OOLYO on the Evolution of TimeTracking

Evolution of Timetracking

Benjamin Franklin, one of the most infamous founding fathers of the United States, gave us this quote: “Time is money. and timetracking your employees makes you money!” This statement couldn’t be more true than in the relationship between workers and employers. In order for our free-market system to function, employees must exchange their time with employers for an agreed upon wage that those employers must then pay. This is why using a time tracker for tracking work is so important – unless employers ensure that they are doing effective time management, it is less likely that workers will be reimbursed correctly. Let’s take a look at a typical American worker (we’ll call him …. Julio) and observe his journey through the history of time tracking.

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that tracking work became a necessity. Prior to this time, most work performed was farming labor. In the old days, time management meant working when the sun was up and stopping when the sun went down – tracking hours did nothing to improve your productivity as long as necessary work was getting done. But when the Industrial Revolution came roaring through the 1800’s, the environment of work delivery shifted. Instead of Julio running a plow on his farm all day, he’s now working in a lumber factory. It’s likely that no one, including Julio, is tracking hours that Julio works. The factory owners love this because Julio’s labor is cheap, making the process of turning lumber into… smaller pieces of lumber really inexpensive.

After a few decades of unbridled factory work expansion, the governments benefiting from the Industrial Revolution decided that maybe it wasn’t so great for people to be working as much as they physically could. Laws were passed placing restrictions on the number of hours employees could work, and companies were required to start tracking employee hours to ensure compliance with the requirements. Employees and employers both benefited from this change – employees like Julio would have a record of the number of hours they worked to ensure they received correct wages, and companies were able to verify that their employees were working the hours they claimed. In order for this to work, employers needed an effective time management system in place.

Soon after these requirements were in effect, the first time clocks were made available. Like most things, they weren’t a great first attempt. The time clocks were bulky, expensive, and extremely hard to use for both employee and employer. Employees were required to place a thick time-card in exactly the right spot and pull a lever to correctly stamp their time card when they arrived for work and when they left. The employer would then need to collect, review, and manually enter the data from those time cards into a payment ledger. Imagine the most mundane data entry task you’ve ever completed – still way better than this. Although time clocks became smaller and easier to use throughout the century, software programs for managing time card data, including simple spreadsheets, weren’t available until the 1990’s.

So what can we expect to see in the modern workplace? Although some businesses still use an electrical time clock system in which an employee must have their physical time card stamped, many businesses are choosing to use integrated software to track employee time. When our friend Julio clocks into work, he is probably doing it on a computer screen, or on a mobile time tracking app. New software manages employee time electronically and can link with payroll and benefit software. This gives Julio and his employer a lot of new planning tools, such as tracking employee hours worked, planning upcoming pay, and reviewing accrued time off to visit the old farm.

Although time clocks have changed significantly in the last century, their purpose – to provide an accurate record of employee hours – remains an important part of the modern workplace. In the future, Julio and the rest of us will have access to good time tracking software, including more fluid system interfacing and improved mobile applications, making the process of employee time tracking easier for everyone.