Professionals like lawyers and consultants bill by the hour, but they are not alone. The gig economy, as well as various service-focused businesses, have made billing per hour common practice. Smaller operation may be able to manage with a pencil and a notepad but any operator with multiple employees will require a more organized approach and a centralized tool. Being able to track time and also associate time with projects, contracts, and invoices ensures that companies can keep their billing accurate and up to date.
Most time tracking applications connect to assorted types of accounting software, but especially to billing and invoicing solutions. They are also sometimes paired with shift schedulers and other employee-tracking apps. Basically, using interoperable cloud services, most small to midsize businesses (SMBs) are able to build a highly customized and connected time tracking solution fairly easily.
What is Time Tracking?
At their core, however, time tracking software tools are designed to give individuals and businesses the ability to keep track of the hours (or even more generally, the intervals) at which their workers perform specific tasks. These services are primarily used by freelancers, professional services companies, and contractors. Time tracking tools use digital clock-punching features to quantify how long workers take to complete assignments. Some time tracking tools focus just on time; these include solutions such as Hubstaff and our Editors’ Choice tool TSheets. However, you can also choose tools that offer a more comprehensive project management (PM) suite. Leading PM apps include Mavenlink, Wrike, and Zoho Projects.
n most time tracking systems, users log in to the software, select a project (for example, “Freelance work for PCMag”), select a task (“Article on time tracking”), and click Start. A timer will begin recording how long individuals work on the task until they manually stop the timer or switch to a new task. The time spent on the original task will then be logged on the user’s time sheet, 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. You can adjust hours in the past to show that a project started earlier than anticipated and note this for billing purposes. In most apps, you click the Calendar view to edit time for a project worked on that day.
In PM-focused time tracking software, hours are added to dashboards and graphs designed to give project managers better oversight into how time is being spent and where to better 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 traveled, 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. These areas will make human resources (HR) management, billing, shift scheduling, and production monitoring easier and more automated.
Paying for a Time Tracking Solution
Pure play time tracking solutions are less expensive than time tracking solutions tied to PM suites. For instance, 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 $5 per user per month with a $20 base fee per month. Companies with more than 100 users will pay an $100 base fee as well as $5 per user per month.
In this review 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 $10-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 10 projects and 10 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.
As for storage costs, some products, such as TimeSolv Pro and TSheets, offer an unlimited amount of storage to keep images and documents, such as invoices or actual work, in your account. A company such as VeriClock charges $20 for a 10-gigabyte (GB) block of storage. Meanwhile, Zoho Projects comes with 10 MB of free storage, and you can get 5 GB in the standard package for $20 per month.
Important Time Tracking Features
There are various differentiating features within each time tracking solution that appeal to different types and sizes of businesses. Spending time to determine which features are essential to a SMB’s operation. A solution like Hubstaff lets users keep track of whether employees are working by letting managers record up to three screenshots per hour while they are on the clock. Screenshots can be partially blurred to hide sensitive infomation but there should be enough information to determine if a worker is engaging on work-related or personal content.
You can also record a log of keyboard and mouse activity volumes during shifts. Of the 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 app, and you can require users to snap a selfie when they arrive or leave locations (these features can also be found in TSheets).
Along with general GPS tracking, which tracks an employees’ individual location for the purposes of tracking their time, services such as Hubstaff, TSheets, and VeriClock offer geofencing in their mobile apps. This feature sends reminders when you enter or leave a specified job location radius. Also, if an employee forgets when they arrived at work, they can check the geofencing data to look up and confirm the time. Geofencing can also automatically clock in an employee when they enter the vicinity of the work location.
Most of the apps in our time tracking review roundup offer native mobile apps rather than having employees rely on a mobile web browser. An exception would be a service such as Mavenlink. The mobile tools make features such as geofencing possible on platforms like VeriClock.
Reporting is Important
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 we mentioned earlier, 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.
For example, 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.
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, incidents on the job, and whether the task was billable. 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.
Mavenlink makes it easy for workers to collaborate with other employees to swap shifts to make sure projects are fully staffed, or 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 time sheet, which is a huge benefit for employees who like to switch around projects and tasks, or for workers who don’t work on a strict 9 a.m.-5 p.m. schedule. You can also add shifts to your time sheet, and view pending approvals and 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 users’ activity feed and they’ll receive an email about the mention. Organic integrations with Concur Expense and Expensify make this an excellent tool for companies that use software to automate time tracking, billing, and payments.
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 review 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 this roundup. Without Zoho Projects, there would be no way to keep track of and bill for both tasks. Perhaps the biggest benefit of working with Zoho Projects is the easy access to and integration with Zoho’s entire software ecosystem, including email marketing, customer relationship management (CRM), and HR software and management tools.
