Employee Time Clock Buying Guide

Acumen biometric time clock

Selecting and buying a time clock involves very different processes for different companies. On top of that, when you’re tasked with finding the best time clock for your business, you suddenly have to become the subject-matter expert for management.

But for such niche products, the selection process can be tough without a guide. Luckily, that’s exactly what this article provides you with: a time clock buying guide.

Time clock selection can be relatively easy when the desired system is a standalone time clock that uses paper time cards, but the selection process for networked time clocks, biometric time clocks, and innovative solutions is not as straightforward.This article will discuss purchase criteria for both standalone time clocks that use paper timecards and advanced time clocks that integrate with time and attendance software.

Time Clock Integration Options

Before we jump into the purchase criteria for each time clock type, let’s review the different types of time clocks and timekeeping methods commonly implemented today:

Manual, Paper-Based Time Clocks

Paper-based timekeeping systems have existed for over 100 years. Employee labor is recorded by a tamper-proof timekeeping device that imprints each punch onto a paper timecard.

  • Time Stamps
  • Time stamps provide the most basic form of time tracking, using paper forms (typically not time cards). Basic, tamper-proof timekeeping can achieved with time stamps, though they are truly designed for time-stamping and date-stamping forms such as applications, contracts, and so forth.
  • While certainly the most basic form of timekeeping, time stamps can sometimes cost more than other solutions that are better-suited for employee time and attendance.
  • Standalone Time Clocks: Mechanical Time Clocks
  • Mechanical time clocks are very rugged standalone time clocks that print on paper timecards. Though they’re called mechanical time clocks, they still require electricity. The mechanical elements are the type wheels that imprint the time and attendance information on employees’ timecards.
  • The primary reason a company would choose a mechanical time clock over any other time clock is the heavy-duty construction and reliability of the time clocks for years in harsh elements.
  • Standalone Time Clocks: Electronic Time Clocks
  • The next step up from a mechanical time clock is a fully electronic time clock. Electronic time clocks are largely the same and work the same way as a mechanical time clock, only the printing mechanism and date advancement is electronic and automated.
  • Standalone electronic time clocks are typically relatively rugged and reliable, which is why many companies continue to use them today.
  • Standalone Time Clocks: Calculating Time Clocks
  • Calculating time clocks feature all of the functionality of an electronic time clock, but will also calculate the total amount of time an employee has worked each day. These time clocks will automatically deduct breaks and lunches to reduce payroll errors and speed payroll processing.
  • Calculating time clocks are ideal for small businesses that do not require advanced time and attendance features, companies that only require basic rollouts involving one or two time clocks, and organizations that prefer paper timecards but want some processes automated.

Automated, Networked Time Clocks

Modern timekeeping systems automate calculations to eliminate payroll errors and speed processes. They are integrated with time and attendance software and other time clocks to provide advanced functionality and protection against buddy punching.

  • Networked Time Clocks
  • Networked time clocks use Serial, Ethernet, or another type of networked communications to synchronize data between time and attendance software and one or more time clocks. Networked time clocks typically offer several options for clocking, including:
    • PIN
    • Magnetic Stripe Badges
    • Barcode Badges
    • Proximity Badges
    • Hand Geometry Biometrics
    • Fingerprint Biometrics
    • Facial Recognition Biometrics
    • Iris Biometrics
  • One of the goals inherent to networked time and attendance systems is to inhibit buddy punching – one employee clocking another employee in or out to receive undeserved pay. Instead of using paper time cards, which any employee could easily punch for another employee, most networked time clock rollouts require input from the employee that is unique to that employee such as a PIN or biometrics.
  • The only exception is an implementation where badges are kept in a rack next to the time clock, much like the way paper timecards are typically kept. Of course, this could result in the same buddy punching problems seen in standalone time clock implementations.
  • Networked time clocks are ideal for managing larger workforces, implementing advanced time and attendance rules, adding benefit accruals to the employee timekeeping process, and achieving other advanced time and attendance functionality that automates processes and eliminates payroll errors.
  • Biometric Time Clocks
  • Almost invariably networked, biometric time clocks require unique, personally-identifying input from the employee that prevents buddy punching outright. By requiring biometric data such as a fingerprint or facial scan, for instance, biometric time clocks help you achieve the best return on investment for any time and attendance system rollout.
  • Implementation simplification and a significant drop in cost have make biometric time clocks ideal for any sized company looking to eliminate buddy punching and achieve the best ROI.

