- Timeclocks help business owners maximize employee productivity and minimize time theft.
- Types of timeclocks include punch cards, RFID, password, biometric, IVR and mobile.
- You can have your tablets and access control systems double as timeclocks as well.
- This article is for small business owners searching for the right timeclock for their staff.
Each year, U.S. employers lose $11 billion to time theft. Much of this comes from employees stealing a few minutes each day, which can be prevented with a comprehensive time and attendance system.
As the number of available time and attendance solutions grows, there's no shortage of timeclock options for your business. You can select either a stand-alone timeclock or a time and attendance system that includes timeclock features. It depends largely on your business and what you feel makes the most sense for monitoring your employees.
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The importance of timeclocks
Tracking employee time and attendance is an often-overlooked business process. While it's not glamorous, it's important to keep track of when your employees work. Your business needs maximum productivity, so you want to prevent employees from lying about not just about their attendance, but also how long they are working each day. In addition to a suitable time and attendance system, it's important to find the right timeclock for your business.
The right timeclock for your business to prevent time theft also depends on the level of trust you have in your employees. Some businesses might not care if employees clock out at 4:55 each day and put 5 p.m. on the timesheet. Other businesses might cherish those five minutes of productivity each day.
Key takeaway: Timeclocks increase employee productivity and reduce time theft by providing employers with detailed records of when employees start and end their shifts each day.
Types of timeclocks
Here are some of the different types of timeclocks as well as their benefits and disadvantages.
The punch card is the original timeclock, and some businesses still use it.
- How it works: Employees place a timecard into a punch clock, which stamps the time onto it. A manager then manually records the timestamps into payroll.
- Pros: The main draw of these timeclocks is their simplicity – it doesn't take high tech to insert a timecard into a clock.
- Cons: These stand-alone clocks do not connect to cloud-based time and attendance systems. Since they aren't digital, you must manually record the times on the punch cards in your payroll system. This could easily lead to errors.
- Pricing: Punch card systems rarely cost more than $250.
Magnetic swipe, barcode and RFID
These timeclocks work on a system of credentials an employee carries with them.
- How it works: With magnetic swipe timeclocks, employees carry a badge card with a magnetic stripe they swipe to clock in. With barcode clocks, employees scan the card's barcode to record when they clock in and out. Some readers use RFID (radio-frequency identification), allowing employees to clock in by tapping their card or fob on or near the scanner.
- Pros: Badge cards are convenient for employees to carry around their necks or in their wallets. A benefit of RFID timeclocks in particular is that they often use proximity cards. The clocks can read these cards from up to 10 feet away in some cases.
- Cons: A disadvantage of this type of timeclock is that employees could lose their credential cards, accidentally leave them at home, or have them stolen. Also, some forms of credentials, such as magnetic stripes, wear out over time and need to be replaced.
- Pricing: Some RFID timeclocks cost less than $100, whereas magnetic swipe timeclocks can cost $250 to $350.
Just as you enter a unique numerical code to access your smartphone, PIN/password timeclocks pair employee timesheets with unique access codes.
- How it works: These clocks feature a number pad and employees enter a personal identification number (PIN) or personalized password when they arrive and leave each day.
- Pros: Many PIN clocks work with magnetic swipe or barcode cards for two-factor authentication, providing another layer of security.
- Cons: The problem arises when an employee either loses or forgets their credentials. There's also the potential for tampering, with employees asking co-workers to input their PIN for them when they arrive to work late or are not there.
- Pricing: You can get a PIN or password timeclock for about $130 to $230. More expensive options, such as biometric timeclocks, often include PIN and password entry options as well.
Biometric timeclocks are among the most technologically advanced time and attendance tools available.
- How it works: Many of these timeclocks use USB fingerprint readers to scan employees into work. There are also more sophisticated options than fingerprint scanners, such as facial recognition and iris scanners.
- Pros: Biometric timeclocks and USB fingerprint readers are good for businesses with insufficient staff or technology to monitor their timeclocks. They are most popular with businesses concerned about "buddy punching," which is when employees clock in or out for co-workers. According to data from Intuit, buddy punching costs U.S. employers $373 million. Biometric timeclocks usually rely on employee fingerprints, so there's little chance of fraud.
- Cons: The main disadvantage of biometric timeclocks is the varying scanner quality. Cheaper models may not pick up the subject properly, resulting in false negatives. Fingerprint scanners need to be cleaned frequently to keep scans positive and to stay hygienic. When these timeclocks fail, it can be a hindrance to businesses, as the technology needs to be fixed or cleaned. Also, businesses should take extra precautions to ensure employee fingerprints or other biometric data remains secure.
- Pricing: Biometric timeclocks typically cost a few hundred dollars, though you can find basic fingerprint-only options for as low as $25. However, that price can climb higher than $1,000, depending on the biometric being used and the type of connectivity you require.
