Time Tracking Software: A Brief Guide

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Over a third of workers believe they waste 1-2 hours a day at their workplace, as shown in a Gallup poll taken in 2007. That adds up to 10 hours per week on average. This figure alone is enough to make any entrepreneur rethink their approach to doing business. Fortunately, there is a relatively easy way to make sure that it doesn’t happen to you – time tracking. And helping you figure out where your team’s time goes is only one of its multiple benefits.

Immediate Benefits

Who would benefit the most from tracking time? Here are just a few examples to give you an idea:

  • Companies with hourly and part-time workers. When you pay your employees by the hour, their work time is especially valuable to you as an employer. Keeping track of their hours allows you to get direct insight into their time expenses and have more control over your project costs.
  • Companies that bill by the hour. If you bill customers on an hourly basis, time tracking is all but essential to have. Instead of relying on inaccurate and often incomplete data from notes or, god forbid, your employees’ memory, you can have a detailed record of the exact amount of work they did on specific projects. This will not only ensure that no amount of work goes unbilled, but also allow you to build a relationship with your customer that is more fair and transparent by letting them know exactly what they’re paying you for.
  • Non-profits and charities. Since they operate almost entirely on donations, non-profits are under a lot of financial scrutiny from tax authorities as well as their donors. However, when you can simply produce a report detailing exactly where the funding went, accountability becomes much less of an issue.
  • Freelancers. When you freelance or run a one-person business, the last thing you want to do is work for free. That’s where time tracking comes into play. With even the simplest timesheet app, you can keep track of your time and guarantee that every hour of work is accounted for and billed to your client.
  • Remote workers. Keeping a timesheet as a remote employee is a great way to keep your manager and your team in the loop when it comes to your progress and contributions on a specific project. Should they ever suspect you of slacking off, you can always point them to your time records and show that you’re putting in as much work as the rest of the team.
  • Managers looking to improve performance. They may look as just numbers to any regular employee, but timesheets are an invaluable source of information for managers and business owners. With enough data, they can help you easily identify your most profitable projects, discover any bottlenecks and see which tasks and activities eat up most of your employees’ time. With that information, you can make real, impactful changes to improve your team’s performance and transform your business.

Improving Business Performance with Time-Tracking Software

Did you know that worked hours are listed among the 10 key business metrics? It may not look that important at first glance, but in the right hands, these numbers could serve as an invaluable source of information on your team’s productivity.

Routinely collecting and analyzing employee timesheet data could help shed unexpected light on some deep-seated issues, or uncover negative trends or obstacles in your workflow and ultimately show you which areas of your business require improvement. Let’s take a look at a couple of actual stories from our customers that illustrate just how much of an impact the decision to start tracking time can have.

One customer, an IT company based in Ireland, decided to implement personal time tracking software as an experiment. Much to their surprise, after only a couple of months of use the collected data showed that technical support was eating up a disproportionate amount of their workers’ time.

This led to a complete review of all support procedures, which in turn allowed the company to reduce their costs and vastly improve customer experience. What’s truly fascinating in this example is that implementing a time-tracking system required very little investment — but resulted in a measurable increase of revenue.

Another client of ours, a communications company from Canada, used to rely on a more traditional weekly timesheet system, but ultimately found it to be very inaccurate, inconsistent and slow. If they were to take advantage of the R&D tax incentive program, they had to adopt a more reliable and convenient.

Fast forward a few years, and time-tracking has gone from being a support tool used to collect detailed information on how much time is being spent on R&D activities, to becoming an essential element of their work planning and project staffing procedures.

Of course, we’re no strangers to time tracking ourselves here at actiTIME. At this stage, it’s an integral part of our project management process and our entire business approach in general. Thanks to time tracking, our team leads are able predict and estimate project costs and deadlines a lot more accurately, and as a result, can plan and distribute workloads in a more balanced and realistic way.

It’s also a huge asset to our accounting and HR people, especially considering our flexible hours policy – it doesn’t matter when employees work or where they work from, as long as their timesheet hours add up at the end of the month.

Types of Time Tracking Software

Don’t expect to see Excel on our list here. As much as we love it, Microsoft’s legendary spreadsheet tool has way too many downsides when put next to specialized time-tracking applications.

And there are a lot of applications to choose from. Thankfully, most of them are pretty similar for the most part, with the key difference being the way that they capture your time.

  • Systems with swipe cards. At the beginning of each working day employees record their arrival by swiping their badge card against the reader. The same is done when they leave the office. Such systems are perfect for registering absence or late attendance, but don’t cover the needs of remote workers. On top of that, they don’t allow you to record time spent on specific tasks. A good example of such a system is EasyTime.
  • Clock in/clock out systems. These solutions can be rather sophisticated, offering different possibilities of clocking in: on production site, at the office, by dialing a toll-free phone number, via PC or mobile apps. TimePilot for example, even offers special timeclock devices for extreme outdoor conditions.
  • Timer systems. The simplest timesheets with timers allow users to record the total number of hours worked – all you need to do to start tracking time is just press a button. More complex tools such as uAttend let you allocate time to different activities. The problem with this type of timesheet is that users often forget to stop the timer when they switch between tasks, so time is often recorded incorrectly.
  • Geolocation/geofencing systems. Solutions such as myGeoTracking are installed on the employee’s mobile device. They make use of GPS monitoring to pinpoint the employee’s location, so when a worker arrives at a jobsite, the system performs a punch-in and records their mileage. This type of time-tracker may be a bit of an overkill in a typical office environment, but is perfect for companies with workers out in the field.
  • Background tracking systems. These are based on desktop monitoring which limits the scope almost entirely to office workers. Running in the background, they automatically capture the time users spend working with specific applications or web browser tabs. Tools like Screenshot Monitor can even take screenshots and track keyboard activity at regular intervals. Most people will probably find this type of tracking uncomfortable if not intrusive, so it’s usually best to err on the side of caution and avoid it if possible.
  • Systems with manual recording. The most open type of time-tracking software, where a user logs their hours against a task or a project manually. Notifications and alerts remind employees when it’s time to fill in the timesheet, and let them know if they forget to do so. Tools like actiTIME take things a step further with more advanced options — such as leave time tracking, overtime and PTO calculation.

Things to Consider When Choosing Time-Tracking Software

When it comes to choosing the right time-tracking tool for your business, there really is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It all depends on your specific requirements, so defining those is a good place to start to help you narrow down the available options. The main things you should consider include:

  • Flexibility. See if it’s possible to configure the tool to fit your requirements. You might need to have the option to disable some extra features to make it easier for your regular users to navigate the tool, or allow your management staff to access more advanced functionality.
  • Tracking options. Other than time, some solutions allow you to track employee location, mileage, expenses and billable amounts.
  • Integration possibilities. Whether you look for integration with an accounting, project management or ERP system, keep in mind that most time-tracking tools offer integration options with only the biggest and most popular software products. You may also want to check if it’s compatible with other devices – like phones, tablets or terminals.
  • Cloud vs. on-premise. When choosing which deployment model to go with, it is essential to consider such factors as company structure (local or distributed), available budget and the possibility of internal IT support. Cloud service works best if you value convenience above everything else. Most products offer maintenance and support as part of their licensing fee, so you don’t need to worry about not having a dedicated IT team.
  • Pricing. Price plans can vary depending on functionality, number of users or projects. Cloud-based solutions usually imply an ongoing subscription fee, while on-premise software is offered on a one-time payment basis. Some products charge extra for training or assistance with the initial setup. Keep in mind that many solutions offer free plans for small teams or non-profits.

Selecting the right tool for your company is important, but combing through dozens and dozens of apps, reading reviews and comparing features could be an incredibly daunting task. To make the process a little bit easier and save you some time, we made a comprehensive list of the most popular time-tracking tools where you can pick specific features you’re looking for and see their pricing per user on a single page.

Try Before You Buy

Sometimes what looks like the perfect solution on paper, turns out to be anything but in practice. Maybe it’s a bit too slow, or the UI is too clunky, or it just doesn’t feel right. Most products offer a free trial, so don’t hesitate to take them for a spin and see how their work first-hand before you make a decision.