Strategic Time Management for Startup Success: Navigating Productivity, Growth, and Remote Teams
One of the most important factors in the success or failure of any startup is time management. If time isn’t managed effectively, productivity and therefore profits will decrease. This is especially true of companies that employ remote workers, which can make monitoring the workforce even more difficult.
Companies must also manage the extent to which they monitor their employees. A 2014 study by Accountemps revealed that 59% of survey respondents stated they had worked for a micromanager in the past. Of those, 68% said it lowered their morale and 55% stated that it lowered their productivity.
The Startup Tempo: Unique Time Management Challenges
As most startups operate at a much faster pace than established businesses that have been around for years, their time management systems will be vastly different than those of their more seasoned counterparts. The system will also be harder to navigate, with a lot of trial and error before the most efficient plan is devised.
First-time entrepreneurs in particular will find it difficult to properly manage their time for a variety of reasons, including relative inexperience, not knowing whether a potential problem need to be prioritized or backburnered, and the standard growing pains endured by every startup in its infancy.
Another major challenge is finding the right balance between solving immediate, urgent issues and long-term planning. Sometimes, the easiest solution that solves a current problem will cause difficulty months or years down the road. Similarly, focusing strictly on the distant future could prove catastrophic in the present or near future.
Remote Work and Startup Culture: Striking the Right Balance
Ever since Covid-19 changed the work landscape forever, more and more businesses have begun to transition to remote work, either partially or fully. Embracing remote work has now become essential for startups, as a recent study by Robert Half shows that 34% of employees would prefer to quit a job that required in-office work in favor of one that allowed them to continue working from home.
Some of the major benefits of a remote work setup include higher employee morale, lower real estate costs for the startup (due to the lack of required office space), and higher employee retention rates. The drawbacks include managers having to get creative about ways to keep employees on task, a potential lack of motivation for easily distracted employees, and greater difficulty in communication between employees collaborating on a project.
That being said, one of the easiest ways to overcome these potential issues is to put into place a work culture that is designed to foster communication, both between employees themselves and between workers and management. If employees understand what is expected of them, respond to messages from colleagues in a timely manner, and employee tracking software is used, the negative aspects can be severely neutralized.
Time Tracking as a Strategic Tool, Not a Surveillance Tactic
One of the biggest misconceptions that employees might have about monitoring software or time-tracking programs is that their primary focus is to spy on them. In reality, their actual intended purpose is far less sinister. When used properly, they are a valuable tool that can benefit both employer and employee.
Employees who know that these programs are in place will be more productive as they’ll be less likely to use social media or visit other distracting websites using work devices. Employers will be able to see how employees are spending their time and understand how each employee completes their tasks, which can assist with future project planning and time management.
For example, let’s imagine an employee who has been assigned five independent tasks to be completed in an eight-hour shift, which can be completed in any order. First, the information from the software will reveal how much time was spent completing each task, from which management can determine how long similar tasks will take in the future.
Secondly, the program can reveal in which order the employee completes the task, which gives the company insight into their thought processes. This information can then be used for future projects. If the employee chooses the Excel spreadsheet-based tasks first, the company knows the employee likes working with Excel and can delegate similar tasks to them in the future.
Another important piece is the length of time it takes the employee to finish their work. Some office employees will finish a day’s work in six or seven hours, then spend the rest of their workday on social media instead of starting new tasks. If the information reveals
Building a Results-Focused Team: Trust, Autonomy, and Accountability
For a remote workplace to be successful, there must be a culture of both trust and autonomy. This starts from the top, with management trusting their employees to accomplish their goals independently, correctly, and in a timely manner. In turn, employees must trust their supervisors and coworkers to give them the tools and support they need to do their work.
If these conditions are not met, distrust will grow, morale will drop, and productivity will eventually be reduced to potentially unsustainable levels. Many startups have failed because employees feel like their bosses are constantly watching over their shoulders and don’t trust them to make the right decisions to accomplish their goals. They then either find a job with a different company or employ the TikTok-inspired trend known as “quiet quitting”, where they reduce their productivity to the lowest acceptable level to avoid being fired.
Similarly, if managers or supervisors cannot trust their employees, too much time can be spent making sure that the work is being accomplished, which can result in lost productivity from their other duties.
The goal for any startup should be to maintain a system of accountability that does not interfere with the employee’s creative processes. Since every employee will work differently according to their personal strengths and weaknesses, many businesses have learned that a “one-size-fits-all” model is unsustainable, particularly in remote workplace environments. It is a difficult balance, but an essential one.
One example of a popular startup that has embraced a results-oriented work environment is JL Buchanan (JLB), a retail consulting firm that embraced working from home even before the pandemic. CEO Susan Hoaby told CNN in an interview that autonomy is the key to her business.
Employees don’t need to request time off, as the focus is strictly on whether or not the work is accomplished. One of her employees worked on a Paris vacation without incident without Hoaby even knowing she’d left until she’d seen the employee’s post on Instagram. Of course, this may not work for every business even though it has produced excellent results for JLB.
Perhaps the greatest example is GitLab, a DevOps platform used by many Fortune 500 companies. When the startup was founded in 2014 with its only employees being its two cofounders, all work has been completed remotely. Six years later, the company had grown to 1300 employees who lived in 65 countries around the world. It is one of the largest remote-exclusive companies in the world with roughly 30 million registered users.
The company’s founders have explained that although a remote-only environment saves them money due to reduced overhead, lower waste, and employee flexibility, the most important aspect of the policy is employee empowerment. The company’s handbook states its desire to have its workers see themselves as people first and employees second.
Growth Mindset and Time Allocation: Prioritizing What Matters
One of the biggest factors in time management is the “growth mindset”, which means that tasks must be prioritized with the overall goal of growing the company in mind as the primary factor. If a company and its employees aren’t managing their time properly and giving more weight to more important tasks, the company won’t be able to grow.
For example, imagine an employee has been tasked with working on a presentation for a venture capital firm that’s interested in investing in the company. However, they’re also working on several other projects of lesser importance, like organizing spreadsheets or doing data entry to be analyzed for future projects.
Naturally, the presentation to the venture capitalists is the most pressing issue for the employee to complete, as the other tasks can be completed at any time. Should the employee choose to focus on those lesser tasks, the presentation might not be the best it can be or, worse, might end up unfinished by the time the meeting takes place. The end result could be disastrous for the company’s future.
This is a rather extreme example, of course, but the logic can apply to any number of other situations. In general, businesses need to allocate time and resources between innovation, operation, and future growth. The right balance can be hard to achieve but if a company isn’t focused on the future as well as the present, the result can be stagnation and eventually lead to its downfall.
Time Management Tools for Startup Owners: From Apps to Techniques
There are many apps and programs that help a company’s time management, such as employee tracking software that can show how an employee is spending time on their work devices and will dissuade them from using social media or engaging in other distractions during work time. They can also reveal how much time an employee spends using each program, which can give broader insights into how long it takes an employee to complete a task, among other things.
Of course, the specific needs of the startup will be the determining factor in which tools should be used for time management. If deadlines are frequent and unmovable, a higher level of supervision and communication may be needed, at least at the start. If the work is less time-intensive and the focus is strictly on the quality of an employee’s work, more leeway could be granted.
It may require a lot of trial and error before finding the perfect solution, but if the company’s employees have a high enough level of trust in management, they can give honest feedback and help speed along the process. This is not to say that management should always bow to workers’ demands, of course. Instead, management should work to find strategies that keep their employees happy and productive.
One popular method of time management is the Pomodoro Technique, which involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, blocking out all distractions and working exclusively on the task for that time, then taking a five to ten-minute break as soon as the timer goes off, then repeating the process until the task is complete. After it’s done, the employee takes a break of roughly 30 minutes before beginning the next task.
Another option is time blocking, which involves splitting a period of time like a day or a week into blocks, during which time the employee focuses exclusively on a single project or task. For example, if an employee has three tasks that will take roughly the same amount of time each to complete in a standard 8 AM to 5 PM workday, they could work on the first task from 8 to 10, take a 30-minute break, work on the second project from 10:30 to 12:30, take lunch from 12:30 to 1:30, work on the third task from 1:30 to 3:30, then spend the last hour and a half reviewing the work they’ve completed that day to make sure it’s ready to turn in.
For employees who want or need a little extra structure, goal-oriented planning may be the best strategy. This involves taking a project or objective, splitting it into smaller tasks which are then prioritized by level of importance, and completing them in order according to a schedule based on an estimate of how long each task should take.
Remote Leadership in Startups: Navigating Challenges and Facilitating Collaboration
Proper leadership can be difficult to achieve in any business, but a remote startup has its own unique sets of challenges that must be overcome. Unlike established businesses that have time-honored traditions and years of experience to fall back on, startups generally have to learn as they grow. That learning curve can be difficult, especially after the business takes off and it has hundreds or thousands of employees across the country or even the world.
Communication and collaboration are the two primary keys to success when navigating these challenges. If the leadership can clearly communicate the company’s goals and expectations, their employees will have a better understanding and will be less likely to feel confused. Instead of simply giving workers a list of tasks to accomplish, it is better to explain why the tasks need to be done and what the overall goal is, so that employees will feel included and will be more invested in making sure the project is executed successfully.
Time tracking is one of the most valuable tools for facilitating transparency and cooperation within remote teams. It allows managers to have a fuller understanding of how employees complete their work and, if employees understand they’re all part of the same system, they know that their coworkers’ time is equally well-spent. This can prevent them from feeling jealous or like they’re being singled out.
Conclusion: Nurturing a Time-Conscious Startup Culture
There are many aspects to running a successful remote-based startup and although there’s no “silver bullet” that will magically solve all of a company’s problems, successfully managing time is perhaps the most important key to success. Prioritizing the most important tasks for the present while also continuing to look towards the future will help ensure the company’s place in its industry for years to come.
Happier employees are generally more productive, which is why fostering a company culture of transparency, trust, and autonomy can make the difference between a startup’s success or its potential failure. Although management should not always bow to the whims of employees, especially since they might not all agree on a particular issue, it is important to get their feedback and try to incorporate it into the business’ overall strategy when possible.
Employee tracking software can help achieve that delicate balance by helping managers ensure that employees are being truthful about their time management. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “trust, but verify.” These programs can also be used in tandem with other strategies, like the Pomodoro Technique, to ensure that the team is running as efficiently and productively as possible.
Startup owners should aim to adopt a balanced approach that leverages time tracking as a strategic tool to foster growth, innovation, and a positive team culture. Balance is truly the key to a successful startup, as focusing too much on one side or the other could lead to long term and unforeseen consequences.
By using these strategies and understanding the importance of time management in remote work environments, startups can continue to thrive, operated by happy employees who can do their jobs in the way that works best for them.