You can’t fix what you can’t measure. (You can’t bill for it very well, either.)
That’s the fundamental principle behind employee time tracking. It helps managers and agency owners understand how long it takes, on average, to complete various tasks, aiding in the project planning and scheduling processes.
Doing this in a way that generates the data you need without feeling like micromanaging can be a challenge.
Time-tracking software is a compelling solution. The right software can deliver the data you need without becoming a burden. It can even help prevent micromanaging within your business and teams.
If you need better data and metrics about task length, billable hours, or anything else related to how time gets spent, then this article is for you. We’ll show you how time tracking will benefit your organization and the features that matter most in time tracking. We’ll even give you our picks for the top nine options.
Why time tracking will benefit your organization
“Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”
~ Peter Drucker, management consultant, educator, and author
It’s just good business to know what your employees are spending their time doing, both for the short-term goals (the current project) and the long-term ones (the company’s profitability and growth). Tracking a team’s work hours using an effective time-tracking framework offers several benefits to your agency and your clients.
Increased productivity and efficiency
It’s difficult to streamline processes and get your team to be more productive if you don’t have a clear picture of where they’re spending their time (imagine trying to drive to a new city without a GPS!) With time-tracking software, agencies can pinpoint how long certain tasks take, which team members are the most productive, and which processes need to be tweaked.
Better employee accountability
Unfortunately, team members who aren’t completely honest when clocking in and out on a time clock or filling out an employee timesheet can skew your data. This misinformation can keep you from addressing inefficiencies that could have built better processes. An automatic time-tracking solution takes the guesswork out of deciding if a certain task really did take as long as the team member says it did.
Accurate billing and invoicing
Agencies are responsible for serving their clients well, which means accurately billing them for work. Inaccurate or incomplete time reports can cause agencies to miss billable hours (or overbill the client). Either way, time tracking tools can ensure you bill for every possible billable minute — but only those that should be invoiced to the client. This approach can dramatically increase a project’s profitability.
Enhanced project management
Handling all aspects of a project well keeps it on track and on budget. Successful beginning-to-end project management is easier and more intuitive when an automated time tracker notes every team member’s work. Measuring workloads compared to tasks, seeing who has the heaviest load, and identifying where the most time is spent helps the current project’s management and provides information to make future ones more efficient.
Key features to look for in time-tracking software
While it’s possible to track time in an Excel spreadsheet (we can even show you exactly how to do it), spreadsheets are a frustratingly manual (and not very scalable) way to handle tracking. Time-tracking software solutions are a more elegant and powerful option.
Here's what to look for when choosing a tool.
Provides real-time data
Time tracking software provides real-time data, unlike manual timecards or employee time clocks. Real-time data is one of the keys to unlocking the hidden benefits of tracking time and can make a major difference in project planning and decision-making.
Here’s an example of why this matters. Imagine you have a project that was running on schedule for several months. You’ve just noticed that in the past month, it’s been falling behind. You aren’t sure where the problem is, and investigating where team members are spending their time seems like a good place to start.
With time-tracking software, you can pull up that data instantly. You can likely spot any abnormalities in a matter of minutes, and you can easily visualize that data to start a conversation with team members or managers.
Older manual systems can’t give you these kinds of insights, at least not without hours of extra work.
Integrates with other project management tools
Before you decide on a tracking tool, check its integrations page. You may want to keep looking if you don't see the other tools in your tech stack — otherwise, you may be stuck transferring information between tools manually, which defeats the purpose.
Remember: Time-tracking software needs to simplify your workflows, not complicate them. A time-tracking tool that doesn’t integrate with the other tools you’re using means more manual work, more chances for introducing errors, and far less visibility.
Makes time tracking easy and flexible
Time clock apps are only useful when people use them. Look for tools that are user-friendly and flexible enough to accept after-the-fact changes. People will inevitably forget to start timers, and automatic trackers will get things wrong, too.
Automates the time-tracking process
You don’t want your time-tracking software to disrupt workflows or focus. Find a system that automates the process for your employees.