"It's pretty tough to circumvent these systems, but they also come with drawbacks, especially if they aren't super accurate or take your employees a few minutes to clock in and out," said Ravi Dehar, head of growth at Homebase.
Tip: You must follow a number of laws in how you collect and store employee biometrics. Consult your legal team on these regulations before you move forward with this type of timekeeping system.
Many employers today are ditching wall-mounted timeclocks in favor of employees clocking in and out with their computers or smartphones.
- How it works: With most time and attendance systems, employees record when they arrive and leave within the online system. These systems can also easily manage all of your employees' time-off requests. Many of these systems integrate with popular payroll services, which helps prevent errors in the transfer of data to your payroll system.
- Pros: Online and mobile timeclocks are useful for remote employees who don't have access to the company's timeclock device. Some timeclock apps include geofencing technology that records an employee's location when they punch in and out. This helps ensures employees are working from where they should be.
- Cons: The potential downside of this easy-to-use and timesaving option is time theft. When employees submit their own daily time records online, it becomes easier to steal a few minutes each day. Again, some companies might not care if an employee punches out at 4:57 p.m. and calls it 5 p.m. if they're performing well. For those worried about a few minutes here and there, though, it might take a little extra effort to verify the time employees are putting into the job when they're using a mobile or online timeclock, especially if those workers are remote.
- Pricing: Mobile timeclock companies often charge per user per month. The good news is that these fees can be incredibly low – often as little as $2 per employee. If you want extra features, though, you might wind up spending double digits a month per employee. However, you won't have to deal with much physical hardware maintenance or setup. [Looking for a time and attendance system for your business? Check out our recommendations for the best time and attendance systems.]
Did you know? These systems are also useful for retaining records. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, each employer should retain at least three years of payroll records and at least two years of timecard data. "The easiest way to store this is, of course, digitally," Dehar said. "As an added bonus, you'll get timecard edit history, so you can see who made what edits in the event someone files a labor complaint."
Interactive voice response allows employees to punch in and out over the phone.
- How it works: Workers call a preset number and follow several prompts to record their times. Some IVR systems allow you to designate a specific number the employee must call in from. If this is a landline number, you can ensure employees are working from where you want them to be.
- Pros: Since pretty much everyone carries a phone at all times, IVR timeclocks enable clock-ins and clock-outs wherever, whenever.
- Cons: These types of systems are still available, but mobile apps have largely overtaken them.
- Pricing: Some time and attendance systems include IVR options in the monthly cost. However, if you need to purchase a dedicated IVR system, you could be looking at a cost of several thousand dollars.
Kiosk modes on tablets
Businesses can repurpose mobile devices, such as tablets, as timeclocks to save money.
- How it works: Many applications allow you to run tablets – both Androids and iPads – in kiosk mode, which restricts them to single-app use. Some systems also allow you to snap photos of the person clocking in and out to prevent buddy punching.
- Pros: Only the tablet's admin can unlock it to return it to its normal settings, so you can mount it near the office's entrance and have it only run your timeclock app. If you're looking for the simplest solution, this is a good choice. It's also a good option for field service teams. The shift leader can provide the tablet so everyone working on a job site can clock in and out.
- Cons: The mobile device you use as a timeclock won't be available for your other business needs while in kiosk mode. If you don't have many tablets and you need to use other business apps on them frequently, a dedicated timeclock might be better for you.
- Pricing: Most tablets suited for small business use cost around $1,000.
Some products can work as both a timeclock and an access control system.
- How it works: When an employee uses their key card, password or biometric scan to enter a building, the system can log this time and use it as a timestamp. You can also require an anti-passback control system, which requires employees to use credentials to exit a building. This serves as their clock-out. The system is often paired with a stand-alone timeclock that's used for meal or rest breaks.
- Pros: Pairing access control with time and attendance lets your employees accomplish both tasks with one action. The anti-passback controls common in access control systems also prevent employee time theft and buddy punching.
- Cons: If you don't already have an access control system in place for your business, buying one just to get both a timeclock and another system is probably unnecessary. Otherwise, the only prominent disadvantage of access control systems might be their prices and complicated setup. However, affordable, user-friendly options exist.
Did you know? Access control systems provide an extra layer of security for your business. They can restrict access to your entire business or certain areas within your facilities.
Top timeclocks to consider
Given the above considerations, we recommend four timeclocks in particular for small businesses of all stripes. These timeclocks check all the boxes described above:
- Best punch card timeclock: Allied Time USA Small Business Time Clock ($119)
- Best RFID and PIN timeclock: uAttend Cloud-Connected Touchscreen Time Clock ($179)
- Best biometric timeclock: uAttend BN6500 Biometric Fingerprint Time Clock ($169.25)
- Best online timeclock: OnTheClock ($2.70 to $3 per user, per month)
Bennett Conlin contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.