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How to Manage Time Reporting With a Remote Workforce

BY: Simon Worsfold | 09/29/20

Since the coronavirus hit the United States, many companies have turned to remote work as a strategy for keeping employees safe. Those who already had remote teams or some remote work protocols were at an advantage, both in tools and processes. Those who’d never imagined an at-home workforce, however, faced a much steeper learning curve.

Now, it’s been months since those initial days of shelter-in-place orders and scrambling to set up home offices. In many ways, even businesses that never anticipated such a reality have become pros at virtual meetings and leading from afar. Yet, there may still be lingering questions around productivity or how workers should track, and managers should report, time in the home office. Maybe you’ve wondered, “How do I know if my remote team is actually working?” or “How do I know these timecards are accurate?”

Does Remote Work Boost Productivity?

In January 2019, well before COVID-19, my team surveyed 1,264 American employees, business owners, and hiring managers about the perceptions and realities of working at home. We found that almost two-thirds of employees (64%) said they sometimes take care of personal tasks during the workday. For around a third of them, this amounted to 30 minutes a day. Another 39% said they spend an hour or more on personal errands.

I’m sure many of us can relate to this, especially if you have been homeschooling or caring for loved ones recently. But in my experience, and according to many of the employees and managers who responded to our survey, this doesn’t necessarily affect productivity. Just 5% of managers we surveyed said remote workers’ performance was below average, and 59% of them described it as above average.

But what does this mean for time reporting?

Accurate Time Records Are More Important Than Ever

As our work lives become more flexible, time reporting gets more complicated. One of the major dangers here is the accuracy of timesheets. When life and work collide, it can be easier than ever for employees to miss punches. Employees don’t get paid for the time they work if they forget to clock in. Forget to clock out, and payroll costs rise. Both can have major consequences for employers, but this is where digital systems can help. However, this might feel like the worst time to make a change if you or one of your clients are like 25% of U.S. businesses and still using paper timecards or spreadsheets.

How to Report Time Manually

Manual time reporting typically involves one of those methods listed previously—paper timecards, spreadsheets, or a physical punch clock. Employees record their time in, time out, and breaks. They submit their time at the end of the week or pay period for approval. Then, whoever handles payroll either enters that time into payroll software or does the math by hand to complete payroll.

Pros of Manual Time Reporting

Typically, the tools are inexpensive and easy to learn and use. Unless there’s a physical punch clock, employees can track time when working remotely. There are fewer opportunities for system processing or software errors.

Cons of Manual Time Reporting

Manual processes often take longer, and the cost of spending so much time checking timecards and managing payroll may negate any material savings. There’s a greater risk of inaccuracies. Workers can easily forget to write down their hours each day, so you must rely on their memory. There are no timesheet backups, which may be a problem if timesheets are lost or destroyed and the business is audited.

How to Report Time Digitally

There are many options for managing time reports digitally. Typically, the process starts with employees clocking in and out through a digital tool—often from a mobile device using an app. Similar to the process with manual reporting, their manager then reviews those timecards at the end of the pay period and approves them. If the company uses a time-tracking tool that integrates with its payroll software, it can move the hours over for payroll processing.

Depending on the time-tracking software, time reports may come furnished with more than just the worker’s standard hours. Some tools offer features like customizable overtime settings, geofences, and geolocation tracking. If your remote team members operate on the go, you can check their timecards to see where they are while they’re on the clock. This data may help some managers feel more confident in the accuracy of their employees’ reported time.

Pros of Digital Time Reporting

Managers report fewer instances of time theft when using a digital time-tracking system. Employees are more in control of their time when using a digital system. It’s easy to clock in and out—reducing off-the-clock work—and to record hours against different clients or projects. Digital time trackers usually come with automatic backups so that records don’t get lost. The data should be easy to import into your payroll system to save time and improve accuracy.

Cons of Digital Time Reporting

Digital time trackers come at a price, and to maximize your investment, it’s important to provide training when you implement the technology. Training everyone may be more difficult now than it was before the pandemic. Some employees report concerns about using a time-tracking app on personal devices, particularly if there is a heavy toll on data or battery life. Some online tools require an internet connection to track time, which may not be an option for every employee.

Remote-Friendly Features

Tracking and reporting employee time looks different in the office than it does when teams work remotely. In part, that’s because it’s sometimes easier to hold individuals accountable when you can see them in person. Managing remote teams means letting go of some of that control. But there are a couple of features of digital systems that may bring you some time-reporting peace of mind. They are the following:

  • Touch to record time—This makes it easy for workers to clock out if they need to take a break or run personal errands during the workday
  • Clock-in and clock-out reminders—You’ll likely have fewer timecard errors when employees are reminded to clock in and out each day
  • Ability to switch tasks during the day—Tracking time against specific projects doesn’t just help employees manage their time more effectively, it can also help with invoicing and job costing

Two Final Tips

Being a manager or business owner is tough right now. Thanks to the coronavirus, no one has ever been in your shoes. Managing time reporting with a remote team may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your daily challenges.

But before you succumb to time-reporting anxiety, consider these two final tips for moving ahead:

  1. Communicate With Your Team—Accurate time reporting is a financial and legal necessity. Business owners who fear their employees are overreporting their hours often have those fears because they don’t have money to spare. Similarly, employees working off the clock risk being underpaid. But a company’s well-being isn’t just a concern for its leaders. Employees who love their jobs want the business to succeed as well. Communicating the importance of accurate time reports may help get everyone on the same page and prevent future errors.
  2. Consider a Flexible Work Schedule—Remote teams, especially, thrive on somewhat flexible schedules. For them, the home may also be the workplace, where distractions such as kids and pets are tougher to ignore than chatty co-workers. For that reason, it may help to implement “core working hours” where employees must be on the clock for meetings and certain tasks.

Then, outside of those, build in windows of flexible work hours. Let employees schedule their time on the clock for when they know they’ll be most productive. Working with them, rather than against them, will earn you goodwill and respect, which may even result in more accurate timecards.

Simon Worsfold leads a marketing research team at TSheets by QuickBooks—the employee time tracking app acquired by Intuit in January 2018—and is based in Boise, Idaho. He is also a member of the Board of Contributing Writers for PAYTECH.