What will the future of time clocks look like?

July 6, 2020

time clock

Written by Erica Niesse

As you no doubt know, COVID-19 has required many businesses to think long and hard about how they interact with their employees. Whether that is the proximity that employees are working in, in relation to colleagues, or how they interact throughout the day, it is going to be important for companies to think about how to ensure they are protecting their employees. Evaluating how time entry is captured is an important part of that, as is ensuring that time and attendance systems are configured to follow state and federal laws for overtime and leave of absence rules.

At HRchitect, many of the clients that we’ve helped to deploy workforce management systems in the past have opted to use a hardware time clock to track their employees’ time worked from the beginning of shift to the end of shift. These time clocks are usually placed at a central point in their work location, whether an office building or manufacturing facility and allows employees to either punch in and out utilizing an employee identification number or a fingerprint scan. In the wake of COVID-19, this once standard method of time entry now presents obvious challenges, including the transfer of germs from the high-touch surface of the time clock, social distancing challenges with employee groups lining up to access the same clock, not to mention lost productivity for the employer and cut-ins to employee hours if there are long wait times to access time clocks in a safe, socially distant manner.

With the onus on employers to prioritize employee’s health and safety, we are seeing a significant shift in our clients’ approaches to time entry. Many companies are switching to mobile or contactless time and attendance technology, not only to make this process more convenient but also to create a more sanitary workplace, thus reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure for their employees. Not only is it important for organizations to take a strategic approach with current time entry methods, but companies also need to consider how to adapt their strategies to the post-COVID-19 working world; the one where employees will understandably be more cautious and want to limit how often they are touching the same surfaces as their co-workers. Let’s dive into widely used time tracking devices and methods, and explore the changes expected in the “new normal,” post-COVID-19.

  • Wall-mounted Clocks/Fingerprint biometric devices

Over the past few years, hardware time clock functionality has expanded, providing significant value for employers. From a wall-mounted time clock device, employees can punch in and out for the day, request time off, view their schedules, and be alerted of attendance issues like chronic tardiness. With this type of time entry, employees stand in line to clock in or out at one common wall-mounted hardware clock. Methods of clocking in and out may vary – some companies have employees enter an employee ID, while others utilize biometrics, like the employee’s fingerprint to clock in and out. Fingerprint technology through biometric devices was widely adopted as the wave of the future over the last few years, but expect to see change here in the new normal.

With companies now working to maintain social distancing in the work environment, we expect employers with traditional wall-mounted clocks or biometric clocks will seek to modify time entry methods to be more safety-conscious or consider other time entry options altogether.

  • Wall-mounted Clocks where badges are swiped

Time clocks that require employees to swipe badges to clock in and clock out means employees rarely need to touch the machine itself. There is some ongoing maintenance that comes with utilizing badges to swipe in and out on a time clock device. Since the amount of contact employees have with the device is dramatically reduced, we expect some employers will opt for this type of time entry system or modify their current biometric or traditional hardware clock to badge-swiping clocks.

  • Cloud-based web clock

With many companies allowing employees to work remotely, cloud-based web clock devices will be needed more than ever. Computerized web clock devices are more typical in office environments where employees sit at computers throughout the day and have a dedicated computer at their workstation. This functionality allows for employees to not only punch in and out for work, on a system that they alone use, in addition to the ability to log in to the timekeeping system and perform self-service tasks, such as requesting vacation days through a URL. There is a level of trust involved in having a workforce that punches in and out via a web clock while working remotely. As employers increasingly trust their workforce, reinforced by positive business results in a remote work environment, more and more companies will opt for cloud-based web clocks for time entry.

  • Apps for Mobile Devices

Since 96% of Americans now own a cell phone*, large percentages of companies will turn toward mobile time tracking applications/functionality. Not only does this time entry method allow employees to not have to touch the same devices as others, but it is generally a cheaper option to implement, often offered with the base-level solution of a Time and Attendance system. Most Time and Attendance systems offer mobile applications either through an App or a mobile URL version of the time tracking system. The functionality that is offered through a mobile device is forever expanding. Examples of mobile functionality many vendors offer include punching in and out for the day, tracking and requesting time off, and functionality that allows an employee to view their individual schedule. The biggest concern most companies have with allowing mobile punching is a concern that the employee can punch in from any location, for example, punching into work while they’re still in the midst of their commute to their work location. To address this concern, most vendors offer the ability to limit the geographical area that the employee can punch in/out from on their mobile device. This is called geofencing, and it significantly reduces the risk of time fraud. With geofencing, if an employee attempts to clock in and is not within the coordinates defined in the system, then their punches will be denied.

  • Biometric time clocks that use facial recognition

Once created to prevent time entry fraud, facial recognition time clocks will become more popular for organizations seeking 100% contactless time entry. Facial recognition functionality has recently been used by airports and government buildings for security and screening processes. While exploring this option, businesses will need to consider those individual state regulations to ensure compliance. Several states in the United States have laws that protect facial biometric information and provide privacy rules including Illinois, New York, and California. Delving into one specific example, The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act**, requires companies doing business in Illinois to comply with several requirements pertaining to the collection and storage of biometric information. These include a requirement that companies:

  • Obtain consent from individuals if the company intends to collect or disclose their personal biometric identifiers.
  • Destroy biometric identifiers in a timely manner.
  • Securely store biometric identifiers

Companies considering biometric timeclocks using facial recognition should work with their legal teams and their time & attendance system vendors to ensure a proposed change to biometric timeclocks with facial recognition would be fully compliant with all laws, but where possible, this technology is expected to be more widely adopted than it has in the past.

COVID-19 has forced many changes in our world, not the least of which will be a change in how employers track employee time in our “new normal”. How will your organization adapt current time tracking and devices to protect your employees? Contact us to discuss your organization’s existing time tracking policies and workforce management system setup and build a plan to keep your employees safe from here on out.

*Source: Pew Research Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/

** Source: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=3004&ChapterID=57

Erica Niesse

About Erica Niesse

Erica Niesse is the Director of Workforce Management Consulting Services at HRchitect.  Erica has over 10 years of experience guiding clients through successful Workforce Management system implementations.