Time Clock-Free Implementations

It may seem odd to have a section on Time Clock-Free Implementations in a Time Clock Buying Guide – but, to some, a web-based time clock is a time clock nonetheless. After all, we’re still implementing best practices, holding employees accountable for their time, and ensuring accurate recordkeeping.

  • Web-Based Clocking
  • Many time and attendance software developers offer web-based or software-based employee clocking to eliminate the need for time clocks altogether.
  • Depending on the application and company need, sometimes a kiosk is used at a central location or entryway to serve as a surrogate time clock. Other times, when appropriate, employees are permitted to clock in and out directly from their computers.
  • Web-based clocking can also support advanced implementations such as mobile time and attendance. Acumen’s time and attendance software, for instance, supports smartphones for real-time web-based employee clocking.
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Clocking
  • Telephony and IVR systems can also be synchronized with time and attendance software for reliable and automated time and attendance for mobile workforces. With an IVR time and attendance system, any mobile phone or touchtone telephone can be used for time and attendance.
  • Advanced IVR time and attendance systems can incorporate complex menu systems to achieve a number of employee self-service and supervisor-level system management functions.

Selecting the Best Time Clock for Your Company

Now that we have a general understanding of the time clocks and integration options that are commonly available today, we can discuss planning considerations, features, and other essential purchase criteria so you can select the best time clock for your specific requirements.

Just from reviewing the time clock integration options above, you probably have a good idea of what is appropriate for your needs. You probably have an even better idea of what isn’t appropriate.

Since every company has unique requirements, the first step in any selection process is to form an interdepartmental committee to discuss limitations of the current system, goals for the new system, concerns, and other purchase considerations.

Deployment Type

Probably the most fundamental consideration is whether to implement a standalone time clock using paper timecards, a networked time clock integrated with time and attendance software, or a time clock-free solution using either web-based clocking or a telephony-based solution.

It is important to note that some time and attendance software providers, such as Acumen, can integrate solutions incorporating both networked time clocks for some employees and time clock-free solutions for mobile workforces and other employees for whom using a physical time clock is impractical.

When making the decision regarding deployment type, some basic questions to ask that may sway the decision include:

  • How many employees do we want to track in the system?
  • The more employees, the more you will want to implement an automated solution with networked time clocks. Everything from implementation to employee enrollment to maintenance becomes exponentially more difficult, the more employees you track with manual systems.
  • Do we have a buddy punching problem?
  • If so, you should seriously consider networked biometric time clocks complete with time and attendance software.
  • Is network connectivity available at all locations that require clocking?
  • If not, you may want to consider a mixed solution incorporating networked time clocks and a time clock-free solution such as telephony or web-based clocking. The other option would be implementing standalone time clocks for your locations that do not have network connectivity.
  • Can we afford old-fashioned time clocks that use paper timecards?
  • Just for the time clock, these systems can sometimes cost more than a networked time clock. But on top of that, they require maintenance, replacement timecards, and replacement ink cartridges – which add to the total cost of ownership year after year. In addition, these systems are reliant on manual processes, susceptible to buddy punching schemes, and prone to human error. Lastly, they cannot manage advanced time and attendance rules, benefit accruals, and other functionality that improves ROI, reduces errors, and speeds processes.
  • Do we want to integrate access control with our time and attendance system?
  • Of course, you’ll need to implement networked time clocks if you’re looking to use the time clocks as access control devices. If you’re looking to implement a time clock-free solution, many time and attendance software developers – Acumen included – can implement a software time and attendance solution that also controls doors using door-mounted proximity hardware.
  • Do we want to track mobile employees?
  • If so, you should consider time and attendance software developers that offer telephony or web-based time tracking.


As previously covered, the most common clocking methods include:

  • Paper Timecards
  • PIN
  • Magnetic Stripe Badges
  • Barcode Badges
  • Proximity Badges
  • Hand Geometry Biometrics
  • Fingerprint Biometrics
  • Facial Recognition Biometrics
  • Iris Biometrics
  • Web-Based Clocking
  • Telephony-Based Clocking

Truly, there is no one technology that is unequivocally best in every circumstance. A given technology may be the ideal for one situation, but exhibit an unacceptable fail rate in another scenario. We’ve put-together a summary of some of the pro’s and con’s of each technology to aid in your selection process:

Time Clock Comparison Chart

Technology Reliability

With just about any clocking technology, you’ll hear industry insiders talking about “fail rates.” This refers to the amount of error that exists in the system: misreads, false positives, and other factors that make one system more or less reliable than another.

