After an unprecedented year, remote work has become a necessity. Sweatpants purchases rose almost 80 percent. The housing market has soared as buyers scramble to find listings with home offices.

It didn’t take long for companies to realize the challenges of keeping a remote team motivated. In response, many managers have turned to tools like Hubstaff to keep an eye on their team’s activity levels.

But what do these metrics actually mean? What kind of activity rate is “good?” Our customer support team hears these questions again and again.

When managers don’t fully understand activity levels, teams rush to meet unrealistic goals — sometimes at the cost of real productivity.

This fear usually leads to one simple question: Are there Hubstaff hacks to boost activity levels?

To answer this question, let’s first explore how Hubstaff calculates these numbers.

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Understanding Hubstaff productivity metrics

Hubstaff activity rates are measured as the percentage of seconds that a user uses their mouse or keyboard for every ten minute period while tracking time.

Hubstaff activity tracking

Like most metrics, activity rates are not intended to be used on their own with no other context.

Think of these rates as benchmarks for each person over time, not a singular snapshot of whether someone is productive or not for that hour or day.

Often, activity rates can help managers identify potential issues or bottlenecks.

Tracking a lot of hours with a higher-than-normal activity rate can signal that one of your team members might be overloaded. The same goes for the opposite. Tracking fewer hours with lower activity rates might mean that your team member might not have enough to work on.

If you’re new to activity rates, it can be tricky to understand exactly what they’re telling you.

A 60% activity rate does not mean that someone was only working for 60% of their day. It means that their mouse or keyboard was active for 60% of the time, and that’s something different altogether.

Let’s suppose that you have a new hire just beginning the onboarding process. They need to watch training videos, read handbooks, and attend a few meetings to get to know their team.

Consider the time it takes to watch a 10-minute training video. Your new hire probably won’t be very “active” during that time because watching a video doesn’t require keyboard or mouse activity. The only movement would be clicking to start and stop the video, right?

Now, imagine you look at the activity rates for your new team member and see that they averaged just 20% activity for their first couple of days.

You wonder what they were doing for the other 80% of the time. After all, this is their first week. They should be at their best.

Don’t worry. This isn’t a bad score in this situation.

Activity percentages should be low while your team members work on passive activities like reading, meeting teammates, and watching videos.

To get more out of activity percentages, look at them with context. Use other productivity metrics like task completion rates to measure your team’s performance.

Insights by Hubstaff (Coming soon)

Activity levels are a helpful metric, but they weren’t designed to be your only source of productivity information.

That’s one of the reasons why we’re introducing Insights. This add-on gives you a concise yet in-depth view of various Hubstaff metrics. In the insights bar, you can view:

  • Time tracked to each task
  • Trends compared to the previous day
  • Productive and unproductive time
  • Benchmarks for your organization
Hubstaff Insights

With the Insights add-on, you’ll be able to set apps, websites, and other tools as productive or unproductive for your entire team. You’ll also have the ability to customize this for individual team members as needed.

Using trends to assess your team’s growth is a great start, but we have other plans for Insights, too.

In the future, you will be able to see how your team members’ performance compares with similar roles in other companies. These industry benchmarks can help you set realistic goals for your team.

Hubstaff team tab

With Insights, you’ll be able to help your team develop healthy work habits.

Building healthy habits

As day-to-day tasks fluctuate, so will activity levels. That’s why looking at short-term productivity is not an accurate gauge of efficiency.

Pushing for peak productivity every minute of every day is unrealistic. Your team is only human. If you demand an unsustainable amount of work from your team members, they’ll fall short of your expectations or burn out trying to meet them.

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Even the most impressive teams have minutes, hours, and even days where productivity is down.

You can also find unreliable team members who have shown glimpses of an excellent work ethic. Prioritizing daily activity rates over output and overall performance can put the wrong kind of pressure on your team.

Instead, look at long-term trends. A team’s worth is not tied to their last ten minutes of work. As the American writer Will Durant once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Activity levels are a way to identify habits and trends. Each team — and often each individual — should have a benchmark that makes sense.

Here’s a good starting point.

51%+ Green – This is a great level of activity. If team members average above 50% productivity, they’re doing well.

21-50% Yellow – This score is solid, but not quite there. If a team member spends considerable time in this range and their job role doesn’t justify a lower activity level, look more closely to see what’s going on.

0-20% Red – This activity level indicates low productivity. While this range is okay in small increments, ongoing activity levels should be higher for most roles. Unless there’s a need to work away from the computer, you shouldn’t see levels below 20% for extended periods.

Realistic productivity scores

With this in mind, what is a good Hubstaff activity level?

Back in 2019, we calculated the activity rates for all of our customers to find the answer to this question. The results may come as a surprise.

Hubstaff customers posted an average activity rate of just 49.6%. In other words, users spent less than half of all tracked time typing and clicking throughout their workdays.

If that’s lower than you expected, you’re not alone. Many people assume a 50% activity rate is only half as productive as you could be. But that’s not the case.

In theory, Hubstaff does allow you to reach 100% activity. To reach this rate, you’d probably need to focus more on your computer and mouse activity than your actual priorities at work. That would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?

Idle or inactive time in Hubstaff

Tracking time in Hubstaff is a little different than filling out a timesheet manually. If you’re not used to working this way, it’s easy to forget to stop your timer when you step away.

Hubstaff’s Idle Time feature is designed to detect this inactivity and account for human error.

Let’s say your team member takes a little longer than they expected on their break. When they get back to their desk and pick up work, they’ll get an Idle Prompt like this.

