Is Upwork Tracking and Payroll the Best Way to Gauge Employee Productivity?

August 21, 2022

“Come one, come all! We promise you full flexibility and freedom to work at your own chosen pace!” said almost every freelance platform ever. This was also the message Upwork sent to its consumers when it started out. Upwork offers supposedly a very flexible work environment where freelancers are able to choose their projects and hours with the promise of guaranteed payment at one cost: their privacy. 

Many business owners and managers today have started using Upwork’s Work Diary and Payroll features to track and accordingly pay their employees.  On the outside, these features are actually quite convincing in the facilities they provide.

  • To employers, Upwork provides full exposure to their employees’ work activity so that they can ensure full productivity and dedication. It also provides a way to conveniently pay the employees for the hours billed.
  • To employees, Upwork gives a way to quantify the work done and show proof of work without any hassle on their part while ensuring payment if the hours have been put in and the assigned tasks have been completed. 

That’s the outward fantasy anyway. What it really means for both the employer and employee is a different story, and that is what we’ll be digging into here. Let’s start from the beginning.

Why Do We Track Employee Productivity? And Should We?

Most employers simply want to make sure that work is being done, quality is being upheld, and time is being put in fairly. That’s what we all want, right? 

However, keeping track of this has become easier said than done. That’s because generally have a lot going on their screens at the same time and with many employees working remotely, tracking productivity becomes even more critical and tricky. 

We’re not trying to get into their heads or dictate how they work. We’re not trying to be Big Brother. We’re not trying to be the omniscient eye, either. We just want transparency of work ethic. So why not? What is all the hullabaloo about? 

The Ethics of Time Tracking

There’s no reason why time tracking should not be part of remote working culture. The only thing is that we must do it the right way: 

  • Non-invasive rather than privacy-plundering; 
  • Comforting and helpful rather than anxiety-inducing; 
  • Productivity-enhancing rather than eroding. 

Karen Gregory, a digital sociologist from the University of Edinburgh, puts this very aptly when she says, "Autonomy sits at the heart of meaningful work. These surveillance technologies chip away at that autonomy."

Time tracking must be done in such a way that it does exactly and only what it is meant to do; it must not assume the role of the Eye of Sauron. It must not take precedence over the actual work that needs to be done. 

Read more about this: Employee Time Tracking vs. Employee Monitoring: Which Approach is Better and Why?

How Does Upwork Do It?

As mentioned above, Upwork is one of the most popular ways of tracking time and activity of freelance employees. What methods do they use? They depend on random screenshots taken every ten minutes, keyboard activity (keystrokes, mouse clicks, scroll actions), and optional webcam shots, also taken every ten minutes if enabled. 

Adam Florin, a digital freelancer on Upwork, told Buzzfeed that:

 “I've never had a client expect to be able to look over my shoulder for every minute of every day. That's what Upwork is providing.” He went on to explain, “You hear a camera sound, and then see a copy of the screenshot in the Upwork window. Then a timer starts ticking down a few seconds so you can race over and delete it if you need to. What if you have received a sensitive email and it's open? It's so invasive.” 

And sure, you can delete that screenshot in that window of a few seconds, but you lose that time too. Those ten minutes will not be logged in your billable hours then. 

Freelancers, in most cases, must agree to use the Work Diary as a pre-condition from clients and also to ensure payment. Upwork takes responsibility for paying freelancers out of its own pocket in case their client backs out, provided that they have logged the hours in their Work Diary. This helps many freelancers feel financially secure and hence they rarely feel like they have a choice.

Why Not the Upwork Time Tracker? 

Florin is just one of these countless freelancers who feel uncomfortable with Upwork’s “monitoring” rather than tracking. Upwork’s Work Diary really does try to become the Eye of Sauron. It puts employees in such pressure with their semi-randomized ten-minute screenshots that they find it nerve-wracking to even take a two-minute bathroom break for worry that the screenshot might be taken in that window and they might show up inactive. 

Sure, freelancers can add those minutes manually, they say, but manually added hours do not necessarily get the same benefit as the automatically surveilled and billed hours. So any work done offline and then logged into the Work Diary manually is usually not protected under Upwork’s promise of payment.

That said, it’s not just the surveillance that creates a headache for employees. Several users have reported glitches or server crashes too due to which Upwork did not record their worked hours, deleted them, or barred them from manually entering hours that they had worked. Employers too have often had issues viewing their employees’ work diaries.

Read more about this: How Does Upwork Time Tracking Work? Is it Good Enough?

Is the Payroll Feature Worth It?

Let’s talk about Upwork Payroll. It allows users to bill through their Work Diary and makes it easy for employers to pay their employees while adhering to all the laws applicable. What the payroll feature also does is that it, of course, deducts service fees. Here is the service fee structure as on Upwork’s own site:

  • $0-$500 in earnings from a client: 20% service fee applied to earnings
  • $500.01-$10,000 in earnings from a client: 10% service fee
  • $10,000.01 or more in earnings from a client: 5% service fee

In an example given by Upwork itself, it clarifies that if a freelancer is working on a 600$ project with a new client, their earnings after the service cost deduction - their take-home amount - would be 490$. Why should your employees lose out on 110$ of their hard-earned money?

Now, we’re not saying Upwork is bad and you should never use it. Upwork is a terrific source for finding and hiring talent, no doubt. It has a huge marketplace and gives immense benefits to freelancers, making the hub for some of the best talent. However, once you’ve found your people and hired them, it’s best not to continue using Upwork only for the sake of time-tracking and payroll, since there are many, much better options available out there.

How Does timegram Do It?

timegram does exactly what a time-tracker should do, without any of the prevalent invasive add-ons. 

It saves your time and makes your employees happy!

How is it good for employees?

It tracks your employees’ hours and keeps a record of their activity. What it does better is it gives control to the employee at the end of the day, to retain the record as it is or to remove some in case it does not do the best job of displaying productivity or contains sensitive data or is plain unnecessary. None of the logged activity is accessible by the manager before the employee approves their handpicked proof of work.

How is it good for managers & business owners?

You only see the relevant record and don’t have to sift through hundreds of screenshots in search of productivity. If the productivity was there, it will show up in the proof that employees choose to show.

How does it prevent unnecessary surveillance?

At the end of the day, the work gets done, the data is recorded in an ethical way so you can keep track, and employees are relaxed since there are no anxiety-inducing practices. No webcam shots, no keystroke counts, no scroll action counts. Who wants to be that paranoid? 

Hassle-free, Automated Billing: No Glitches and No Deductions

timegram is just as easy to use as Upwork when it comes to billing and payments, but better. It can turn your employees’ billable hours to invoices in just a few clicks, and it does so at no cost to the people who work their minds off for you.

Not only that, it can also generate productivity insights based on your employees’ activity and billable hours to help you scout the best candidates for your next big project.

The list of amazing benefits doesn’t end here: we help you with project management too in the same space by giving you authentic updates about your employees’ progress and workload so that you know exactly who will best be able to take on the next task and who they might be able to collaborate with.

Not only does this help you and your employees stay on the same page (quite literally as well), but it also helps you set realistic goals and deadlines.

Bottomline: timegram is awesome …

… and it makes up for all the limitations on Upwork. Period.

Are you ready to experience timegram with all of these features and more? Click here to read more about its features and then sign up for a free trial (since you’ll definitely be impressed)!

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Moniba Mehboob

About the author

Moniba Mehboob is a published author of prose and poetry. She is currently interested in writing children's picture books and occasionally dabbles in watercolors too.

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