On the front end, you want a solution that doesn’t get in employees’ way (but that they can’t easily forget to turn on), so an automated solution is ideal.
On the back end, the less time agency owners spend sorting the data the better, so a solution that automatically sorts data and sends it where it needs to go is the better choice.
Notifies team members when there is a tracking error
Mistakes happen. Sometimes, they’re pretty obvious, like when a team member leaves a timer running overnight or allocates an illogical amount of work time to a task. The best systems can automatically notify team members about tracking errors so that the user can investigate and resolve the issue.
The 9 best time tracking software for employees
Looking for the perfect time-tracking software solution for your agency and your creative workflows? We’ve gathered nine of the best solutions on the market — and we’re sharing our thoughts on each one below.
We couldn’t kick off this list without giving ourselves a little hat tip. While Teamwork.com is a comprehensive project management software at its core, it has a time-tracking element that lets you track, benchmark, and analyze employee productivity.
As well as seeing how much time employees spend on their tasks, you can access valuable insights to understand how long it really takes to do something. That means your team will have the tools to plan future projects more efficiently.
The time tracker easily integrates with Teamwork.com’s suite of other features, including Kanban boards, templates, calendars, task lists, and reports. This makes it easy to stay in Teamwork.com without loading a third-party app for time tracking.
Teamwork.com's project time tracking features also give more visibility into projects, which is perfect for client services companies. We make generating invoices from your project timesheet easy, so you present clients with the most accurate invoicing for your work.
Plus, with Teamwork.com’s My Timesheet, all Teamwork.com users can manage all time logs in a single centralized place. It even auto-populates with the tasks assigned to you on Teamwork.com, allows for bulk entries, and lets users edit and adjust time entries as needed.
If you want to build stronger relationships with your clients, Teamwork.com gives them full visibility into the hours used. With Teamwork.com, you can create more accountable and trusting partnerships with clients. You also gain stronger insights with your own team, helping you understand where time is and isn’t being spent so you can refine your workflows and focus your team.
“I call it the heartbeat of the business because I’m actually able to see everything that is happening. My role as a manager is to empower my team members to do their best work. Now I’m able to do what I call ‘proactive mentoring’. Because I have transparency with tasks and progress, I’m able to jump in and give them guidance on everything from client interactions to troubleshooting.”
~Kfir Pravda, CEO of Pravda Media Group
Price: Free for individuals and small teams. Other plans start at $10 per month per user.
Gives you options to track by task, project, or simply hours worked
Provides agencies the perfect way to accurately bill clients
Features a timer that’s easy to use as a desktop widget or a cloud (browser) tool
Offers a broader suite of project management tools, so your time tracking data can feed directly into other project tracking and project planning activities
Wide-ranging suite that might be overkill if all you need is a time tracker
Some learning curve, but most users adapt quickly to user-friendly timer UI
Clockify is a simple time-tracking app: Your team writes what task they’re working on and starts the timer. If team members forget to track their time, they can add manual time later.
Accompanying timesheets let you log your weekly activities quickly and get a complete view of the hours spent on each task. The calendar view allows anyone with access to visualize and edit their tracked time.
One additional feature of note is Clockify’s detailed reporting. Detailed reports show high-level project progress in a visual snapshot for quick reviews. Agencies can use this capability to quickly visualize where team members are spending time, gaining quick information at a glance without investing much time or effort.
Time tracking via kiosk or apps
Visual calendar for blocking out activities
Governance activity costing
Tracking for billable and non-billable time
Templates for loading common activities
“Clockify has made my life so much easier. I’m able to record my work hours for my manager without spending half the day doing it.”
~Capterra review from Aoife K., a campus minister and outreach director
Price: Get started for free. Basic plans start at $3.99 per month for additional features.
Refreshing simplicity: Clockify is one of the easiest time trackers to learn and use.
Private auto tracker allows employees to understand their time usage without feeling like Big Brother is watching.
Helpful self-management tools allow individual users to take charge of their time tracking.
