Time and Attendance

Choosing the right attendance system for your business

By Dan Whitehead

Nov. 9, 2021

If you found out a core part of your business relies on systems over 100 years old, you’d probably be shocked — and more than a little concerned. Yet more than a third of U.S. businesses are doing exactly that every single day as their shift workers clock in and out using manual time cards.

Recording time and attendance is a crucial part of any shift-based business — but switching attendance systems is expensive and complex, so many businesses avoid it entirely. If you’re thinking it’s time your business got its attendance system fit for the 21st century, this overview of the current options will steer you in the right direction.

Time card attendance systems

Using manual time cards to punch in and out of work is a system that goes back over a century. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice for tracking time and attendance in your business, but the drawbacks drastically outweigh the benefits.

Benefits of manual time cards

  • Familiarity: The chief benefit of manual time cards in the modern day is that they’ve been around so long that almost everybody understands how to use them. For companies with an older workforce, in particular, the prospect of switching to a more high-tech attendance solution can be off-putting for employees and HR alike.

Drawbacks of manual time cards

  • Inefficiency: Manually recording crucial timesheet data for dozens or hundreds of employees is very prone to errors. In fact, 80% of manual timesheets have to be corrected, an administrative burden few businesses can afford.
  • Time-consuming: Turning all those manual time cards into usable digital data for your business eats up hours of work, pulling staff away from other duties or requiring additional data entry.
  • Unreliable: Manual attendance systems offer employers very little protection from practices like “buddy punching,” where employees clock in for absent colleagues.

Key card and entry code attendance systems

Requiring employees to swipe themselves in using a magnetic card reader, key fob, or electronic entry code is a step up from physical time cards but is still severely limited compared to more modern systems.

Benefits of key cards and codes

  • Accuracy: The system logs the exact time the employee clocks in, and the data is stored electronically, meaning no more laborious data entry.
  • Security: Not only do you know employees are arriving on time, but you also get peace of mind that only people with the right card or code can enter your premises.
  • Internal tracking: Key cards and codes can be used to restrict or monitor staff movements inside the business, such as secure areas or breakrooms.

Drawbacks of key cards and codes

  • Easily lost or forgotten: Replacing or resetting lost cards or codes can become a frustrating distraction for admin staff.
  • Outdated software: If your business has an older card or code-based entry system, it may still be running on easily hacked HTTP protocols or defunct Windows platforms, creating a potential security vulnerability.
  • Scalability: Managing cards and codes across more than one building can be a problem. Buildings often rely on local networks for authentication, making them less than ideal for multi-location businesses.

Biometric attendance systems

Biometric attendance systems, including technology such as facial recognition, fingerprint ID, and retinal scans, are fast becoming normalized. However, just because some people are happy to use biometrics to access their smartphones doesn’t mean they’ll welcome it in the workplace, regardless of how many attendance issues it streamlines for the company.

Benefits of biometrics

  • Accuracy: Using biometrics nearly eliminates the practice of buddy punching — employees can only be clocked in if they’re at work.
  • Time-saving: Biometric access is much faster than other methods, removing bottlenecks at shift changes as staff no longer need to retrieve key cards from their wallets or key in codes.
  • Greater security: By making sure the person clocking in is who they’re supposed to be, biometric access is even more secure than key cards and codes.

Drawbacks of biometrics

  • Controversial: Tread carefully during the so-called Great Resignation as employees are less likely to accept workplace changes they strongly disagree with. Biometrics are unpopular at work, and if employees feel railroaded into handing over more personal data than they’re comfortable with, they’ll leave.
  • Accessibility: Biometric attendance systems raise more questions over usage and access, especially for those with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide everyone with equal access to the workplace, and anything that prevents the blind or people in wheelchairs from doing so could expose you to legal fallout.
  • Legislation: The U.S. is ranked as one of the worst countries for biometric security as there are no federal laws governing how such data is collected, stored, and used. This means employers introducing biometric attendance systems now should prepare for potential rule changes.

Mobile attendance systems

One thing all the previous attendance systems have in common is that they involve some kind of physical device on your premises where all staff must register their attendance. That’s no longer necessary as the latest time and attendance systems can clock employees in using their own smartphones.

Benefits of mobile attendance systems

  • Convenience: Staff can clock in as soon as they arrive using their own phone, so there’s no bottleneck of people waiting to use a physical time clock. This also means your business avoids the expense and hassle of installing physical time clocks on the premises.
  • Accuracy: Mobile attendance apps use GPS tracking to prevent employees from clocking in while still on the bus or at home. Managers can see exactly where people are when they clock in.
  • Oversight: Often, employees are required to take a selfie when clocking in – it’s a fun and easy way for managers to manually double-check for buddy punching. Since the photos aren’t automatically scanned by a third party database or run through facial recognition algorithms, staff can rest assured that their biometric information is not being used.
  • Efficient: The same app that employees use to clock in at work is also the app they use to request time off, check or change their shifts and receive their digital payslips. Unlike other systems which are only concerned with clocking in and out, mobile attendance systems bring all aspects of staff management together in one place for both managers and employees.

Drawbacks of mobile attendance systems

  • Access: Not everyone has a smartphone, which would exclude them from being able to use mobile attendance systems. Hardly a deal breaker from an employer point of view, but worth bearing in mind.

Mobile attendance systems are the future

As attendance systems become more sophisticated and effective, staff concerns about privacy become more pressing. Choosing the best attendance system for your business means finding a workable balance between the administrative benefits for your company and peace of mind for your employees.

Mobile attendance systems offer the best of both worlds right now, and will only improve as the technology evolves. That’s why Workforce.com puts mobile at the heart of its time and attendance software, with an app for both managers and staff. If your company is still using timecards, keycards or other outdated attendance systems, book a demo today and see how we can streamline your business.

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