Everything you need to know about employee time tracking apps

Aiva Strelca 31.05.2024
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We’ve come a long way in tracking our work hours since 1888 when the first-ever employee time clock was built – now, we have a plethora of employee time tracking apps available with various features. 

Employee time tracking is a well-known concept and a part of daily working life for many companies and teams. As remote work took over the scene in 2020, the use of employee time tracking apps surged notably, and it hasn’t really changed due to the beneficial nature of such software and tools. 

However. 

Not all companies have employee time tracking systems in place, and those who do could be using outdated tools. Being the employee time tracking experts that we are here at DeskTime, we have crafted this comprehensive guide. In it, we dive into things like what employee time tracking apps are (yes, the very basics!), the most common features, how tools differ, and, most importantly, how one begins to use time tracking in a company. 

Without further ado – let’s dive into the exciting universe of employee time tracking apps!

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Table of contents

What is an employee time tracking app?

Starting with the basics – an employee time tracking app is a digital tool built to ease and enhance the process of monitoring employee work hours, tasks, and productivity. It’s typically accessible via desktop or mobile devices and provides employers and managers with real-time insight into their workers’ activities. 

Historically, the core function of employee time tracking apps was simple – they’d record when employees begin to work and when their workday ends. Today, most such tools have plenty of features, as basic clock-in and clock-out functionality alone doesn’t really sell. Plus, managers tend to care more about the work actually done rather than just the hours spent at work, which is why functionalities such as productivity tracking, project tracking, document title, URL and app tracking, and others are common in employee time tracking apps.

The benefits of using a time tracking app for employees

We know very well that some people perceive employee time tracking apps as spying tools. But, in most cases, such opinions are voiced by those who have never used an employee time tracker and aren’t aware of the many benefits such tools bring to both businesses and workers. 

While the benefits are many, here are the five most significant pros of using a time tracking app for employees:

  • Increased transparency – and this supports not only the employer’s perspective but employees as well. Employee time tracking apps help both parties stay on the same page about the time worked and tasks done, spot potential struggles, and more. 
  • Improved productivity – insights into one’s working habits that employee time tracking systems provide are proven to boost employee productivity significantly. Moreover, such tools are usually designed to encourage employees to focus and avoid multitasking.
  • Easier to bill and invoice clients – even the nicest of clients sometimes pull a Karen and start discussing the number of billable hours or the sum of the invoice. With an employee time tracking app in place, those types of conversations instantly become easier to handle – you have data on hours worked, hence, no room for clients to rain on your parade.
  • Work flexibility and peace of mind – in 2020, when the pandemic-induced remote work era began, many companies turned to time trackers for support in managing their employees’ work hours. Plenty of those companies saw how beneficial flexible hours can be and how the right time tracker enables flexibility and non-intrusive accountability at the same time.
  • Better employee management – data on hours worked and productivity levels not only helps employees manage their time and work efficiently but also gives employers information on individual workloads. 
empployees exploring a time tracking app

Types of employee time tracking tools

Now that you know what employee time tracking tools actually do and what their benefits are, it’s time to look into the types of time trackers. Here are some of the most common types of employee time tracking software.

Manual employee time tracking

Manual time tracking is the oldest form of tracking work hours – it means that employees take manual notes on time spent working. To do so, they can use paper timesheets, digital timesheets, or specific time cards. 

Manual time tracking can be as simple as manually clocking in and out or having an additional layer where an employee adds descriptions of tasks performed during a workday. 

Moreover, plenty of employee time tracking tools offer a manual time tracking feature, which can be especially useful if only a part (or none at all) of the job is done in front of a computer. It usually allows to manually fill in the “gaps” that the automatic time tracker has not registered.

This type of time tracking is usually low-cost and simple. However, it’s more prone to errors and less effective than, for example, automatic time tracking. Plus, manually logged hours and tasks are commonly reviewed by managers, which creates additional work.

Automatic time tracking

As you can probably deduce from the title, automatic time tracking is a method of recording work time using software or tools that don’t require manual input from employees. This form of employee time tracking is convenient and precise and makes the best use of time tracking software capabilities. 

Automatic tracking can track various types of employee activity, such as app and URL use, keystrokes, mouse movements, and more. It can also detect if an employee is idle or away from a working device. It’s common that automatic time tracking tools enable employees to register idle time manually afterward – not being active on a computer doesn’t mean your employee wasn’t working, right?

