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Timeclocks: How to Choose the Right One for You

Checking time
Credit: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

One of the biggest decisions you'll make when choosing a time and attendance system is deciding what type of timeclock to use. Since not all timeclocks 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 timeclock," said Chris Zian, a product manager of time and labor services for Paychex.

In the past, there wasn't much to choose from when it came to timeclocks. Today's timeclocks 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. 

"Shopping for a timeclock 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 timeclock, or a timeclock that connects to a robust time and attendance system. The stand-alone timeclock only collects hours worked, while the portal device timeclocks connect to the internet and a hosted service capable of a lot more, according to Zian.

The latter allows employees to perform types of actions on their own such as requesting time off, requesting a shift change or trading shifts with other employees. Meanwhile, managers can view schedules and review timecards.

"In a sense, the portal timeclock becomes a means of internet access, especially valuable if you have employees that might not have alternative access," Zian said.

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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There are many types of timeclocks employers can choose from, each with their own benefits and disadvantages. These include:

  • Punch card: This is the original type of timeclock that is still used by some businesses. With these clocks, employees place their timecard into the clock and the time is stamped onto the 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 businesses needs and your preferences, this may be a detriment.
  • Magnetic swipe/Bar code/RFID: These methods of timeclocks work on a system of credentials that an employee carries around with them. This can be a badge card with a magnetic stripe that they swipe to clock in. Bar code clocks work by scanning the card's bar code to record when they come and go. There are also readers that use RFID that allow users to just tap their card or FOB in proximity to the scanner. Disadvantages of this system stem from employees forgetting the credentials at home, losing them or having them stolen. Some forms of credentials such as magnetic stripes also wear out over time and need to be replaced.
  • PIN number/ Password: This is a system based on a credential that your employees know and memorize, rather than a physical item they possess. These clocks feature a number pad that allows employees to enter a personal identification number or personalized password when they arrive and leave each day. Many PIN number clocks also work in tandem with magnetic swipe or bar code cards for two-factor authentication. The problem arises when an employee either loses or forgets their credentials. There's also potential for tampering, with employees asking co-workers to input their PIN for them when their late or not there.
  • Biometric: Biometric timeclocks are most popular with businesses that are concerned about "buddy punching," which is when employees clock in or out for their co-workers. Biometric timeclocks most frequently rely on employee fingerprints, so there's little chance of fraud. There are also more sophisticated options that rely on facial recognition or iris scanning. The main disadvantage to biometric scanners is that the quality of the scanners sometimes vary. Cheaper models may not pick up the subject properly, resulting in false negatives. Fingerprint scanners especially need to be frequently cleaned not just to keep scans positive, but to keep them hygienic.
  • Online/Mobile: Many employers today are ditching wall-mounted timeclocks in favor of having employees clock in and out via their computers or mobile devices. Most time and attendance systems allow employees to record when they arrive and leave directly within the online system. Plenty of payroll services such as ADP have mobile applications that employees can download and login 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. Some 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 mostly become outmoded by smartphone mobile applications.

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 timeclocks 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.

One way to save money on timeclock devices is by repurposing a mobile device such as a tablet to be your timeclock, usually in a PIN or password capacity. There are several 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 go back to its normal usage, but in the meantime, you can mount it near the office's entrance and have it only run your timeclock application.

If your business uses a timeclock system as well as an access control system to grant personnel entry into the premises, there are some products that can double as both. Pairing your access control with your time and attendance allows your employees to accomplish both with one action. When employees use their keycard, password or biometric scan to enter the building, the system can log this time and use it as the time stamp that they start working.

Likewise, you can require an anti-passback control system that requires employees to use their credentials to exit the building, therefore also clocking out. This can be combined with a standalone timeclock to indicate when they go on break.

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: 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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Andreas Rivera

Andreas Rivera graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Mass Communication and is now a B2B writer for Business.com, Business News Daily and Tom's IT Pro. His background in journalism brings a critical eye to his reviews and features, helping business leaders make the best decisions for their companies.