Choosing a Time and Attendance System

Time and attendance systems can benefit businesses in numerous ways, With so many choices, though, it can be hard to figure out which one will best fit your needs. If you are looking for a time and attendance system in 2019, here’s everything you need to know about what they are, what they offer and how to choose one.

If you already know what you’re looking for, visit our best picks page to see which ones we recommend as well as a complete list of timekeeping systems that might work for you.

What Are Time and Attendance Systems?

Time and attendance systems allow employees to clock in and out electronically via timeclocks, internet-connected computers, mobile devices and telephones. Some solutions also offer the ability to punch in and out via text messages, social media programs like Twitter, and other communication programs, such as Slack. When an employee clocks in or out, the data instantly transfers to software that can seamlessly import it into your payroll solution.

These systems do more than just track when employees come and go. They also monitor mobile employees via geolocation and geofencing, manage paid time off (PTO), create employee schedules, provide detailed labor reports, and give real-time data on who is working, who is not, who showed up late and who is nearing overtime.  

Time and attendance systems offer self-service that allows employees to handle many time-tracking tasks on their own, including reviewing the hours they’ve worked, their current and future schedules, and their PTO accruals.

Many of these systems offer both cloud-based and on-premises solutions. The on-premises systems are stored on servers within your business, while the cloud-based systems are housed by your time and attendance system provider and accessed online.

Pros and Cons

The biggest benefit of these digital systems is they eliminate the need for manual timecards. All the time is collected electronically, with the calculations made for you. This cuts down on the chance of errors and frees up the person who was responsible for tallying all of that information to work on other tasks.

Another positive is that these systems manage all your time needs – employee attendance, PTO and scheduling – in one program. This can be both cost-effective and a boost to productivity, as employees won’t waste time toggling between different programs to ask for time off or look at their schedules.

The biggest drawback to time-tracking systems is that they are more expensive than the old manual method where employees write down their hours each day or punch in and out on a paper timecard. Another potential downside is that they often force employers to curb the perception that asking employees to track their time is a form of micromanagement.

Editor’s note: Looking for information on time and attendance systems? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need: 


The cost structure of time and attendance systems depends on whether you choose a cloud-based or on-premises solution. Cloud-based systems have smaller recurring monthly costs, while on-premises systems have larger one-time fees.

With on-premises systems, you pay all your costs upfront. You can expect to pay several hundred to several thousand dollars for the software, licenses for each employee and installation. There aren’t any monthly fees for the service after that. However, the one-time costs don’t typically include any ongoing support or software updates.

For a cloud-based system, most services charge a per-user fee that ranges from $1 to $10 per employee per month. Some services also assess a base monthly charge or a minimum monthly charge.

Some providers charge a one-time setup and implementation fee. Unlike with on-premises systems, however, all software upgrades and support are included in your monthly expenses.

Another cost you might incur for either option is for a timeclock. Many time and attendance systems work with a range of timeclocks. These timeclocks can work with PINs, swipe or proximity badges, or biometrics such as fingerprint or facial scans. The complexity of the clock you select will determine the cost. Prices typically range from a couple hundred for a basic clock to several thousand for a sophisticated biometric clock.

What to Look for in a Time and Attendance System

With so many systems on the market, it can be difficult to know which one is right for your business. When you’re shopping for a system, experts say there are several things you should look for:

  • Flexible time-tracking options: Look for a system that allows employees to record their hours in multiple ways, such as through an internet-connected computer, smartphone, tablet, timeclock, telephone or text messages.
  • Accurate timekeeping: The best time and attendance systems ensure employers are paying their employees for the actual time they work, not the hours they’re scheduled to work.  
  • Tracking for all time issues: Make sure you choose a system that takes care of all your time-related needs, not one that just lets employees punch in and out. This includes all employee schedule and PTO management. In addition, for businesses that charge clients for how long they work on their projects, you may want a system that offers job tracking, which logs how long employees work on specific projects.
  • Mobile compatibility: Since many employees and managers work outside the office, you want a system that is compatible with mobile devices so it is accessible from anywhere. This includes solutions that not only give remote workers the ability to clock in and out but also track their locations so employers know they’re working from where they’re supposed to be. Geotechnology can be extremely valuable to employers to either restrict where employees can clock in and out from or to record the exact locations where they start and end their shifts.
  • Ease of use: Search for a system that’s easy to use, has an uncluttered interface and allows employee self-service. The system should not be hard to learn and certainly shouldn’t require hours of training.
  • Integrations: Choose a system that integrates with the applications and software that you already use, such as your HR and payroll programs. 
  • Proactive alerts: Some systems provide notifications when employees are nearing overtime or forget to clock in or out. This can be helpful in controlling expenses.
  • Audit trail features: The ability to view original timesheet data, along with any changes made by a manager or supervisor, can be important in case of an audit.

Now that you’ve got the basics, you might be ready to make a decision on which time and attendance system is right for you. To learn about the options we think are best for various business types, check out our best picks for time and attendance systems.

Time and Attendance FAQs

Still have questions about time and attendance systems? Here are some questions and answers that may help you reach a decision. 

Q: How are time and attendance systems different from traditional timeclocks and timecards?

A: The biggest difference is that everything is digitized and automated. Traditional timeclocks and timecards require manual entry of data for everything. Time and attendance systems just require the push of a button for all of the information to sync with your software. That software then seamlessly integrates with your payroll solution. This eliminates duplicate entries and guesswork. In addition, time and attendance systems log hours, job codes, and information about breaks and PTO digitally and in real time.

Q: What types of timeclocks are compatible with time and attendance systems?

A: No longer are there simple punch timeclocks. Today’s timeclocks collect time in several different ways, including via punch cards, magnetic swipe cards, barcodes, PINs, and biometrics such as fingerprints or facial scans.

Q: Is there a difference between a time and attendance system and a biometric system?

A: Any time and attendance system that works with a biometric timeclock is a biometric system. Because nearly every time and attendance solution that works with physical timeclocks offers biometric options, there is very little difference between the two. Biometric timeclocks are typically used by businesses concerned about buddy punching.

The only time and attendance systems that don’t have biometric options are those that don’t incorporate biometric timeclocks, relying instead on computers and mobile devices to punch employees in and out. However, even some of those systems now offer fingerprint scanners that plug into computers or use programs that take employee pictures with a computer camera as a way to incorporate biometric options.

Q: Do you have to use a timeclock with a time and attendance system?

A: No. Some businesses prefer that employees clock in and out only through a computer, mobile app or telephone. Not using a timeclock can cut down on costs, as they can run anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars each.

Q: Are time and attendance systems only good for businesses with hourly employees?

A: While it might seem like time and attendance systems are only necessary for businesses with hourly workers, businesses with salaried employees can reap a number of benefits from them as well. A system that tracks how long employees work on specific projects can help with labor projections. Additionally, businesses with salaried employees may appreciate the PTO management aspects of the system.

Q: How do time and attendance systems work for remote employees?

A: These systems use GPS technology to monitor remote employees via mobile devices. Some systems use geofencing to limit where employees can clock in and out from, while others use geolocation to record exactly where workers are when they punch in and out. The systems can also use geolocation to track employees throughout the day, not just where they start and end their shifts.

Q: How do time and attendance systems integrate with payroll systems?

A: Time and attendance systems integrate with payroll systems by allowing you to transfer your time and attendance data into your payroll program with the press of a button. This cuts down on errors and streamlines the entire payroll process.

Q: How do time and attendance systems manage paid time off?

A: Time and attendance systems manage PTO in several ways. They can track how much time off employees have earned and used, as well as accruals for sick time, vacation, bereavement and any other type of time off employees may receive.

Some time and attendance systems also handle the request and approval process. This allows employees to ask for time off directly within the system, and managers can either approve or deny those requests.

If you think a time and attendance system is right for you, we encourage you to check out our best picks.

Editor’s note: Looking for information on time and attendance systems? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need: