Which clock in and out machine should employers use?

November 28, 2018

In November 1888, Willard Le Grand Bundy invented a device that changed the world: The mechanical clock in out machine for workers. The machine was big and heavy, and each worker had their own unique key to punch their time in and out.

Today, there are literally thousands of variations on the traditional clock in out machine. Most of them are completely unrecognisable when compared to Bundy’s original invention.

But which type of clock in out machine is the best for recording the hours your employees work?

The many ways to clock in and out

There are dozens of strong options for recording employee time at work. Here are a few examples:

  • Digital clock in out machines
  • Biometric clocking (fingerprints etc)
  • GPS-based geofencing
  • Proximity-based geofencing
  • QR code scanning

The list isn’t exhaustive. And each method has its strengths and weaknesses. But why would you want to move on from the antiquated clock in out machine?

If it isn’t broke, why fix it?

There are many reasons to seek a more modern alternative to the traditional clock in out machine. For example, automation. It’s far more efficient to send time clock data directly to your HR software, or to payroll, for example. And you can do this by simply getting a clock in out app, which lets employees punch in their codes on a touch screen. The app feeds the data to HR or payroll.

But according to Patrick Adcock, analyst at TSheets by QuickBooks, digital automation isn’t the only reason clock in out machines are changing.

Buddy punching, when employees clock in for one another, costs employers $373 million each year” he says. “16% of hourly employees admit to clocking a co-worker in.”

Luckily, the way clock in out machines have evolved goes beyond simply taking the punch in/out concept, and turning it digital. And it is through new developments like biometrics, which Patrick Adcock says will help prevent issues such as buddy punching.

Biometrics can accurately identify employees to prevent buddy punching

Sir Francis Galton famously suggested that the likelihood of two fingerprints ever being the same, was around 1 in 64 billion. Considering there are only 7.2 billion people on the whole planet, this makes fingerprints a pretty unique personal identifier!

And this is why companies are now using biometric clock in out machines, to record employee time using technology such as:

  • Facial recognition
  • Fingerprint scans
  • Iris or retina detection

It’s pretty easy to get set up with a biometric clock in out machine. Companies such as Anviz® manufacture clock in out machines which allow for fingerprint scanning, for example. But biometric technology doesn’t suit every type of workplace.

Clock in out machines for mobile workers

Not everybody has a single place of work. Take mobile workers, for example – such as nurses who conduct home visits for patients. It would quickly get very expensive to install fingerprint scanners at every single location.

Jonathan Marsh runs Home Helpers of Bradenton, and uses two different methods to let his employees clock in and out when making home visits:

  • On-location telephone
  • Mobile GPS geofencing

The phone at location method is the most common in our industry” says Marsh. “A member of field staff will clock in and out by using a phone at the client’s home, to call a toll free number, then enter their employee ID.

Setting up a GPS geofence for mobile

The other option favoured by Marsh, is setting up a smartphone app that uses GPS technology to let employees clock in with their mobile phones.

The field staff can clock in and out at the work location when within a certain proximity, such as 100 feet” explains Marsh. “This proximity of location is defined by an administrator. If the staff member is outside the defined proximity, they cannot clock in or out.

This is called geofencing, and is typically very fast. The staff member is also more likely to remember to clock in. This is because they can usually clock in from outside the building, before they enter, thus avoiding distractions.

GPS geofencing is not perfect

Marsh explains that there are still plenty of issues to iron out when it comes to setting up GPS-based geofences.

Staff may not have a smartphone” he says, “or the location might have bad signal. A staff member could also game the system, by getting technically close enough to the work location to clock in.

This is especially true if work locations are in high-rise buildings, such as blocks of flats, or multi-storey offices. GPS only registers your position on the map – it doesn’t say whether you are actually close to anything on the ground.

Proximity-based beacons could work where GPS fails

So how do you make sure employees are actually where they are supposed to be? Some employers use QR codes, which are printed out and stuck to the walls. Employees have to get close enough to scan them.

However, there’s a piece of technology that is starting to see wider adoption for its time tracking capabilities. Proximity-based ‘beacons’ can detect an employee’s mobile phone as long as it is within a particular range.

These are seeing more and more use in high-rise office blocks, where employees could be enjoying a coffee on the ground floor coffee, while their GPS is still happily letting them clock their hours as if they are on the 10th floor.

So what happened to the original clock in out machine?

You might still be wondering what happened to that big heavy clock from the beginning of the article. Well, currently, it lives in Birmingham, in a Victorian public park called Walsall Arboretum.

And Bundy? Well, his legacy lives on. You see, Bundy’s company was acquired by CTR, which soon became International Business Machines. And of course, today we know this company more readily as IBM.

Timesheets are not the only thing that’s changing for HR professionals. Don’t get left behind! Discover HR skills for now and the future.

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