Hubstaff idle timer

Every company handles work breaks differently. That’s why Hubstaff gives users a few different ways to handle idle time. They can:

  • Stop tracking and remove the idle time from their timesheet
  • Continue tracking and keep the time in their timesheet
  • Reassign that time to a different task or project

Even the most productive members of your team will see some idle time if they answer calls, sketch on paper, or work offline throughout the course of their day.

For example, a call center will see this prompt frequently as they help customers over the phone. It might even slow teams down to constantly deal with the popup.

That’s why Hubstaff allows you to adjust settings or disable the feature altogether. If it helps to see the prompt more frequently, you can also change the idle time setting to 5 or 10-minute increments.

The idle time prompt helps generate more accurate timesheets because it can easily pinpoint the moment when a team member walked away. If they forgot to stop the timer at the end of the day or before lunch, it’s an easy fix.

Hubstaff productivity hacks

Time tracking and proof of work tools are valuable assets to any team.

Tools like Hubstaff can help managers stay connected with their remote teams and the projects they’re working on.

Hubstaff powers your productivity

See how Hubstaff helps your team get more done. Try it for free.

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But that doesn’t mean that your team members themselves will be enthusiastic at first. There will always be people looking for a workaround or hack to make themselves appear more active. In fact, 1 in 4 people search for hacks to fake activity online.

In a lot of cases, that’s understandable. Activity levels and idle time don’t account for each unique challenge our jobs offer on the day-to-day. If you work on a team where your manager is misusing this feature, increasing your score can be crucial.

Luckily, our teams at Hubstaff have some tricks they use to stay productive.

If your team is looking for hacks or workarounds, be honest with yourself. Are you pushing for unrealistic activity level goals?

Let’s assume that your goals are reasonable, but your team is still concerned about how their activity levels look.

Here are some of the best hacks to keep productivity levels up. Share these tips with your team.

  • Using digital tools for brainstorming. Instead of a pen and paper, use Google Docs, notes apps, or Procreate to come up with new ideas. This way, your brainstorming efforts are reflected in your activity score.
  • Tracking time by task. If you’re taking phone calls and going to meetings while you’re supposed to be blogging, your activity score won’t reflect the work you’re actually putting in. Switch it up when you take on a new task. This is also just a best practice for time tracking in general.
  • Tracking time for everything. Whether it’s a presentation in front of the CEO of your company or a trivia session, track time. If you have to send a couple of emails after hours? Track time. If you’re doing anything work-related, it’s okay to clock in. Short stints add up and are usually highly productive.
  • Ask questions about expectations. If you’re producing high-quality work, hitting your deadlines, and generally doing a good job, activity rates shouldn’t be a top concern. However, that’s not always the case. When you feel that you’re performing at your best, but your activity rates don’t reflect that, start the conversation and agree on clear goals.
  • Change your hours. Whenever possible, build your schedule around your most productive hours. Some people work best in the morning. Others find their creative energy after dinner. If you don’t have this much control over your schedule, try blocking off time every day for focused, uninterrupted work.
  • Adding notes to tracked time. When you work away from your computer, add a note to that tracked time. It’s a good idea to keep a record if you sketched designs on paper for 30 minutes, for example.

These tips can be a great way to improve on personal goals. As an added bonus, they improve actual productivity, not just the recorded activity level.

Take it from our Director of Customer Experience, Tyler Sellhorn:

“[Moving the mouse around] is silly. Managers need to understand that Hubstaff data doesn’t replace good management. Clear KPIs with behaviors intended to deliver on them is what’s going to drive success.”

A better way to think about productivity

As we’ve discussed, activity percentages are not the be-all-end-all of productivity. Like any statistic, these metrics can be misleading. Managers who emphasize numbers over communication, innovation, and work ethic put their teams and companies at a disservice.

Every role at your company is different. They shouldn’t be judged by the same standards.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will go its whole life believing it is stupid

The Pareto Principle — also called the 80/20 rule — is a helpful way to think about productivity.

In early 20th century Italy, Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 20% of Italy’s population owned 80% of its land. As a gardener, he also saw this pattern occur in nature. 20% of his peapod plants produced 80% of his peas.

From these observations, Pareto developed the 80/20 rule.

Whether it’s economics, marketing, gardening, or productivity within your team this principle is essential for understanding how results come to fruition.

While we aren’t saying you should only give 20% effort at all times, 100% effort isn’t reasonable (or possible) either. Sometimes quick stints of focus produce the best results.

the pareto principle

Throughout the course of days (and even weeks), our productivity actually wavers quite a bit.

Productivity by time of day

Even the most successful people experience drop-offs. According to the Pareto Principle, we’ll finish 80% of our work in the most productive 20% of our time.

That’s why expert opinion leaders in the business world advise you to:

  • Shorten your to-do list
  • Take more breaks
  • Embrace the 80/20 rule
  • Schedule fewer meetings
  • Stop multitasking

No matter what field you work in, implementing these tips can help.

Next steps

Activity levels don’t have to be the bane of your team’s existence. Both managers and team members should set realistic goals and expectations.

If you’re feeling pressure to meet unrealistic activity metrics, start a conversation with your manager. Maybe even send them this article. If you’re a manager that’s been glued to Hubstaff for any fluctuations in activity rates, it’s never too late to change your expectations.

A few takeaways:

  • Understand how productivity is measured
  • An average activity score is just under 50%
  • Not all jobs/fields will produce identical activity levels
  • Breaks are necessary for remote teams, too
  • The 80/20 rule often applies to productivity

With these tips in mind, you can embrace time tracking tools like Hubstaff without feeling compelled to change the way you work.

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Category: Employee Productivity, Product