E-commerce businesses have never had more opportunity – or more challenges – as the world shifts online. 2020 was a record-breaking year for e-commerce, with an explosive Black Friday and Cyber Monday in particular. Many merchants are experiencing breakneck growth that isn’t slowing down.

Amazon Black Friday 2019 v 2020

Average orders per SKU for Black Friday on non-Amazon marketplaces in 2019 versus 2020. Source

However, despite the exciting potential, that revenue won’t come easy if your team cannot scale in the new remote world. E-commerce jobs are booming, which means it’s especially important to hire quality talent, retain your best performers, and ensure your team is working efficiently.

U.S. BLS employment growth

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Facing uncharted growth in the industry, many e-commerce owners are scrambling to:

  • Find ways to keep their teams productive with minimal supervision
  • Implement new processes to increase efficiency and output
  • Build trust with freelancers and new hires quickly
  • Understand priorities and assign those to team members
  • Make fast and simple payments to contractors and virtual assistants
  • See how long projects are taking and what they’re costing

Overall, e-commerce business owners are struggling to reduce their admin work so that they can focus their time and efforts on growing the business. They need a system to manage people and work so they have more time for growth.

If that sounds like you, this guide will teach you how to run an efficient, money-making e-commerce business, even with a growing remote team.


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How Hubstaff helps e-commerce businesses succeed

Hubstaff is a workforce management platform that e-commerce businesses use to manage their teams, monitor productivity, and track work input. Companies like StandDesk, House of Bagels, and Simply Organic all use Hubstaff to manage their employees and contractors online.

To create this guide, we sent out a survey and interviewed some of the 2,000 e-commerce businesses that use Hubstaff. We wanted to see how they are using Hubstaff time tracking to resolve their biggest team and time management issues.

Here’s a quick glance at how Hubstaff makes managing e-commerce businesses easier

    • Automatic payments to virtual team members
    • Free talent searching and hiring using Hubstaff Talent
    • Time tracking through desktop, web, and mobile apps
    • Priority management and ability to assign tasks
    • Built-in timesheet approvals
    • Employee monitoring with customizable proof of work features
    • Agile project management integration with Hubstaff Tasks
    • Over 30 integrations with other business software

    Learn what Hubstaff can do for your business

    Top challenges for e-commerce businesses

    Hubstaff customers range from brand new startups to big, established e-commerce brands. We reached out to learn how these companies are staying efficient and productive during periods of high growth. Here’s what we found.

“My employees were logging hours manually, and I wasn’t sure about the authenticity of their reporting. Also, I wanted to know how much time they are spending on each project to see if these projects are cost effective.”

– Hubstaff e-commerce customer

From our conversations, we found these common challenges:

      • Hiring and managing contractors during periods of growth
      • Increasing productivity from existing teams
      • Closer employee, virtual assistant, and freelancer monitoring

Hubstaff eCommerce customers infographic

E-commerce business owners’ biggest challenges are ensuring productivity across their team, tracking their time effectively, and growing their remote teams. It always seems like there’s not enough time in the day.

Let’s take a look at each one to see how you can best address these challenges.

1) Increase internal productivity

The situation: You need to do more with less

A one-person e-commerce business can be profitable, but it’s harder to ramp up operations as you start getting more orders. You need writers to optimize listings, virtual assistants to research products, engineers to build D2C websites, designers to create graphics that convert, and marketers to acquire and retain customers.

In 2020, e-commerce skyrocketed as the global pandemic forced shoppers to adopt online shopping habits. We saw entire businesses go (and stay) remote, and e-commerce teams were no exception.

Many sellers were concerned about the productivity and sustainability of their newly remote teams. Some employees took advantage of the situation by logging off during work hours and submitting fudged timesheets. In some cases, work quality dropped. On top of that, teams dealt with increased stress from the pandemic and heavier work loads.

Where time tracking comes in

A one-click time tracker that employees can start when they get to work and stop when they’re done keeps everyone accountable.

Tracking time gives you real, unbiased data about how your employees work. You can be confident that the hours logged are accurate. If there’s ever a question, you can refer to activity levels, see URLs and apps used, or view randomized screenshots to find the source of problems.

