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Aden Earthworks Inc. owner Ben Zlotnick

michelle siu The Globe and Mail

Every week, we will seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue it is facing in its business.

Fifteen minutes here, 15 minutes there – it's the kind of time that plenty of workers might take to grab a coffee or spend stuck in a traffic jam, ending up late to work.

It's also the kind of time that Ben Zlotnick wishes he had a better handle on when that happens with his workers.

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Mr. Zlotnick is the founder of Toronto-based Aden Earthworks Inc., a commercial and residential landscaping company, with four-fifths of its 50 employees out in the field and paid on an hourly basis.

It might seem insignificant, he said, but "with our business, everything is pretty scheduled." There are times when productivity suffers because a worker is late, putting holes in the scheduling for that job and others. Often, instead of ending the day at 5 p.m., workers will be required to put in a couple of more hours that Mr. Zlotnick hadn't factored into his calculations.

"Being 15 or 30 minutes late can have a massive snowball effect on productivity," he said.

If he knew for certain exactly how much time an employee spent at a job site, not on a break -- and, of course, breaks are allowed, he just wants to better track them, he said – Mr. Zlotnick could better plan how long a job would take and how much work the company could take on.

Part of the problem is that Mr. Zlotnick said he has not found a good way to track employees' time. He hands out forms at the start of the week and workers return them at week's end, with their hours filled in.

Mr. Zlotnick has installed GPS technology on company trucks to allow him to better track time spent at a job, but he only looks at the GPS logs when he is concerned productivity is lagging, he said.

"The GPS is just one part of the solution," said Mr. Zlotnick, whose company generated $5-million in revenue last year. "There's got to be more to it."

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The Challenge: How can Aden Earthworks' boss better track and manage his employees' time, and maximize productivity?


Elaine Pantel, Principal with advisory and accounting firm Shimmerman Penn , Toronto

One way to increase productivity is to hire a roaming supervisor who can show up at any work site. They're not just there to make sure someone's on a job site; they can also check the quality of the work. Employees need to know that they have someone watching. It's just human nature.

He could also create teams of employees based on area; different managers or supervisors would be responsible for an area or a team.

He should also consider offering incentives for good work. That will help motivate the team. But don't make it complicated. He could give them Tim Hortons gift cards or bonuses if they do things on time or under budget.

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David Ossip, president of workforce management firm Ceridian Dayforce

People will work harder, and within a specific schedule, if they're allowed to specify their availability. Give them the option to say what hours they can work in a day. If you don't allow that and they have a doctor's appointment in the middle of the day, they're still going to go and the manager might think they're still on the job.

People require some sort of flexibility from an organization, so make it easy for them to be able to take time off – or make up the hours somewhere else – if they need to.

Allan Guinan, managing partner of architecture and design firm Figure3 , Toronto

We've had the same problem – we need to track how many hours are spent on a variety of projects. There is some good technology out there, including a program we use called AjeraComplete from Axium. It's an electronic time sheet that people can fill out using their mobile. Management can then view, in real time, how much time it's taking to complete a project.

Any software has to have the ability to do some analysis. You need to be able to track hours on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. We also use the software to track unattributed time, such as travel or administrative time – the non-billable hours. We determine how much time should be attributed to non-attributed time. If someone's spending more time, say, at lunch, then maybe it's a signal that work isn't being assigned properly.

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Three things Aden Earthworks can do now:

Hire managers

Hire roaming supervisors to visit job sites.

Be more flexible with time

Seek worker input into what hours work best for them; allow them to take time off for appointments without repercussions.

Turn to time-tracking software

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Investigate time-tracking technology on the market. Make sure chosen software has analysis capabilities.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Facing a challenge? If your company could use expert help, please contact us at

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