SunEnergy1 of Mooresville, North Carolina is a virtually integrated utility scale solar panel company, and one of the top five solar developers in the U.S. In simpler terms, they build solar fields—big ones. Their clients include such major players as Duke Energy, Dominion Power in Virginia, and Fifth-Third Bank. Their early fields could power a subdivision; their more recent sites are capable of powering small towns.
Rapid growth required better management
Established in 2010 by an Australian race car driver and entrepreneur, SunEnergy1 has grown rapidly over the past eight years as the demand for solar power continues to balloon in North Carolina and along the Eastern seaboard. Today the company employs about 80 full-time, non-exempt workers and adds up to 300 contract laborers during their busiest months.
Their fast-paced growth has meant having to continually expand their permanent and seasonal workforce to build and maintain ever-larger solar fields. A cutting-edge smart maintenance system that provides alerts when foliage or weather threatens their panels has certainly helped—but they still needed a way to demand real accountability from employees in the field. The answer, they realized, was to tighten up their time tracking methods.
SunEnergy1 started by tracking employees with paper time cards. They would then manually enter the data into their payroll program, according to Human Resources and Payroll Administrator Lindsey Talmadge. “There were people writing that they started at one time when in actuality they started at another time,” says Talmadge. “Our superintendents and foremen wanted a more standardized system that would keep track of employees—something official” that would provide real, reliable data.
When one of their supers suggested ExakTime, which he’d used at a former place of employment, SunEnergy1’s leadership decided to pull the trigger. Talmadge says the product stuck right from the start because it answered their need for record uniformity.
“Being able to retain all of our timekeeping and records in one platform, instead of having to shuffle through time cards—that was great,” Talmadge says.
Now, SunEnergy1 uses ADP for payroll, and all the data from ExakTime are flowed into their payroll system. “We have employees who are split up amongst three divisions,” says Talmadge. “I can download all of the hours into a workable spreadsheet for ADP in a matter of ten minutes.”
Easy tracking and identifying of temporary employees
SunEnergy1 takes advantage of ExakTime’s GPS-enabled features to track both field and traveling employees, including the workers who do maintenance on their finished sites. “We use both GPS geofences and Geotrakker, since our sites are spread out,” says Talmadge. “For example, we have a plumber who goes from place to place. We can see that he clocked in at one site at a certain time and another site later.”
Aside from accurate time tracking and reliable records, one feature of ExakTime that has helped SunEnergy1 tremendously, according to Talmadge, is Facefront photo ID verification. When enabled by the company admin, Facefront snaps a photo of each worker as they clock in and clock out. Since the company employs a large pool of seasonal, temporary workers each year, this makes all workers accountable and verifies their data within the system—even when their faces are unfamiliar to management.
Traveling employees and missed punches
SunEnergy1 Site Administrator Amanda Abrams handles exceptions in the ExakTime system, from holidays and time-off requests to the occasional missing time punch.
“I love the Missed Clock Ins/Outs report and use it every day,” says Abrams. “If somebody clocked out and back in by accident, I can easily go back into time card detail and fix it immediately. It saves a lot of time.”
Abrams noted that both contract and full-time employees adapt to the system well and generally use it correctly. “When it gets to be 200 to 300 people on site, there are going to be some people who forget to clock out. But if you know whose group they’re in, you can look up that location and see what time everyone else clocked out in that group and make corrections.”
Stopping chronic lateness
ExakTime has also helped SunEnergy1 better manage employees by providing superintendents with airtight backup to address a specific employee’s chronic lateness (or their habit of leaving early). “When a super asks me to, I go in and filter for that employee and pull a report for three to four weeks. I then save it as a PDF and send it via email.”
Talmadge says she uses various reports within the system to help her aggregate the data ExakTime collects for both auditing and payroll purposes. “I use the Employee Touch Detail and Executive Summary reports, as well as the Estimated Labor Cost report,” says Talmadge. “I send that one to our accounting department so they can cost allocate the hours and cross-reference those hours with payroll.”
Talmadge said the difference between using ExakTime and paper or spreadsheets for a company that’s getting larger every day boils down to accuracy and accountability, which affects everything from payroll to labor law compliance. “When you use ExakTime there’s a time stamp and picture. With paper time cards, it’s just your word against the employee’s.”
She summed up the company’s experience with ExakTime this way: “It’s been awesome for us. We love it.”