Though Fred Flintstone was often seen punching in and out on a timesheet in the cartoon, he was actually way ahead of his time. It didn’t start with cavemen (that we know of), but the history of employee time tracking is a complex one that spans several millennia of improvements in time management and efficiency.
The Ancient Roots of Efficiency
Dedication to efficiency dates back to at least 4000 B.C. with the invention of cuneiform writing. The Mesopotamians, located in the birthplace of civilization at the junction of the Tigres and Euphrates rivers, needed a better system for record keeping, and thus writing was born.
Skipping ahead a few hundred years, we arrive at one of the earliest attempts at keeping time. Around 3500 B.C., the Egyptians used tall obelisks to track the shadows created by the sun, which helped them separate their days into two halves. They improved on this system over two millennia with the creation of rudimentary sundials.
Ancient civilizations also set the standard for providing wages to employees. As early as 1754 B.C., the Code of Hammurabi mandated specific pay for specific types of work (Davis-Bacon, anyone?). At the time, wages were set by the day, but it laid the foundations for the time-based labor practices we use today.
A Focus on Time Management
Fast-forward to the 18th century. We begin to see an increasing emphasis on effective time management as the workforce started to shift from mostly independent work to an employee-employer business model.
One of the leading advocates was Benjamin Franklin. His commitment was to efficiency as a benchmark for personal and professional goals. Franklin is even credited with coining the now ubiquitous phrase “time is money” to drive home that point.
Following Franklin’s views about time and money, employers wanted to make sure they were only paying for time worked. Employees, on the other hand, wanted to make sure they were actually being paid for that time. A need for efficient and accurate time tracking methods emerged.
Though pen-and-paper records were a solution at the time, this system was time consuming, relied heavily on truthful and accurate records from employees, and was prone to bookkeeping errors.
Enter the Time Clock
It wasn’t until late in the 19th century that the world finally caught up to Fred Flinstone’s method of recording time.
In 1888, Willard Bundy completely altered the way businesses handled their time tracking. Bundy, along with several other inventors during that time period, developed a variety of mechanical time recording devices to help businesses keep track of their employees’ hours. Some people even refer to modern time clocks as Bundy clocks.
Over the next century, entire companies dedicated to time tracking solutions emerged, improving on Bundy’s original time clocks. With an eye towards efficiency, anything that could improve a business’s ability to make decisions was fair game for new features, including tracking time spent on specific projects.
Not all professions were immediately accepting of time clocks, however. Service-based industries, like law, preferred a per-project fee. It wasn’t until the creation of the ‘billable hour’ that time tracking took over in these industries, too. The ‘billable hour’ effectively made the phrase “time is money” a reality by charging for services based on the time it took to perform them.
Time Tracking and the Digital Age
As access to computer technology increased, many companies ditched the cumbersome paper time sheets for digital ones. Programs like Excel and, eventually, time tracking software revolutionized the way businesses tracked their employees’ time usage.
Rather than punching in or out, employees now might swipe a card, enter an identification number, or even just click a button. This data is then stored digitally for access at any point. Better yet, it is now remarkably easier to find meaningful trends in the data through automatically generated reports.
Not only do these innovations help businesses make better decisions, but they dramatically cut down on the cost of processing payroll. Rather than having an accountant spend hours, if not days, manually calculating wages from physical records, a computer time clock can do it instantly.
Today, there are time tracking solutions for just about any specific need, from a rugged time clock for rugged construction sites to a fast-paced law firm’s quick web solutions.
Mobile Time Tracking
Just as watches have evolved to track heart rate and other health indicators as well as send text messages, the time clock also hasn’t stopped changing.
Since as early as 2006, there’s been a growing trend of mobile-based time tracking. Whether it’s with a dedicated device or a time clock app on your phone, time tracking can now be done by anyone almost anywhere. This means businesses with even the most complex time tracking needs have options for efficient time management.
The Future of Time Tracking
As a species, we’ve spent thousands of years perfecting our ability to track and manage time, and we don’t expect that to stop any time soon.
Mobile time tracking is a significant change to the industry, but another area that has seen growing interest is biometric-based tracking. Retinal scans, fingerprint identification, photo verification, and other employee-specific information can now be used to clock in and out and grant access to specific projects and information. As an added benefit, biometrics help eliminate other potential time tracking issues, like buddy-punching.
Ready to see how millennia of progress can help your company be more efficient? Contact us today to learn how ExakTime’s constantly-evolving time tracking solutions can cut costs and help you make more efficient use of your employees’ time.
Last but not least, want to know how some contractors have used time management (and other methods) to increase profits? Check out our free eBook.