Benefits of digital over paper timesheets
Last updated on: December 23, 2021
With so many jobs going online globally, so does the practice of tracking time and work. We strive for practicality and efficiency, especially with processes that are brief but accumulate over time (like clearing out your email). Nowadays, most companies can’t imagine working with paper timesheets as digital ones provide so much comfort and ease of use.
If you’re among those who are still not convinced of their effectiveness, we’ve compiled a list of benefits digital timesheets bring, and how they can turn your work life upside down – for the better, of course.
The biggest issues with paper timesheets and punch cards
To highlight how paper timesheets can cost you money, time, and energy, we’ll use an example. Take a look at the timesheet below.
Example of a timesheet from amherst.edu
While we’re not trying to say that paper timesheets are bad (for some individuals and companies it works much better), we are very much pro-digitalization. And while the above timesheet is nicely filled out, there are several weak points for mistakes.
Of course, their digital equivalents present their own sets of challenges, but they’re much more easily caught in time and timesheet mistakes are more easily minimized.
They cover too broad of a period
While two-week timesheets aren’t uncommon, when they’re in a written form like this, you don’t get to see much detail about a person’s workday. What you get are numbers, and some bare-bones information.
This is fine if you’re at a job that puts more emphasis on your presence, or that others don’t rely on your work, or you simply provide timesheets to accounting to calculate your payroll.
There’s more room for human error and exploitation
When timesheets are filled out by hand and rely solely on noting down time, there are several openings for issues:
- A person’s handwriting is illegible;
- The way they round up time is wrong, compromising the time entries;
- They fill out the fields wrong;
- Calculating payroll requires more focus, since slip-ups are easier to make;
- A person can forget or purposefully omit writing down a task or a break.
With paper timesheets, there will always be a way to cheat the system. In one of my old workplaces, we didn’t fill out timesheets as such, but we did have company ID card readers at the main and back door (where we had our breaks). These card readers would unlock the door, so the system would know when you entered and left the building (started and ended your workday, and when you took breaks).
Needless to say that soon, you could see groups of five people going on a smoke break, with one saying: “This break is on me!” while unlocking the door, while the rest of them didn’t even scan their IDs (thus their breaks went unregistered). In many cases, employers are left struggling to find the best way to track their employees’ hours.
The moral of the story is: some people will find ways to skirt the rules, and outdated timekeeping systems make it that much easier for them, while you suffer the losses.
Additional work for other departments
For managers and team leads, paper timesheets can be a nightmarish archive to go through in times when they have to make project assessments or check how their teams are faring overall. And bare-bones information like the time they entered and exited the building won’t help much. For them, time entries with a little more detail and collective timesheets are much more useful.
For accountants, a timesheet like the one in our example seems to save a lot of time, as the person had already calculated their payroll. However, it’s safe to guess that the accountant will go through the math again, to make sure everything is by the book. Not to mention inputting the same data in their own software or books. This just doubles the work, and unnecessarily so.
For freelancers, a timesheet like this works to their detriment. Clients will often ask for some kind of breakdown of their processes and deadlines. While the freelancer has the right to give as little information as they want, a big part of trust relies on transparency. Being able to show your client how much time you spend per day on each part of their project is invaluable. It builds a better understanding and helps you justify your rates.
You spot issues too late
Imagine an employee approaches you and lays out an issue they’ve had with their teammate for weeks now. They were reluctant to say anything at first, wanting to solve the problem on their own, or not cause a ruckus. The teammate was consistently late with their part of the project, making up excuses and delivering subpar results. There are several big red flags here:
- The problem was there for weeks, and you were unaware of it;
- You need to go through tons of timesheets to collect evidence to confront the employee;
- You’ll have to make new project estimates manually while the deadline approaches fast.
For freelancers, the problem is similar: a client wishes to push back a deadline or accuses you of taking too long. So, to back yourself up, you’ll need to spend significant time going through all the papers (or books), manually searching up the information you need. All the while hoping you kept count of everything.
With all that being said, simply introducing a digital timesheet and time tracker, you can prevent all of these issues, and get your returns tenfold.
Reasons to use digital timesheets
In this section, we’ll focus on the multiple benefits of digital timesheets for you (or your business). And by the end of the list, you’ll see how indispensable a single piece of software can become.
They let you edit timesheets and time entries
WIth a digital timesheet, there is an option of editing the description of each time entry. This is perfect for adding details about the task related to that entry. Information like the tools used, or who assigned the task, etc.
While you can argue that the same is available on a paper timesheet, there are always issues of illegibility and people punching in or filling in for their coworkers (risk of time theft). But with a digital time tracker and timesheet, you get three solutions to these problems:
- It’s easier to delete and fix a time entry digitally than it is on paper;
- Each employee has their own login credentials, so they can’t write up time for each other, and
- Employers can lock the editing option in the software itself. This means the employees will require approval before editing a time entry, which is great for preventing time theft.
