How companies track and manage employee work hours has come a long way from the days when workers punched paper time sheets in time clocks. Today, more organizations employ systems that enable workers to punch in and out by scanning identification badges on electronic readers, which then beam information to time and attendance software that calculates work hours, tracks overtime or vacation requests and integrates with payroll processing.
But in many ways, time and attendance technology has been in an extended holding pattern, lagging behind innovations in other areas of HR software or hardware. That began to change a few years ago as industry vendors introduced products and features that reflect technical evolution and a desire by line and HR leaders to make smarter workforce planning decisions.
Time and attendance systems are increasingly viewed as more than just a way to accurately track workers' hours or stay compliant with the wage and hour regulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Today, human resource leaders look to these systems for more self-service features, to accommodate the needs of mobile workers and for highly sophisticated labor cost reporting.
Resetting Time Clocks
Venerable time clock vendor Kronos introduced its InTouch time clock in late 2011. According to the vendor, the clock represents the first significant development in its time clock line in 10 years.
The clock demonstrates how Kronos and other vendors are capitalizing on the falling price of touch screen technology. The InTouch features an iPad-like touch screen with a flexible menu of icons, rather than physical buttons, for functions such as employee punches, labor transfers, timecard reviews, managers' logins and more. The clock supports most major badge formats for reading or swiping, has a finger-scan option that verifies employee identity, and is designed to eliminate "buddy punching"—an employee fraudulently punching in for another.
Buddy punching costs employers "a lot of money, so the new biometric features in time clocks—like fingerprinting or built-in cameras that take pictures of employees punching in or out—are of high interest," says Jim Holincheck, a managing vice president with the Gartner Group in Stamford, Conn.
HR professionals are perpetually looking to reduce what's known as clock creep, or the practice of employees punching in slightly ahead of or beyond their scheduled work times, which brings obvious costs to employers. To prevent that, the InTouch can be configured to prevent punching outside of scheduled start and stop times.
The InTouch also enables web-based management of data collection. Like other vendors' solutions, the system provides real-time display of time and attendance data, not "batch" information uploads. Managers are immediately alerted when employees are approaching overtime or their attendance routines change, rather than having to wait for batch data that can take longer to analyze.
The Island Hospital in Anacortes, Wash., adopted the InTouch early on. About 300 of its 700 employees are using the system. A call assistance option is among the features viewed as most valuable by Sarah Ney, a systems analyst who oversees the hospital's time and attendance software. It allows employees to call for help right from the clock, using voice-over-Internet-protocol (VOIP) technology.
Phone numbers can be automatically dialed from a predefined list, so someone struggling with a time sheet recording issue can quickly get help from a hospital representative who can log on and control the clock remotely if needed.
"Instead of employees not being able to transfer their time to another department because they can't figure out how, they can phone the help desk or me directly from the terminal and get help," Ney says. "That avoids someone using an incorrect procedure and a manager having to get after them two weeks later."
Canada Replicon, a time and attendance software provider in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, jumped into the time clock market in late 2011. Its CloudClock features a touch screen and built-in camera to capture employees clocking in and out, which discourages buddy punching.
The clock costs $99 per device per month and comes with a Wi-Fi router for wireless operation. Employees record hours worked by scanning an ID card with a QR code—a special "quick response" bar code that can be read by mobile devices—in front of the clock. The clock then delivers time and attendance information to Replicon's central cloud application, allowing managers to review, adjust or approve employee hours and report compliance.
The CloudClock is designed for companies dealing with increasing overtime costs and those that want to avoid large capital investments or maintenance contracts for time and attendance tools. It's also viewed as a good fit for companies looking to scale up or down to accommodate fluctuating workforces, with the option of employing the clock in some periods and not others.
With the growth in mobile employees, many companies need to track employees' time in the field or away from the office. Web-based time and attendance systems and mobile apps allow workers to punch in and out from anywhere they can connect to the Internet.
Bryant Hooper, an administrative manager for GeoDigital, a maker of imaging technology in Lompoc, Calif., says 50 employees at the company's operations center are using the CloudClock together with Replicon's time and attendance software. The combination enables GeoDigital's mobile workers to complete their time sheets from field locations. About 40 employees regularly log into the system when they are in the field.
Hooper says the CloudClock's easy installation and promise of 24/7 monitoring to avoid any potential downtime from repairs appealed to him. "The clock installed quickly, and when I handed out cards with the QR codes on them to employees so they could check in and out, I purposefully gave them few instructions to see if they could figure it out by themselves. Most everyone could," Hooper says.
Mobile applications allow workers to punch in and out from anywhere they can connect to the Internet.