Remote e-commerce employees can use that data, too. Using a time tracker helps them keep track of work and manage priorities.

For example, one Hubstaff user reports that he uses the productivity tracking features to optimize the way his customer support team works. He can balance time spent between live chats and phone calls to make the best use of his resources.

Using a time tracking tool like Hubstaff saves time on administrative tasks, too. Your employees don’t have to fill out timesheets every week, and you don’t have to chase people down to make sure they log their time.

Key productivity features:

      • Activity rates based on keyboard and mouse usage
      • Customizable screen capture that can be adjusted for each user or turned off completely
      • Tracking time to specific projects and tasks
      • Apps and URLs visited while tracking time

Hubstaff desktop timer

The results

Since Hubstaff’s time tracking apps for desktop, web, mobile, and Chrome are easy to start and stop, employees spend less time fiddling with timesheets and managers spend less time calculating hours. It’s a quick, efficient, and sustainable way to track and prove hours worked.

Plus, you can use the insights gained from Hubstaff reports to optimize your team and ensure they’re working on what will provide the most value.

“As a business owner and a leader of a distributed team, I find a lot of value in being certain of the actual work being done. Hubstaff helps me with that by using the time tracking and employee monitoring tools.”

Eunan McKenna, Owner of Love Furniture

2) Expand your team confidently

The situation: You need to grow your team to keep up with demand

Many successful e-commerce sellers run into more growth than they can keep up with, and need to bring on additional team members to help keep up.

Never hired remotely before? You’re not alone. Hiring your first remote worker can be daunting.

Hiring with Hubstaff Talent

One of the common concerns we heard when speaking with merchants was that they needed to expand their team to grow (hire more salespeople, bring on another VA, outsource to another contractor), but didn’t know how to make sure those new hires were efficient and effective with their time.

How Hubstaff helps

Hubstaff shows you when your new employee starts and ends their day. It gives you visibility so you can easily see how your new team members are doing.

Look at how long they spend on routine tasks. It might take a new hire a little longer at first, but you should see them become more efficient as they get up to speed.

Onboard new team members and encourage them to follow the same time tracking process as the rest of the team. This will help you gauge their work right alongside your current employees. Everything is visible from one central dashboard.

You’ll see when new employees log on, how long they work for, and how productive they’ve been during that time.

The results

Using Hubstaff removes a lot of uncertainty in remote hiring. E-commerce business owners can more confidently bring on new employees, hire freelancers, or outsource tasks to a virtual assistant.

There’s peace of mind knowing that you have an established and organized process for tracking time and measuring efficiency across the entire organization.

You can even check how far someone is in the process of setting up Hubstaff.

With Hubstaff’s activity reports, you’ll be able to measure new hire productivity and see who is idle.

“The first ‘employee’ many ecommerce entrepreneurs hire is a virtual assistant: someone who can take on the daily tasks and processes that are important for running your business, but not necessarily focused on growing it.” – Braveen Kumar, How to Hire a Virtual Assistant (And Take Back Your Life)

Since Hubstaff was created with transparency and efficiency in mind, the software is user-friendly and always notifies your team when the app is actively running.

Freelancer platforms like Upwork are built for hiring and people-matching. Hubstaff is built to onboard and manage your workforce from hiring to payments and reporting. It’s a reliable, comprehensive time tracking solution that helps your business grow.

3) Eliminate time-sinks

The situation: You (or your managers) don’t have enough hours in the day

As your e-commerce business grows, your time becomes one of your most precious resources. Everyone on your team is coming to you with questions, requests, and updates.

You start every day ready to crush your to-do list. You plan to finally tackle those important business decisions as soon as you’ve gone through your inbox and responded to your team’s messages. Suddenly, it’s 11:45 PM, you need to finish reviewing your accounts, you have an early meeting you can’t reschedule, and you’re wondering where the day went.

Every e-commerce founder knows that feeling. Sometimes, it just comes with the territory. But it shouldn’t feel like you’re running out of time every day.

The same thing happens across your whole team. When everyone spends their whole day trying to get caught up, that’s a sign that you need to eliminate time-sinks.

Where time tracking comes in

Get more important work done by cutting out all those little time wasters that eat up your day.