Doesn’t offer full HR capabilities or meaningful integrations with HR software
High price for the limited capabilities
TimeCamp automatically scans the domain names of apps your team uses and groups them into suggested categories. It does this running in the background so you get a general picture of where employees are spending their time without them having to manually toggle a bunch of timers.
The time budgeting feature is a nice addition as well, functioning as an extremely lightweight project management system, allowing you to assign people to projects and reserve blocks of their time.
Automatic time tracking
Unique time budgeting feature
Domain name and app-based tracking
“TimeCamp proved to be an essential management tool that gives us clear insight into a project’s efficiency and helps to avoid an overblown workload for our team.”
~ Adam Wagner, co-owner and chief strategy officer of Raindrop Marketing
Price: TimeCamp offers many features for free. Basic plans start at $5.25 per user per month.
Impressive free plan with unlimited users, projects, and tasks
Paid plans add powerful features like custom reporting, management roles, and team productivity tracking
Automatic time tracking (especially attractive if your team uses well-known tools)
Expensive beyond free features
Occupies a bit of an awkward middle-ground: more capability than basic teams need, but not a full HR or project management platform like larger organizations may prefer
No time planning
This employee monitoring software indulges the micromanager with detailed timesheets and time-tracking data on each team member. It’s targeted at companies engaged in remote and hybrid work, allowing managers to monitor employees from anywhere “as if they’re at the desk right next to you.”
This tool goes beyond mere time tracking, collecting proof of work that shows you whether your team members are engaged in the work they claim to be doing.
Managers can track computer activity and collect regular screenshots (including random screenshots and screenshots on demand, in real time) to ensure employees are being productive. Time tracking and time mapping give an overview of where employee time is spent and reduces the human errors involved with manual tracking.
Insightful also offers the ability to track time associated with specific projects and tasks, giving you clearer insights into the number of hours spent on a project.
Real-time monitoring at the application level
Manual time entries
Computer activity tracking (website and apps)
Regular screenshots, including random and on-demand
Project- and task-based time tracking
Joe D’Angelo, an Information Systems Specialist at The Housing Association of Bergen County, explained how Insightful helped his team monitor remote work activity during the pandemic. It wasn’t intended to monitor every minute of an employee’s day. Instead, it became a trusted source of proof of work.
Price: Packages start at $4.80 per month per employee.
Focuses on employee monitoring as workforce analytics
Reports 10% more daily active employee work time and 15% more accurate clock-ins
Easily transitions from office to remote and hybrid work models
May face resistance as it’s more invasive than some tools
Same with Stealth Mode: very effective, but difficult to act on insights without eroding trust
Puts time tracking (a core function) in the premium tier
DeskTime is another basic time-tracking tool that lets managers organize their teams and track their performance without micromanaging.
The tool helps with employee scheduling, letting you create shifts for staff, manage absences, and track productivity.
Reports provide a top-level view of your working week or month, including detailed insights into who was absent and who spent how much time doing a certain task.
Employee scheduling and shift creation tools
Idle time tracking and productivity calculation
Document title tracking (see how much time employees spend in specific documents)
Automatic screenshots (with the option to blur)
Integrations with many other business tools and productivity suites
“I would recommend DeskTime for companies with remote employees or home-office days. Time tracking allows people who work remotely to feel certain that their work, effort, and dedication won’t stay unnoticed. Since everything happens automatically, they can feel safe that any work they do will be logged and their hours adequately compensated.”
~ Kaspars Milbergs, chief technology officer at On the Map Marketing
Price: Limited features can be accessed for free. Pro plans start at $7 per month per user.
Strikes a reasonable balance between detailed activity tracking and user privacy
No manual timers, so no forgetting to start and stop and log time, resulting in more accurate time tracking
Includes a shared workspaces calendar resource
Can't track anything other than computer time
Must be configured carefully to work properly; numerous user complaints about inflexible or unworkable settings
Automatic screenshots can be disruptive and could reveal confidential or sensitive company or personal information
As the "all-in-one work time tracker for managing field or remote teams," HubStaff is a good fit for many kinds of teams. Despite lots of language about automated time tracking, HubStaff appears to be a one-button tracker at best, though there does appear to be some genuine automation in how that tracked time translates to invoices.