Time entry editing in Clockify
There are also numerous timesheet templates for those who don’t want to install a separate software but like the idea of having a clean-cut, digitized account of everyone’s times.
Better overview of everyone and everything
This is the age of transparency and accountability. And with paper timesheets, you don’t have that luxury.
Digital timesheets let you see what everyone is doing in real time. It’s much easier to look up a specific employee to see their availability, track project progress and how well the work time lines up with your estimates.
In the above example, you can see which employee works on what project, and you can even search through the timesheets for a specific employee.
You will easily stay on top of project estimates
Every project will require you to make time estimates which affect every aspect of it: how you allocate budget as the project moves along, which teammates are available for what, which tasks are affecting the deadlines, how priorities shift, and more.
With paper timesheets, following how well the project is following your estimates can be tricky. There is a delay in information processing, and it’s simply longer and more taxing to go through everything.
Digital timekeeping, on the other hand, makes everything instantaneous. The software is designed to deliver to you any information you need as fast as possible. After you input the information needed – like time and budget estimates in this case, the software can track all the time entries employees make and compare them to your estimates.
Tracking project estimates in Clockify.
You get the option of following the project’s progression as it moves along, and see if you’re ahead, or delayed. And it delivers that information whenever you want, within minutes. It’s all a matter of letting the software do all the heavy lifting.
Problems are easier to spot
After mentioning estimates, it’s only logical we beeline to the subject of project delays, and how digital timesheets can help you prevent them.
Some of the biggest reasons for late deadlines include:
- Lack of motivation or productivity;
- Task assignment problems;
- Overwhelmed employees;
- Unreasonable client requests, etc.
Would you believe that nearly all of those issues can be averted with the help of timesheets?
Instead of only using a timesheet showing when someone entered and exited the office at the end of the day, real-time tracking helps you spot a rising problem days or even weeks ahead. The moment someone’s task is taking longer, or stays on hold more than needed, you can act on the spot and get to the root cause.
Not to mention that having a project estimate report just a click away can help you see if a particular deadline will be difficult to meet even weeks ahead. So you can contact your clients and let them know accordingly, instead of facing unpleasant belated emails and calls.
More accurate timekeeping
With a digital time tracker, your timesheets will become as detailed as you want them to be.
Modern time trackers give you the option of
- Labeling your time entries, so you know what type of work you did
(accounting, meetings, development, testing, project brainstorming, etc.)
- Integrating with other apps you use
(Web browser, accounting software, project management tool, etc.)
On both accounts, each entry you make has the option to specify the kind of work you did. And normally, all you have to do is input the information once, and it will transfer to all your future entries.
One amazing benefit when it comes to accuracy is in the option to directly create a time entry from your online calendar. Like so:
As you can see above, a digital time tracker can work hand-in-hand with your calendar. When you connect the two, there’s no need to manually enter data in your time entry for that specific task on your list. The “Meeting with Client X” in the above picture shows that, with one click on the ‘play’ button, you start the timer for that task. And when you’re done, the time entry goes right to the timesheet.
As simple as that!
Less room for human error and less hassle for everyone involved
Let’s take a look at another example of a paper timesheet:
Example of paper timesheet from Psychology.illinois.edu
We’ve mentioned that these serve a specific purpose: simply noting down hours worked for easier payroll calculation.
And at the same time, this means some (if not most) people will skim through the fields asking what type of task was being done in that time slot. Additionally, the supervisors could just quickly sign these timesheets to go through the lot, and leave them aside for later. It also requires legible handwriting, and avoiding any damage (like stains and rips in the paper).
With a digital timesheet, very little of its completion depends on the employees and supervisors. While the time entries still need to be filled in, the software does the rest: calculating payroll, extracting information, formulating reports, searching specific entries, and even presenting an overview of everyone’s tasks and times spent at work.
Reports are one click away
Last, but not least – reporting on project progress. With everything mentioned before, the software is being fed enough information to generate a complex, data-rich view of everything you could want:
- Who worked on what task and overall task delegation;
- Hours worked in general;
- Project progress, time remaining, budget and expenses;
- Time saved and time wasted;
- Billable vs non-billable hours, and more.
And for client rapport, documents like these are vital. Timekeeping software allows you to get all this information from your digital timesheets with a blink of an eye. Which comes in handy when a client calls you wanting a meeting about the project first thing in the morning.
The upsides to having a digital timesheet are too many to count. We’ve covered just some that seem to persist with paper timesheets, in hopes of illustrating how they can make your work life easier. There’s less room for human error, they speed up every process, make payroll calculation and project tracking easier… And digital trackers only seem to get better and better with time. So why not modernize and save yourself a lot of money, time, and resources?
✉️ Have any timesheets experiences or cautionary tales you’d like to share with us? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we might just feature your story in one of our next articles!