Time tracking shows you where everyone’s work hours go. Track time by task and the data will tell you that a “quick” review of the new product copy actually took two and a half hours. Pick up just two more little projects like that and the day is gone.

When you see how much time you spend on low priority work, you’ll find it easier to say no to distractions. This is especially important when it comes to managing a team.

Hubstaff helps you break the check-in habit. A lot of managers feel disconnected when their team works remotely. The natural tendency is to check in throughout the day to make sure everyone is on task.

The problem is that every time you ask for an update, you’re interrupting your team’s workflow and focus. Tasks take 50% longer to complete when they’re interrupted, and that’s on top of the 23 minutes on average it takes to refocus after being distracted.

With Hubstaff, you have visibility without needing to break your team’s focus. Checking the app saves your limited time, too.

Administrative work is another time sink. With Hubstaff, you can auto-generate timesheets to review and approve and automate payroll. Set with pay rates for each person to save even more of your time.

The results

Tracking time, paired with reports on what your team did that day, will help you pinpoint what is taking up too much time. You’ll be able to identify projects that are major time-waster, or the repetitive tasks that you should outsource.

You’ll also be able to automate tedious managerial tasks that used to take hours and are prone to human error.

Tip: Do a weekly, monthly, or quarterly review of your team’s time to see what should be delegated or outsourced to make the team more effective and cost-efficient.

Optimize and scale your remote e-commerce team in 4 steps

1. Monitor performance

“Seeing the immediate increase in productivity and the positive reaction by the employees reminded us of another industrial engineering principle – The Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect says that people will modify their behavior simply because they are being observed.” – Brian Barry, How To Get More Productivity In Your E-Commerce Operations

Tracking activity in Hubstaff allows you to;

      • Gauge productivity individually and across the team
      • Find which tasks take too much time for the returns they bring
      • See where you should be investing more time and what you can delegate

Everyone from full-time staff to virtual assistants should be tracking their activity, but doing so manually is time-consuming and often inaccurate.

So, how do you monitor productivity seamlessly in the background?

How to do it

In Hubstaff, you have the option to customize proof of work features including randomized screenshots. The optional screen capture feature will take a snapshot of your team members’ screens 1-3 times within 10 minutes. You can also see the URLs your team visits and how long they spend on them.

Tip: All of these features can be customized per user, or turned off completely.

These features are not intended to run secretly in the background. They’re designed with the following goals in mind: transparency, giving users access to all their own data, and granting control over when the apps are running.

For example, your team will know when the app is tracking time or taking screenshots. They can start and stop the timer as needed. Employees can see everything that their manager sees in the Hubstaff dashboard.

Employees can protect their privacy by removing tracked time. For example, if an employee accidentally tracks time while visiting their online bank account, they can remove that time from their timesheet and the screenshots will be deleted.

Want to learn more about proof of work features? Check out how tracking works.

1) To find these features, go to your Hubstaff dashboard and navigate to Settings in the left hand toolbar. Under Features, select Activity.

Hubstaff activity settings

2) Then, they’ll want to turn on app and URL tracking.

Hubstaff can see what apps (eg. Hubstaff) and URLs (eg. Twitter) your employee visits while tracking time. If you only want to see app-level data (eg. Google Chrome) from your team, you can toggle their settings to apps only.

You can also opt to view apps and URLs based on team members. For example, you may want to view apps and URLs for the customer support team, but only apps for your SEO contractor.

Hubstaff app & URL settings

3) Next, turn on screenshots and adjust their frequency.

Hubstaff can capture a certain amount of randomized screenshots per 10-minute period. Navigate to Screenshot frequency to turn this feature on.

Similarly to apps and URLs, you can opt to turn on screenshots for only certain team members. You may want just 1 screenshot every 10 minutes for your managers, but 3 screenshots per 10 minutes for your developers.

Hubstaff screenshot frequency settings

Tip: If anyone is concerned about privacy issues, you can also choose to blur their screenshots. Just go to Screenshot blur and toggle the option to On.

4) Finally, turn on activity tracking to calculate rates based on keyboard and mouse movement.

