and unproductive tasks than the average team member. Obviously, a manager may notice this trend too, and strongly suggest the employee dial back the habit.

Hruska sees RescueTime as an alternative to simply blocking access to recreational Web sites and applications. It gives employees some control over their time, while still making it clear there should be a cap on unproductive activities.

"Numerous studies have shown that allowing some amount of leisure surfing during a workday actually increases productivity," Hruskra says, "so why not just manage how much time people spend doing that?"

While employees may resent feeling spied upon, both RWave and RescueTime see their software as benefitting employees, who can use it to demonstrate how much work they're accomplishing. The vendors have also worked to give end users some control over how the software runs.

With RWorks, a desktop dashboard lets users indicate if they're working, in a meeting, on the phone, or on personal time. "The person is nominating whether they're working or not," Redmond says. "If they click that they're on personal time, we absolutely stop tracking everything they're doing."

Similarly, RescueTime users can pause the application during lunch and delete certain activities. They can also override an automated ranking. If a Web site is useful for one person's job, but recreational for most, the user can apply his own designation. Corporate clients can apply designations across groups of end users. For instance, LinkedIn might be designated productive for a group of marketing personnel while deemed distracting for a group of engineers.

Neither program wants to be seen as a sneaky spying tool. "We would absolutely never want to have a stealth mode," Redmond says. "RWorks is very overt about what it's doing. It shows people exactly what statistics it sees. We make it very, very obvious."

At thepurplepatch, users see the benefits of the monitoring software, says Donlon - who adds that RWorks has shown the remote team to be significantly more productive than expected.

"I thought [employees] might be reluctant to use it, but when they realized it was a great tool for helping them to become more efficient and productive, they bought into it," Donlon says. "It didn't take long for them to realize that it wasn't designed so that it's watching everything they do and they can decide to take a break anytime, so they have no problems."


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