Do You Need a Time Tracking Spreadsheet? Learn the Pros, Cons, and Best Alternatives
As hybrid work becomes more common, the need to effectively manage employees with a smart time tracking log has never been more apparent.
It doesn’t matter if your organization is big or small, time management sheets are a vital cog within the HR framework. With a variety of affordable options to track your employees’ hours, you can gain a better understanding of how much time is spent on specific tasks.
Until you are ready for an automated method, your best bet is to use time tracking spreadsheets.
When to Use a Time Tracking Spreadsheet
In an ideal world, all your employees would arrive at and leave work at a set time. However, working life took a major paradigm shift after Covid-19, and people now approach their professional lives through a variety of different and flexible methods.
All sorts of miscellaneous factors can affect an employee’s hours–from childcare responsibilities to doctor’s appointments–making the idea of a well-planned time tracking template vital.
Without data from a time tracking spreadsheet, your company could struggle to analyze the effectiveness of remote workers, mistakenly pay thousands of dollars for time that wasn’t worked or shortchange employees who worked overtime. And beyond payroll, you may need time tracking spreadsheets for client billing and government compliance.
Overall, time-tracker logs can have a significant impact on a variety of factors that affect products, administration, and finance:
- Better payroll management and time-accurate billing
- Reducing cost redundancies for both employees and clients
- Better understanding of employee efficiency
- Improved cost-to-productivity ratio after time reallocation
- Transparency within the workplace
Time Tracking Templates Save Time and Reduce Errors
No matter which system you choose, you’ll need to start by creating a template. It’s best to source this work to someone who deeply understands the structure of the whole company, whether that be within the HR team or the head of the company.
Having a standard template that everyone at the company can understand and use with their existing work style will allow quick integration. With this in place, users can enter their time with ease and quickly find information while you manage the payroll side.
Best Practices for Time Tracking Templates
In most templates, you’ll want space for four key data points: the date, start time, end time, and overtime.
Depending on your business needs, you might also include spaces for:
- Lunch hours or breaks
- Employee number
- Employee location
- PTO, flex-time, or sick leave
If you’re not a spreadsheet wizard, you might feel nervous about trying to set up a timesheet yourself. It’s a good idea to look at template samples such as the ones below or consult specialists in your field to understand how an effective template can be tailored to your organization.
When you are selecting or creating a template, consider your payroll cycle and set up the template accordingly. For example, if you run payroll biweekly, have employees submit their timesheets biweekly as well.
Time Tracking Spreadsheets vs. HRIS
In a BambooHR survey, managing time cards was named one of the top three HR productivity killers.
If you find errors with time tracking spreadsheets unavoidable and that managing them eats up too much of HR’s time, you might need to upgrade your process. HR software, also commonly known as HRIS, often includes time tracking functionalities that are integrated directly into the other human resources and payroll systems you rely on.
Using time tracking software can save HR time and prevent costly payroll errors. Some features of time tracking software that organizations might find helpful include:
- Streamlined approvals
- Automatic reminders to update and approve timesheets
- Automatic overtime tracking
- Easy-to-build reports
- Reduced risk of errors
- High-quality qualitative and quantitative analytics
- Integration with advanced HR systems
If your organization is still small and time tracking templates are working for now, stick with them and streamline the process as much as you are able. But once you start experiencing growth, consider saving time and inevitable headaches by switching to more comprehensive time tracking software that integrates with HR processes such as administration of benefits, project and performance management and employee feedback.
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Google Sheets vs. Excel: Which Time Tracking Spreadsheet Is Best?
Most organizations use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to create free employee time tracking spreadsheets. Both systems have similar functionality, but differ in execution.
Microsoft charges a one-time fee to install or a recurring fee to use its cloud-based system, OneDrive integrated with its spreadsheet application, Excel.
On the other hand, Google Sheets is a free, cloud-based system that can be accessed by anyone with a Google account.
Benefits of Microsoft Excel
- Integration with the full Office 365 suite
- Now available with Cloud 365, accessible from any place
- Greater technical functionality and features, including macros, pivot tables, and advanced formulas
- More popular in large organizations and accepted in the business world
Benefits of Google Sheets
- Simpler to use
- Superb compatibility with other devices
- Basic functionality is free
- Better version history control and collaborative features
7 Drawbacks of Time Tracking Spreadsheets
Tracking time with spreadsheets can be convenient for companies with a small workforce. It can be done with little to no cost for setup, and since most people are already familiar with spreadsheets, using them shouldn’t require much training.
However, time tracking spreadsheets are not an all-inclusive solution and do pose some drawbacks in the long run, especially when scalability comes to mind:
- As your team grows, it can be difficult to track down spreadsheets for every employee.
- The more frequently a sheet is updated, the more likely it is for accidents to happen. A number gets changed here, a date gets deleted there—mistakes like these can end up costing a lot of time and even money to fix.
- Employees may enter data incorrectly. With spreadsheets, you’re depending on employees to both remember to enter their times each day and to be honest about them.
- Errors on timesheets can cause major errors in payroll.
- time tracking cannot effectively factor and quantity the value of work quality, only the quantity is analyzed
- There is limited scope for feedback within spreadsheets
- With a greater budget, advanced HR can overtake time tracking sheets and provide a more holistic view of how the organization is performing
You can avoid some of these mistakes by locking cells on employees’ timesheets that they typically don’t need to interact with (everything other than their time in and time out), and archiving old sheets so they can’t be edited later on.
Free Resource: The HRIS Buyer's Guide
Choosing an HRIS is a big decision. To help, BambooHR created an in-depth guide that provides a comprehensive overview of all-in-one HRIS—plus tips on how to choose the right HRIS for your organization.
4 Workplace Features That Add Complexity to Time Tracker Logs
1. Remote Work
COVID-19 truly changed how people thought about working life, changing the professional landscape irrevocably. Anyone thinking that remote and hybrid working would be temporary has had to adapt. A good time tracking template will allow your organization to keep on top of its work in any environment. It can also provide insights into workplace efficiency when compared to work-from-office norms. This can help you make smart decisions on how to optimize the work setting that is in place within the company.
2. Employee Flexibility
Changes in the environment are not all that is going on. With a greater focus on a flexible schedule, companies are starting to realize providing flexibility to employees can boost morale and achieve greater net results. Use this knowledge and time management sheets to effectively plan flexible schedules with your team which makes them happy and willing to work harder, without creating scheduling conflicts in the office.
3. Employee Wellbeing
Mental health has seen a rise in importance within the workplace. The huge issues surrounding stress within the workplace have become a priority for all organizations to troubleshoot. Use smart tools such as time tracker logs to create breaks and prevent burnout in employees. They then can give their best they’re when at work.
4. Collaborative Efforts
Modern organizations require a lot of remote connections with offices across the world. Creating time tracking spreadsheets that factor collaboration into their setup can help team members to work together more effectively, providing real-time updates on project progress and streamlining communication and task delegation. This enables team members to work together on shared goals and stay in the loop even from different time zones.
Free Resource: The Most Common Time Tracking Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)
The American Payroll Association estimates that 40% of small businesses face an average of $845 each year in IRS penalties from mismanaged or inaccurate payroll. In our free guide, you'll learn how a sound time tracking system can help you avoid this and other pitfalls.