Hubstaff activity monitoring setting

This feature simply looks at whether or not there was mouse or keyboard movement, and provides a productivity score based on how active someone was.

You can find these scores alongside your screenshots, just go to Activity and then Screenshots in the navigation.

Hubstaff screenshot activity

Hover over a time period to see activity levels and the breakdown between mouse and keyboard movement. The example above shows your team member was 95% active with mouse movements contributing 59% and keyboard contributing 46%.

These activity levels will differ based on role. For example, a programmer will likely have more movement than a data analyst, who spends time sitting with, analyzing, and digesting data.

“We need employee time tracking management for mostly our software engineers.” Hubstaff customer, e-commerce founder

Tip: Look at trends over time, instead of singling out any day or 10-minute period. This way, you’ll also be able to see whether a team member is overloaded or has extra time available.

2. Track productivity across the team

“We want to improve the way our employees use their time.”
– Hubstaff e-commerce customer

Once your team has taken the steps above, you’ll have some data around how work gets done. You’ll be equipped with screenshots, apps and URLs used, hours worked on which projects, and activity levels that combined can serve as your productivity dashboard.

Hubstaff dashboard

Use that data to benchmark and track productivity. This can help you build trust with new hires, make sure you’re on track toward goals, and pay your team accurately.

How to do it

When measuring productivity, look at top performers and see what’s working well for them. Their performance metrics tell you what you can reasonably expect from an engaged employee. This helps you set achievable goals and identify anyone who’s underperforming.

You’ll also want to find out what is hindering your team from doing their best work.

1) Find your most and least productive team members in terms of output and ROI.

Here are some questions to ask:

      • What revenue did the efforts of this team member bring? Can we measure it in monetary value?
      • What is your average activity level, and who is dropping or increasing their average rates?
      • How many hours did the team track on average?
      • Which projects stayed on budget, and which ones went way over?

To find your average activity level, go to Reports, and then view Time & activity, or see activity broken down into a Weekly report.

Hubstaff activity reports

Tip: View other useful information in your reports such as expenses, payments, project budgets, and more.

For example, a weekly report will look like this:

Hubstaff weekly report

You’ll see a breakdown of each team member, how much time they worked in that week, whether they tracked time automatically or manually, and the average level of activity while they were tracking time.

Once you have that data, you can use your judgement to determine activity goals for everyone on the team.

For example, your managers and coordinators are likely to spend more time in meetings, so their activity levels may be lower and time can be manually logged. However, you may ask your designers and developers to stick to a 60% or higher activity level to indicate they’re active and making progress during their billable hours.

2) Turn on idle timeout.

On the flip side, Hubstaff can also detect inactivity. So if someone on your team forgets to turn off the timer it will give them two options: to either remove or include the inactive time (for example, if they were doing offline work), and whether they want to continue tracking or stop work.

To turn this feature on, go to your Settings, and then under General, navigate to Timer apps.

Hubstaff timer apps setting

How long do you want the app to wait before calling out idle time? You can choose between 5, 10, and 20 minutes.

Hubstaff idle time setting

You can also set idle time thresholds by team member. For example, a virtual assistant doing research may have a 5-minute timeout. A manager who schedules lots of virtual meetings might get a 20-minute timeout so they don’t have to click on the idle timer while on a call.

Tip: If their work is completely online, opt to keep idle time and take a look at what was happening when they went idle. This can reveal time-sinkholes that eat up the day.

3) Find the apps and URLs that waste time and block them.

Go to Reports, and under General, select Apps & URLs. This will show you the URLs and apps that your team uses the most while they’re tracking time.

Hubstaff app & URL reports

This report provides valuable insight into where your team is wasting the most time, so you can bring this up with your team members directly.

Look at the tools your team uses most. If you’re paying for a tool or website that your team doesn’t use much, there may be an opportunity to find a free alternative. Likewise, if your team spends a lot of time using a basic version of an app, that might be a good tool to upgrade to save time and effort.

3. Eliminate overspending and optimize your team’s time

In e-commerce, it’s common to delegate or outsource tasks like research, web development, design, marketing, and more.

You might find that you’re spending 4 hours a week doing something that a VA could get done faster and more affordably. Or maybe you’re asking a designer to help with repetitive marketing tasks because you don’t have anyone else available.

