Let’s imagine for a second your boss screaming out loud, “Timesheeets!!!”
You would instantly lose it and get into fight-or-flight mode.
To get a grip of the situation, you would clear up your desk, close a browser tab here and there, then open up your inbox for no reason only to ask yourself:
Why should I track time in the first place?
NOTE: If you already know why task and time tracking is important and are searching for the top employee time tracking tools, we’ve put together a list of five top-rated employee time tracking software for 2022. If not, continue reading.
5 Top-Rated Employee Time Tracking Software for 2022
Employee time tracking software list
Alright. Now that you know the importance of time tracking and how to implement it across the whole team, let’s look at a few software for tracking employee time.
Our focus was solely on those that, besides timers, also include common timesheets and/or different ways of knowing whether someone is tracking their work hours when they should.
1. Paymo (Web, Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android)
Best for: teams that need employee time tracking AND project management
Paymo is one of the best employee time tracking software for small businesses. It has native time tracking, project management, resource scheduling, and invoicing.
What makes it appealing is that you can track time in your own way: either manually, through the web timer, in bulk, or through one of the dedicated desktop and mobile apps. The Pomodoro technique is also available for fans who want to timebox their efforts via a PC app.
All the time records are automatically recorded in a common timesheet, so admins and project managers receive all the necessary insights to effectively run a team. It’s cheap as it cuts down on the need for accounting services, and it’s also professional. You can even bill clients, thanks to Paymo’s native invoicing module, which turns timesheet data into an invoice at a click of a button. This is a step-up from using an invoice generator, which is a simple online tool.
In my experience, keeping track of your time and getting paid for it has never been easier—plus, almost all of them are free—regardless of whether you’re a small business or a freelancer. If you’d like, read our selection of the best invoicing software for small businesses we’ve managed to test and review.
Another great feature is the Active Timers, which allows you to see who’s tracking time for which task and for how long already at the same time. This is a more discrete way to check with your team instead of using random screenshots or intentional shoulder peeking.
You can also create live-time reports for a specific project, client, or time period that update themselves whenever someone accesses them. Choose from 20+ parameters, then share them with your team to discuss their performance or agree upon future benchmarks.
Just recently, Paymo launched its project profitability feature, which calculates your internal costs against billed hours. If you’re not sure how to calculate it—you don’t even have to—this project profitability analysis is a great example of how tracking your time is crucial to accurate profit estimates.
- Starter – $5.95/user/month (for 1 user)
- Small Office – $11.95/user/month
- Business – $24.95/user/month (minimum 5 users)
Free plan: Yes, limited to 1 user.
2. Harvest (Web, Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Chrome extension)
Best for: teams that need employee time tracking AND billing software
If you’ve been in the productivity space long enough, you’re bound to stumble upon Harvest. This versatile employee time tracking software is great for small businesses requiring stricter work discipline, partly due to the automatic reminders that nudge team members to clock in. But also, there’s a timesheet approval system through which project managers review and approve time entries, thus preventing potential errors.
This is not to say that the software is not intuitive. On the contrary, the team overview comes with analytics to see which projects take most of their efforts and whether they’re working on the right ones (I’m talking about the billable vs. non-billable time breakdown).
Harvest also integrates with several tools, most of which are project management tools. But also invoicing ones, like Xero or QuickBooks, in case you don’t want to use their own invoicing add-on. Forecast, their sister company, builds itself on top of the current app to help you schedule resources in advance – although it’s sold separately.
Price: Pro – $12/user/months
Free plan: Yes, limited to 1 user and two projects.
3. BeeBole (Web, Mac, Windows, iOS, Android)
Best for: teams that need an employee time clock OR project time tracking, both of which come with flexible reporting.
BeeBole’s customization and flexibility make it stand out as a reliable timesheet solution. It can be set up for employees to clock in and out or to track time for clients, projects, and sub-projects using a one-click timer or manual entry. Time tracking can be done on both desktop and the free mobile app, with or without an Internet connection. It’s also a breeze to log attendance, vacations, and leaves of absence.
