For those who still rely on paper timesheets and punch clocks to track employee hours, it’s time to wake up and smell the 21st Century. Desktop, online, and mobile time management solutions are a lot more accurate, reliable, and affordable than you may think.

And with a trend towards allowing employees to telecommute and spend more time on the road, digital tools are likely the only way for an employee to conveniently keep track of the amount of work they’re doing -- and an employer to correctly monitor their time, too.

“’Billable hours’ kinds of folks, such as consultants and accountants, would be key users of time management tools, which can also be connected to payroll software,” says Ray Boggs, vice president of research for IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based technology research firm. “The goal of sharpening productivity and providing clients with the kind of detailed billing info they get from big companies would make this compelling for [small and mid-sized businesses] to use.”

“Although there is always resistance when tools like these are introduced, especially if it's a new concept, there is usually more employee support if it’s replacing a laborious paper-based solution,” Boggs says.

More accurate

Paper timesheets means that data has to be entered into the system which leaves room for human error, explains Michelle Warren, a Toronto-based small business technology consultant.

“But with time-tracking software, employees are automatically signed on when they enter their password at a computer,” Warren says. “And employers will know if the employee signs in at 8:58 a.m. or 9:14 a.m., or if they left at 3:30 p.m., since a password-based solution means no one else can sign on or off for them.”

Less costly over time

Not only is time-tracking software easier and more accurate, but without paper timesheets, companies do not have to pay someone for data entry, plus that employees’ time can now be used for something else.

Warren says prices for time-tracking software, such as Replicon’s Web TimeSheet have dropped dramatically over the past couple of years, making it an affordable purchase for many small and mid-sized businesses. “Plus, they’re increasingly integrated with other solutions, like payroll software, so employees paid by the hour have their time transmitted to HR,” she adds.

Linked to payroll

Boggs says the use of payroll software in small and mid-sized businesses is actually higher than one might think: about one-third of small businesses (under 100 employees) and over half of mid-sized firms (100 to 999 employees) presently use payroll software.

“And this doesn't include those using a payroll service, where the work is outsourced -- just those who have the capability in-house,” Boggs says. “This sets the stage for time management tools, needless to say, because these firms are already putting the pieces in place to track things, like overtime.”

Ideal for telecommuters

Working from home or on the road are both common practices today, and time management tools can help an employer better monitor an employees’ hours.

“Of course someone could just log on into the system and not do any work for a while, so there must be a layer of trust there,” says Warren. “While more costly, a more accurate way of measuring someone’s work -- especially for phone solicitors -- is to have time tracked through VoIP software, therefore all those minutes on the phone are tallied.”

Mobile time-tracking solutions also exist for BlackBerrys, Windows Mobile devices, and the iPhone (including a product called Pocket Punchclock). Some software pools from GPS data, which fuses place-tracking with time-tracking. While truck drivers are used to having their whereabouts monitored, other on-the-road workers might be reluctant to have their locations tracked.


The reason for moving beyond paper-based time sheets is two-fold, concludes Boggs:

  • The first is internal: “The productivity benefits, where more precise and timely tracking of employee hours can be done with far less pain on the part of both the worker and accounting department,” says Boggs. “There are added abilities to analyze by group and department so exceptional performance, both good and bad, can be identified.”