How to select the best time tracking app

Time Tracking App – How to Choose the Best Software for Your Business

By Vishal Srivastava

Time tracking app is an essential tool for any business. Whether you want to pay employees, measure team productivity or bill clients, you need a software that can correctly track employees’ time. It’s probably one of the first tools any new business is going to need.

Businesses are hiring more remote employees and offering flexible work schedules. This is driving demand for online time tracking apps. The increased demand has led to dozens of time tracking apps hitting the market. A simple Google search for “time tracking app” results more than 50 software.

With so many options, how do you choose the best time tracking app for your business?

That’s why I wrote this blog!

Initially, I thought of creating a list of apps with features, price and other information to help you choose the right one. But there are many such lists on the web and creating one more would have only added to confusion, not made life easier.

Software review lists provide valuable information but they focus on the app, not your needs. So I decided to take a different approach that focused on your needs. The three step process I describe will help you arrive at an unbiased decision that is best for your business. 

What can you do with time tracking software?

Traditional time keeping systems can record entry and exit times of employees and calculate time spent at work. It works well for time keeping at a physical location where you want to know how much time each employee is spending at work.

But what if your employees work remotely or you want to know where that time was spent? You will need an online time tracking software.

You don’t see a remote employee walking in and out of your office. You can’t walk up to her desk and check on her. So you need a tool that can track her activities and provide visibility into her work. You want reliable information but you also want to protect her privacy.

A modern, online time tracking software can automatically record when your employees start working on their computers, which projects they work on and how much time they spend on each project. Such detailed information builds transparency and trust.

You can measure employees’ productivity, pay them correctly for hours worked and also bill your clients using timesheet data from your time tracking app. It is an extremely useful workforce management and productivity monitoring tool.

Most time tracking apps can automatically track time and produce basic reports. Some have more  sophisticated features you may or may not need. Some are designed with specific use case in mind. The pricing also varies a great deal based on features. The large number of tools, different features and pricing makes it difficult to select the right software for your business.

Now that you know what these apps can do, let’s dig into the process of selecting the best for your business.

Step 1: Identify Your Time Tracking Needs

The first step in selecting the right employee time tracking tool is to identify your needs.

If you are a software company and employ remote developers, you would want to track time spent on your software, measure their productivity and pay them the correct wages. You would want the software to record time automatically and store information securely to avoid manipulation. Since developers can use any of the popular operating systems – Windows, Mac and Linux – you would want the app to work on all these platforms.

Another useful feature you may want is time tracking with screenshots. Random screenshots of your employee’s computer serve as an audit trail. You can look at the screenshots to validate whether the remote developer was actually working on your project or not. While this is a very useful feature, only a few time tracking software such as HiveDesk offer this.

With HiveDesk, you have the option to turn off automatic screenshots since we believe in giving you the option to decide the level of transparency and privacy control you want. You can also blur the screenshots to protect data integrity.

A marketing agency or an outsourcing company with remote employees will have very similar needs. But others may have very different needs.

Let’s say you are a freelance SEO specialist working on three different projects. You bill your clients for number of hours spent on building backlinks and optimizing pages. You may want the ability to generate invoices for your clients using time sheet data in the time tracking app. You may not want to pay for and manage a separate invoicing software. In this case, you should look for a software that can track time and also generate invoices based on your hourly billing rate.

These are your “must have” needs that the software must meet.

So the first step in selecting the software is to decide your primary needs or “must haves” such as:

  • Track time spent by employees on their computer so you can pay them correctly
  • Keep an irrefutable proof of time spent on projects
  • Measure employee productivity
  • Track time of field employees like service technicians

Once you have your primary needs nailed, you should create a list of secondary needs or “good to haves” such as:

  • Invoice clients from the same app
  • Generate payroll data
  • Integration with other tools / software you use
  • A mobile app for administration

Once you have identified your requirements, it’s time to start looking at different time tracking apps and narrow down your options.

Step 2: Identify Software That Meet Your Time Tracking Needs

If you search Google for time tracking software, you will get more than 100 hits. Going through this list to find one that fits your needs is like finding needle in a haystack. But don’t worry; this is where online reviews step in to help you.

There are several blogs and review sites that compare popular time tracking software. You can find a list of 5, 10 or even 20 apps on these sites. These are a great place to start your search. (Be aware that some of the review sites are also affiliates. So don’t follow them blindly.)

Zapier has one of the most comprehensive and unbiased list of time tracking apps you can find. It lists  over 40 software with brief overview of each app like main features and pricing. You should scan the list to identify ones which meet your needs and create a shortlist for your consideration.

You should also check out user review sites such as Capterra, G2crowd and TrustRadius. These sites publish verified user reviews you can trust. All of them have a separate category for time tracking software. Check these out:

Capterra’s Time Tracking Software

G2 Crowd’s Time Tracking Software

TrustRadius’ Time Tracking Apps

These sites work hard to ensure that user reviews are genuine and reliable. You can see the number of reviews and aggregate rating for each software in the list. You can see detailed reviews on the software detail page.