Besides being convenient, automatic time tracking provides precise real-time information and makes time tracking effortless. Plus, if a specific tool generates reports on the tracked hours, managers can detect overtime workers and potential burnout employees, or notice if the workload isn’t distributed equally.

What’s also crucial is that automated tracking can offer higher security and privacy to employees – ensure that data is only available to authorized users, protect sensitive information, and more. 

workers looking at data from employee time tracking app

Project-based time tracking

Another sub-format of tracking employee work is project-based time tracking, which (surprise, surprise) is used by companies and teams working on projects. It allows you to know exactly how much time you’ve spent on a certain project, track billable hours, and calculate project costs as precisely as possible.

Why should you choose this type of tracking over manual or automated tracking? There are several reasons:

  • It helps you track time spent on specific tasks or activities within a project, giving a detailed overview of each component’s time expenditure.
  • People’s hourly rates can differ, and tracking each individual’s time spent on a project can make calculating the billable time and billing a client afterward much, much easier.
  • Project-based time tracking provides more transparency when invoicing a project client, which is especially useful when dealing with clients’ objections.
  • Tracking time spent on a specific project provides you with useful insights and can help with project planning, cost control, and resource allocation.

Time trackers for freelancers

You may think that when you’re your own boss, time tracking becomes irrelevant. Experienced freelancers will disagree, saying that there are plenty of reasons why freelancers need time tracking, and that’s exactly why it’s a thing. 

This type of work tracking is similar to project-based tracking, as it records time spent on certain tasks for certain clients. Those juggling several clients can definitely benefit from an efficient freelance time tracking system due to several reasons, including precise billing, increased transparency, and accountability. 

Additionally, it might be tricky to draw a line between work and life or to motivate yourself. Hence, freelance time tracking can come in handy. 

A woman working with a computer

What to look for in employee time tracking apps?

Whether we’ve already sold you the idea of implementing employee time tracking apps or not, let’s continue with the most crucial elements to look for when choosing a time tracker for employees. 

Without the slightest doubt – there are  p l e n t y  of tools that can track one’s work hours, and there are quite a few features that such tools offer. However, when it comes to selecting a good employee time tracking app, there are some essential features that you should consider and look for:

  • Type of time tracking – does the tool offer automatic, manual, project-based tracking, or maybe all of them? Can you track work hours if you work offline? Does the software have a mobile version? Think about your needs first and then compare them to the types of time entry a tool offers. 
  • Ease of use – you wouldn’t want a tool that takes a long time to understand and requires time-consuming management. Hence, read reviews, try demo versions, and go for a trial period. 
  • Integrations – whether you’re a manager of a large corporation or a freelancer, you likely use some tools and software, and having a time tracker that integrates with the tools already in place is important. It’s especially useful to integrate the tracker with project management tools, payroll systems, billing software, and more. Plus, compatibility with the hardware used is no less important to consider.
  • Tracking projects and tasks – to bill your clients accurately, gathering precise data on time spent on certain projects is essential. Data on how much time your employees spend on certain tasks can also come in handy, especially when something seems off with their performance.
  • Productivity tracking and measurement – productivity tracking and performance evaluation features are also something that you will be happy to have within a time tracking software for workers. This allows you to spot the best performers, boost employee productivity, and add more focus to your and your team’s workday.
  • Reports & analytics – managing a business or a large team of employees requires a lot of decision-making, and with data at your fingertips, it becomes incomparably easier. Thus, reports and analytics are yet another feature to look for in a time tracking tool for employees. It can be more or less detailed – that’s up to your needs. But trust us, there will be a day you’ll be happy to have the chance to export an overview of your employee hours and productivity levels. 
  • Compliance and security – yes, tracking employee time means the software is dealing with potentially sensitive data, which is why the tool must be compliant with labor laws and data protection regulations that are relevant to your location. Employee privacy and security should be of the utmost importance to every manager – look for a tool with exceptional safety measures.
  • Some extras you might need – there are plenty of custom features that your business could benefit from. For instance – shift scheduling, absence calendar, screenshots, integrations with specific tools, and more. 

