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What is Idle Time and How to Calculate | FlowPath

December 13, 2023

Idle time is a phrase you might hear often in the facility management space, as the term is closely tied to productivity. Reducing idle time allows organizations to devote more time to important tasks and increase the bottom line. But before you can reduce idle time at your facility, it’s important to gain a full understanding of what exactly idle time is and why reducing it can be so beneficial. 

What is Idle Time?

Simply put, idle time is a period of time associated with employees or equipment that are in a waiting period. In these situations, an employee or machine is unproductive due to factors that could be controlled by various factors, such as external partner deliverables or management. For example, idle time may occur because a piece of machinery isn’t working, the company is waiting on a shipment to arrive, or a facility is overstaffed and not everyone being paid to be there has tasks to tend to.

Some level of idle time is inevitable; there is no way to completely mitigate idle time as it’s a natural part of any company with multiple employees and pieces of equipment. But, there are steps you can take to reduce idle time. This is extremely important for any facility because every minute that a machine or employee is idle is a lost minute of productivity, which opens the door to potential revenue loss. 

Knowing what factors at your facility can lead to idle time can help you plan ahead so that efficiency and profitability won’t take a big hit.

What idle time can look like at your facility:

Equipment Stoppages

Lagging equipment can lead to serious operational issues. This could be a result of materials running out, waiting for machines to complete jobs, or power outages. Facility managers should use a CMMS system to develop a proactive maintenance plan in the event that medium to high priority assets experience stoppages.

System Failures

This goes beyond single equipment failures. When an entire system goes down, virtually all employees are left in limbo; work simply cannot be done. This is generally out of the facility’s control, but you can do your best to avoid this by choosing a reliable software system and implementing a troubleshooting process for when common failures occur.

Storms or Other Natural Disasters

Depending on your location and industry, storms or other natural disasters can have huge implications on your day-to-day processes. If you manage a golf course, for example, a rainy day can really hamper the completion of that day’s tasks. The shipping and trucking industry is also largely affected by weather patterns as these aspects play a large role in not only the safety of the trucker and the goods being transported but also the other drivers on the road. Several industries need to take into account and prepare for any idle time that can occur through circumstances that are truly out of our control—like the weather. 

Worker Inefficiencies

We’re all human. Avoiding burnout by providing your staff with adequate breaks and time off is vital to the success of your organization. That being said, some employees are inherently more efficient than others. This can be specifically true for new hires who may need an adjustment period. This could also apply to employees who are transitioning roles and/or departments. Poor or unstructured onboarding can also lead to a general lack of understanding among employees. In addition to refining your onboarding process, creating standard operating procedures for different tasks can also keep all employees on the same page.

Unexpected Personal Events

This is an unavoidable type of event that can’t be predicted. When your employees are struggling with things outside of work in their personal lives, it can affect their productivity at work, pushing them to take advantage of the natural idle time of their everyday processes because they’re emotionally exhausted. Simultaneously, large exciting personal life shifts such as employees having to take maternity leave, spend time moving, or take time off to celebrate their wedding are also factors to consider when helping your staff continue seeing success. 

The Difference Between Idle Time and Downtime

Though they share similarities, idle time should not be confused with downtime. While in both cases your facility is unproductive, the key difference is in why that could be happening.

When we talk about machine downtime, the problem is usually rooted in either machine failure or scheduled maintenance. While idle time occurs when work could still get done, downtime takes place when work simply can’t be done.

Both of these metrics represent times when your equipment isn’t running, but it’s important to track them separately. Both represent a loss in productivity, but the difference is that idle time can be put to good use.

How to Calculate Idle Time

Idle time can be calculated by taking the difference between the time an asset is scheduled to work and the actual number of productive hours that were spent.

Idle Time = Scheduled Production Time – Actual Production Time

For example, an employee may clock an 8-hour shift, but in their work tracking platform, they may only track 6 hours and 40 minutes of productive work. If they were truly tracking every minute of work performed, this suggests that they had an hour and 20 minutes of idle time. It’s important to note that idle time is not always a negative aspect of an employee’s performance. Time spent on other things that are not on the to-do list could be spent contributing to the facility’s culture or getting to know coworkers, clients, and customers. Considering how idle time could potentially be positive will also be key in determining how much of it to consider eliminating. 

Tracking idle time can get a bit more complicated when it comes to machinery since machines often require things like cooldown periods and sometimes cleaning periods. For example, a machine may need to work for 16 hours. That same machine could take 10 minutes to power up, 5 minutes to shut down, and a 30-minute break for cleaning. The machine may also be stopped for 15 minutes during shift changes. In this example, the machine would have one hour of downtime every day.

As we mentioned earlier, you do not necessarily need to reduce your idle time to zero. Employees need breaks. And some tasks, especially manual labor, aren’t so easily tracked. Machinery also typically needs idle time to continue operating effectively. However, actively tracking your idle time will allow you to stay on top of processes that can be streamlined to improve overall productivity.

4 Ways to Manage and Reduce Idle Time

Running at 100% efficiency is virtually impossible. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take extra steps to reduce idle time and improve your bottom line. 

Here are four ways you can reduce idle time:

  • Define What Constitutes Idle Time: You can’t minimize idle time without a starting point. Dedicate some time to clearly denote what constitutes idle time at your facility. Determine the type of data you need to record idle time and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used to identify potential problem areas or bottlenecks.
  • Improve Communication: As we mentioned before, confusion among employees can greatly contribute to idle time. Ensuring teams have complete and accurate information on processes and scheduling can greatly reduce idle time.
  • Maintain Your Assets: Efficient maintenance of assets and inventory will ensure that your facility can run efficiently. A user-friendly CMMS platform like FlowPath can help you organize asset data points and easily track your inventory.
  • Optimize Your Workflows

Are you optimizing your workflows? Implementing project tracking and reporting can do wonders when it comes to reducing idle time. With an all-in-one software like FlowPath, you can do just that and more. Automate work orders and maintenance, schedule events, and keep your team in the loop with FlowPath’s top-of-the-line facility management software.

Reduce idle time, within reason, and get ahead of your facility’s operations today. Schedule a demo and see how FlowPath can help reduce your facility’s idle time and make your life easier.


FAQs About Idle Time

What is idle time?

Idle time is the amount of time spent waiting to use viable equipment, or nonproductive time by employees caused by unforeseen work stoppages

How do you calculate idle time?

Idle Time = Scheduled Production Time – Actual Production Time

What is the difference between idle time and downtime?

Idle time is time during which an asset is waiting to run or isn’t scheduled to run. Downtime is when an asset is incapable of performing its function, either due to an unplanned outage or planned maintenance. While idle time occurs when work could still get done, downtime takes place when work simply can’t be done.

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