Posted in HR Automation

How to Automate the Employee Timesheet Approval Process

Timesheet tracking has been around for years. Punch cards, clocking in and out, ID forms, paper forms, Excel — we’ve seen every variant.

But, these processes are tedious, and HR departments struggle to manage them. They must organize, deal with, and approve timesheets for dozens or even hundreds of employees at the same time.

In today’s business world, these old-fashioned methods are too time-consuming and waste company time. Optimize your company for the 21st century by automating long, manual processes. 

Timesheet management is a simple, relatively frequent, and time-consuming process. It’s a perfect candidate for automation.

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Why Won’t Old Methods Work Anymore?

According to data from Statista, 115.6 million metric tons of paper for printing and writing are produced around the globe. 

The paper itself costs companies lots of money every year. On average, it costs an organization $20 to file a document, $120 to find a misplaced document, and $220 to reproduce a lost document. 

Aside from this, employees who are constantly buried in paperwork are unhappy, more stressed, and less productive.

Automation decreases the amount of paperwork — this improves employee morale and increases productivity since processes take much less time to complete. Approximately 60% of occupations could save 30% of their time with automation.

Take a look at some old-fashioned timesheet tracking methods and see why a modern company can’t afford to use them anymore.

Time Cards and Punch Clocks

The time card is a rather primitive form of timesheet tracking. An employee inserts their card and the system stamps it with the current time. This made sense early on, but there are many disadvantages to this system. 

  • Lines: This system comes with long lines to clock in and out. Employees end up standing in line first thing in the morning instead of getting straight to work. The last employee in line is the last one to start their daily tasks, and this time starts to add up.
  • Human error: An employee may incorrectly insert their card and get the wrong timestamp. But, it’s very hard to correct the error once the card is updated. Fixing the error is time-consuming and costly.
  • “Buddy punching”: This is when an employee takes someone else’s card to punch in for them, making it seem like they worked more hours. This is also an example of time theft — when companies pay employees for time they haven’t actually worked. A survey of 1,000 employees found that 49% admitted to time theft, a figure that potentially costs US employers more than $11 billion a year.

Badge Scanning

This is exactly what it sounds like — an employee comes into work, scans their badge, and gets an electronic time stamp. They do the same when they leave. Badge scanning is similar to the time card system and has most of the same issues.

However, unlike time cards, your badge goes home with you. If an employee forgets their badge by accident, HR has to manually input information to keep things on track. 

Badge scanning is a step up from time cards because it’s electronic. But “buddy punching” is still possible unless there’s someone checking badges and holding the scanner.

Time cards and badge scans used to be the most simple and efficient way to track work hours, but the consequences outweigh the pros. Minimize the risk of “time theft” by letting employees fill out their timesheets on their time from their desks.

Paper Forms

Paper forms may seem like a good option to avoid long lines, but using paper has many issues that can hold companies back. Employees fill out paper forms on their own time, but they’re complex, inefficient, and hard to keep track of. 

Here are some issues that come with using paper forms:

  • People misplace paper all the time. When they lose a timesheet, it takes a lot of time and effort to replace it. That’s 100% waste.
    • Printing, signing, scanning, emailing, etc., takes valuable time away from things that really matter. 
  • Employees sometimes have illegible handwriting. Hopefully, you don’t run into this problem often, but if you misread a timesheet, you directly affect an employee’s pay for that pay period. Fixing this mistake is time-consuming and irritating.
  • Costs for paper-based processes add up. Companies need to reduce paper waste in an effort to help the environment. The cost of paper may not be that much, but when you add up the costs of printing, storing, filing, maintenance, etc., it makes a sizable dent in company funds.
    • Gartner, Inc. estimates that companies waste as much as 3% of company revenue on paper processes. 

Reduce waste and increase efficiency by staying away from paper!

Emailing Excel Sheets

Using Excel is a step in the right direction — employees fill their timesheets out on their own, and they reduce paper waste since they are electronic. But Excel sheets have their own set of problems. 

  • Excel doesn’t include the technology to check and verify your timesheet. If you accidentally input the wrong hours and miss the mistake, Excel can’t warn you that you’ve done so.
  • Once you save, download, and email an Excel sheet to a timesheet approver or project manager, it’s impossible to gain access and fix mistakes in the same sheet. You have to send an additional email with the same updated attachment (usually documentX (1).pdf). 
    • This results in what we call “inbox flooding.” The manager now has two emails with seemingly the same document. If multiple employees do this, the manager’s inbox is quickly flooded with messages, burying urgent emails under less important ones. 
    • If the manager accidentally clicks the first attachment (the incorrect one), your paycheck may be unexpectedly smaller.

So how can we prevent this? All of this is easily avoidable if you use intuitive software that catches mistakes, allows you to edit, and doesn’t require an email.