Features and functionality are crucial when it comes to choosing the right employee time tracking software for your business. But there are other factors that you shouldn’t overlook as well, such as:

  • Cost-efficiency – does the tool offer everything you need, can you afford it, and does it offer several pricing options that can be adjusted if your needs change?
  • Support – does the software company you’re about to pick offer support for its customers, and does its format suit you?
  • User reviews – what other users say about the tool, and, more importantly, does the tool even have other users?
  • Scalability – if your company (team, business, etc.) grows, will the tool be able to still serve your needs?
People looking into data

Tips and tricks for implementing an employee hours tracker

Adding a new tool into a company’s workflow is always a bit tricky, employee hours trackers included. While most such software is not difficult to comprehend, it’s still a new tool to get used to. 

Additionally, if your company hasn’t previously used an employee time tracking app, there is another layer of challenges ahead – explaining why your company needs time tracking in the first place, managing employee concerns regarding their privacy, and more. 

Thus, in this section, we’ll be looking at things to bear in mind when implementing employee time tracking and a few handy tricks for using time tracking for employees. 

Jot this down – best implementation practices

One way to implement employee time tracking in your company is to simply make everyone use a tool you’ve picked – no questions asked, no answers provided. But that’s certainly not the way to go if you wish to maintain a healthy work environment and avoid your employees hating you. 

Luckily, a smooth implementation of an employee time tracking app can be achieved by following a few simple practices:

  • Plan and prepare. Understand exactly why your organization needs time tracking and what the expected outcomes of its use are. Test the tool first (think of engaging a smaller group of employees in this) to see if it really lives up to your expectations. By the way, reading this article is already an important step toward successful implementation. 
  • Don’t be lousy on explanation. To receive the lowest possible resistance from your employees, you need to be deliberate in explaining everything about time tracking and how that will look at your company. Create material, do a presentation, organize workshops – whatever works best for your employees.
  • Provide access to support. Even the most intuitive tools can be difficult to use for some people. Our brains are different (and that’s super cool), so remember to provide assistance with tool usage at the beginning and access to support all through your time tracking journey. 
  • Accept feedback – no matter what it is. Feedback given by your employees is the most valuable asset during time tracking implementation. It will help you determine whether the tool suits your company as you’ve imagined it or not. Planning is one thing, but real life always brings some surprises. 
  • Customize the tool if possible. By this, we mean things such as setting flexible work hours if you’re a flexible company, integrating the tool with other work apps, setting notifications so that they don’t interfere with your team’s workflow, and more. 
A man exploring DeskTime dashboard

Tips and tricks on using employee time trackers

Now, as promised, let’s check out some tips and tricks for using employee time trackers. 

The good news is that most time tracking software is built to be user-friendly. Hence, there are not THAT many tips and tricks for using employee time tracking apps out there, but here are some worth checking out.

  • Automate if you can. And that goes beyond choosing automated employee time tracking apps. The tools usually have options to add automated practices, such as idle detection or integration with project management software, so you don’t waste time on using the time tracking app.  
  • Integrations are there for a reason. Time tracking app integrations with third-party apps are there because they make everything more convenient and not just because somebody wanted them to be there. Some of the must-use integrations include calendars – Google and Outlook, as well as task management tools – Trello, Asana, Jira, Gitlab, Basecamp, and more. 
  • Encourage real-time tracking. Let’s say you’ve chosen a tool that offers both a manual time entry option and real-time tracking and some employees are hesitant to use the latter. The tip here is to explain the many benefits of real-time tracking versus manual entries, starting with the most upfront one – not needing to recall what you did during your 8-hour workday. 
  • Make use of the data. As your company uses time tracking, you gain unique access to various data that can be analyzed to optimize work. Spot company-wide tendencies,  and adjust accordingly.
  • Explore all of the features. Even if you know that all your company needs right now is basic time tracking, we advise you to check out all of the features the tool offers. Maybe there’s something you can adopt to make everyone’s life easier. 

Give employee time tracking a try with DeskTime

DeskTime is an automated time tracking software perfect for companies and teams looking to boost their productivity and work efficiency. The tool tracks one’s work hours automatically, resulting in precise data with no manual entry (nor hassle) required. However, it also offers a manual time tracking opportunity, so that you can add information on time spent working away from your computer and make sure that every minute counts.

When it comes to features, DeskTime has plenty:

  • Project tracking for project-based work
  • URL and app tracking that helps with productivity measurement and provides a detailed overview of where your employees’ time is spent
  • Productivity calculation to help you spot your top performers and notice those struggling
  • Detailed reports – because data is power
  • Integrations with the most-used calendar and project management apps
  • And some extra features, such as Shift scheduling, Screenshots, and Absence calendar

Give DeskTime a go with our free trial, or start by exploring our demo account.

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