Photo 50208118 © Morikuni Machida |
Timecards—still used by more than 1/3rd of US companies to track their employees.

How Time Tracking Has Evolved in 25 Years (and How Many Contractors Haven't)

July 1, 2024
Many construction companies are still living in the age of Y2K, relying on paper punch cards and timesheets that expose the business to tremendous risk and potential litigation.

In the world of construction and technology, a lot has changed since 1999. The value of public federal construction in the US has more than doubled since that year when "blogs," "cord-cutting," and "texting" made their lexicographical debut. Today, the construction sector is bustling with head-turning technology that’s (literally) taking the built environment to new heights and tech-savvy professionals who are leveraging these new tools in innovative ways. 

One technology that deserves a round of applause for its value-driven evolution over the past 25 years is digital time tracking. Unfortunately, many construction companies are still living in the age of Y2K, relying on paper punch cards and timesheets that expose the business to tremendous risk and potential litigation. 

Many also fail to realize that modern time and attendance technology isn’t just about recording work hours. When used strategically, it quickly becomes a powerful tool that mechanical contractors can use to make better business decisions and avoid compliance and safety issues.

A Short History Lesson

It’s fascinating to learn that historians can trace time and attendance tracking back over 3,000 years to ancient Egypt.. Texts show that the Egyptian state paid workers in food supply and even tracked illness-related absences. 

The mechanical time clock was invented and patented in the 1880s, quickly making its way into factories during the Industrial Revolution. About 100 years later, electronic systems and smart card attendance systems entered the marketplace. While these innovations made a manual process easier, they still didn’t fix issues with falsified data and human error risk, absence and overtime management, and speeding up payroll processing time.

Today, automation capabilities and cloud-based platforms set modern time and attendance solutions apart from their predecessors. Field employees can use their smartphones to clock in and out instantly, foremen no longer need to worry about collecting and approving paper timesheets at the end of the week, and the payroll department doesn’t have to spend hours deciphering illegible handwriting to ensure they’re compensating people correctly.

Missed Opportunities

When the first automobiles hit the market, everyone was just happy to have a powered vehicle with four wheels. Now, people expect features like Bluetooth, built-in navigation, cruise control and autopilot. Likewise with time tracking solutions: nobody says, “I miss those timecards,” after trading them in for a newer model.

Yet, one-third of businesses have outdated time tracking systems, with 38% of US companies still using paper timesheets and punch cards, according to QuickBooks. By this metric, if the Mechanical Contractors Association of America represents 2,700 mechanical contracting firms, 1,026 of them may still rely on paper-based systems to manage their workforce.

Sure, paper-based systems will still allow companies to know when and where contractors were at a jobsite, but they miss out on a lot of business intelligence beyond the individual when they choose to track time and attendance manually.

Advanced Management for the Field

A time and attendance system must answer the fundamental questions of “Did you show up, and how long were you there?” However, today’s construction companies also need to know information like, “Did you change locations?” and “Did you switch between tasks with different job codes?” to manage their workforce effectively and ensure accurate payrolls. 

With digital tracking, employees can enter their hours and activities from the field on their desktops or mobile devices. GPS geofences, time stamps, and ID confirmation, such as a selfie photo, can capture accurate information and enhance employee accountability. Certain apps can also work offline to capture information at remote job sites with no internet connectivity or cell phone signal. Collectively, the features help to discourage inaccurate timesheets (even rounding up an extra 15 minutes can eat away at a project’s labor budget) and “buddy punching,” when one employee clocks in for another who isn’t actually at work.

Data-Enabled Job Costing and Resource Allocation

Business owners and field supervisors can do a lot to improve their performance on projects with more accurate employee time tracking. Estimators can use the information to improve job cost forecasting on new projects, and project managers can monitor labor hours to keep projects on budget. If reports indicate that the current workforce’s productivity level may cause schedule delays, they can make a data-backed decision to hire additional workers to finish the scope on time. On the flip side, if the reports indicate that too many workers are present at a job site, those resources can be reallocated to support other projects.

Enhanced Job Site Safety

Construction is a high-risk, high-consequence industry when it comes to safety. Only qualified personnel should perform certain tasks, such as welding or operating heavy equipment.

Digital time and attendance solutions can be configured to give foremen access to employee certifications, allowing them to verify that individuals are assigned to tasks they’re qualified for and confirm that all training and certifications are up to date. If their OSHA or welding certifications are close to their expiration dates, field supervisors can alert the appropriate team members that it’s time to renew.

Incident reporting is an extension of time and attendance tools. Before clocking out, employees can fill out vital safety information, like “Were you injured on the job today?” At the managerial level, project supervisors can analyze safety reports to understand common safety incidents and tackle the core of the issue. They may need to invest in additional safety training or implement measures to support fatigued employees who are repeatedly involved in incidents.

Compliance Risk Mitigation

Time and attendance technology can support legal compliance with labor regulations and union agreements on busy job sites. Employers need to track employee hours, overtime, time off, meal breaks, and more to comply with varying state and federal statutes. Furthermore, they must be able to prove compliance with detailed records at a moment’s notice. Spending hours sorting through filing cabinets—or, worse, realizing a vital document is lost—can open businesses up to lawsuits, time theft allegations and hefty fines, not to mention the associated negative publicity.

Technology can Transform

At the end of the day, one person—or company—can’t do it all by themselves. Running an effective and scalable mechanical contracting business means using the latest technology to automate processes that hamper field and office productivity, mitigate unnecessary risk and facilitate data-driven decision-making. 

By taking manual time and attendance tracking off your workforce’s plate, you can open up their time to invest in opportunities that help the overall business, such as learning new craft skills, mentoring a new generation of pipefitters and pursuing additional work. This shift not only enhances operational efficiency but also boosts employee morale by allowing them to focus on higher-value tasks that contribute to personal and professional growth. Ultimately, leveraging technology to streamline routine activities creates a more agile and competitive business capable of adapting to industry changes and seizing new opportunities.

Michael Dickran is the director of enterprise sales at Arcoro, an HR management solutions provider for the construction industry. Reach him at [email protected], and learn more at

About the Author

Michael Dickran

Michael Dickran is the director of enterprise sales at Arcoro, an HR management solutions provider for the construction industry. Reach him at [email protected], and learn more at

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