Electronic Timesheet Tracking 

Companies in the 21st century need to automate processes to increase efficiency and reduce paper waste — those who fail to digitize risk obsolescence and expose themselves to far nimbler competitors.

Timesheet tracking and approval is a perfect example of a process that’s ripe for automation.

  • This process typically has multiple stakeholders who must approve, so paper or email is wasteful and inefficient.
  • It’s frequent, so the inefficiency compounds. Even small savings in individual timesheets multiply into large savings for the organization as a whole.
  • Employees can fill out their timesheets in a timely manner and focus more of their time on work that matters.
  • There’s no paperwork to wade through, no emails to scroll through, and no risk of losing relevant information. This facilitates the transition to a paperless office.
  • Software makes it easier for the employee. Instead of spending time filling in first name, last name, employee ID, email, etc., it automatically fills in employee information based on their login credentials. 
  • Software also gives you the option to save and continue later instead of having to start over each time. 
  • Automation technology ensures that completed timesheets are properly routed to the right timesheet approver at the right time.
  • When an employee finishes an electronic timesheet for each pay period, it’s in the manager’s hands for approval within minutes. 
  • The manager can view and approve each submitted timesheet from anywhere and on any device. Even if your manager is traveling, you can get your timesheet approved and your payment processed.
  • The software notifies a manager, sends reminders, and can escalate to a different person. HR doesn’t have to waste time chasing down signatures and approvals.

How to Create a Timesheet Approval Workflow

Relying on paper-based processes to track and record timesheets is inefficient. Employees also have no way to check their timesheet status unless they reach out to their manager. 

In addition, manual approvals put a massive strain on the HR team, which already has a ton of administrative tasks to manage. 

Follow these steps using frevvo’s HR workflow automation software to build an automated workflow for timesheet approvals.

Step 1: Create Your Timesheet Form

frevvo’s visual form builder makes it easy to create online forms for your organization — no coding required. You can create dynamic forms entirely from scratch or install a pre-built template with a single click.

With the form builder, you can customize the fields to perform calculations automatically. This cuts down on manual timesheet entry and reduces human error.

Here’s an example:

Timesheet approval form

You can even configure your forms to track hours for individual projects. This is useful for managing contractor timesheets.

Here’s a closer look:

Selecting a project on a timesheet approval form

In the example above, a user simply selects a project from the dropdown list, enters their timesheet hours, and the subtotal fields calculate automatically.

Then add a digital signature field to your form. This is a highly secure method of signing documents. It allows employees to add their signatures from any device.

Step 2: Build an Approval Workflow

Timesheet approvals typically follow the same set of steps. But having to do each manually is time-consuming and prone to errors.

The workflow builder makes it easy to create automated workflows that streamline each step of the timesheet approval process. 

You can also add conditional rules to make your workflows more efficient. For example, instead of having a VP review every submitted timesheet, you can create a rule that only routes timesheets over 40 hours.

Here’s an example of a timesheet approval workflow with a conditional rule:

Timesheet approval workflow
  1. An employee tracks their hours and fills out a timesheet
  2. The form automatically routes to a timesheet approver (e.g., a project manager)
  3. A manager reviews and approves the timesheet
  4. If the timesheet is over 40 hours, it routes to a VP for further review
  5. If not, the timesheet is routed to the finance department for payroll processing

That’s it. Employees won’t have to deal with antiquated timesheet tracking methods like paper time cards or paper forms.

Step 3: Test and Deploy Your Workflow

Of course, you’ll want to thoroughly test your workflows before you deploy them across your organization. 

With frevvo, you can test your workflows and even see how they’ll look on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

Here’s an example of how mobile previews look:

Mobile previews in frevvo's workflow automation software

Your forms and workflows will work exactly as designed. If everything looks good, the next step is to deploy.

Step 4: Monitor Your Workflow 

There may be some hiccups along the way. Keep a close eye on your new timesheet approval workflow and solicit feedback from your team early on.

frevvo features in-depth reports that give you increased visibility into your workflows. Use these insights to identify bottlenecks and improve workflow efficiency.

Here’s a snapshot of just some of the reports you’ll find in frevvo:

frevvo reports

Be sure to revisit and revise your workflows regularly. Making even a single change to a workflow can drastically improve how work gets done.

Automate Timesheet Approvals

As companies optimize for the 21st century, timesheet tracking must evolve with them. The old methods — physical time cards, scanned ID badges, paper forms, and Excel sheets just don’t work anymore. 

They are time-consuming, inefficient, and cause HR employees too much stress. In today’s business world, using old methods wastes company time. Timesheet submission is the perfect place to start using automation technology.

If you’re looking for a solution to automate timesheet approvals, then get started with a free 30-day trial to try out frevvo’s workflow automation software.

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