How much money are you wasting because work is assigned to the wrong people? Use your time tracker to get a clear idea of workloads and time spent on tasks to fix these problems.

How to do it

1) Have your team track their time on the Hubstaff desktop app.

Hubstaff’s desktop app is lightweight and runs seamlessly in the background, making it easy for even busy managers to track their time and effort every day. They can track time with the click of a button, and easily add or select the project or task they’re working on.

Hubstaff desktop app

Download the desktop app here.

2) Monitor activity for wasted effort.

For example, managers may find themselves doing a lot of research about hiring practices. These are complex topics that require hours of study to get right.

If you look at your timesheets and find they’re spending half a day on it, you should look into outsourcing to a recruiter or expert who would be both faster and more knowledgeable.

Tip: Schedule automated reports so you can get the exact snapshot you want of your team’s time.

3) Learn how to delegate or outsource work.

As your business picks up, and you and your team realize they can’t do it all, the smartest thing for the business (and their mental health) is to delegate that work.

To decide whether or not to outsource, think about these two things:

      • How much is this task worth to you?
      • How long does your employee need to spend to get the results you want?

Put a dollar value on each task and use Hubstaff to track whether or not you’re within budget. A job that’s only worth $100 shouldn’t be assigned to an employee who takes 4 hours to do it at $35 an hour.

The reverse is also true. Time tracking data can tell you that you’re overpaying a virtual assistant for something you can complete for less money in-house.

Tip: Want to get more from virtual assistants? Start by outsourcing the tasks you dislike the most (eg. accounting). If your assistant specializes in those tasks, they’re likely faster, better, and happier with the work than you.

4. Automate timesheets and payroll

“I wanted the virtual assistants for my company to have a means of getting paid without third-party payment processors taking out too much from their money.” – Hubstaff e-commerce customer

Our recent report on construction companies found that managers were spending almost 4 hours every week on payroll and accounting.

However, it’s important to keep time every day to avoid losing out on revenue.

HBR timesheet graphic

So how do you monitor timesheets daily while still having time to grow your business?

Hubstaff’s apps are intuitive and easy-to-use, which can cut down on the onboarding and training time needed for your team to learn it.

Being able to easily track time and automate payroll will save you time, money, and headaches.

Tip: Take a look at Hubstaff’s payment integrations to find the one that works best with your team. Hubstaff supports PayPal, Payoneer, TransferWise, and other popular payment processors.

How to do it

1) Ensure your team is fully onboarded with set pay rates.

A team member is considered fully onboarded once they have created their account, downloaded the app, and started tracking time. You can see exactly how far each team member is in their onboarding in the app by going to Members in the left hand sidebar, and clicking Onboarding status.

Hubstaff onboarding status

You’ll be able to see who has created their Hubstaff account, downloaded the app, and started tracking time.

Hubstaff team onboarding

Learn more about team member onboarding here.

2) View, download, and approve timesheets.

Once your team begins tracking time, you’ll be able to review their timesheets for billable hours in a daily, weekly, or calendar view.

Edit Hubstaff timesheets

Navigate to Timesheets and then Approvals to quickly and easily review time worked and either approve or contest the time logged.

Hubstaff timesheet approvals

3) Integrate your payment provider to automate payments.

Once you approve a timesheet, you can use Hubstaff to automate payments based on a set hourly rate. This will help keep managerial time to a minimum and reduce fees from using multiple different payment portals.

Hubstaff payment integrations

Hubstaff payroll

Learn more about automatic payments and payroll here.

Tip: You can set up a different hourly rate and bill rate for your team. For example, if you work with a client and charge a premium on your team’s time, you can set the bill rate to what your clients would have to pay per hour.

Hubstaff pay settings

Conclusion

By using Hubstaff to monitor performance and productivity, optimize your time, delegate, and automate time tracking and payroll, you’ll be able to eliminate human error and create a well-oiled machine that can grow with customer demand.

Follow the steps above to start saving time and money, and grow your e-commerce business efficiently.

How much money would you lose during half a month of inefficiency?

Use that time to bring order to the chaos instead.

Try Hubstaff