The Challenges of Mobile Time Tracking on the Job

Tracking Time Is More Than Clocking In and Out

For most businesses, time tracking is a critical element that influences profitability and efficiency. As a business owner, it can be assumed that recording how long your employees are working should be the easiest part of managing your business. Benjamin Franklin once said,

“Lost time is never found again.” (BrainyQuote, 2016, Benjamin Franklin)

Time is pretty straightforward. We have 24 hours a day. Work consumes a few of those hours and the rest are used for our personal lives. Once the day is over, it is gone. We move on to the next day. Like the autonomic functions of the body – breathing, hearts beating, and blood pumping – time is another function that works regardless of the thought we give to it. This is why people commonly don’t consider important factors that influence time or how time is recorded – specifically in the workplace.

Drew Calder is a Software Engineer here at busybusy™, where we are perfecting the art of mobile timekeeping and workforce analytics.  Drew is responsible for overcoming the challenges of keeping time in a mobile environment.  I was lucky to interview Drew and discuss the challenges that test the limits of mobile time tracking.

“It takes myself and a team of engineers months to solve some of these problems and we expect people to solve them in their normal day-to-day lives. If we can alleviate that pain, then that is awesome.” (Calder)

Time tracking is far more than watching a clock. In the workplace, efficient timekeeping affects an employer’s ability to manage employees and measure productivity, as well as develop more accurate project estimations and budgeting.

Timekeeping Influences Everyone in an Organization.

  • Time is recorded on the job
  • Time off is requested and monitored
  • Supervisors review and approve timecards
  • Managers and foreman estimate and project how long a project will require
  • Owners use timekeeping to evaluate and analyze profitability

“Timekeeping is how much you’re going to pay people, and how much a job is going to cost.  If you’re not tracking that accurately, you may go out of business.” (Calder)

Timekeeping evolved as we became more and more dependent on accurately recording time. Centuries ago, we simply counted the minutes and hours.  In today’s business world, we use technology to analyze every second, looking for ways to be more efficient.

“It got complicated when [people doing business] started traveling so fast that we needed to add time-zones.” (Calder)

These days, even small companies worry about tracking employee time and attendance.  Modern companies enjoy flexible schedules and work without boundaries.  Even organizations with few employees face confusing timekeeping processes.  If your records are not accurate, it is hard to pay employees and bill clients. An organization looking to maintain reliable timekeeping needs to be aware of the challenges and understand why tracking time is not merely counting seconds and hours.

Here are 9 things that change how you track work hours (Infographic)

9 challenges that change how you track real-time in a mobile timekeeping environment

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Identifying the Challenges

Leap Year: 

Every 4 years we add 24 hours to the calendar.  The Romans were the first to implement the extra day when they realized that a 365-day calendar does not properly align with the seasons.

“As people started tracking time, they started coming up with systems.  One of those systems is that there are 365.24 days in a year, which doesn’t happen evenly. But then, the calendar starts to get off slowly and the seasons don’t line up properly, as they originally intended. They started adding leap years.” (Calder)

When establishing schedules and labor budgets, many organizations do not account for the extra day. Also, if a leap year is added to a pay period, the hours used to estimate salary, insurance and benefits will need to adjust.  If an employee is paid according to an annual salary, does their wage cover the extra day? Does the employee get the day off or will the employer compensate them for the difference from one year to another?

Time Zones: 

The need for time zones began in the 1800s as railroad companies moved people and freight over thousands of railway lines that spread across North America.  At that time, every city used a different standard time. Standard times were scattered across the country.

“Time was originally based on the sundial, where each town was based on the sun overhead.  But, as we travel faster, they needed a standardized time.  If you want to know if a train traveling across the country is going to arrive on-time, they need a standard.  They used Greenwich mean time to standardize on global time.” (Calder)

“When everyone was dealing with time locally, then it didn’t matter.  A business owner of a company didn’t really have that type of visibility, because they didn’t really have a global company.  If they did, you would travel to that place, then you were there.  You would reference the local time, and it didn’t matter.” (Calder)

When employees travel between time zones, it creates confusion on timecards and payroll reports. If an employee starts work in one time zone and then moves to another time zone, the hours displayed on their timecard and the hours they worked do not align.  For example, if the employee starts work at 8:00 am in Mountain Standard Time and ends their day at 5:00 pm on Pacific Standard Time, their timecard will show they worked 8 hours.  According to the time indicated on the clock, they worked from 9:00 to 5:00.  In reality, they worked 9 hours.  They lost an hour because of the transition between time zones.