Administrators have access to a team overview to check project status, team performance, and overtime in one quick glance. BeeBole’s approval flow allows project managers and admins to bulk review, approve timesheets, request changes, and lock time entries.
Tip: If you want to become a project manager but don’t know how to learn or what to study first, get started by reading this guide.
Besides its ease of use for both employees and administrators, BeeBole also offers highly customizable and powerful reporting on employee time, budget, margin, and profit. Build the exact report you and your team need, or take advantage of one of the custom KPI dashboards BeeBole offers to unlock powerful business intelligence insights.
- $5.99/user/month with a 30-day free trial and no credit card required. Volume discounts and 10% off for NGOs and educational institutions.
Free plan: Not available.
4. Everhour (Web, Chrome extension)
Best for: teams who want visibility across workloads
As soon as you land on their homepage, Everhour positions itself as an in-house and remote employee time tracking software built for teams. And for good reasons. It connects with several task and project management tools, pulling all projects and tasks into the platform so you can forget about data migration altogether.
Where Everhour excels, though, is team availability. You can set a weekly capacity for each team member and compare their time logs against their schedules on a visual timeline. Available hours will show up in green, breaks/leave days in grey, and overtime in red.
The tool also comes with a native invoicing module, although a bit light if you ask me compared to other bespoke solutions. What I definitely liked were the project budgeting options. Each user has a unique rate/project, so senior and junior employees can be paid in direct proportion to their level of skills and contributions. At the same time, the project budget can be reset on a daily/weekly/monthly basis – a great addition for those who run retainer projects as part of their business.
- Lite – $5/user/month (minimum 2 users)
- Team – $8.5
Free plan: Yes, up to 5 users.
5. My Hours
Best for: time tracking reports
My Hours is a pretty old product—dating back to 2002—from a Slovenian company called Spica. It offers basic task management, an advanced time tracking module, invoicing, and cool-looking reports.
Profitability is another neat feature, and it’s a core part of their unique selling proposition: to run profitable projects from start to finish. To be honest, the interface looks a bit outdated compared to the competition. Not necessarily the most intuitive either, but it does its job. One feature that some would find useful is the import data, which allows you to easily import clients, projects, tasks, and time entries from Excel.
If you want to track time on the go, My Hours offers an app for both Android and iOS smartphones. There are only two integrations available (Quickbooks and Zapier), but those who have coding skills can take advantage of their public API to create their own integrations.
- Pro – $7/user/month
Free plan: Yes. Unlimited team members
The time tracking myth
The general premise is that employee time tracking is tied to productivity and project time tracking, which measures how efficient someone is at doing their job. Based on this input, managers save time, cut costs, and improve operations with a clear business objective: increasing profits. Time is money, after all. As Harvard Business Review points out, the US economy is losing $7.4 billion a day, the result of 50 million untracked work hours.
Nothing wrong with this finding, but let’s be honest: it’s easy to clock in 8 hours and get little to nothing done. In fact, new research from the UK found that we’re productive at work for only 2 hours and 53 minutes. The rest of the time is filled with distracting activities like browsing social media, reading news and articles, and talking about non-work activities with colleagues, to name the top three. This is a direct result of focusing on quantity instead of quality. It tricks us into thinking we can stay on top of our work by just showing up and filling in timesheets. Plus, one common reason might be instant gratification turning us into procrastinators.
Notice something? Yes, time tracking is, in fact, psychologically linked to productivity. It abides by Parkinson’s law, which states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Or, to put it simply, if you give someone a week to complete a 4-hour task, it will take them a week.
That’s because, in general, people estimate they need more time to prepare for a task. Even if they finish it faster, perfection sets in, and they’ll continue to fine-tune their work until the last moment—I’m guilty here too.
Sadly, some managers still use the 40-hour week as a benchmark for quality work. This doesn’t mean that time tracking can’t be useful. Through it, managers can accurately estimate task budgets and deadlines by monitoring how long they take on average. They can also become more transparent towards their customers and inform them in real-time about the project’s progress.
