Working remotely: Different apps for different folks

Getty Images/iStockphoto used for representational purpose

Getty Images/iStockphoto used for representational purpose  

A quick guide to how technology can be harnessed to make the work-day away from office productive

With the entire corporate world working remotely, the notion of continual tracking of work keeps cropping up. And so, to track or not to track — that’s the question. The answer depends on where it is being asked; and it doesn’t have to do so much with a whether-or-not scenario as with a how-to situation.

There are broadly three types of jobs, and the tool that is used has to match the unique characteristics and requirements of each job.

One, where the process can’t be clearly defined. Works of art and other creative pursuits, where the creator’s unique qualities, and even idiosyncracies, influence the work, and eventually the product itself, are slotted into this category. The field of advertising is a ready example – where the copy that launches a trillion sales may be nowhere in sight for the first four days, and then land on the table in a burst of intuitive intelligence and Eureka-insight just before the dreaded Deadline hour closes in. Here, there isn’t much of a regular process to be monitored. Of course, deadline readiness can be periodically checked and that’s about what can be done in terms of monitoring.

Two, there is that job that has a clear-cut process to it, but the workflow will not follow a day-in day-out pattern, and some days can be more demanding than others. Maintenance of IT-based systems is one example. Here more than tracking, there should be periodic checks about whether the employee is at his post, and would be alert to any crisis when it arises.

Three, then there is that job where the process is itself the work. Coding and data entry are among jobs that fall in this category, where a particular amount of focussed computer-time is necessary. When those engaged in such work are going to be operating remotely, there is a clear need for continual monitoring.

Apps for continual tracking

For work that can be performed well with a set amount of computer time being given to it, desk-tracking apps can come in handy.

Sorav Jain, CEO of echoVME, a digital marketing consultancy, says that his company uses Desktime to find out how focussed on the job employees are while working remotely.

Desktime is the app that we are using to track the productivity of employees. It helps us understand who is genuinely working and not working from home. The app sends us screenshots of the desktop or laptop when there is something malicious happening in the working hours. So it’s a great way to track productivity during work from home,” he says.

Monitask also works in a somewhat similar manner, presenting employee’s computer screenshots, keeping a record of onscreen tasks, registering the employee’s clock-in time and keeping a list of the websites and apps accessed by the individual.

A note about the app on says the generation of screenshots could be random or orchestrated by the employer based on pre-set intervals.

“No spying, only transparency,” adds the note on the website.

Apps for self-regulation

Self-regulation apps can be used by any employee, but it can particularly benefit those who are allowed to function with a considerable degree of independence.

Trello functions on the basis of that all tasks worth doing are important, and some are more important. One’s day-to-day activities can be prioritised, and Trello will take care that those on high priority will hanker for attention, first. The same principle can be applied to tasks being carried out by team members.

MS Project, as the name suggests, is a project planner; and as the project gets under way; this app tracks its progress. The Microsoft developed tool serves as a digital assistant to a project manager, helping him in various aspects of the project, including budgeting, drawing up and managing schedules, earmarking resources for different tasks, assessing the amount of work to be assigned to each employee.

MS Outlook

has a fan in Bijumon Jacob, senior vice-president and head of HR, Temenos. He swears by MS Outlook’s planner feature, pointing out that it helps him systemise his day by reminding him of assigned tasks and nudging him towards follow-ups. Besides, Bijumon underscores how the COVID-19 crisis is leading teams into a better understanding of process-management and conferencing tools.

“Following the lockdown, there are more virtual meetings and catch-up sessions among senior managers, and we are discovering features in MS Teams. There is even a file management system within MS Teams,” he says.

Zarvana works at two levels: Not only does it identify how time is wasted, being allowed to slip away like fine sand through a sieve, but shows how the time-wasters can be replaced with productive activities. A feature called Time Finder offers a questionnaire that help users list the time-saving behaviours they display often. According to Zarvana, the ability to manage disruptions efficiently and to not be bogged down in answering emails are two time-saving behaviours.

What to track

A majority of process management apps are task-based, and they are a best bet to monitor tasks. Now, when whole workforces are working remotely, it can help track the work of individuals. But, these are also unusual times when the regular processes are out of whack, and so being mission-driven helps organisations stay focussed on the larger picture, despite the setbacks, and also frustrations arising out of having to follow disrupted processes.

“There are many organisations that are purpose and mission driven rather than task driven. As a manager you want to manage outcomes, not tasks. Such goal-oriented teams are far more productive working remotely,” says Lalitha Yalamanchi, Manager- Corporate Communications, Kissflow, which offers a digital workplace by the same name.

Lalitha believes that digital platforms that are built around the notion of collaboration among team members are bound to be more effective than those built just for monitoring, as monitoring can slip into downright micro-managing.

Bijumon also believes that during these times, organisations should be outcomes-driven, and that alone can enable them to get the most they can, in the given situation. He points out that in his organisation, the peak deliverables happen around this time, and it has systems to monitor the milestones.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 9:55:40 PM |

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