We’ve provided reliability scores for each clocking technology, taking into account both the typical criteria (biometric misreads, for example) as well as the potential for defraud. 10 = Best

Clocking Method Reliability Score Notes
Paper Timecards 3 Easily misread. Easily abused. Prone to data entry errors.
PIN 8 Technologically sound, but potential for abuse.
Magnetic Stripe 8 Magnetic stripe wears and can be erased by employees. Magnetic stripe readers offer exceptional reliability and low fail rates.
Barcode 8 The barcode will eventually wear and can be scratched-off by employees. Barcode readers offer exceptional reliability and low fail rates.
Proximity 9 Proximity badges are long-lasting and resist employee tampering. Proximity readers offer exceptional reliability and low fail rates.
Hand Geometry 9 Proven technology that is exceptionally reliable for tens of thousands of employees.
Fingerprint 5 – 9 Two types of fingerprint technology and wide array of vendors make reliability vary greatly. Low-end fingerprint time clocks exhibit unacceptable fail rates. Environmental conditions affect reliability greatly.
Facial Recognition 7 – 9 Most facial recognition time clocks are very reliable for companies with a small number of employees. The more employees, the less reliable the system. Unsuitable for large companies.
Iris 9 – 10 Iris biometrics offer the best reliability across many conditions for high-end systems. Low-end systems will offer reduced reliability (though rare to find anyway).
Web-Based Clocking 8 Extremely reliable technology, but potential for abuse exists. Some systems can track IP to reduce buddy punching, but potential for abuse still exists.
IVR / Telephony 9 Extremely reliable technology. Potential for abuse is decreased when employees use a dedicated mobile phone (personal or company-issued) and phone number verification is used.


Most modern time clocks communicate via LAN or web services, while some older networked time clocks use serial communications. LAN and web service-enabled time clocks are more convenient to implement because either technology is more modern, more common, and more economical than serial communications.

In addition, serial communications degrades when transmitted distances greater than 50 feet. That makes serial communications impractical at distances over 50′ from the server running the time and attendance software. When longer distances are required, a signal converter must be used to run RS232 serial communications over a RS485 network. In this configuration, a RS485 network can support up to 32 time clocks per converter.

Again, LAN and web service-enabled time clocks (so, hard-wired and wireless networked clocks) are probably your best bet. The technology is tried-and-true and familiar to most IT staff, reducing implementation headaches.

Some networked time clocks also offer Power over Ethernet (PoE) to reduce the cables going into the clock and prevent employees from unplugging the time clock.

Environmental Concerns & Ruggedness

Some situations make certain clocking technologies impractical for a given work setting. Sometimes, environmental conditions make certain clocking types unsuitable, particularly when any imaging system is used within the clocking technology.

Other times, an employee’s work requirements make certain types of clocking difficult. A nurse that wears latex gloves for large periods of the day may complain about a fingerprint biometric time and attendance system, for instance. Alternatively, the nurse’s employer may be looking for a hygienic alternative to fingerprint biometrics and may ultimately choose a facial recognition system instead because no physical interaction is required.

Some common reasons a company might research clocking alternatives or rugged time clocks include:

  • Employees work with acid or other harsh chemicals
  • Time Clock is exposed to elements or humidity
  • Employees wear gloves while working
  • Employees work outdoors
  • Company seeks a hygienic biometric solution

Regardless of your environment, you’ll be able to find a rugged time clock that suits your needs or an alternative clocking method to meet your situation’s demands.

Sometimes, your time and attendance solution provider can recommend a ruggedized time clock that supports the clocking technology you prefer. If a given clocking technology is truly unsuited for your environment, the solution provider will steer you in the right direction.

Unique scenarios such as this require personalized recommendations; please contact us if you have any questions.

Time Clock Features

Time clock features and the functionality that is available right from the terminal will vary widely amongst both hardware manufacturers and the software developers that integrate the hardware. The good time and attendance integrators will customize your time clock based on your desired functionality so you get the most out of your investment.

