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There’s hardly any question whether employers should and do track attendance of their workers. After all, managers and business owners have a right to know when everyone on their payroll comes to work and leaves. Nowadays, it’s just a matter of how employers go about tracking attendance.

With the continuous advances in technology and software development, an array of different options to keep track of employee hours has never been as vast. From the attendance sheets to some types of employee monitoring methods used for attendance tracking, such as keycards, to company time tracking software, the choice seems impossible to make.

With this problem in mind, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide on how to keep track of employee hours. We’ll discuss the importance of tracking attendance of company employees, considerations you need to keep in mind when making a decision, as well as the detailed overview of the most common methods of tracking employee attendance.

Why Do You Need to Track Attendance?

Apart from the obvious need to have control over when your employees come and go so that you know where your money goes, there are several other compelling reasons why accurate attendance tracking is extremely important.

Working Hours Regulations

First of all, it might not be a matter of choice at all. In other words, you might be bound by law to keep an accurate record of your employees’ working hours. For example, in the European Union, this is regulated by the recent EU Work Time Directive. Similarly, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the US prescribes tracking attendance of employees.

These laws are in place so that fair treatment of employees can be ensured, including fair compensation, as well as preventing mistreatments in terms of working hours and unpaid overtime. Which are good enough reasons in themselves for attendance tracking, even without the laws.

Financial Considerations

Another argument as to why measuring employees’ working hours accurately is of crucial importance to a business is the financial loss incurred when there’s a mismatch between hours recorded and those actually spent in the office working. The practice of the popularly termed ‘buddy punching’, where employee clocks in their absent or late colleague, may cost companies significant amounts of money.

One study found that 16% of employees practise this form of attendance fraud, which adds up to $373 million dollars that companies stands to lose on the back of the missed time if the employees who are paid by the hour ‘steal’ just 15 minutes weekly. That’s why it’s crucial for your attendance tracking solution to be not only accurate, but also foolproof.

Things to Consider Before You Make a Choice

The choice of an attendance tracking method will depend largely on the type and size of each individual company. How your business is run, what your budget is and how many people are in your employment are some things you need to take into consideration when choosing how to track employee hours.

Small companies of up to 10 employees generally don’t need complex and expensive solutions, while it’s an imperative for businesses of 1,000+ employees to have a solution that’s as automatic as possible. Everything in between is also in need of some type of technological solution as manual attendance tracking is time-consuming and prone to errors.

Another factor in deciding is going to be the budget you allocate to attendance tracking. The options range from free timesheets to very costly biometric data recognition technology.

As discussed in the previous section, the need for accurate attendance tracking doesn’t vary a lot according to the type of industry that a business belongs to. However, if your company is working with clients and charging them per hour (as is increasingly more common today with the rise in outsourcing) you might want to take this into account and pick the most accurate and easily shareable attendance reports you can send to your clients.

Keeping these things in mind as we proceed to look at various types of attendance tracking will allow you to critically review these methods according to your needs and capabilities.

Common Ways to Track Employees’ Attendance

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at several different ways that employers can track and measure the time their employees are at work. We’ll talk about the six most common methods - manual, timesheets, keycards, biometric data, GPS and time tracking software.


manual time tracking

For small startups and companies of less than ten employees it might not be necessary to track office hours with a technical solution. Simply seeing when they come to work and noting down if anyone was late might be sufficient for effectively running the company.

However, this only works for very small teams who spend their working hours in the office. As soon as you add a couple more people and maybe some remote workers, things get too complicated to track manually and a more automated solution becomes a necessity.


timesheet time tracking

Timesheets are another solution that’s free in most cases. They are tables with employee names which either employees themselves or their supervisor complete with information on when each employee came to work and went home. Probably the most popular variation is tracking attendance in Excel, Google Sheets or similar platform.

This is a cost-free solution and it’s something most employees would easily agree to. In addition, a completed monthly timesheet is a ready-made report in itself. If completed by a supervisor, timesheets are generally reliable, but can quickly become time-consuming with a larger number of employees.

Alternatively, attendance tracking sheet can be completed by employees. However, in this case, errors are more likely to happen, especially if employees forget to complete their attendance sheet in time. What’s more, they can ‘steal’ time on purpose, so it’s far from a bullet-proof solution.


keycard tracking

An extremely popular technique of attendance tracking, especially in medium and large companies, is the use of kaycards. Employees simply clock-in with their card when they enter the company premises and again when they leave and the system keeps all the data in a database.

There are quite a number of different variations of keycards, but since they mostly differ in terms of technology used, we’ll discuss them all together here. So, let’s first take a look at all the different options.

Punch cards are the old-fashioned way of punching a time and date on employees’ cards. The newer technology are swipe cards, otherwise known as magnetic stripe cards, which are swiped through a machine (like credit cards). Kaycards can also use QR codes for employee identification. Lastly, there is contactless technology like proximity cards and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), with a very slight difference between those two.

Some of the advantages of keycards are that they aren’t intrusive to employees and they generally won’t forget to swipe in. Furthermore, they can also be used as access cards or facility keys, so there’s an added security. Finally, their use is intuitive and straightforward. In the case of using RFID, employees don’t even have to take their cards out of their bags or pockets.

