What Is Idle Time & Why It Is Important to Track It?

Everyone has encountered the concept of “idle time.” In everyday life, idle time typically refers to moments of leisure and relaxation and seen as overall beneficial. Nonetheless, sometimes the idle time meaning is not completely obvious, especially in a business setting. Idle time refers to the periods when employees are not actively engaged in work-related tasks, it can have a significant impact on overall productivity.

Imagine a situation when an employee, let’s call her Liza, works remotely on a task that requires special software to be utilized, but the company manager who is in charge of it is busy on an important Zoom meeting and does not see Liza’s request in his email. Does that constitute Liza’s waiting as idle time? If yes, how should businesses handle these situations? In this article, we try to answer the question “What is idle time?” and provide some useful recommendations on how to handle it.

What Is Idle Time?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines idle time as:

the period of time when a computer or other machine is not being used despite the fact that it is available to be used.

This definition, being similarly applicable to humans, highlights that resources are not being productively used in spite of their availability. This detail differentiates idle time from downtime—a period when an employee is not working because his equipment is not properly functioning or broken. 

Every organization represents a complex structure with different processes, and time might turn into idle time due to a variety of reasons, such as:

  • When an employee is ready and willing to work but is held back by external factors beyond their control, like in our example with Lisa, they are resource idle. In this case, materials, equipment, or information can hold an employee back in the event of their unavailability.    
  • When employees are held back by a decision they are waiting for from someone else, they become decision idle for as long as they wait. This, too, causes workflow disruptions, especially if waiting times are considerable. 
  • An employee becomes technically idle when his work process gets disrupted by unexpected internet issues, a broken printer, or other software problems.
  • Lacking some necessary skills can become a source of idle time too. An employee prevented from completing a task due to a lack of skills or knowledge can be considered skill idle (until the moment he gets necessary training or help to proceed with the task).
  • Finally, scheduling idle happens when team members must pause their tasks as they wait for a specific event, meeting, or milestone to take place before they can proceed.

How to Calculate Idle Time

Idle time formula

scheduled production timeactual production time=idle time

So, if during an 8-hour working day an employee was productive only for 6 hours, it means that idle time accounts for two hours or 25% of working time. 

Idle Time Tracking

One of the most effective methods to decrease idle time in a business process while at the same time boost employees’ productivity is using an idle time tracking software. Let’s look into this tool’s advantages using Traqq as an example:

Automatic idle time detection

The software allows to automatically detect periods when users are not active, based on mouse and keyboard activity.

idle time tracking traqq

Idle time reports

Time trackers can generate detailed reports that highlight idle time intervals within a project timeline. Some tools can generate detailed reports with data like the amount of idle time, apps used and websites visited,or manual time adjustments. Traqq allows you to further customize or filter out your reports based on various parameters or download multiple file formats. 

idle time tracking traqq

Productivity analysis

Detailed overview of the amount of idle time and its reasons gives companies an opportunity to assess how efficiently employees work. Provided with objective data, managers can make necessary adjustments to the work process or resources allocation.

what is idle time

Resource allocation and performance improvement

Armed with the understanding of idle time patterns, a company can adjust schedules, provide necessary training, or redistribute workloads. 

Client billing

Time trackers like Traqq not only improve efficiency by cutting idle time but also support companies’ economic prosperity. For businesses that work according to the formula “paid time = productive time”, tracking idle time helps to maintain financial integrity and client satisfaction.

What Does Idle Mean in Teams?

When it comes to teamwork, idle employees are usually those who are inactive or participate in group tasks or discussions unequally. This lack of engagement disrupts working dynamics and can lead to falling behind schedule with tasks. 

When team members are idle or not actively participating, it can lead to several issues, including:

  • Communication gaps: Idle team members often fall behind with critical messages or updates. This lack of engagement can result in significant miscommunications, potentially leading to errors and setbacks within the whole team.
  • Project delays: Inactivity among some team members can decelerate the advancement of the whole project. This slowdown frequently results in missed deadlines and extended project timelines, impacting the team’s ability to deliver on commitments.
  • Reduced team morale: When certain team members do not actively contribute, it can spread to other members, causing overall frustration and low morale among those who are engaged and contributing effectively. As a result, the cooperative spirit will suffer.
  • Workload imbalance: A frequent idleness in some team members tends to burden the more active and engaged members with additional responsibilities. This uneven distribution of tasks can lead to burnout and resentment, straining team relations and individual well-being.
  • Decreased productivity: The presence of idle team members can significantly affect the team’s overall productivity. It impacts effective collaboration, slows down decision-making processes, and hinders the timely and efficient completion of tasks.

Conclusion 

Understanding what idle time is and being able to measure it is crucial for organizational success. In order to get an objective picture of their team’s productivity, many companies decide to employ time-tracking tools.

By doing so, managers can gain a clearer picture of team efficiency and better identify areas where idle time can be reduced, ensuring that employee schedules are optimized for maximum productivity. Nonetheless, in order to make adjustments that will lead to actual improvements, it is crucial to install high-quality time trackers that can provide you with diverse functionality and convenient reporting. 

Last but not least, time tracking software is often perceived by employees as an invasion of their privacy, leading to a negative attitude towards this practice. In order to avoid this perception, it is crucial for companies’ management to provide clear communication about the purpose of time tracking and to avoid infringing on employees’ basic rights, time, and space.

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