Below, we cover some of the features and capabilities for time clocks based on clock type:

  • Manual Time Clock Features
  • Manual time clocks that use paper timecards are always going to be lacking in features compared to networked time clocks. Anything not synched with software naturally would be.
  • Manual time clocks that use paper timecards are designed to be simple. Fewer moving parts mean fewer things to break. It’d also be difficult to program complex pay rules and shift rules into a standalone time clock with few, if any, function buttons.
  • Most companies that use manual time clocks and paper timecards do so because they want simplicity. If you’re tracking anything beyond basic “in” and “out” punches, you might as well upgrade to an automated system, considering the cost.
  • However, purely discussing capabilities and features, there are some respectable options out there for manual time clocks. If you look hard enough, you can find manual time clocks that manage overtime pay, automatically deduct breaks and lunch, offer user-definable grace period and rounding rules, print punch exceptions in red, and more.
  • That’s a lot for systems for which automatically adjusting for daylight savings time is still a big deal…
  • Networked Time Clock Features
  • Very few time clock manufacturers also make the time and attendance software that serves as the brain behind the system. Typically, if you can find a time clock that also includes time and attendance software, it is going to be extremely basic – providing little more than “in” and “out” punching, and interoperable with only the most common business systems and payroll systems.
  • What you’ll find, then, is that whenever you’re looking at the specifications for a time clock from a manufacturer, you’re ultimately going to be limited to the capabilities of the time and attendance software you purchase along with it. If the time clock allows you to program up to 10 function buttons according to the hardware manufacturer – but the software limits you to 8 – you’re going to end-up with no more than 8 customized function buttons.
  • Typically, it’s not necessary for you to source and spec-out the exact time clock model you want. Many times, it’s easier to present your clocking preference (proximity, fingerprint, etc.) to your prospective software providers first. They’ll have a short list of questions pertaining to configuration, and then they’ll recommend an ideal time clock that supports your preferred clocking type.
  • Each software provider has its own expertise, its own back-end database, and its own communications engine. Because of that, each provider is going to have a core set of tried-and-true employee time clocks they commonly integrate depending on customer requirements.
  • Some software providers specialize in only one or two time clocks and present their solutions as a package. Providers such as these, with their limited expertise, may also have limitations regarding payroll support, system integration, deployment, etc. It’s important to find-out about the integration capabilities of the software developer before spending too much time researching a given solution.

Without focusing too much on the features that are largely software-driven, an overview of networked time clock functionality includes:

    • Support for Several Clocking Types (PIN Available in Almost All)
    • Programmable Function Keys (Typical)
    • Expansion Options
    • Supervisor System Management from Time Clock
    • Employee Self-Service from Time Clock
    • Advanced Communications (More Rare: Email Audio, Photograph, or Video)
    • Real-Time Data Synchronization (if Supported)
    • Synchronization Between Many Time Clocks & Locations
    • Software-Specific Enhancements
  • Most modern time clocks will also retain punch data during network or power outages. Make sure you look for this feature if your environment is prone to either type of outage.
  • Time Clock-Free Solution Features
  • Obviously, the features of a hardware-free time clock are going to be determined by software – so the features are going to be unique from provider to provider. Regardless, it is enough to know that hardware-free solutions exist for employee time tracking, even biometric solutions.
  • Without even adding biometrics, Acumen’s web-based clocking application, WebCLOCK, can track employees’ IP addresses for verification. Since employees typically do not share their Windows passwords, using WebCLOCK on employees’ computers in a typical office place provides three forms of employee identity verification: the network login, the Acumen login, and the IP address verification.
  • The full functionality of time clock-free solutions is, again, going to be determined by the software. Still, you can expect much of the same capabilities of full-featured time and attendance software.
  • Every common feature found in Acumen’s full system rollouts can be actualized in a time clock-free implementation. Contact us for more information.

Time Clock Buying Guide Conclusion

Finding and buying the right time clock for your company really boils-down to the following points:

  • Clocking Type Preference
  • Communications Availability
  • System Integration & Architecture
  • Environmental Concerns & System Reliability
  • Supporting Features Planned in Software

Employee Time Clock Buying Guide

Employee Time Clock Buying Guide Selecting and buying a time clock involves very different processes for different companies. On top ...
Read More

The Advantages of Biometric Employee Time & Attendance

Preventing Employee Time Theft Biometrics technology can be used as a type of employee time management system because of its ...
Read More

How Fingerprint Biometric Time Clocks Work

What is a Biometric Time Clock? A Biometric Time Clock is a tool for organizations to have a secure, efficient, ...
Read More

Employee Time & Attendance Buying Guide

How to Purchase Time & Attendance and What to Look for in Time & Attendance Software Purchasing an employee time ...
Read More