This is all great, but what about you – the employee? Let’s see what makes it so hard to do real-time tracking when you work, and perhaps we can eventually agree that employee time tracking has nothing to do with employee monitoring but efficiency.
Why is it so hard to track time when working
There are numerous reasons for this.
You might fear being supervised to the minute—either by your boss or software that takes random screenshots of your desktop—and regard it as a useless, administrative task. The problem is somewhere at the management level, you say to yourself, who wants to quantify everything to cut costs. To them, these are only numbers, just like stationery and office furniture. But down there, on the first line, you’re supposed to meet deadline after deadline to add these numbers up.
Or, you find time tracking draining if you multitask daily. This means you need to remember what you’ve worked on, when, and for how long. It isn’t natural and requires tremendous cognitive power, an effort you can’t easily muster at the end of a full day.
Some of you have your work visible to the whole team and feel under pressure. I mean, who wouldn’t?
If things don’t go out as planned, everyone —not just the manager—can keep you accountable for it. You feel like you’re in a constant rush, which will soon reflect in the quality of your work.
Few of you will get why time tracking is important. From an economic standpoint, more billable hours can increase profits and create new opportunities for yourself and the company. Still, the same reasoning can make you fall for Parkinson’s law and focus on spending too many hours on a project (quantity) instead of making an impact (quality).
The purpose of tracking time at work
At first glance, simple time tracking seems faulty because it doesn’t reflect what we do. In part, it’s true but take a step back to see the big picture.
Say you’ve spent more time on a task than expected. Does it mean that you’re a slowpoke?
Not at all. Perhaps this happened because the task wasn’t planned thoroughly from the beginning. Or there weren’t enough resources to complete it. Or you were waiting for someone’s else approval, and that person wasn’t available at that moment.
The point is that the best time tracking software are now web-based, on the cloud, and have become more of a simple discovery tool to zoom in on the broad picture and less of a control measure for the upper management. A time tracking tool is the norm in most companies and agencies.
“If you’re in the mindset of logging… every activity you’re doing, you’re actually going to be really hurting your productivity. That touch-in, touch-out mentality is very different from the mentality you need to do creative work, or research, or make an effective phone call.”
That’s because highly efficient people focus only on one thing at a time, leaving all the distractions aside. When a deadline is approaching, they use the time-tracking induced rush as a catalyst to bring out the best version of themselves, “not as a crutch, excuse or a bane”, to paraphrase Seth Godin.
So how do you convince your employees to track time without interrupting their schedules and flows? Consider the following six tips for a smooth transition to time tracking:
1. Explain what’s in it for them
When implementing an online time tracking system for the first time, the reasons behind it are not so clear for everyone, irrespective of whether you are running a small business. Enforcing it with no justification will only breed resistance and make things worse.
To avoid this, be honest and up-front. Explain why everyone needs to track their time and how it benefits them, not just the company. Be careful, though; motivation differs from person to person. That’s why it’s best to emphasize what’s in it for them, the advantages, depending on their roles.
For example, as a business owner, you could tell sales reps that accurate timesheets eliminate the chances of under-billing your services, leading to bigger profits and individual bonuses. In project management, as an office worker, you could argue that the same electronic timesheets can help managers see who’s over- or under-booked and better schedule their team’s tasks and workload in advance. Explore these top-rated timesheet software.
2. Make time tracking easy and flexible
Time tracking is a hard enough task in itself. You might as well ease out the process for your employees. Choose an intuitive project management software like Paymo that allows them to fill in timesheets in a breeze and create customizable time reports with just a few clicks.
Think about their mobility as well. The software should include a mobile app that is cloud-based, too, so that your employees can register time wherever they are, regardless of their Internet connection – in a cafe, at a client’s site, or on a business trip.
Imagine how convenient it is to open up your phone once the task is over and log the worked hours instead of waiting to get back to the office. It feels natural and empowers employees to focus on the task at hand without having to add items to their mental to-do list.
