Time Tracking

How Does Upwork Time Tracking Work? Is it Good Enough?

June 14, 2022
IN THIS BLOG

For over a decade, organizations have been turning to platforms like Upwork to tap into best-in-class talent worldwide for a variety of digital jobs. It’s a great way to extend your work capacity and that too on a need basis, saving you from hiring full-time employees for once-a-quarter projects. However, to ensure you are paying the right amount for the freelancer’s services, it is recommended to have an accurate time and activity tracking mechanism in place.

Fortunately enough, Upwork offers employers a free time tracking app that provides an unbiased approach to invoicing freelancers for their billable work

In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into:

  • What Upwork time tracking is all about
  • How the Upwork time tracking app works 
  • What are the limitations of the desktop app 
  • Whether it is good enough to give employers the best value for money
  • The best Upwork time tracking alternative 

Without any more chit chat, let’s get into it. 

What is Upwork Time Tracking All About?

When assigning work to a freelancer on Upwork, you need to have a fair idea of your project’s scope to estimate the billable amount accordingly. 

Upwork offers two payment modes for which you may require time tracking:

1. Fixed Rate

Fixed rate is when you put a fixed price tag on a contract. For example, you have set a budget of $XXXX for designing and developing a website. One of the main benefits of fixed-rate contracts is the entire project scope and related tasks are covered in a predefined price tag. Essentially, you won’t be caught by surprise with additional charges at the end unless you reach a mutual agreement with the hired resources.  

However, using time tracking is optional for fixed-rate contracts, as you have already decided on the rate. But if your project requires scrutinizing the work that went into the project, you may use a time tracking solution.

2. Hourly Rate

Hourly rate means you pay freelancers based on the number of hours they spend completing the contract. Here, it is recommended to use a time tracking solution so that you pay exactly for the freelancer’s billable time & effort – nothing more, nothing less. 

Upwork’s free time tracking app is a great tool for employers and freelancers to get proof of work and calculate billable hours accurately for every milestone or contract. It captures complete logs of how much time was spent on your project and additional information via automatic screenshots and webcam shots (if enabled). 

How to Use the Upwork Time Tracker 

As a first step, freelancers need to install the desktop app from the Upwork website, which is pretty straightforward. Just choose the operating system (Windows, Mac, or Linux) and download the installer.

Once installed, here is how to track time on the Upwork app:

  1. Open and log in to the desktop app with the Upwork account ID
  2. Once you log in, you’ll see all your contracts listed to choose from
  3. Select the contract you want to log time for 
  4. Use the toggle button at the top to turn on the timer and start tracking
  5. Create a memo to put notes about the activity you are currently working on during that segment, which is mandatory. You can set alerts for memos as well. 
  6. Create multiple memos for different tasks or subtasks to track them separately under a single contract and provide maximum information to the employer
  7. Turn off the timer once the task or weekly hour limit has been completed
  8. All the tracked hours can be viewed in the Work Diary option in the app or website

And that’s about it. Freelancers can repeat the process for every contract and submit their billable hours for invoicing. 

Also Read: Why Modern Organizations Need Time Tracking Software

What Does the Upwork Desktop App Track?

In addition to the time recorded within contracts, the app also captures:

  • Screenshots: It randomly takes screenshots of what freelancers are working on once every 10 minutes. All the screenshots will appear in the freelancer’s Work Diary, where they can be reviewed or removed easily.
  • User Activity: It logs the number of mouse clicks, keystrokes, and scroll actions every minute to show the activeness during a 10-minute segment. It appears in the Work Diary report as well. 
  • Webcam Shots: The app takes pictures from your webcam every 10 minutes. Webcam shots are optional and have been disabled by default.

Note that Upwork doesn’t provide any information about websites visited or apps used; it just shows the time spent during the task, session information provided through memos, user activeness report, screenshots, and webcam shots, if enabled. 

As an employer, you can review the freelancer’s work by going to the Jobs section, choosing the contract, and clicking on the Work Diary. There you will find all the tracked information related to all ongoing and closed contracts. 

Plus Points of Using the Upwork Time Tracking App

So a few good things about the Upwork time tracker include:

  • It allows freelancers to connect to their online Upwork account directly, showing all the contracts they want to track time for
  • It helps you limit the number of hours your hired resource can work per week or during the contract, saving you from getting billed higher than your budget.
  • It requires freelancers to seek approval from the employer to add manual hours, ensuring that the additional billable hours are properly explained and justified. 
  • It requires creating memos for additional information about the work done during each 15-minute, 30-minute, or hour-long session, though it gets a bit annoying for the freelancers. 

All of this sounds fine and dandy, but what if we say the Upwork desktop time tracking app offers just basic features and that you can get higher value as an employer from better time tracking solutions?

But first, let’s look at what you are missing with the Upwork time tracking app.

Limitations of the Upwork Time Tracker

Easy to Cheat the System

Like every good time tracker, the Upwork desktop app tracks everything … and we mean everything. As soon as the freelancer starts the timer, it captures all the productive and non-productive data, which sometimes include Facebook or LinkedIn activity, checking emails, personal chats, and other unrelated activities.

The Upwork time tracker doesn’t capture information about which apps or websites were used and for how long during each session. This makes it challenging to filter non-productive activity from the recorded time unless it appears in one of the screenshots. 

Freelancers can take advantage of this loophole and use the non-productive data to increase the number of hours, enabling them to bill you higher for their services. 

Inaccurate Time Tracking Issues

The Upwork desktop app is fairly efficient in time tracking, but in some instances, it has been seen capturing either excessive or less time than it should have. 

