June 20, 2024

From punch cards to biometrics: Exploring different types of time clocks

Time clocks blog

In the realm of today’s modern workforce efficient time tracking is essential for maintaining smooth operations, confirming accurate payroll, and fostering a conducive work environment. Enter time clocks, the trusty companions of large and small organizations alike, offering various solutions to suit diverse needs. Consistent time tracking sets the foundation for accurate payroll, providing the data of when employees clock in and out. From the traditional punch cards to cutting-edge biometric systems, the landscape of time clocks has evolved significantly, with some featuring more robust functions than others to track time accurately. Let’s delve into the world of time clocks, exploring their types, why they are important, what to consider when choosing one, and discover how to reduce timekeeping friction.

What are time clocks?

At its core, a time clock is a device used to track employee work hours. These devices come in various forms, including physical hardware like terminals and kiosks, web-based applications, and mobile apps. The choice of time clock depends on factors such as organization size, employee work environments, and the preferred method of monitoring work hours.

What are the different types of time clocks?

1. Punch card

While its use has declined in the modern world, some businesses still use punch cards. A punch card time clock requires employees to physically insert a timecard into a machine to record their entry and exit times. Each employee has a unique card that they use to “punch in” and “punch out.” A manager then manually records the time stamps to a paper timesheet to process payroll. This type of time clock is straightforward to use and relatively affordable to implement. It requires minimal employee training and can be installed in various work environments. However, punch clocks aren’t typically the standard nowadays, with a cumbersome process of manually transitioning punch cards to payroll and risking human-error calculations. Most businesses prefer an automated clock that connects to a time and attendance solution. One of the main challenges with punch card systems is the potential for time theft or buddy punching, where employees clock in or out on behalf of their colleagues. Additionally, there’s a risk of lost or damaged cards, which can disrupt the time tracking process.

2. PIN or password time clock

PIN or password-based time clocks feature a number pad and require employees to input a personal identification number or password to clock in and out. Each employee has a unique identifier to access the system. These clocks offer enhanced security compared to punch card systems. Employees are required to verify their identity before recording their time, reducing the likelihood of fraudulent clock-ins, but employees may forget their PINs, leading to delays or errors in recording their work hours.

3. Magnetic swipe or proximity card time clock

A magnetic swipe or proximity card time clock is a stand-alone hardware terminal that utilizes cards embedded with magnetic strips or RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. Employers assign a unique magnetic card or fob to each employee, and employees swipe or tap their cards to register their time. These systems offer quick and convenient clock-in methods, reducing waiting times for employees. They also provide a level of security, as each card is assigned to a specific individual, with the ability to use existing employee badges. However, employees must always have their cards with them, and it can get costly to replace cards. The machines may also be susceptible to wear and tear, leading to malfunctions and expensive repairs.


4. Biometric time clock

Biometric time clocks use unique biological traits such as fingerprints, handprints, or facial recognition for identification. Employees are required to scan their biometric data to clock in and out. Biometric systems offer a high level of accuracy and security, as they rely on individual physiological characteristics. They virtually eliminate the possibility of buddy punching and ensure that only authorized personnel can access the system. Privacy concerns are a significant challenge with biometric time clocks, as employees may be wary of sharing their biometric data.

5. Mobile time clock

Mobile time clocks allow employees to clock in and out using their smartphones. They typically utilize GPS or internet connectivity to verify the employee’s location. Mobile time clocks offer unparalleled flexibility, allowing employees to record their time from anywhere. They are especially beneficial for remote workers or employees on the go and can include geofencing or GPS features to record an employee’s exact location, and the highest quality mobile time clocks include geolocation.

6. Web-based clock

Web-based time clocks operate through internet browsers, allowing employees to clock in from any device with internet access. They often double as a portal to access detailed, real-time tracking and employee self-service capabilities, and they are highly accessible and easy to use, requiring only an internet connection to record time. Web-based time clocks also allow employees to fill out time off requests, view accruals, and conduct communications with supervisors.

7. Thermal sensor

Thermal sensor time clocks detect the presence of an employee through heat signatures or body temperature. This detection can be triggered when an individual approaches the device or stands within a certain range. Once a person is detected, the time clock may use additional methods to identify the individual, such as facial recognition or employee ID entry. These types of clocks fully eliminate buddy punching and offer contactless operation, reducing employee health risks at the door.


Why are time clocks important?

Time clocks play a crucial role in guaranteeing the precise logging of employee hours and promoting fairness and transparency between employer and employee. They are pivotal for efficient and accurate payroll management. With consistent, accurate time tracking, it also makes it easier to stay in compliance with labor laws, as you have accurate hours information to inform payroll. The right type of time clock can simplify timekeeping procedures and contribute to a positive employee experience by reducing administrative burdens and providing dependable payroll payments.

What to consider when finding a time clock for your business

Your choice of time clock will depend largely on your business, employee work environments, and what you feel makes the most sense for monitoring your employees’ work hours. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Employee self-service capabilities: Look for systems that offer convenient and flexible clock-in methods and empower employees to manage their time effectively.
  • Part of a holistic time and attendance system: Consider time clocks that are part of a comprehensive time and attendance solution, offering additional features such as leave management, job costing, and reporting.
  • Payroll integration: Choose time clocks that seamlessly integrate with your payroll software to streamline the payroll process.
  • Compliance and cost controls: Make sure the chosen time clock meets regulatory requirements and connects with software designed to help you stay in compliance with labor laws, union rules, and internal policies—no matter how complex.

Boost hours accuracy and reduce timekeeping friction with TCP time clocks

Without the right time clock, organizations can face issues like buddy punching and other forms of time theft, missed clock-out punches, inaccurate payroll, and noncompliance. By understanding the different options available and considering factors such as convenience, speed, and integration capabilities, organizations can choose the right time clock to boost hours accuracy and reduce timekeeping friction.

TCP’s core time clock can be customized with badge readers, biometric scanning, and thermal sensing. If you don’t need a physical time clock, our browser-based option lets employees clock in and out from their computers. For employees on the go, our mobile time clock provides 24/7 remote access with the ability to set geofenced virtual boundaries for punching in and geolocation to pinpoint specific locations for each punch. Our variety of time clocks allows for individualized configuration, making the employee experience consistent company-wide or adjust settings per employee or location.

With TCP’s configurable, secure, and easy-to-use time clocks, you can protect time integrity by eliminating hidden costs and collection inaccuracies, pay your employees right, and stay compliant with labor laws and union rules. Learn more about how TCP can help your organization streamline time tracking or talk to an expert today to see how you can improve your time and attendance processes.