Do I Need Time Tracking Software?

Time tracking softwareTime tracking software lets individuals and businesses measure and record the intervals at which their workers perform specific tasks. Primarily used by professional services companies, freelancers, and contractors, time tracking tools use digital clock-punching features to quantify (to the second) how long workers take to complete assignments. Within this category there are two specific types of time tracking software: tools that are tied into larger project management (PM) suites which help professional services companies prove billable hours and improve future task delegation, and tools designed solely for measuring time and monitoring employee effort. In the former category you'll find tools such as Mavenlink, Wrike, and Zoho Projects while in the latter category you'll find software such as Hubstaff and our Editors' Choice tool TSheets.

How Time Tracking Works

On most systems, users log into the software, select a project (for example, "Freelance Work for PCMag"), select a task (Article on Time Tracking), and press Start. A timer will begin recording how long the individual works on the task until the he manually stops the timer or switches to a new task (Article on Email Marketing). The time the individual spent on the original task will then be logged on his or her timesheet where it can be used to determine future payment. Some time tracking tools also let users log future hours, retroactively log hours, and make changes to previously logged hours.

In PM-focused time tracking software, hours are added to dashboards and graphs that are designed to give project managers better oversight into how time is being spent and where better to allocate resources. On pure play time tracking solutions, the data is primarily used to determine payment, but also to closely monitor how employees spent the time they logged (more on this later).

Although time tracking tools base their recordings almost entirely on time (24 hours in a day, multiplied by seven days, multiplied by approximately four weeks, multiplied by 12 months), there are time tracking tools that can factor in additional data sets for companies and individuals that might be more focused on production rather than duration. This is especially helpful for construction, transportation, and manufacturing services that are as inclined to measure by structures created, distances travelled, and items produced as they are hours worked. Unfortunately, not every time tracking tool in the field offers this level of tracking, so be sure to ask your prospective vendor if they offer this level of oversight.

Once all of this information is recorded and approved by system administrators and shift managers, data is pushed into invoices, reports, payments services, shift scheduling widgets—and other areas within the tools that will make human resources (HR) management, billing, shift scheduling, and production monitoring easier and more automated.

What You'll Pay

Pure play time tracking solutions are less expensive than time tracking solutions that are tied to PM suites. TSheets starts with a free plan geared toward one user. This plan is ideal for freelancers who need to track time while working on projects. TSheets also has a plan for up to 99 users that costs $4 per user per month, with a $16 base fee per month. Companies with more than 100 users will pay an $80 base fee as well as $4 per user per month.

In this roundup, Hubstaff is TSheets' closest comparison; it starts with a Basic $5-per-month plan that gives you access to simple time tracking tools, an employee payment schedule manager, 24/7 support, and user settings that can be managed on an employee-by-employee basis. Hubstaff's $9-per-month-per-user Premium plan includes everything you'll find in the basic plan, but you'll also get access to Hubstaff's application programming interface (API) and a basic scheduling tool.

Conversely, Mavenlink's cheapest plan that includes time tracking costs $39 per user per month. Zoho's cheapest time tracking plan costs $25 per month for an unlimited number of users. Wrike's cheapest time tracking plan costs $24.80 per user per month. However, it's important to identify how much more robust these tools are than your standard time tracking pure play solution. For example, Mavenlink's $39 plan comes with a collaboration dashboard, file sharing, task management delegation, project analysis, project templates, expense reporting, budget forecasting, invoicing, and payments. You'll find these features on Wrike and Zoho Projects, but you're not going to get that level of functionality with time tracking-specific tools such as Hubstaff and TSheets.

Time Tracking Software's Unique Features

Outside of the PM/pure play schism, there are a host of unique and differentiating features within each solution. Once you've narrowed your options down to a small field, these features will likely determine which time tracking tool you should buy. For example, Hubstaff lets you keep track of whether or not your employees are working by letting you record up to three screenshots per hour while they are on the clock. Screenshots can be partially blurred to not record sensitive information on every grab, but enough of the screen is left unsullied that you'll still get a sense of whether the screen is on work-related or play-related content. You can also record a log of keyboard and mouse activity volumes during shifts. Of the five time tracking tools we tested, Hubstaff is the only tool that offered this level of insight into how workers are progressing. Hubstaff also lets you monitor employee movements via GPS tracking when they're using the tool's mobile apps, and you can require users to snap a selfie when they arrive or leave locations (these features can also be found in TSheets).

