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Choosing a Time and Attendance System
2018 Guide

A Business News Daily Buyer's Guide

Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.

Looking for a time and attendance system in 2018? Here's everything you need to know about what it is, what it offers, and how to choose one. If you already know what you're looking for, visit our best picks page to see which ones we recommend as well as a complete list of systems that might work for you.

  • Time and attendance systems allow employees to clock in and out electronically via time clocks, internet-connected computers, mobile devices, and telephones.
     
  • The data is instantly transferred into software that can seamlessly import it into your payroll solution.
     
  • These systems do more than just track when employees come and go. They also:
    • Monitor mobile employees via geolocation and geofencing
    • Give real-time data on who is working, who is not, who showed up late and who is nearing overtime
    • Manage paid time off (PTO)
    • Create employee schedules
    • Provide detailed labor data
       
  • Time and attendance systems offer employee self-service that allows them to handle many time-tracking tasks on their own, including reviewing the hours they've worked, current and future schedules, and PTO accruals.
     
  • Many are offered as cloud-based or on-premises solutions. The on-premises systems are stored on servers within your business, while the cloud-based systems are housed by your time and attendance system provider and accessed online.

The biggest benefit of these digital systems is they eliminate the need for manual timecards. All the time is collected electronically, with the calculations done for you. This cuts down on the chance of errors. Another positive is that these systems manage all your time needs – employee attendance, PTO and scheduling – in one program.

The biggest drawback to time-tracking systems is that they are more expensive than the old manual method where employees wrote down their hours each day or punched in and out using a paper timecard. Another potential downside is that they often force employers to curb the perception that asking employees to track their time is a form of micromanagement.

Editor's Note: Looking for information on time and attendance systems? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:

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The cost structure of time and attendance systems depends on whether you choose a cloud-based or on-premises solution. Cloud-based systems have smaller recurring monthly costs, while on-premises systems have larger one-time fees.

With on-premises systems, you pay all your costs upfront. You can expect to pay several hundred to several thousand dollars for the software, licenses for each employee and installation. There aren't any monthly fees for the service after that. However, there typically is no ongoing support or software updates included in your one-time costs.

For a cloud-based system, most services charge a per-user fee that ranges from $1 to $10 per employee, per month. Some services also assess a base monthly charge or a minimum monthly charge.

Some providers charge a one-time setup and implementation fee. Unlike with on-premises systems, however, all software upgrades and support are included in your monthly expenses.

With so many systems on the market, it can be difficult to know which one is right for your business. When you're shopping for a system, experts say there are several things you should look for:

  • Flexible time-tracking options: Look for a system that allows employees to record their hours in multiple ways, such as through an internet-connected computer, smartphone, tablet, time clock, telephone or text messages.
     
  • Keeps accurate time: The best time and attendance systems ensure employers are paying their employees for the actual time they work, not the hours they're scheduled to work.
     
  • Tracks all time issues: Make sure you choose a system that takes care of all your time-related needs, not one that just lets employees punch in and out. This includes managing employee schedules and handling all PTO management.
     
  • Mobile compatibility: Since many employees and managers work outside the office, you want a system that is compatible with mobile devices so it is accessible from anywhere. This includes solutions that not only give remote workers the ability to clock in and out but also track their locations so employers know they're working from where they're supposed to be.
     
  • Ease of use: Search for a system that's easy to use, has an uncluttered interface and allows employee self-service.
     
  • Integration options: Choose a system that integrates with the applications and software, such as HR and payroll programs, that you already use.
     
  • Proactive alerts: Some systems provide notifications when employees are nearing overtime or forget to clock in or out. This can be helpful in controlling expenses.
     
  • Audit trail features: The ability to view original timesheet data along with any changes made by a manager or supervisor can be important in case of an audit.

Now that you've got the basics, you might be ready to make some decisions on which time and attendance system is right for you. To learn about the options we think are best for a variety of business types, check out our best picks for time and attendance systems.

Still have more questions about time and attendance systems? No problem. Here are a number of questions and answers that may help you reach a decision.

Q. How are time and attendance systems different from traditional time clocks and time cards?

A. The biggest difference is that everything is digitized and automated. Traditional time clocks and timecards require manual entry of data for everything. Time and attendance systems require a push of a button and all of the information is automatically synced into your software. That software then seamlessly integrates with your payroll solution. This eliminates duplicate entries and guesswork. In addition, time and attendance systems log hours, job codes, and information about breaks and PTO digitally and in real time.

Q. What type of time clocks are compatible with time and attendance systems?

A. No longer are there simple punch time clocks. Today's time clocks collect time in several different ways, including via punch cards, magnetic swipe cards, bar codes, PINs and biometrics, such as fingerprints or facial scans.

Q. Is there a difference between a time and attendance system and a biometric system?

A. Any time and attendance system that works with a biometric time clock is a biometric system. Because nearly every time and attendance solution that works with physical time clocks offers biometric options, there is very little difference between the two.

Biometric time clocks are typically used by businesses concerned about buddy punching.

The only time and attendance systems that don't have biometric options are those that don't incorporate biometric time clocks and instead rely on computers and mobile devices to punch employees in and out. However, even some of those systems now offer fingerprint scanners that plug into computers or use programs that take employee pictures via a computer camera as a way to incorporate biometric options.

Q. Do you have to use a time clock with a time and attendance system?

A. No. Some businesses prefer that employees clock in and out only through a computer, mobile app or telephone. Not using a time clock can cut down on costs, as time clocks can run anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars each.

Q. Are time and attendance systems only good for businesses with hourly employees?

A. While it might seem like time and attendance systems are only necessary for businesses with hourly workers, businesses with salaried employees can reap a number of benefits from them as well. Having a system that can track how long employees work on specific projects can help with labor projections. Additionally, businesses with salaried employees may appreciate the PTO management aspects of the system.

Q. How do time and attendance systems work for remote employees?

A. These systems use GPS technology to monitor remote employees via mobile devices. Some systems use geofencing to limit where employees can clock in and out from, while others use geolocation to record exactly where workers are when they punch in and out. Additionally, systems use geolocation to track employees throughout the day, not just where they start and end their shifts.

Q. How do time and attendance systems integrate with payroll systems?

A. Time and attendance systems integrate with payroll systems by allowing you to transfer your time and attendance data into your payroll program with the press of a button. This cuts down on errors and streamlines the entire payroll process.

Q. How do time and attendance systems manage paid time off?

A. Time and attendance systems manage PTO in several ways. The first is that they can track how much time off employees have earned and used. The systems can track accruals for sick time, vacation, bereavement and any other type of time off employees may receive.

Some time and attendance systems also handle the request and approval process. This allows employees to ask for time off directly within the system and managers can either approve or deny those requests.

If you think a time and attendance system is right for you, we encourage you to check out our best picks for various types of business, our reasoning for picking each, and our comprehensive list of time and attendance systems.

Editor's Note: Looking for information on time and attendance systems? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.