A timesheet is a physical or virtual tool that allows you to record and keep track of your worked time.
That means that, as an employer, you’ll be able to see exactly how many hours each employee has worked for.
Timesheets were formerly known as time books. They were first used in the 19th century in the form of a paper sheet that included tasks, workdays, and work hours written on it. Employees would stamp them through time clock machines each time they arrived or left work. These were essential in determining a worker’s wage.
What a time book looked like. Metcalfe’s “Systems of cost accounting,” 1885.
But it’s 2022, so everyone uses timesheet software, whether it’s an agency or a solopreneur, to log working hours with a few clicks—unless you want to write by hand. Tedious tasks are a fine example of modern-day torture.
What is the purpose of a timesheet?
In a work environment, their main use is for payroll, human resource management, and accounting. Timesheets work like a database that contains all the needed time entries for employers to pay workers fairly. These also provide proof of your work if you don’t have another similar solution in place yet.
You can also use timesheets in project management. Knowing how much time your team spends on tasks can help you spot time management problems and improve your manner of working. Time tracking is one of the best methods for accurate time reporting, especially when working in a team.
Paired with other methods and tools, timesheets increase transparency. More people will see how long you’ve worked, how many breaks you took, and when you took a day off. It’s also a clear list in which your staff is tracking time for proof of work. In the case of virtual timesheets, like project management tools or time tracking software, project managers can see what the others have worked on and for how long.
By counting the exact hours spent on tasks, you’ll also calculate the cost of the project, your employees’ engagement rate, and how many resources you’ll need.
Online tools can allow you to add time according to a specific project or task:
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Employees can even use them to improve their productivity. They’ll be able to see exactly how many hours they’ve spent on a task and visualize how they spent time on a daily basis.
Increased transparency and objective data can help you gain the trust of your employees. They will no longer question whether the others are working as much as them or if managers pay them less than they deserve.
One of the most important advantages of timesheets and the reason for their widespread use is the fact that they allow all workers to work equal hours.
For typical 8-hour schedules, it’ll be mandatory for all employees to add daily hours that match that threshold. Ideally, everybody’s going to work for the exact same period of time as the other team members.
Companies can benefit because managers will get an overlook at where their money is going and how they divide spendings. As a result, they can lower costs or stop investing money in areas where it doesn’t make economic sense and redirect those funds for more profitable activities.
Moving on to the importance of time for payroll and accounting. If you get paid based on billable hours, a timesheet will be your first piece of proof that you can show to justify your earnings. Freelancers and hourly workers can use these timesheets to compare their previous time entries among each other or to make realistic estimates for future projects.
Digital versus paper timesheets
Compared to paper timesheets, you’re less likely to lose data with cloud-based online tools. Covering yourself with all the papers? Most of these store your data securely on servers or in the cloud for many years to come and can even make searching through all the clutter easier.
Believe it or not, some companies are still using paper-based timesheets. This is because physical timesheets have their advantages like saving costs and keeping the entire process simple.
However, the downsides are the employees are likely to lose these timesheets and thus end up with no evidence of their work to show to their supervisors. Also, it’s much harder to search through archived timesheets than through software. The latter sorts all documents according to your preferences so you’ll identify what you need faster.
Pairing electronic timesheets with advanced project management or invoicing tools can ease the managers’ work. To better understand when you should invoice and the benefits of invoicing, read our invoicing 101 guide.
These tools make archiving, reporting, and billing easier through automated tools and processes.
Online timesheets also let you see your worker’s hours in real-time without having to wait for the paper documents to go through the HR department until they’ll finally get to you. In this way, you’ll cut a lot of the useless time wasted as they move from one department to another.
The most important benefit of digital timesheets is that they usually come with a time tracking solution. This allows employees to monitor the exact hours they spend on specific tasks or projects, making the entire time tracking process easier.
Some tools automatically transform your worked hours into timesheets and reports. This will help you save time on organizational tasks and dedicate more attention to what is important for your project in the long run.
