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Timeclocks: How to Choose the Right One for You

Which timeclock is Right for You?
Credit: SabOlga/Shutterstock

When you're looking for a time and attendance system, it's important to find a compatible timeclock that also fits your business's needs.

"The cornerstone of most time and attendance systems will be the timeclock," said Chris Zian, product manager of time and labor services for Paychex.

In the past, there weren't many timeclocks to choose from. However, today's timeclocks let workers do more than just punch in and out. While some use fingerprints or facial scans, others rely on badge cards or just the internet.

When businesses are searching for a timeclock, there are a lot of features to research and decide if it's important. The first choice is typically deciding if your business wants a stand-alone timeclock or a timeclock with a robust time and attendance system.

While a stand-alone timeclock collects hours worked, more robust systems do more, such as allowing employees to request time off, requesting a shift change or trading shifts.

Editor's note: Interested in a time and attendance system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors who can help.

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Here are the different types of timeclocks and their benefits and disadvantages.

  • Punch card: The punch card is the original type of timeclock, and some businesses sill use it. With these clocks, employees place their timecard into a clock and the time is stamped onto a card. A manager then manually records the timestamps into payroll. These stand-alone clocks do not connect to cloud-based time and attendance systems, so depending on your business's needs and your preferences, this may be a disadvantage.
  • Magnetic swipe/barcode/RFID: These timeclocks work on a system of credentials an employee carries with them. This can be 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. There are also readers that use RFID (radio-frequency identification) that allow users to tap their card or fob on or near the scanner. Disadvantages of this type of timeclock include employees forgetting their credentials at home, losing their credentials or having them stolen. Also, some forms of credentials, such as magnetic stripes, wear out over time and need to be replaced.
  • PIN/password: These clocks feature a number pad and employees enter a personal identification number (PIN) or personalized password when they arrive and leave each day. Many PIN clocks work with magnetic swipe or barcode cards for two-factor authentication. 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.
  • Biometric: Biometric timeclocks are most popular with businesses concerned about "buddy punching," which is when employees clock in or out for co-workers. Biometric timeclocks usually rely on employee fingerprints, so there's little chance of fraud. There are also more sophisticated options such as facial recognition or iris scanning. The main disadvantage to biometric scanners is that the quality of the scanners varies. Cheaper models may not pick up the subject properly, resulting in false negatives. Fingerprint scanners need to be frequently cleaned to keep scans positive and to keep them hygienic.
  • Online/mobile: Many employers today are ditching wall-mounted timeclocks in favor of having employees clock in and out with their computers or smartphones. With most time and attendance systems, employees record when they arrive and leave within the online system. Plenty of payroll services, such as ADP, have mobile applications employees can download and then use to clock in and clock out. This is useful for employees who are remote and don't have access to the company's timeclock device. Apps include geofencing technology that records an employee's location when they punch in and out.
  • 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. These types of systems are still available but have become outmoded with smartphone mobile applications.

If you pick a biometric clock or one that works with employee badge cards, you should choose one that operates in an offline mode. Zian said it's helpful to get a clock with a lithium-backed memory to ensure all transactions are stored securely during a power loss.

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

Businesses can repurpose mobile devices, such as tablets, to be a timeclock to save money. There are many applications that allow you to run tablets – both Android and iPads – in kiosk mode, which restricts them to a single application use.

Only the device's admin can unlock the iPad to return it to its normal settings, so you can mount it near the office's entrance and have it only run your timeclock application.

If your business uses a timeclock system and an access control system, there are some products that do both. Pairing access control with time and attendance lets your employees accomplish both with one action. When employees use 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 is used as their clock-out. This system is often paired with a stand-alone timeclock that's used for breaks.

If you're interested in learning more about time and attendance systems, check out our time and attendance buying guide. If you know what you're looking for, visit our best picks page and see which ones we recommend, along with a complete list of systems that may work for you.

Saige Driver

Saige received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Telecommunications from Ball State University. She is the social media strategist for Business.com and Business News Daily. She also writes reviews and articles about social media. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.