How to track employee hours accurately with minimal effort

Last updated on 
October 16, 2020

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There’s no getting around time tracking – without accurate employee time records, you can’t manage attendance and payroll, bill clients or even comply with EU regulations. But that shouldn’t mean you have to lose time and effort to it. Thousands of businesses lose up to two hours a week per employee and $50,000 a year per employee to cumbersome, inaccurate time tracking technology. But a modern, automated alternative that outsources the entire task is available. For those new to the concept, here’s how to track employee hours efficiently and accurately.

Track employee hours automatically

A new breed of automatic time tracking software can create an infallible digital record of all employee hours, without the involvement of start/stop timers, note taking and manual data entry. They capture the time employees spend on different tasks and draft accurate timesheets for them using AI. Employee effort is reduced from hours to minutes – they just have to review and approve their timesheets to make them public.

Automatic tracking apps like Timely track hours and draft timesheets for employees.


There are several powerful perks to automating your time tracking. Firstly, it completely removes the possibility of human error – instead of constructing timesheets from memory, or adjusting logs for an overrunning timer, employees can just refer to a machine-precise log of all their activity. Secondly, it removes the pain and inefficiency of time tracking admin, freeing up more time for the high-value productive work that actually has produces value.

But that’s not all. The data compiled by automatic tracker apps like Timely provides employees with rich behavioral insights into the ways they work. For example, once you’re aware of the average time you spend on tasks, you’re able to root out inefficiencies, create better schedules, cost and estimate more accurately, and understand your own productivity. Automatic trackers also capture commonly overlooked billable hours and tasks that fall outside of work hours – very important if you’re in the habit of working during your commute, in the evenings or on weekends. When you know that all project work is captured, no matter when or where you do it, you can be confident that all overtime is accounted for.

👉 How to start tracking employee hours automatically

How NOT to track employee hours

Time tracking technology first developed in the 19th century simply isn’t cut out for the digital work landscape of the 21st. Yet so many companies struggle on with outdated primitive methods to track employee hours. If you care at all about the accuracy of your time records, here’s how not to track employee hours.

⏱ Manual methods

The majority of companies the world over still use manual methods to track employee hours. These tend to be timer-based timesheet software, but some also use free online spreadsheets and hours calculators. While these approaches are a slight step up from using a pen and paper to track time, being digital is practically their only advantage. They don’t actually solve the problem of time tracking – they just make it slightly easier to manage.

Clockify - 100% Free Time Tracking Software
Trackers like Clockify and Toggl require you to manage timers and enter notes throughout the day.

Bright, well-designed interfaces are nice, but any app that requires ongoing manual management or input from you throughout the day will require a huge investment of your time and attention. Since it’s cognitively impossible to judiciously start and stop timers accurately – or remember every detail of your day – manual hours trackers produce bad data. In fact, research has shown that even when an employee manually logs their timesheet throughout the day, it’s only ever 67% accurate.

Source: Accelo study, “Time is Money”

Manual entry naturally involves a lot of faff too. When you have to constantly split your focus between your work and a timer, it’s hard to reach an uninterrupted flow state – the space where we produce our best work. You also have to accept that a large part of your day will be wasted on tracking your hours. On top of this, manual methods don’t provide any actual insights to help improve performance, processes or resource distribution – they are just a collection of half-remembered timestamps and subjective notes.

🧠 The human brain isn’t designed to track time

Employee surveillance software

Despite their inaccuracy and inefficiency, manual methods are by no means the worst way to track employee hours. That dubious honor goes to employee surveillance software. These tools consist of invasive surveillance systems, they’re built on a presumption of suspicion and distrust, and they perpetuate the (unfair and incorrect) idea that most employees are lazy and apathetic, and need to be watched over to do their work. Some are even specifically designed so that employees can’t detect them from the list of running programs on their computer.

Employee monitoring software uses underhand methods to effectively spy on employees’ private monitor activity – like candid screenshots, mouse and keystroke monitoring, and remote device access. All this, so employers can secretly see if their employees are “working hard, or hardly working”, as one software description reads. This is obviously a shocking breach of trust and completely undermines employee confidence in tracking. If you want to build a culture of transparency, honesty and psychological safety, tracking employee hours with a tool that supports surveillance tactics is one of the fastest ways to sabotage it.

How to Tell if Screenshots are Being Taken in Hubstaff
Time tracking apps like Hubstaff take candid screenshots of employee monitors.

Keep your team ticking

Timely automatically tracks team hours,
activity and capacity to keep remote work visible.
Lead happier, healthier teams.

Book a demo

Keep your team ticking

Timely automatically tracks team hours, activity
and capacity to keep everyone connected.
Lead happier, healthier teams.

Book a demo

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