Earth Rotation:

 By definition, a day is how long it takes for the earth to make one full rotation.  We base our hours and minutes on this concept.  However, the earth’s rotation time varies throughout the year, which creates an average of 4 minutes difference per day.

“We used to say “24 hours is a day”. It’s actually 23 hours and 56 minutes and 4.2 seconds because the earth doesn’t always revolve at the same rate.” (Calder)

Standardized Time:

Local time is often defined by the offset from Coordinated Universal Time or UTC Time. This mechanism is used to coordinate the time zones around the globe.

“We end up needing to calculate, If someone was in this time zone and they traveled over here, what does that mean? We then try to standardize using UTC time, but many people don’t know what UTC time is, a lot of time.” (Calder)

Global Time Zones:

Individual governments decide their time zones. This variation in political reasoning causes inconsistencies around the globe. Many people don’t realize that Russia has eleven Time Zones and China only has one. When you add up all the time zones and inconsistencies, there are approximately 50 hours in a calendar day.

“In this global economy, we have all these complexities. What a lot of people don’t realize is there are 50 hours in a day, or more.”(Calder)

“As you go through the time zones, it is still that same day.  By the time you get to the end of the day, when you get to +12 on the time zone offset, then there are 48 hours in the same day.  In addition, some countries have opted to adjust their offset, because they want to be on another day.” (Calder)

“If we want to show an owner what happened for that day, and they have a global company.  It takes up to 50 hours to get that data in. A report is not up to date until that day is over.” (Calder)

The busybusy app manages the global time zone issue by clearly communicating the status of real-time data.  The user interface shows which employees are still tracking time and what projects they are working on.  When a global business is trying to see real labor information, the daily totals are not complete until the all-time zones and countries have finalized their workday.

Time Tracking Continues to Change

Occasionally a country may decide to change their standard time. Changes may occur due to political reasons or to simply improve trade or increase tourism.

“On average 3 countries change their daylight savings time and their time zones. and we have to maintain what that means.” (Calder)

We make time more complicated: many people in the U.S. dislike daylight savings time.  But that is a minor irritation compared to other parts of the world. Countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Newfoundland, and even Canada have time zones offset by 30 minutes, instead of 1 hour.  Other countries like Australia, Nepal and New Zealand offset time zones by 15 minutes.

“There are 15 and 30 minute time zone changes.   Australia to be specific, has 15 minute time zone changes.” (Calder)

Time is easily related to money, either how much we make or how much we are going to spend. Tracking time is therefore closely connected to tracking money. If you are not tracking it, you are losing it.

“Different places have different laws about how much people should get paid for that time.” (Calder)

“It’s not just clocking in and clocking out.” (Calder)

Time will continue to get more complicated. If an employee works 2 hours in Tokyo Japan, takes a flight to the U.S. and then works 4 hours in Los Angeles, how many hours did they work? What day was it? What time zone is Mars?  If an employee travels through space, do we pay them by the hour, salary, or by the project?  Questions like these need answers.

“We can factor in so many things, that normally we wouldn’t even think about.” (Calder)

“Those are going to be the problems we will need to overcome.” (Calder)

“My job is important because it is helping people to solve these problems; they’re complicated.” (Calder)

Modern timekeeping tools provide many options to overcome these challenges.  Mobile apps collect data and cloud-based software removes the guesswork out of analytics and reporting.  A solution like busybusy™ provides a cost-effective method of managing attendance, projects, and labor costs. Owners and managers can instantly see who’s working, where they are working, and what they are working on. busybusy™ assembled a team of engineers and programmers passionate about overcoming these challenges, allowing you to focus on improving business.

If you are interested in how busybusy™ can save your organization time and money, click here.


Calder, D. (2016, June 16). Interview by J Lords