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Time is still precious

Staff Time systems that support flexible working while delivering efficiency benefits see dramatic increase in popularity.

Time and Attendance systems may have slipped out of fashion in recent years but are now seeing a resurgence as organisations need to manage new, more flexible ways of working while ensuring that staff hours continue to meet business demands as efficiently as possible. However, the benefits are not all stacked in favour of the employer, there are plenty of advantages for staff as well, as John Ovington, Sales and Support Director at Carval Computing explains. Time and attendance (T&A) systems, once most commonly used in factory and manufacturing environments have moved on a long way since the old days of clocking in and out with a punch card. These days it is more a case of logging in and out, with staff more likely to be clocking on at their desks via their computers (or in the retail sector, the till), using biometric readers (hand, iris or facial recognition), proximity readers, or even using their mobile phones.

Mobility and flexibility need to be managed
The trend towards increased mobility has led to a huge increase in more flexible working. As some industries face a skills shortage, they have been keen to keep talented workers, and have found that adopting more flexible working arrangements can help. Managing this flexibility, where there are many different patterns of work can be a challenge. Add to this complex situation the need to ensure that staff are working efficiently and indeed, are working the hours that they should be, and it becomes quite a sizable issue. This is where a modern staff time management system (or T&A) can help.

At the very basic level T&A ensures that the company knows who is working, when and where. It highlights any absence, including late arrivals and early leavers. When linked to an access control system, it also shows up if any staff attempt to enter a restricted access area. All of this helps to ensure that staff work the hours that they are paid for. This is particularly useful where staff work varying hours, or organisations are moving to banked hours, demand scheduling, zero-hours contracts or where agency or temporary workers are used. It ensures that the company is able to draw down employee hours as required, and where outside staff are used, that the company is correctly invoiced.

Conversely, such systems also ensure that staff are paid correctly for the hours they work, promptly. It eliminates the requirement for timesheets and manual inputting of hours, which can lead to rekeying mistakes leading to payroll errors. Overpayments can be difficult to recover, especially if they are not identified straight away and can lead to bad feeling with staff. Underpayment can be equally damaging to staff relations.

A T&A system helps organisations ensure that the right staff are in the right place at the right time. It forms the basis for building shift systems that ensure that business demands are met while supporting work/life balance and flexible working arrangements. The transparency of having a system used by all ensures that staff are treated equally and fairly, across departments and throughout the organisation. It can help to enforce safety policies, and can provide assurances for lone workers. T&A also helps to avoid a ‘shirker’ culture, which hard working staff appreciate because no one wants to think that they are ‘carrying’ fellow workers. An organisation is able to deploy what is often its most valuable asset and largest cost, its workforce, more efficiently, helping to improve profitability.

At Carval, we have seen a marked increase in interest in staff time management systems over the last three years, indeed sales and enquiries have been up almost 50 percent during this period, which seems to have coincided with the peak of the recession. While organisations may not be thinking of traditional T&A solutions, nevertheless, we are increasingly being asked for a range of T&A type features that harness the latest technology including solutions that work on mobile phones, utilising GPS for location information. We are also being asked for facial recognition for field based workers, homeworkers and those working in challenging and/or high security environments so that organisations can monitor remote workers in the same way that they would on-site workers.

A prime example of using technology to better manage the workforce and so improve operational efficiency is R-TEK Limited of Merthyr Tydfil. Part of Kasai Kogyo of Japan, R TEK supplies high quality interior automotive components for Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK and Honda Manufacturing UK. With approximately 200 employees working differing hours and a variety of shift patterns, the company decided to rationalise with a Time & Attendance system. The efficiencies from the system led to more efficient ways of working and provided greater management control. The company is now moving towards Demand Scheduling where employees will have a set number of paid working hours per week. Any additional hours worked are banked for use when demand is low. This provides stability for employees, who are guaranteed a set monthly salary, and improves business efficiency.

At Cardiff Community Housing Association (CCHA), T&A is used to support its ‘Better Balance’ policy which allows employees to have a measure of control over when, where and how they work. The scheme reflects CCHA’s core workplace value that allows an individual’s right to a fulfilled life inside and outside work. This innovative policy allows home working, compressed working, start and finish time variants and team-based solutions. Stationery company Charles Letts, famous for FiloFax and Letts diaries, uses T&A to cope with complex shift patterns for over 600 employees. The automated links to payroll has meant a significant reduction in the resource required to process payroll, as hours are captured electronically, and the risk of errors have been much reduced.

At Liebherr GB in Bedfordshire, they manufacture and repair a wide range of plant including earth movers, cranes, concrete mixers and tracked machines. The introduction of T&A has driven efficiency and given individual departments the autonomy to manage their own times and holidays, which is much appreciated by the staff. Often when a T&A system is installed it uncovers working practices that have been undeclared or down to local practice. Even departments that think they are working correctly can discover that maybe some people are not working their full contracted hours, or that overtime policy is not being enforced. Organisations gain extra hours that would otherwise have been lost in the system, and employees are paid in full for the work that they do, and are treated equally. Payroll errors often go unnoticed and therefore unaddressed. Overpayments can be recovered, which for a large organisation, over a period of time can equate to many £’000s.

Rather than seeing clocking in and out as out moded and a bit ‘big brother-ish’, organisations are now beginning to see the potential benefits of T&A, not least to support new, more flexible ways of working. Automation saves time and resource (filling in timesheets, rekeying data, etc), while ensuring that everyone is treated equally. This is great for the staff as well as the company – surely a Win/Win situation.

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