What are your staff really doing at work?

It’s an invasion of privacy, yes. But it could also help you and your staff work out which little distractions are affecting productivity in your firm.

John Mulligan came up with the idea for Office Metrics after managing to complete a full-time masters while working a full-time job. "My managers had no idea what I was doing because they were based in another country," he says. "If they’d had a tool to monitor my time remotely, I never could have got away with it."

From poacher to gamekeeper, Mulligan set about developing software to not only find out what employees were doing online, but also how much time they spent doing it. He finally launched OfficeMetrics.com earlier this year.

Before you scream with indignation at this "Big Brother is watching you!" business, remember: this doesn’t have to be an exercise in finger-pointing. It can be a genuinely useful tool. "I used to organise soccer games for my team," explains Mulligan. "Once I used the Office Metrics tool to break down my work day, I realised that I was spending 90 minutes every week on personal emails organising matches. Those minutes meant that I was working late on a Friday night, or eating into my weekend.

"Once I realised the problem, I organised a piece of online software to handle the attendance instead. I’d had no idea just how much time I’d been spending on it until I saw it in print."

Surprisingly, it’s not just corporations using the tool. Individuals are also curious to see how their work day is spent. "We currently have 80,000 users worldwide," says Mulligan. "These range from self-employed entrepreneurs trying to work out how they’re using their time to financial institutions and blue chips."

The system starts at between £7-£11 per month to run and can be used to find holes in management, isolate areas of over staffing or even under-staffing – "sometimes excess browsing is a result of overwork," says Mulligan.

This insight into working habits had yielded some interesting stats for the Dublin-based firm. "There’s definitely a real issue for a number of companies," says Mulligan. "Facebook, Myspace and Youtube are all culprits."

However, Mulligan stresses that you shouldn’t tar all your staff with the same brush. "It’s usually 20 per cent of staff doing the lionshare of personal browsing. Once they’re given the information they usually change their habits straight away anyway. No further action is usually required."

This is all very interesting. And it gives Real Business an idea. Would Mulligan be willing to provide the software for free to government agencies, quangos and local government departments, just to see how employees there are managing their time..?

Muligan laughs: "Let’s do a free trial for British government and public services and see how that goes," he says. "I think there could be huge potential for improvement."

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