When you’re running a small business, you need to keep track of employee time—when your team members are working, how long they’re working, and when they start and stop working.
And in order to successfully do that, you need an employee time clock.
Back in the day, employee time clocks were physical machines where employees would clock in and clock out every day. But thanks to technology, there are now digital options that eliminate the need for physical time cards or paper timesheets, which can make a business owner’s job a whole lot easier.
But why, exactly, is employee time clock software so essential for your business? What should you consider when choosing a time clock app? And what are some of the best options on the market that will make it simple to keep track of employee time—without breaking the bank?
What Is A Time Clock App—And Why Do You Need One For Your Team?
First things first—before we jump into some of the best free time clock apps available for businesses (and how to choose the right one for you and your team), let’s quickly cover what time clock apps actually do—and why they’re an absolute must for effective team management.
A time clock app is a digital application or software that keeps track of your employee hours. Your employees can clock in or clock out directly through the app, which keeps a digital record of those time entries. There are time clock apps that offer business owners additional features to better manage their team (like computer time tracking or GPS monitoring), but the digital clock in/clock out functionality is a universal function of these types of apps.
There are a few reasons why you should definitely consider a time clock app for your business, including:
- It protects your business from time theft. Time theft is a huge problem. According to research from the American Payroll Association, 75 percent of companies experience some kind of time fraud, costing businesses up to 7 percent of their total payroll each year. When you rely on paper timesheets or traditional time cards, it makes it easier for employee hours to be misrepresented and time theft to happen—and for your business to lose money. For example, “buddy punching,” is a process where one employee takes the lead in clocking in for another employee when they’re late or absent—which can throw off your employee time and attendance data and make attendance tracking harder.
- It’s more convenient. Paper timesheets are a hassle. Filling them out wastes your employees’ time—and processing them and entering them into your payroll system wastes your time. Time clock software simplifies the process; your employees can easily clock in through a desktop or mobile app—and instead of processing their timesheets manually, you’ll have real-time access to their time entries. Essentially, time clock apps make better time management possible for you and your employees.
- They offer additional features. In addition to tracking your employee clock in and clock outs, many time clock apps offer a host of other features (like attendance software, which makes it easier to stay on top of attendance tracking and deal with any employee attendance issues; or GPS tracking, which can help ensure that your employees are at the right job sites and at the right time) that allow you to more efficiently manage your business.
What To Look For When Choosing A Time Clock App
Clearly, time clock apps offer a ton of benefits to business owners. But with so many options to choose from, how do you make sure you choose the app that’s going to be the best fit for your business?
There are a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself when evaluating employee time clock software, including:
- What do I need my time clock app to do? The first question to ask yourself is what you actually need from your time clock app. For example, do you just need a simple time clock app that enables your employees to clock in and out? Do you need an app that allows for shift scheduling and changes? Do you need a time clock software that integrates with your project management platform? Whatever it is you need your time clock app to do, you’ll want to define it before you choose an app.
- Do I need to clock time or track time? Time clocking and time tracking are two different things. Time clocking will let you know your employees’ work hours and when they arrive and leave each day—but time tracking will let you know how they spent that work time in between. There are apps that clock time, time tracking software that tracks time, and digital solutions that both clock and track time—so when you’re deciding on an app, it’s important to know which you need to manage your team in the most efficient way.
- What kind of on-the-go functionality does my team need? If your team works off-site, you’ll probably want to get a mobile time clock app. Generally, these apps offer GPS location tracking so you can confirm your team is where they’re supposed to be—and allows your team members to clock in through their smartphones (like an Android or iPhone), mobile devices (like an iPad), or, if they work from home, from their web browser.
- How does this app integrate with my existing payroll process? You need your time data in order to process payroll. So, when choosing a time clock app, you want to make sure it either has a payroll integration that will work with your existing payroll system or the app has its own payroll capabilities that allow you to run payroll and manage any other payroll related issues (like sick leave management or overtime).
- What kind of reporting do I need? If your time clock app does have payroll functionality, reporting features—like payroll reports for each pay period or tracking systems that produce reports on data like year-to-date paid time off (PTO) for each employee—can help you get a better picture of your overall labor costs and make better decisions on employee scheduling.
- What kind of customization options does the app offer? If your teams are working on different job sites or for different clients, being able to customize your time clock app with job codes can make for easier invoicing and budgeting.
- What’s my budget? Some time clock apps cost more than others. But, as you’ll see in a moment, many apps offer a free plan option—so even if you don’t have the budget, you can still reap the benefits of implementing a time clock app within your organization.
The Best Free Time Clock Apps For Small Businesses
You know why time clock software is a must for your company. You know the questions to ask when choosing an employee time clock app. So the last question is—what are the best free options to choose from?
Here are some of the best free time clock apps you’ll want to explore for your small business:
Hourly is an all-in-one solution that offers time clock and time tracking, payroll, and workers’ comp management—all from a simple, easy-to-use mobile app.
Hourly comes equipped with a host of time tracking features meant to make things easier for employees and employers, including automatic signed timesheets, productivity and team management features, overtime and break monitoring, and robust reporting capabilities.
Powered by real-time data, Hourly’s platform simplifies the highly complex workers’ comp process as well. It syncs your payroll data directly to your workers’ comp policy so you only pay exactly what you owe on your premiums, not an estimate. Hourly's goal is lower audit risk, faster payroll runs, and better claims and safety services for small businesses everywhere. Hourly is a licensed insurance agent with products underwritten by various insurance companies.
If you’re looking for simplicity, Clockify could be a good option to explore. This basic, simple time tracker and time clock app offers time clock and employee time tracking features. It also allows users to categorize their time by task and project, making it easier for business owners to truly understand how their employees are spending their work day and how they can increase productivity.
Clockify extends their free plan to an unlimited number of users—so even as your team grows, you won’t have to pay for the app.
In addition to basic time clock and time tracking features, the Homebase app also offers additional functionality that makes it easier to manage your team, including employee scheduling, hiring and onboarding tools, and a built-in messenger app to better communicate with your team throughout the day.
Like Clockify, Homebase also offers their free plan to an unlimited number of users. However, if you want to incorporate additional features into the app (like performance management, remote and field work, or HR capabilities), expect to pay between $14 and $70 per month for an upgraded plan.
4. Time Clock Wizard
Time Clock Wizard is another time clock app that offers a basic time tracking version—and has a host of more advanced features (including task management, employee scheduling, and payroll functionality) for an additional monthly fee.
While the basic version of Time Clock Wizard is free, if you want access to advanced features, plans range from $14.95 to $99.95 per month.
Get The Time Clock System You Need To Take Your Business to The Next Level
There’s no need to clock or track employee time manually. There’s an app for that—and now that you know some of the best options on the market, you have all the information you need to choose the best time clock app for your business.
And now, all that’s left to do? Get out there and get choosing!