Pros and cons of the timesheet in Excel (or Google docs)
Keeping the time track in the online spreadsheet is a natural pick for a company that has not done it before. There are both pros and cons of this solution.
Tracking working time is a crucial part of multiple business activities. It supports invoicing, helps to keep an eye on productivity, and delivers knowledge of immense importance.
The obvious challenge of tracking the working time is in finding a good tool. To name just a few:
- Pen, paper, and other low-tech solutions — the basics of the basics, sometimes supported by handheld stopwatch when going full-vintage. This solution works probably only for super-motivated people and small teams,
- Online spreadsheet — the most obvious pick, especially that nearly all companies use spreadsheets in their daily work,
- Time tracking software — the piece of software designed solely to track and deliver reports regarding the working time. The solution can be either cloud-based, installed on the device, or delivered in any hybrid form of these two.
From the point of the small and medium business owner, the second option appears to be the most reasonable one. Indeed, it has some advantages, yet it comes with several flaws that cannot be overlooked.
Pros of using spreadsheets to track time
Spreadsheets and, later, online spreadsheets are a silent revolution in the business world, delivering countless day-to-day automation for legions of white-collar workers. A powerful enough spreadsheet can be used to manage the whole company, while smaller ones are used to control processes, count money, manage resources, or analyze and visualize data.
Thus, it is not a surprise that using a spreadsheet to track the working time comes with some significant advantages.
A spreadsheet, be that Excel or Google Sheets, deliver a good deal of analytics and business intelligence functions. It is not that surprising — that’s basically what are these tools designed for.
When being either skilled or stubborn enough, one can automate multiple tasks related to counting the time, adding the overtime, invoicing, and other tasks usually associated with payroll.
Using the spreadsheet to track the time is usually the top-of-mind pick of any company that needs or wills to implement any type of attendance or productivity tracking system. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that before tracking employee hours in Excel there was no such system, and all the work was done in a trust-based manner. For better or worse.
Implementing this system is the first step toward measuring and promoting the productivity of each of the employees. And thus, the sole appearance of the system can deliver an unexpected boost in overall productivity.
On the other side of the same coin, by making a timesheet in Excel and implementing it in the company, it is much easier to track who and for how long has been working on a particular project. Apart from making the invoicing easier, this solution delivers more detailed information on the effectiveness and who-and-when-did-what. It is the first step in spotting productivity leaks or asset misallocation.
It is safe to say that most of the business processes are either done or tracked in various types of spreadsheets. Thus, one can enrich the employee time tracking data with any other information he or she considers suitable.
Also, tracking the time in this manner means high data portability and actionability — there will be no problem in exporting the data in any form — it is already exported to the spreadsheet.
Ease of use
Last but not least, nearly every white-collar worker is familiar with Excel, google sheets, or other types of a spreadsheet. So it is not a yet-another-tool-to-learn, but rather a next spreadsheet to use. And using a spreadsheet is nothing to be afraid of for most of the users.
All these advantages are interesting and significant to a degree. But they come with several painstaking disadvantages one needs to remember about.
Cons of using a spreadsheet to track time
Undoubtedly, all the benefits above are interesting and can be a huge booster for a company of any kind. But spreadsheet, being a powerful tool, is not designed to track time. Despite being a great tool to deliver reports about the time tracked, it comes with multiple disadvantages one needs to count in.
Probably the worst disadvantage of spreadsheet time tracking is fact that it consumes more time and effort than it appears at first glance. One needs to remember about starting the clock, counting time, entering the data to the spreadsheet, and delivering annotations on it. In fact, gathering data this way is so tedious that employees tend to avoid it and update the timesheet after, from the memory, And that’s totally missing the point.
Another challenge with the spreadsheet is the temptation to create a one-stop-shop of the company’s business intelligence. Overall it is a good idea, but with the growing company, the complexity and the size of the spreadsheet are getting enormous. Also, the amount of hidden mistakes inside the spreadsheet is growing, sometimes creating a slowly working beast that consumes even more time — every update comes with a slight yet irritating delay.
Mistake — prone
The spreadsheet delivers automation in many fields but the tracking itself. So the most important element of the system needs to be done manually and thus, it gets prone to human error. And the time tracking system is only as good as accurate.
An Excel timesheet delivers little to no tools to automate the whole process, in fact delivering no real advantages over the antiquated pen-and-paper system. In the end, the employee needs to run the stopwatch and transfer the data manually.
The mistakes in the Excel project time tracker hampers the efficiency of other businesses' processes like invoicing or payroll — it.
Not as flexible as it looks
A spreadsheet is a great tool, but it is not a jack-of-all-trades, and employee time tracking is certainly not the goal it was designed for. On the other hand, though, it is possible to modify the Excel work time tracker to be better suited to serve the purpose of time tracking, yet it requires a great deal of knowledge and skills in using the spreadsheet.
In the end, when applying some more sophisticated tweaks to the spreadsheet to transform it into the time tracking system, it is a lot of effort to deliver a tool that is still not suited to the task.
Also, Excel or Google Sheets are no more than a spreadsheet — so any compliance with the local labor laws or data protection regulations needs to be delivered in-house.
Despite the fact that excel is excellent (no pun intended) in delivering reports and business intelligence, it is only as good as the data gathered. With the insufficient set of tools to gather the data, the performance of the reporting subsystem is hampered.
The solution designed to track time delivers multiple automation and troubleshooters like automated reminders of starting and stopping the clock, automated data transfer, or notifying the manager about some disturbances in the working pattern. The users of a time tracking app can run their clock from the mobile app or web app to ensure the data is gathered in a convenient way.
Last but not least more sophisticated solutions like Calamari can be used as a QR-code scanner or paired with beacons to automate the clocking even further. Thus, the greatest challenge — the data gathering — is tackled.
The spreadsheet is a versatile and adaptable tool that can be used for a myriad of purposes. And to be honest — it CAN be used to track time and attendance. But it is not as good as the online timesheet tracking tools designed to serve this particular purpose.
It can be an excellent tool for a busy freelancer, motivated to track his or her time and certain about the goal to achieve. But when used by more than a bunch of professionals, the solution can deliver more additional work than advantages. When using the special for time tracking, the amount of problems solved-by-design is a great incentive for a company.
Originally published at https://calamari.io on March 9, 2021.