You can sort and filter reviews differently on the three sites giving you different ways to find time tracking software for your needs.

Capterra gives you the option to sort reviews by time and rating. But the thing I like most about Capterra is that users can rate software on four different aspects:

  1. Ease of Use
  2. Features & Functionality
  3. Customer Support
  4. Value for Money

For most businesses, getting timely and reliable support is important so look for software with high ratings for customer support. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time training your employees on how to use the time tracking app, look for one with high Ease of Use rating.

You can see a summary rating at the top of the review like the one below for HiveDesk:

Summary Rating at the Top of Review

As you can see, the summary also includes a likelihood to recommend the software. Since only a very happy user recommends a product to others, a higher likelihood of recommendation indicates strong user satisfaction with the product.

G2Crowd allows you to filter reviews by Company Size, User Role and Industry. You should use the company size and industry filters to find reviewers from businesses that are similar to yours. The company size is determined by number of employees. This is extremely useful since the utility of a software varies greatly by size of the business and industry.

TrustRadius has four tabs at the top of the page. The first tab shows Ratings and Reviews. The second tab, Scorecard, shows summary ratings for

  • Likelihood to Recommend
  • Likelihood to Renew
  • Usability
  • Support

The third tab provides an overview of the software including main features and pricing.

Like the other two sites, you can filter reviews based on different criteria such as Company Size, When the review was posted and By topic. In the By topic column, you can further select whether you want to filter review that include Likelihood to recommend, Pros and cons, Use cases and deployment, RoI and Bug resolution.

TrustRadius doesn’t sell leads, ads, or placement so you can be sure that the reviews are unbiased.

I find Use cases and deployment scope criteria extremely useful as it clearly tells you which time tracking app is better suited to your needs.

Once you have created a shortlist of time tracking software most likely to meet your needs, it’s time to move to the next step.

Step 3: Try Shortlisted Apps

One of the things I love about SaaS is the ability to try a software before buying. In the old world of shrink wrapped or boxed software, you had no way of trying before buying.

I strongly recommend you sign up to try time tracking apps you shortlisted in the previous step. With free trial, you can see for yourself if the software actually meets your needs.

While most time tracking apps offer a free trial, you should know that not all trials are created equal.

Some apps, like HiveDesk, give you access to all features of the software for a limited time. You will not need to pay anything during the trial period and you need not enter credit card details to activate trial. I prefer this option as I know I won’t be charged anything even if I forgot to cancel the account before the trial ends.

But some apps require you to enter credit card details to activate the trial. While you are not billed anything during the trial, you will be if you forgot to cancel the account at the end of the trial. In such cases, it’s a good idea to first find out the cancellation process and time you will need to complete cancellation. It’s a good practice to set a reminder to cancel your account before the trial expires.

When evaluating software, it’s a good idea to create a plan and follow it. A typical business user looks at 3-5 software before selecting one. But evaluating that many software takes time and a solid plan.  Follow these guidelines to create an effective evaluation plan:

  1. Since most apps offer time limited trial, it’s better not to sign up with more than two at a time. This gives you enough time to test every feature you want.
  2. All time tracking software use a client application to track time. The employee will start the application that records time on her computer. When evaluating these apps, never run two different time tracking clients at the same time as they might interfere with each other.
  3. Create a spreadsheet with a list of features you want to test and write down how you will test the feature. Add a column at the end to record your test results.
  4. Create a schedule for testing and add it to your calendar. Since testing software may not be the highest priority item on your list, you will need to carve out a time slot for it. Otherwise, you may end up pushing it out when faced with something more urgent.

After you have tested and recorded results for all shortlisted apps, it’s time to pick one. Go through your must have features and rank each software based on how well it meets the needs. If a software fails to meet these needs, drop it from the list no matter how many other features it has. Then repeat the process with good to have features.

If only one app meets all your must have features, you have a clear winner. But most likely, you will not have a clear winner as some apps will do well on one feature while others will do better on other features. So you may need to make some trade-offs. The final decision may involve a bit of art, or gut feeling if you will.  It’s rare to find a software that’s a hands down winner in a crowded field like time tracking software.

Recap:

Finding the best time tracking app for your business is not easy. There are many alternatives with different features and with pricing. To find the right one for your needs, you need to follow a structured approach.

The first step is to create a list of features that you need in the software. You can divide these into two buckets – must have and good to have.

The next step is to create a shortlist of apps that are most likely to meet your needs and fit your budget. You can do that by reviewing lists of time tracking software created by bloggers. You can also create a shortlist from user reviews sites.

Finally, sign up for free trial and evaluate each shortlisted software for each feature in your must have and good to have lists. Then select the one that best meets your needs.

Not sure which tools to use for your agency? Here are 25 tools we recommend.

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