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Time Clocks: Which Is Right For You?

Time Clocks: Which Is Right For You?
Credit: Aodaodaodaod/Shutterstock

One of the biggest decisions you'll make when choosing a time and attendance system is deciding what type of time clock to use. Since not all time clocks are compatible with every system, the one you select may be an influential factor in the system you end up using.

"The cornerstone of most time and attendance systems will be the time clock," Chris Zian, a product manager of time and labor services for Paychex, told Business News Daily.

Previously, there wasn't much to choose from when it came to time clocks. Today's time clocks let workers do a lot more than punch in and out. Some are dependent on fingerprints or facial scans, others rely on badge cards, and some simply use the Internet. [See Related Story: Best Time and Attendance Systems 2016]

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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"Shopping for a time clock can be very much like shopping for a car," Zian said. "You'll need to decide which features you deem necessary and which aspects are optional." 

The first choice to make is deciding if your business wants a stand-alone time clock, or a time clock that connects to a robust time and attendance system.

The stand-alone time clock only collects hours worked, while the portal device time clocks connect to the internet and a hosted service capable of a lot more, according to Zian.

"Some of the more common features you can find today with portal devices include viewing schedules, reviewing time cards and requesting time-off," he said. "In a sense, the portal time clock becomes a means of internet access, especially valuable if you have employees that might not have alternative access."

There are many different types of time clocks employers can choose from. These include:

  1. Punch card: This is the original type of time clock that is still used by some businesses. With these clocks, employees place their time card into the clock and the time is stamped onto the card. These stand-alone clocks do not connect to cloud-based time and attendance systems.
  2. Magnetic swipe: With these clocks employees swipe a badge card that features a magnetic stripe on it. Zian said the downside to these types of clocks is actually the card itself. Over time, the stripe wears down and needs to be replaced.
  3. Bar code: Similarly to magnetic stripe clocks, bar code clocks work in conjunction with a card issued to your employee. Instead of swiping the card, employees scan the card's bar code to record when they come and go.
  4. PIN number: These clocks feature a number pad that allows employees to enter a personal identification number when they arrive and leave each day. Many PIN number clocks also work in tandem with magnetic swipe or bar code cards.
  5. Biometric: Biometric time clocks are most popular with businesses that are concerned about "buddy punching," which is when employees clock in or out for their co-workers. Biometric time clocks require employees to check in and out with their fingerprint. There are also more sophisticated options that rely on facial recognition.
  6. Online: Many employers today are ditching wall-mounted time clocks in favor of having employees clock in and our via their computers. Most time and attendance systems allow employees to record when they arrive and leave directly within the online system.
  7. Mobile device: For employees who work remotely, most time and attendance systems feature mobile apps that let employees clock in and out. Some even include geofencing technology that records an employee's location when they punch in and out.
  8. IVR: Interactive voice response allows employees to punch in and out via telephone. Workers call a predetermined number and follow several prompts to record their times.

If you are choosing a biometric clock or one that works with employee badge cards, it is important to choose one that can operate in an "offline" mode. Zian said to look for a clock that features a lithium-backed memory to ensure that all transactions are stored securely in the event of power loss. 

"A rechargeable battery will keep the unit fully functional for momentary lapses in power," Zian said. "If the internet connection goes down, the unit remains fully functional to the employee, and automatically pushes the transactions to the cloud when connection is restored."

In addition, businesses will find time clocks that wirelessly connect to the internet much easier to install.

"That will eliminate the need to run an Ethernet cable to the device," Zian said.

If you are interested in learning more about what to look for in a time and attendance system, check out our time and attendance system buyer's guide. If you know what you want, we would encourage you to read about what we recommend as the best time and attendance systems for a range of business types.  

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.