3. Automate the entire time tracking process
What if your employees work in short intervals (10-15 minutes) on several parallel projects, and clocking in and out would only put them behind with work? In this case, you could automate the process altogether; this applies to small businesses too.
Choose an automatic time tracking tool, ideally cloud-based, that records how much time an employee spends browsing the Internet, editing a document, or using certain desktop apps. This eliminates the need to remember what and for how long they’ve worked on in the first place. And in part, your role as well. You won’t have to constantly remind them to log in their hours anymore.
PaymoPlus does the same thing. It runs in the background and records all the activities on the employee’s behalf, leaving no room for misinterpretation. At the end of the day, the employee can then match the activities with their corresponding projects and tasks or set up rules to automate this step.
4. Have clear guidelines in place
As Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert comics put it: forget about goals and focus on building a system instead. It doesn’t matter if your employees track time if they don’t do it properly. These are clear guidelines and procedures that everyone needs to follow to reap the full benefits of time tracking. But how do you set them?
Suppose you’re managing a PR team and working on launching an event. Your team arrives at the event venue and starts their day by having a small chat with the contractors and sponsors. When exactly should they start tracking time at work – at their arrival or when the guests show up? Does time spent during event breaks count too? Should the time entries under 15 minutes be rounded or not?
These are all questions that will pop up throughout the conversation.
The key is to ask as many as possible and weigh in everyone’s opinion before mapping out the process. In the end, you’ll both benefit from it. Your employees will know how to track time accurately, while you’ll have access to an organized pool of data to dig in.
5. Lead by example – track your own time
Don’t force change from the sidelines, especially if you’re part of a large company where things take time to roll out and implement. Be part of it and act as its main driving force.
You will send strong signals to your employees if you track your own time. They will perceive the act as a valuable practice and something non-intrusive if even their manager is not afraid to have their timesheets public.
As a general rule of thumb, train your managers who have a direct influence on teams first. Then, let them act as success champions and get the rest of the people on board. Employees will trust their colleagues much more than external contacts like the software’s support staff.
6. Ask for feedback
Waiting until something breaks to improve spells disaster. Be proactive in your approach and ask your employees for feedback. After all, they’re the ones who “fight” in the first lines and, because of this, know the ins and outs of your business.
Make it easy for them to voice their concerns and suggestions for improvement. Create a poll or survey to gather all the results. Then include them in the discussion meeting to scope out all potential problems and develop a better system.
Being part of the solution will make it much easier for them to adopt the time tracking software. What’s more, they’ll feel valued by the upper management and be encouraged to contribute in a meaningful way.
Don’t incentivize time tracking
If you wonder why we didn’t mention this as a tip, we did it on purpose. That’s because we’re against it. Some companies go to great lengths to gamify the entire time tracking process. They offer bonuses, Amazon gift cards, free lunches, or days off to those who accurately fill in their timesheets. Although effective in the short term, these “carrot” like approaches only go so far.
At some point, employees get used to them and demand more money, days off, and freebies. When this happens, they’ll soon think of ways to cheat the system and log as many hours as possible. In return, the quality of their work will suffer as they’ll be focusing on the wrong metric – hours logged in instead of results delivered. Recognize what they fell for? Yes, Parkinson’s law.
Now that we’ve debunked the time tracking myth, we can focus more on making an impact at our workplace instead of logging hours mechanically and cursing our managers for it. Remember this as you go through your day, and see the time-induced rush as a way to bring the best out of yourself.
Here’s a word of advice for all the managers out there reading this. As with any software, don’t dive in headfirst. Test a couple of tools first and see which one fits your current and future business needs. Luckily, Paymo offers a free trial for two weeks, so you can experience the full-featured app with no strings attached.
Start tracking your employee work time right away.
Regardless of what solution you’ll choose, you’ll get something much more valuable in return than just metrics: a stress-relieved environment where everyone is free to manage their time and express their genuine self—a true hallmark of a happy culture.
First published on October 24, 2020.