Where does productivity tracking go wrong?
Despite the benefits of productivity tracking, in practice, things often go wrong. One of the biggest reasons lies in how difficult it is to define, measure and incentivize productivity for more complex tasks.
Rahman: Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. So if you start measuring something – and do it badly – people will game the system.
HUBBARD: This is the oldest problem in motivation theory. You see sellers increase their sales to reach percentages. You see teachers teaching to the test. You have the folly of hoping for Y and paying for X. These are old problems that are seemingly new again because they appear in different contexts.
Rahman: Ideally, tracking can work well. But many times it is applied haphazardly. For example, some organizations try to use tracking software to see if contract attorneys are engaged or not. We know from a lot of knowledge-intensive work that walking can sometimes help you come up with a breakthrough idea. But if the software determines that, for example, you’re not looking at your screen in a way that the program can track, it automatically logs you out. This is a bad app.
It also reflects a lack of trust between workers and organizations.
Markowitz: Trust is perhaps the biggest challenge of all in the gig economy.
When it comes to the ride, trust is less important because the incentives are aligned, which means if I’m a driver, I want this ride to be over as soon as possible because then I can get another one, which is exactly what he wants and the rider.
But when you’re paying by the hour and not by the task, this is where things get a little more complicated. One way Upwork—a platform that connects clients with freelance knowledge workers—is by having their workers record their screens. Then, in addition to their final work product, they send the client a log of what was happening on their screen while they were working to show how many hours they spent and all the activities they performed during that time.*
Obviously, there are huge privacy concerns about knowing that people can watch your screen. But there’s also this idea of ”I don’t trust you.” I don’t know you and it’s not clear that I can trust you and it’s not necessarily going to be a long term relationship where we build trust.
*[Editor’s note: In an email, Upwork said that it does offer freelancers the option to request that their time be entered manually rather than using time-tracking software. This software takes screenshots every ten minutes and tracks keystroke and click counts, which are then relayed to the client. However, if freelancers use the manual time option, they lose hourly payment protection.]
HUBBARD: The problem is that you would never be treated like this if you are actually in the same place. Correctly? They need to find a way to interact with employees that is much closer to how they would interact with them if they were actually in the same place.