Using HubStaff, employees can select their chosen task and track their time easily from desktop (Windows, Mac, Linux), mobile (Android, iOS), or via a Google Chrome extension.
One key feature is the ability to identify struggling team members through the activity reports. You can access screenshots to identify and then address friction points.
Employee monitoring (including screenshots)
Automated invoice creation from tracked time
Timekeeping and PTO planning
“The biggest challenge we face from an HR perspective is getting everyone on the same page and establishing a uniform system of tracking hours and paying team members. We knew we needed something more scalable than just spreadsheets.”
~ Christian Mairoll, founder and CEO of Emsisoft
Price: Free for one user. Basic plans start at $7 per month per user.
Geofencing and GPS tracking capabilities in Field plan
Ability to issue work orders and manage jobs, and tie time tracking to them
Contains agile project management capabilities
Nine separate pricing plans/feature sets (each with pricing minimums) can be overwhelming
Breadth of capabilities makes finding and using certain core features more complicated
Harvest tracks both time and expenses. Its time-tracking tools are employee-led, meaning team members will manually start and stop timers as they work. They can also enter hours after the fact.
One great aspect of Harvest is how it identifies billable hours and generates reports on progress and time spent per project. Team members select their project and start tracking their time, and expenses and billable hours get tracked automatically alongside the time tracking.
The app tracks employee hours by seeing what projects (and how long) they’ve been working on during any given day.
That time-tracking data is visible to team leaders and managers from a central dashboard, revealing a clearer picture of who’s spending time on what.
Create invoices from billable hours.
Get paid directly from invoices sent via Harvest.
Leverage 50+ integrations with other business tools.
Set up custom reminders to keep team members on top of time tracking.
Access project- and team-based reporting tools.
Turn time tracking into weekly time sheets.
For creative agency The Charles, using Harvest eliminated squabbles over the time spent on microtasks.
“We’ve had some clients that have been like, ‘Oh, you spent 10 minutes on this, and I remember that task and it wasn’t 10 minutes. It was five.' The value of tracking time so precisely is not having to explain it to the client when they ask.”
~ Aaron Edwards, co-founder and CEO of The Charles
Price: Free for one user. Pro plans start at $12 per month per user.
Impressive all-in-one tool, especially for solo or small businesses
Allows you to accept online payments (via client credit card) and handle invoicing based on tracked time
Broader feature set than basic time trackers
Feature set may not justify the much higher price tag
Numerous integrations, but multiple reports of those integrations working inconsistently
Apploye is a surprisingly robust time tracker and remote employee monitoring tool that makes some bold claims: The team behind the app says that it can boost a team’s productivity by up to 20%. Apploye offers advanced tracking and a wide range of other tracking-related tools, all managed via an intuitive desktop app and convenient mobile apps.
The customizable timesheet offers a detailed overview of your employees' daily, weekly, and monthly activities, as well as more advanced features to simplify your business. Reporting and dashboard tools provide performance-based comparisons between team members, productive time reports, apps and URL usage information, and numerous other reports and views.
The optional RemoteTrack employee monitoring module enables deeper tracking, including random screenshots (with multiple monitor support), and app, URL, and productivity tracking. Apploye also offers lightweight task management functions.
Automatic time tracking, including idle time tracker
Payroll and HR tools (schedule builders, timesheet approvals, PTO management)
RemoteTrack optional staff monitoring for remote teams and vendors
Apps and website tracking
GPS tracking for field service agents
"Straightforward, Easy to use. If you want to manage your staff on site or remotely and get productivity reports - then Apploye should be one of those apps that you need to try!”
~ Kernan Motoomull, Founder & CEO, TechSupport.Ph
Price: Apploye has four pricing plans. The basic plan starts from $4 per user per month.