The problem lies within its time tracking mechanism. It records mouse clicks, keystrokes, and scrolling movements in segments of 10 minutes, and if there isn’t any activity, the app considers the user inactive. 

But what if your job requires you to be on a Google Meet or Zoom meeting for half an hour or 2 hours straight? Or if you have been brainstorming ideas on paper for a design? There is a low chance you’ll use the mouse or keyboard during those situations. 

Some users have also reported that the Upwork desktop app crashes and loses activity data, affecting the billable hours.

All of these scenarios can lead to inaccurate time tracking, causing disparity in the billable hours. Upwork does provide the option to add time manually. But it doesn’t qualify for Upwork Hourly Protection, leaving it up to the employer to approve or reject the request. 

Manual Time Tracking Takes Away Focus from Work

Timesheet management should be a seamless experience for users, not a chore that needs to be done every 10 or 30 minutes. 

With the Upwork time tracking app, it seems more of a chore for freelancers. This is because they have to select the contract, turn on the timer, create memos and input details after regular intervals, clock off every time they take a break or complete the project, and repeat the process for all the contracts. Then before submitting the time, they’d have to review screenshots and ensure nothing personal went to the client. 

Performing these steps repeatedly can easily sway focus and affect efficiency, leading freelancers to take more time to complete contracts. And more hours mean you’ll be paying higher for non-value-adding microtasks that could’ve been avoided with a better time tracking solution. 

Invasion of Privacy and Trust 

It’s the human psyche to feel stressed and anxious when someone is constantly monitored during a task, causing them to underperform or make mistakes. The same is the case with freelancers using the Upwork time tracker to gather proof of work. 

Since the app takes screenshots every 10 minutes, freelancers are constantly on alert to ensure that none of their personal details or activities are captured. This could be their unhidden passwords, personal chats, and other sensitive information. While there is the option to review the screenshots and even delete them, it comes with a cost. Removing a screenshot also deletes the time recorded during that segment, causing workers to lose billable hours. 

Having the nagging feeling of being monitored indirectly affects focus and productivity, impacting work quality. And if you add webcam shots to your contract requirement, some freelancers might reject your request because it is highly invasive and unethical. 

Ultimately, it deeply impacts the client-freelancer relationship because trust is built based on the quality of work, not through invasive tactics like screen and webcam captures. 

Recommended Read: Employee Time Tracking vs. Employee Monitoring: Which one is Better and Why?

Hiring Talent Limited to Upwork Only

Upwork has always been vigilant and cautious in making clients and freelancers keep using its platform. That’s why you’ll see it restricting you from putting email addresses and other contact information in its job posts and even in messages. 

And it makes sense. After all, every company wants people to keep using its platform and pay the fee for its services. 

While Upwork has talent available for almost every remote job, there are times you want to hire someone from outside. But unfortunately, the Upwork time tracking app won’t work for talent outside its network. The desktop app is designed to track time and activity for contracts created on Upwork only. 

No Holistic Dashboard to Manage your Freelancers & Projects

Let’s say you have 15 contracts running at the same time on which about 10 different freelancers are working at the same time. While you can see all your contracts listed in My Jobs on Upwork, reviewing and managing their work regularly will become a hassle. That’s because the Upwork time tracking app is designed to help clients with accurate billing and nothing else. 

So if you want a proper planning dashboard that gives a bird’s eye view of all your projects, freelancers, deadlines, completion rate, and other key details, you should look for a dedicated time tracking solution.  

Is There a Better Upwork Time Tracking Alternative?

There sure is.

Given the shortcomings of the Upwork time tracking solution, timegram provides everything you need to get the bang for your buck. It is a time tracking and project planning platform designed to make timesheet and task management a breeze for business owners and managers working with freelancers and remote teams.

Admin Dashboard in timegram

It offers several great features such as:  

  • Smart online timesheets: No more start/stop timers or manually entering details repeatedly. timegram automatically captures time & activities, intelligently groups them as per the task, and gives freelancers the freedom to add only productive, work-related activities so that you, as an employer, don’t have to waste time sifting through non-productive data. 
  • Privacy-first time tracking: No screenshots, keystrokes, mouse clicks, webcam shots or any other invasive tactics. timegram lets freelancers choose what they want to show, shifting burden of showing proof of work on them while ensuring you get pure work insights only.  
  • Easy project planning: Whether you have 2 projects or 50, assigning work to your freelancers is a breeze thanks to timegram’s robust project planning & task management capabilities. You get a holistic view of who is working on what, progress on each project, upcoming deadlines, and much more without switching between tabs.
  • Accurate timeline for tasks: Compare estimated vs. actual time spent on previous projects to set more accurate expected completion hours for future jobs. 
  • Automated invoicing: Similar to Upwork, timegram transforms the billable hours into invoices with just a few clicks. 
  • Productivity Insights: Want to see which freelancers are more productive and add higher value? No problem. timegram converts timesheets and other related data into digestible reports to pick the best talent for your next project.

And that’s just scratching the surface; timegram has a lot more in store for employers looking for an Upwork time tracking alternative.

Want to see timegram provide greater value than the Upwork time tracker in your own universe of projects? Sign up to try out timegram and see if it is the right fit to manage your remote team and freelancers.

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Iqbal Ahmed Alvi

About the author

An engineer by qualification and content marketer by passion and profession, Iqbal spends his days crafting compelling messages and campaigns for his clients, but his true love lies in the world of gaming. When he's not busy writing copy or brainstorming marketing strategies, you can find him in front of his computer, engrossed in a game of DOTA 2.

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