How to Choose a Time Tracker
Which of these solutions you choose will 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 the 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 is preferred. For SMBs 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’d 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.
Standout tools such as BQE Core and VeriClock 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 review roundup. As you try solutions, be sure to check in with us to see if any new software has been added to this roundup.
Have any questions you need answered about time tracking strategies and services? Subscribe to the PCMag Small Business Newsletter and join the [email protected] discussion group on LinkedIn where you can ask vendors, other professionals like yourself, and PCMag’s editors.
Where To Buy
Pros: Feature-rich online project management platform.
Includes plenty of integrations with other services.
Easy to set up and use.
Cons: Bug-tracking costs extra, and a pretty penny.
Bottom Line: Online project management platform Zoho Projects has a clean and straightforward interface, an excellent array of features, and plenty of support for integrating other business tools, such as Google Apps.
Pros: Affordable, modular pricing for standalone time tracking.
Cons: Pricing can become expensive as modules are added.
No GPS or IP restrictions.
No dial-in clock-in.
Bottom Line: BQE Core is a dynamic tool that can be used as a standalone time tracking system or as a modular software suite.
Unfortunately, it’s missing a few key elements as a standalone time tracker.
As a larger project management (PM) tool, it’s rather expensive.
Pros: User-friendly pop-out window navigation.
Advanced tracking available via customizable fields.
Call to clock-in.
Cons: No screengrabbing or keystroke recording functionality.
Base fees bring the cost up.
Bottom Line: TSheets does everything you’ll need a time tracking solution to do and more.
It’s a robust platform with customization options, deep reporting, user-friendly navigation, and an open API for third-party integrations.
Pros: Affordably priced.
Easy to use for admins and end users alike.
Employee monitoring capabilities.
Nearly endless settings options for administrators.
Cons: Dreadful user interface.
Only 1 GB of storage capacity.
Can’t schedule time in the future.
Bottom Line: VeriClock does almost everything you’ll ever need a pure play time tracking solution to do.
It’s customizable, comprehensive, and affordable for businesses of all sizes.
Only a few minor issues stop it from leading its class.
Pros: In-depth employee monitoring.
Makes payments and creates invoices within the console.
Cons: Old, boring user interface (UI).
Requires desktop app or Chrome extension to use stopwatch feature.
Bottom Line: Time Doctor is a cross between project management, time tracking, and employee monitoring software.
It does everything well, but it excels when it comes to employee monitoring.
Pros: Quick setup.
Supports an unlimited number of projects.
Time-tracking tools included.
Customizable dashboards and reports.
Generous free account.
Works with Zapier.
Provides documentation for working with APIs.
Cons: Lacks some features.
Interface less intuitive than those of some competitors.
No built-in chat app.
Bottom Line: When you need a project management platform yesterday, turn to Wrike.
With plenty of ways to integrate with other apps and services and very quick setup, Wrike is a great choice for small businesses.
Pros: Offers screen-grab and keystroke monitoring.
Easy to add time to timesheets prior to shifts.
Easy to schedule shifts for employees
Cons: No advanced tracking.
Stopwatch requires a second app on the desktop.
No IP address restrictions.
Very basic reporting.
Bottom Line: Hubstaff can do most of what you need to oversee when and how employees are managing their time.
But if you need deep insights that aren’t standard for time-tracking services, Hubstaff won’t be able to help.
Pros: Full-featured project management platform.
Rich with features.
Good permissions levels.
Excellent Smart Snips markup feature.
Cons: Can get expensive for small businesses.
No mobile apps; mobile-optimized website only.
No chat app or other bonus communication tools.
Site could be easier to navigate.
Bottom Line: Online project management platform Mavenlink could be a good fit for mid- to large-size organizations, but it can get expensive for small businesses.
Pros: Well-organized user interface.
Ability to clock in on multiple tasks at the same time.
Solid selection of reports.
Cons: No view of elapsed time.
Lacks reports for exact hours worked by employees.
Lacks project management in mobile app.
No GPS monitoring or geofencing.
Bottom Line: FunctionFox is a well-organized tool that is pricey and light on some time tracking features, but strong in project management.
Pros: Excellent combination of project management (PM), invoicing, and time tracking elements.
Affordable for companies that need basic PM functionality.
Easy coding allows for simple invoice creation and distribution.
Cons: One of the worst UIs in the category.
Closed API means you can’t connect to legacy tools.
The stopwatch element is only available via a desktop widget.
Bottom Line: TimeSolv Pro does a great job straddling the line between time tracking and PM.
However, it excels at neither, and its user interface (UI) leaves much to be desired.
The tool is best suited only for those users who need basic time tracking and PM.
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