Nevertheless, keycards are prone to misuse and ‘buddy punching’ and employees can also forget to bring them. In addition, they only measure the time when employees went into the building, not when they actually started working (read: morning coffee and chat with colleagues). Besides, it can quickly amount to a costly solution if you run a business on multiple locations and it doesn’t account for remote workforce.

Biometric Data

biometric data tracking

The most technologically sophisticated attendance tracking option are biometric data readers, such as fingerprint and iris scanners, as well as face recognition technology. These solutions detect inherent biometric data that is unique to every person and use it as a sort of ‘keycard’ when employees come to work and leave.

Because employees can’t give this data to another person, this is by far the most secure and buddy-punching-proof attendance tracking solution. It can even be applied to remote workers with the new developments in mobile technology like high-resolution cameras and fingerprint recognition. And it completely eliminates the possibility of employees ever forgetting their ‘access card’.

On the other hand, biometric data readers are also by far the most expensive solution, and the technology can be perceived as intrusive by employees. More seriously still, even the more sophisticated types of biometric data readers like iris scanners are potentially vulnerable. However unlikely, security breaches of this type would be much more than just an inconvenience as biometric data theft would be a serious injury to your employees’ privacy.


GPS employee tracking

Even though it’s not as common as timesheets or keycards, GPS tracking is also sometimes used as an attendance tracking method. It’s specifically useful for tracking whereabouts of remote or field workers. Examples include delivery workers, door-to-door merchants, etc.

However indispensable GPS is for employees working in the field, there’s one major concern - privacy. For optimal employee privacy protection, GPS should be tracked on their corporate phones. This works for field employees, but not so readily for office workers who might be inclined to leave their work phones in their office, thus rendering GPS unusable for attendance tracking.

Time Tracking Software

time tracking software

Finally, an increasingly more popular option to track your work hours is the implementation of time tracker for work. Basically, employee time tracking and scheduling software works by tracking time and activity on every corporate computer from the moment it’s turned on until an employee switches it off and leaves the office.

There are many benefits of time attendance tracking software like Insightful in comparison to other methods of taking employee attendance. Even though it’s typically not free, it’s not as costly as biometric data readers or even keycards. Also, there’s no hardware maintenance as everything can be stored on cloud.

Since staff time tracking software monitors computer activity (that is, apps and websites used and time spent on projects), unless their colleagues can work on two computers simultaneously, there’s no threat of ‘buddy punching’ and time stealing. This also means that the data and reports from task time tracking software reflects the time employees are actually working on different projects and tasks, which gives you a more precise insights into their working hours as well as more accurate reports for your clients.

Using attendance tracking tools can improve other things apart from optimizing attendance tracking. For instance, time tracker can help with time management, productivity and work delegation. Plus, it’s an invaluable technology for your remote workforce.

The one potential problem with using a software solution to track employees’ activities is getting them to accept it. But being straightforward, honest about it and sensitive to their concerns will go a long way in ensuring they know it’s just another highly efficient and precise method to track their work time.

Combination of Different Methods

One final note in relation to different attendance tracking solutions is that nothing’s stopping you from implementing two or more different ones to be used in combination. As discussed in this section, there are benefits and drawbacks to every solution, so you need to think about what your company needs and which options can help you get there.

For example, some companies might use keycards for building access but they also require employees to fill in their timesheets. Or you might decide that you want to secure your premises with biometric data scanners, but also to measure your employees’ precise task time with office time tracking software.

How to Decide and What to Do Next?

Although not tracking attendance at all did work for a couple of companies in the past, the importance of doing it is generally agreed upon. In order to choose the best way, it’s necessary to understand the different options and technologies you have at your disposal and to think about how you company is laid out and what problems you’re trying to address.

So, as a way of summarizing all the solutions we’ve mentioned, we’ll review several important aspects of attendance tracking that they can or can’t fulfill:

  • Accuracy: The more automated the better, meaning that the best solutions are biometric data readers, keycards and employee time recording software.
  • Reports: If you’re looking to satisfy your clients’ needs for precise working hours on their project, time tracking software is the best way to go.
  • Reliability: In order to prevent huge financial losses, the attendance data has to be completely reliable. This can only be achieved with biometric data or work time tracker.
  • Cost: The least-to-most-expensive scale is generally this - manual and timesheets, GPS (provided you don’t have to buy corporate phones for this purpose only), time tracking system, keycards, biometric data technology.
  • Access: If you want your attendance tracking solution to act as an access key to business facilities too, then keycards and biometric data are your only options.
  • Employees’ attitudes: If you’re worried about your workforce reacting negatively to the method you’ve chosen, time and activity trackers and biometric data handling are generally considered most intrusive and should be implemented with care.
  • Automation: If you want the least amount of conscious effort by your employees, then go with employee time and attendance tracking software which works in the background without them having to do anything.

And finally, it’s important to note that in order for attendance tracking to have any tangible effect, your work doesn’t end with just recording it. You need to manage employee attendance as well by coming up with and modifying working hours policies based on the data you get by carefully measuring the effect that irregular attendance has on your company’s performance and budget.


Hopefully, this article gives you a solid idea of how important attendance tracking is today and what some different ways in which you can do it are. The ultimate choice of whether you’ll use simple timesheets, staff time tracking software or something else will depend on your company. But one thing’s certain - choosing a solution that’s going to give you accurate and reliable results will not only ensure you’re compliant with regulations, but will also save you a lot of money and give you insights into how your office time is being used.

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