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Pay no attention to that widget recording your every move

Cloud-based monitoring software tracks your productivity and measures how you compare to other employees.

By , Network World
February 24, 2011 12:12 PM ET

Network World - 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.

We're not talking about secretive spying software, though there is plenty of that for employers to use. No, there's a new breed of corporate monitoring software that watches what employees do during the workday - without being stealthy. These in-your-face widgets report just how much or how little you're getting done.

Most people who try out the software are shocked, says Joe Hruska, CEO and co-founder of RescueTime, which makes such monitoring software. "It's very surprising to people how little, on average, gets done that's productive during an eight-hour workday," he says. "If you're doing four to five hours of productive work on a computer, you're in the top percentile. It is pretty rare that we see anybody go over five hours a day of productive time on a computer."

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RescueTime was originally conceived as a consumer product designed to help people track what they did during the day, typically so they could bill time to clients, says Hruska, whose background includes IT consulting. "It wasn't intended as a replacement for a time-tracking system or to monitor people."

Early trials showed people were interested not only in what they were doing during the day, but also tracking how productive they were. The goal was to get that information automatically, without any user effort. "That was our key tenet: Understand this info with no data entry," Hruska says. "There's nothing more distracting than having to stop being productive and then go fill out a timesheet."

A newcomer in the field is RWave Software, which is pursuing a task-oriented approach with its newly launched workforce analytics and productivity software. Called RWorks, the cloud-based software can automatically monitor what a user is doing and compare that activity to the tasks and projects the user is supposed to be working on.

"People can set tasks themselves, or have their managers set their tasks, and RWorks will automatically track the progress against those tasks," says Tony Redmond, founder and CEO of the start-up. "At the end of the day, you can see the tasks you've been assigned and the actual amount of time you've spent being productive on those tasks."

A pie chart shows at a glance the breakdown of your day - so there's no lying to yourself.

The ideal RWorks user is someone who has discrete tasks to do, but it's useful for knowledge workers, too. If an employee were assigned the task of writing a marketing assessment of IBM, for instance, the software could recognize that any time spent working on a document called "IBM marketing assessment," is related to the project, as is time spent browsing IBM's investor relations Web site.

Employees can also see feedback from managers as they complete tasks, which has proven popular with companies that have a distributed workforce, including teleworkers. "It allows teleworkers to get a feeling for how well they're doing. At the same time, the people who have responsibility for managing the teleworkers get an idea of how their projects are going," Redmond says.

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