Extremely affordable, even at the highest price tier
Superior tracking. Tracks time equally well across in-house, mobile, remote, and hybrid environments
Desktop app and mobile app both offer automatic time tracking
Screenshot tool visible to users; can create frustration
Could use more thorough explainers or onboarding
Limited feature set (though appropriate to the price)
Time tracking is just one of many capabilities you’ll find in Connecteam, a wide-ranging team management app designed for deskless teams.
Connecteam is divided into three hubs:
Operations: Contains employee scheduling, time clock, timesheets, task management, and forms and checklists.
Communications: Includes chat, directory, knowledge base, surveys, and company updates.
HR: Includes onboarding, training, HR documentation, time off requests, etc.
These hubs are available separately (meaning it’s possible to subscribe to only the operations hub, or just the communications hub, or any combination of the three).
The platform doesn’t go particularly deep in some of these areas, so some agencies may find one or more of the plans to be insufficient for their needs.
“Making people feel part of a team is fundamental for retaining them. Connecteam allows us to do that.”
~David Glover, Joint CEO, Caremark
Price: For 30 users or fewer, Connecteam costs $29, $49, or $99 per month (paid annually), depending on the service tier. That’s the price for each hub individually, so accessing all three would cost $87, $147, or $297 monthly.
Shift scheduling and claiming capability
GPS-enabled time tracking
Geofenced time clock
Advanced filtering and bulk actions
Wide-ranging set of capabilities not often found in a single solution
Fairly affordable pricing if you’re using just one module
Process automation capabilities (Expert tier only) are a welcome addition
Time tracking isn’t the main focus, leading to a barebones experience.
Arguably an awkward set of capabilities that will overlap with other tools but not fully replace them, leading to a piecemeal approach.
A la carte pricing adds up quickly if you want the full Connecteam experience.
How to introduce time-tracking to employees
If your team hasn’t used time tracking before, it’s important to introduce it so they see it as a benefit instead of a punishment. Here are some tips to help you pull it off successfully.
Announce it at the right time. Don’t slip it into the bottom of an email or tell one person and let them fill others in. That only fosters gossip and fear. Tell everyone about it at the same time, so everyone gets the same message.
Focus on the positive points. Fill the message with how time-tracking benefits the team and the company. Talk about increased billable hours, greater project profitability, and better insight into overworked staff. Stay away from a “Big Brother” vibe.
Don’t let them misconstrue you mistrust them. Team members may assume time-tracking changes are because of a lack of trust. Explain that automating this task gives leadership better information to run the business and keep everyone employed and thriving.
Listen to their concerns. Encourage two-way communication and hear what they have to say about the change. Address their concerns quickly and authentically to avoid issues with buy-in.
Train them properly. Make sure everyone understands how to use the time-tracking software properly. Follow up with additional training as needed, so every team member feels confident they’re using it right.
What’s the best way to track employee hours?
While there are numerous time-tracking tools that may work for your agency, not every option performs equally well.
The best way to track employee time is to use time-tracking software that’s built directly into your project management system. Using an embedded tool allows you to see what tasks are taking the most time and how much of your valuable creative resources are getting pulled into which projects and tasks.
Keeping employee time tracking data in the same place as your projects and budgeting information also allows you to see which accounts, tasks, and services are most profitable.
Teamwork.com is the ideal solution for agencies looking for these functions in a single platform: it brings together project management and time tracking to create a unified platform, and it’s built for the way agencies work.
Stop micromanaging to increase team productivity with Teamwork.com
Tracking time offers many benefits to teams that increase efficiency and improve future processes. It’s essential for teams and leaders who want to understand project timelines and increase their forecasting and accounting accuracy.
Done well, time tracking is also the key to ending micromanagement and unlocking the full productivity potential of your team.
Teamwork.com is an ideal solution, giving users robust time-tracking capabilities built within an already powerful project management platform. And even though Teamwork.com is so fully featured, its plans are comparable in price to other much more limited apps on this list.