Similar to other tools, the best online employee time tracking software will immediately add the time logs tracked with their stopwatch into your timesheet. In case you’re afraid you’ll forget to start and stop the time watch, you can add time manually or in bulk. However, these two timekeeping solutions are not as accurate when it comes to estimating worked hours as tracking time in real-time using a stopwatch is.
Choosing one option depends on how willing you are to invest in a digital system or if you just want to stick with the classic paper-based process. Take into account the needs of your team and existing HR systems. For accurate results, test both options for a month to see which one will fit your organization.
Consider if you want a simple timesheet to help you calculate salaries or a complete solution to register and monitor your time. Before implementing any of these, think about whether you’ll be using it internally or sending timesheets to your clients.
Your team’s characteristics are also important. Some of your employees could be working remotely. Being outside of the office means they don’t get such easy access to your papers. If you’re not using virtual timesheets, you’ll have to send them via postal mail or come up with a separate solution for these workers.
On the other hand, if your team is small, you might not even need a solution with lots of features. A simple tool could do the job for you. However, as your company grows you’ll need to reconsider the use of timesheets and other tools. These will help you work more efficiently and cope with the increased workload.
How does a timesheet work?
Companies ask employees to use timesheets to monitor the time they spend on and off work. Employers can approve timesheets or ask for proof to see if a worker has spent the added time productively.
The entire procedure is very simple. Employees add their exact work time, breaks, or vacation days according to every day of the week. The data is then sent to the HR managers or registered into the system in the case of software tools. Lastly, it will be added to the archive or receive the approval of the employees’ managers before being stored.
Most companies will tell you exactly when and how you should complete your timesheet. For this purpose, they create timesheet policies. These documents contain the information you need including which tool you’re supposed to use, how your time is checked, and when you’re supposed to send the timesheets. For instance, your company might want you to complete your timesheet at the end of each day or at the end of a full workweek.
Having the duty of adding work time on a regular basis increases work accountability. Employees will be the ones responsible for adding and monitoring their own time. This prevents people from wasting time as you can ask them to validate the work they claim to have finished. In this way, they will be less likely to waste time on non-productive activities.
Here’s what a digital marketing team member’s weekly timesheet could look like:
In our example, the team member is working on both short and long-term tasks from three different projects. We took the classic case of a general 9-to-6 workday with a one-hour break. Notice how some days are dedicated to a single project while during the other days activities are divided according to priority or client requirements.
I now know what timesheets are and how I can benefit from them, but when should I use them?
If you’re not sure how often you should use a timesheet, think about your company’s needs. Usually, organizations use timesheets for payroll. This means that they actually only need the timesheet once a month. But, employees wouldn’t be able to remember what they’ve done each day after such a long time has passed. For this reason, there are roughly five types of timesheets you can choose from:
- Daily timesheets – employees log their time at the beginning and end of each workday
- Weekly timesheets – employees log their time for all five workdays at the end of every week
- Biweekly timesheets – workers send in their work hours every two weeks on a specific day
- Monthly timesheets – employees send their timesheets every month on a date you chose
- Semi-monthly timesheets – workers can send their timesheets twice a month
If you’re hesitant to bring timesheets into your organization, remember that using these doesn’t have to be complicated. Online apps make it even easier to add work time if their interface is simple and they come with instructional guides or videos. Shifting from paper-based timesheets to virtual ones shouldn’t be hard if you test all the tools that match your needs.
If you’re hesitant about bringing timesheets into your organization, remember that timesheets don’t have to be complicated. Most timesheet software comes with instructional guides or videos that make it even easier to add time entries and manage everything you need.
Shifting from paper-based timesheets to digital ones is crucial in the day and age of teleworking. You can read other timesheet software reviews online or refer to the top 5 timesheet software list provided in the first part of the article. Test them out and see which one works best for you.
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First published on April 14, 2021.