5 methods for employee tracking hours (list and FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When working hours are variable, it's useful to have a method for tracking them. Tracking hours like this can help you ensure that salaries are commensurate with the amount of time worked. If you're responsible for processing salaries or work in human resources, knowing some ways to track hours can be helpful. In this article, we explain what employee tracking hours are, list five ways to do so and answer some frequently asked questions.

What are employee tracking hours?

Employee tracking hours refers to the process of recording how many hours personnel work at an organisation. This is either to ensure that they work the agreed-upon hours in their employment contracts, or to determine how much time they spend working if they have irregular hours. There are traditional methods like manual sign-ins and more modern alternatives using software applications. This practice can be crucial for organisations which have a lot of employees who work hourly.

Related: How to calculate annual earnings from an hourly rate

5 employee tracking hours methods

Here are five different methods for tracking employee hours:

1. Manual sign-in

A simple method of tracking hours for those who work at an organisation's premises is the manual sign-in method. There are different ways of doing this. One way is to have a simple book where employees record the time when they enter the building and then another entry detailing when they leave. Alternatively, you could assign this responsibility to a member of staff like a receptionist or human resources professional who does this for the employees. Human resources can then input this information on a spreadsheet on a daily or weekly basis to track overall hours.

A technological solution is to use fingerprint sign-in. This requires you to have a system in place that can automatically track hours, which would typically be the responsibility of the IT and HR departments working together. In this case, you have a fingerprint scanner near the entrance to the building. When a member of staff enters, they scan their fingerprint and then do the same process again when they leave. The benefit of this method is that it can also be useful for granting access to the building. Other biometric clock-in methods also exist and operate in the same way.

Related: What is a time log? How to track your activity

2. Desktop applications

If your organisation's staff predominantly work at a computer, you can use desktop apps to track their working hours. They can do this when they open their computers at the start of the working day. If they don't predominantly work on computers, you can make a designated sign-in station with a computer that has this software. Each employee would typically have and ID number and password with which to clock in at the beginning of the day. They can then repeat the process at the end of the day to clock out.

Setting up a system like this is usually a task for the IT department. They might also be able to connect this to the organisation's payroll processing application to make the entire process as seamless as possible. The benefits of these desktop applications include the lack of a need for staff to manually input the information, saving time transferring the information to spreadsheets, less paper usage and potential compatibility with payroll solutions. In addition to computers, you can also set up a dedicated kiosk or tablet for these sign-ins. Employees working from home can download the application to track remotely.

Related: How to become a fingerprint technician (with skills)

3. Mobile applications

With smartphones being relatively ubiquitous, mobile applications are often a viable alternative to desktop applications. These can be more efficient than a kiosk or other dedicated clock-in area, as everyone can clock in on their own phone without having to wait for their turn at the kiosk. You can typically find multiple third party solutions which might be compatible with your payroll solutions. Like other methods, the IT department is typically the responsible party for implementing these solutions.

With these mobile apps, an employee can access a timer or clock which they can easily start or pause if necessary. This can be useful of they take breaks or have multiple shifts. Additionally, they can track the hours for different tasks separately. For instance, an employee might have different hourly rates when working on-site versus visiting a client, and a mobile app makes this relatively easy to do. They're also useful for employees who work remotely. The only potential downside to this method is that it requires members of staff to have a smartphone.

Related: 10 best time tracking apps to increase your productivity

4. Browser applications

A browser application or plug-in can be a viable option for staff or even freelancers who work at a computer. These typically have some sort of timer and the ability to stop and start the clock whenever staff are working. This can be useful if staff split their time between clients or tasks. Additionally, many of these browser plug-ins can export the information to something like a time sheet for the human resources department.

Like some desktop applications, these browser plug-ins can also track activity on the computer, such as typing on the keyboard or mouse clicks. This can help to ensure that employees are active when the timer is running. Some can also track URLs, allowing them to differentiate between sites relevant to work and distractions like social media sites. An added benefit of these solutions is that they can help you understand how productive staff are and therefore find solutions to improve productivity.

Related: How to stay focused when you work from home

5. Geofencing

The use of geofencing is a more advanced implementation of mobile technology, as it typically requires smartphones. Geofencing is a technology that uses GPS to place a virtual border around real areas. When a smartphone with the necessary application and location switched on enters this physical area, a software application detects that they've passed through the geofence and can start tracking how long they spend within it. This is a very seamless approach, as a lot of the process becomes automated.

There's no requirement for manual clock-ins, either on paper or through a software application. Staff simply set it up once on their smartphone and it works automatically. You can set the geofence around the premises of the building to detect when staff enter the workplace, in addition to other work sites or client premises. It can also be useful for tracking how much time employees spend in certain areas or how long it takes them to move from one to another. Like other smartphone-dependent solutions, the potential downside is that staff require a smartphone to use it.

Frequently asked questions about tracking employee hours

Here are some frequently asked questions about tracking employee hours, together with their respective answers:

Can I implement multiple methods?

Yes. In some cases, using multiple methods can be a viable option. Typically, you'd want to implement digital methods at the same time as they can often be compatible. Conversely, using both paper-based manual clock-ins alongside geofencing might not bring as many benefits.

For example, you might have a smartphone-based solution but some members of staff without smartphones. In this case, you could also set up a kiosk for those who don't have a smartphone so that there are multiple options. A key part of this setup would be to ensure that both clock-in methods are compatible with a centralised tracking system.

Are some methods more staff friendly?

In some cases, yes. For instance, some desktop or browser-based solutions can track more than just the hours worked. They can also track URLs, take regular screenshots and track activity. With solutions like these, some members of staff might feel like the technology is intrusive and prefer an alternative method. This can be particularly relevant when they work from their home computers, as they might prefer not to have their personal computers tracked in any way. If you're considering solutions like these, ensuring that staff are aware of what they do and consent to them are important.

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