Automating Timesheets has benefits, but they are not obvious
In business, knowing the time it takes to complete a task is very important. Tracking employee time has a long history. Check the history of time clocks in Wikipedia, you'll learn that the founding companies of IBM made the first mechanical punch time clocks, and how more sophisticated devices like proximity, badge swipe or biometric time clocks later came into use. What it does not tell you is how slow the marketplace has been to adopt new technology in time tracking.
Why? What's tried and proven is difficult to replace from the standpoint of 1) cost 2) risk and 3) inertia.
Let's add another big reason: Paper timesheets look simple, but they are actually complicated. They do a lot. They are the spokes of a big wheel.
It is true that the Internet, "web-based" technology, is calling your name. And, paper timesheets are an obvious place to use this technology. But, your first step should be to ask some hard questions about your timesheets.
Why are you using manual data collection methods? What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages?
Do timesheets and time off requests require signatures and approvals?
Do timesheet and leave hours, or attendance, lead to somebody getting billed, paid, costed, fined, suspended, or terminated? Given this, is business as usual okay? What about it is not?
Reviews and Corrections:
How are your timesheets reviewed and approved? Are they rejected or corrected? How often? If they need to be corrected frequently, why is that? What are the costs to review things manually? What happens when managers have no bandwidth to do so? What data falls off the table? What gets missed? What decisions do not get made?
Where Do You Send Timesheet Data?:
Do you have to send timesheet and leave data to another system, like payroll or accounting?
In short, every organization can have several areas of pain in manual timesheets. Here is a review of the top five.
Top Five Pain Points of Manual Time Tracking
- Data Collection: “Slow, Unsteady, Loses The Race”
With paper timesheets, there can be lost, damaged or destroyed time cards or timesheets. Sending timesheet data can be difficult. There are unavailable fax machines, busy signals, snail mail or worse. It's true that paper timesheets are themselves cheap. But collecting and processing them is expensive.
- Manual Processing of Policies and Rules
Many organizations rationalize manual processing of policies and rules because they are so complex. But this is very expensive and slow. Sometimes it's the opposite of what should be. The more complicated the rules, and the greater benefit there would be from automating rules, the more manual processing goes on.
- Approvals/Rejections, Review, Oversight
Supervisors are very busy. They should be doing lots of things. But checking employee overtime or double time calculations in their heads or on a calculator should not be one of them. If they are tired, maybe their eyes glaze over everything as they sign the timesheet. How accurate is the initialed correction made on Friday for the “missed punch” on Monday?
- Double Data Entry of Timesheet Data
In the end, timesheet data is collected for important reasons. Manual processes require certain “built-in” inefficiencies to work properly. Most payrolls build in at least three to four days of slack because of slow data collection, slow approvals, and double data entry. Some payroll cycles build in two weeks! Others even have employees “guesstimate” their hours for the last two to three days of a time period creating even more need for corrections.
- The Reports You Will Never See
Perhaps the greatest problem of paper timesheets is the reports your staff will never have time to create. In turn, because manual creation of reports is so cost-prohibitive, you as a senior manager, will train your mind to never ask the questions you could ask.
At every step of a manual time tracking process there can be inefficiency: data loss, distortions, arduous administrative processing of rules and policies, supervisors having to spend time babysitting time cards more than managing, and extra cost and effort to process payroll more slowly.
We should expect that web-based automation of time tracking will be helpful. But the actual benefits when understood within this framework will be quite surprising. Stay tuned for our next post.