TSheets features a wide variety of excellent pre-canned reporting based on employee hourly breakdown, pay, GPS location, and basically anything else for which the system gives you a data field. What's amazing about TSheets, and what I mentioned in an earlier section of this article, is the ability to track advanced data and then plug that information into reports. TSheets lets you build six fully customizable fields that can be added as a prompt for every clock-out. If you run a construction company, then you can have the prompt ask, "Was there an incident? Yes or No." If workers don't respond, then they won't be able to clock out. Or you can ask truckers how many miles they just drove. These fields will then be pulled into reports to provide you with a more dimensional view of how work is being done, how productive teams are, and any other relevant workplace data you might need to create a complete picture of a workday or shift. TSheets also lets users call a phone number to clock into work. So, workers who don't have a smartphone can use home phones or payphones to dial a number, respond to a few automated prompts, and sign in or out.

time card

Although Wrike doesn't give you the same advanced tracking as TSheets, you'll still be able to collect important data from employees at the start and end of shifts. Wrike lets you add custom fields to the task pane, so that when you go over your reports you'll be able to see things like mileage, were there incidents on the job, was the task billable, etc. Unfortunately, these elements will show up in your overarching task view from within the PM console, but the data won't appear within your time entry reports. So, if you want the additional information but you don't require it for reporting or for punch-out, then Wrike makes it easy to start collecting.

network product design

Mavenlink makes it easy for workers to collaborate with other employees to swap shifts, to make sure projects are fully-staffed, and anything else that requires communication and transparency. The tool's weekly schedule viewer lets you see the hours and tasks on which you're working. You can adjust and edit any shift from within your timesheet, which is a huge benefit for employees that like to switch around projects and tasks, or workers that don't work on a strict 9-5 schedule. You can also add shifts to your timesheet, view pending approvals, as well as rejected entries. Anyone with access to the tool can message users by using @ mentions to ask them why they haven't submitted or why they haven't clocked in and out. The mention will show up in the user's activity feed and they'll receive an email about the mention. Organic integrations with ConcurFree at Concur Technologies and ExpensifyFree at Expensify make this an excellent tool for companies that use software to automate time tracking, billing, and payments.

performance data

Zoho Projects makes it possible for users to clock in and work on multiple tasks at once, which is a nice feature you won't find on any of the other time tracking tools in this roundup. Although this is an extremely limited use case, there are certain scenarios in which multiple tasks are being conducted at once, at least tangentially, and with the other tools mentioned in the roundup there would be no way to keep track of and bill for both. Perhaps the biggest benefit of working with Zoho is easy access and integration with Zoho's entire software ecosystem, including email marketing, customer relationship management (CRM), and HR software and management tools.

How to Choose

Which of these solutions you choose should depend primarily on what, why, and when your company is looking to track time. Once you've determined those elements, you'll be able to zero in on tools that are built specifically for your needs. For example, do you need PM expertise or are you more concerned with monitoring your employees?

Next, you'll want to determine how much you're willing and able to pay for this kind of tool. The price range among the tools we tested isn't dramatic enough to box out even the smallest business or individual user, regardless of which tool you'd prefer. For small businesses and large enterprises, you'll want to examine your existing software suite to determine which tools integrate with your prospective time tracking solution. All of the tools we reviewed feature open APIs so, if you've got a development team on your staff, then you'll be able to build integrations internally. However, if you love a time tracking tool but your CRM and HR tools don't have open APIs and don't organically integrate with it, then you might be better served to pick another tool.

We've recently added five new competitors to the roundup, including standout tools such as BillQuick Online and VeriClock, both of which were just a notch below TSheets in the running for Editors' Choice. In the following months, we'll be updating our reviews as new features become available for each individual product. As a living and breathing document, some of the tools listed today may not be listed in a year, as scores may change and new products may be added to the roundup. As you try solutions, be sure to check in with us to see if any new software has been added to this roundup.

This content has been taken directly from this review by, The Best Time Tracking Software of 2017.