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Time Clocks for Employees: History and Types of Time Tracking Systems

Nov 6, 2019 by Beau Karlskin
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There are many different time tracking systems on the market — from traditional punch card systems to high-tech biometric time clocks.

What are the differences between them, and how do you know which one to choose?

To understand how they work and know what to look for, it’s helpful to take a quick look at the history of time tracking systems.

History of Time Tracking Systems

With the advent of the industrial revolution, the demand for production reached an all-time high — and with it, the demand for around-the-clock work: employees, including children, were regularly expected to work 10-16 hour days, six days a week.

In 1890, the US government set out to track work hours for the first time, and the results were shocking: they found that full-time manufacturing employees worked an average of 100 hours a week — a seemingly impossible workload for an already physically demanding job.

Around the same time, the first labor unions were formed, and the first employee time clocks were also introduced.

Time clocks would prove essential to labor rights because, before their invention, there was no way to easily record how many hours workers spent on the job (and as a result, no way of enforcing laws to limit these hours and protect employees from being overworked and underpaid).

These time clocks worked by printing a timestamp on a worker's timecard at the start and end of their workday, which allowed businesses to calculate the exact payment owed to the employee based on time worked.

Time clocks gave advantages that protected both the employee and employer:

  • Fair Compensation

Employees now had a way to prove how many hours they spent on the job to ensure that an hour worked was an hour paid.

  • Accurate Records

Employers, on the other hand, now had a way of guaranteeing that employees worked the precise number of hours they claimed.

However, despite being a revolutionary invention with many benefits, traditional punch card systems had two major flaws:

  • Working hours had to be calculated manually

Calculating work hours and wages was a tedious, time-consuming process. As a result, a dedicated employee known as a "timekeeper" would be required to keep track of the numbers and calculate wages based on hours worked.

  • Risk of human error

Because of the manual calculations required and large number of records to keep track of, this system was vulnerable to miscalculations, inaccuracies, and human error.

Electronic Time Tracking Systems

The introduction of the computerized technologies of the late 20th century revolutionized the way time tracking could be done. Instead of having physical punchcards, employees now had access to a variety of new tools that they could clock in with, including:

  • Magnetic stripe cards
  • Bar codes
  • RFID tags
  • PIN codes

With the introduction of these electronic timekeeping systems, the two biggest problems of punchcard systems were solved:

  • Automation

Instead of requiring a dedicated "timekeeper" employee to manually keep track of hours and calculate wages, this information could now be automatically calculated by a computer, saving businesses time and money.

  • Accuracy

The risk of human error was greatly reduced as records could now be sorted and stored automatically on a server, reducing the chance of records getting lost, altered, or misplaced.

However, despite being a huge improvement from the manual timeclocks of old, electronic time and attendance systems weren't able to solve two problems:

  • Time Theft

"Buddy clocking" or "buddy punching" is a type of time theft that refers to an employee using a colleague's clock-in token — be it a traditional punch clock, RFID tag, or magnetic stripe card — to clock them in and accumulate working hours, even if the real employee isn't physically present.

  • Lost Tokens

A physical token, whether it's a swipe card, RFID tag, or traditional punch card, can be easily lost or misplaced. Replacing them costs both money and time — a significant downside for a company looking to cut costs and improve efficiency.

Therefore, new time-tracking methods were invented that became the gold standard for time and attendance tracking.

Modern time tracking systems have all the benefits of previous systems with none of the downsides.

Modern Time Tracking Systems

There are four primary types of time tracking systems used today:

  • App
  • Web
  • Kiosk
  • Biometrics

App

App-based time trackers allow employees to clock in using their mobile device. Since virtually everyone owns a smartphone today, they provide a convenient way to track time. Time-tracking apps are easy to use and provide a large range of data directly at your fingertips.

Many time tracking apps allow employees and employers to view hours worked, calculate wages directly within the app, export data spreadsheets, and more.

Additionally, GPS location features allow employers to set "billable work zones" so that employees can only accumulate hours if they're physically present in the designated work area.

Web

Web-based time trackers allow employees to clock in directly from their computer's browser.

This makes it a convenient option for both local and remote companies, since every employee can clock in and out directly from their work computer without requiring any additional devices.

Kiosk

Another way of tracking attendance is with kiosks. In contrast to old-school punchcard machines, modern time and attendance kiosks use a small device (typically a tablet) that can be turned into a shared "kiosk" and placed in a common work area, allowing employees to clock in on-site by entering their unique PIN.

Most kiosks use photo capture in combination with facial recognition software to verify the employee's identity upon clocking in.

Biometrics

Biometric time trackers use each employee's unique biology to verify their identity and track work hours. With an on-site terminal, employees can scan their hand, finger, iris, etc. to quickly and securely clock in.

Biometrics have two key advantages over other time and attendance systems:

  • Security: since your biometric code is unique to you, it can't be used for "buddy clocking." Only the original intended user can access it.

  • Convenience: since you carry your biometric ID with you everywhere you go, it can't be lost or forgotten. It is always on-hand.

Conclusion

From their creation in 1890 until the present day, time tracking systems have been an indispensable tool in the workplace.

They allow employees to ensure all their working hours are accounted and paid for, while allowing businesses to easily keep track of wages and time spent on the job.

If you're interested in installing a state-of-the-art time tracking system for your workplace, Keyo can help.

Visit our Time and Attendance page to learn more, or talk to a sales representative to discover what Keyo can do for your business.

Biometric time tracking systems

Download our ebook to learn more about the benefits of biometrics for time tracking systems.

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