History, Present, and Future
of ⏱ Time Tracking for Teams

How did time tracking start? What types of time trackers are currently on the market?
Is unobtrusive time management possible? How could AI help measure time?
The root of time tracking for groups of people started about 130 years ago among 4 notable companies that eventually became a multinational technology company with operations in more than 170 countries. Can you guess the name of this company?

Tabulating Machine Company

Herman Hollerith proposed storing information in the form of holes punched through a strip of paper. His development of punched cards in 1886 set the industry standard for the next 80 years of tabulating and computing data input.
Sample of a Hollerith's punch card
Sample of a Hollerith's punch card

Bundy Manufacturing Company

The first time clock was invented 130 years ago, on November 20, 1888, by Willard Bundy. Take a look at time recorder instruction document from1892.
Workman's Time Recorder patent of Willard Bundy Bundy Manufacturing Company time recorder instruction document from1892.

International Time Recording Company

Daniel M. Cooper received a patent for his "Workman's Time Recorder" – the first device to use a card to record the time at which an employee punched in and out from work.

Cooper sold his patent to J. L. Willard and F. A. Frick of Rochester, New York, formed the Willard & Frick Manufacturing Company in1894 as the first time card recorder company in the world. Employees could punch in and out at work.
In 1900, the International Time Recording Company formed from the Willard & Frick Manufacturing Company and the Bundy Manufacturing Company.

International Time Recording Company

Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company logotype
In 1911, financier Charles R. Flint amalgamated four companies (including the Computing Scale Company of America) into the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. Time recording was the company's main revenue earner.

In 1924, CTR was renamed International Business Machines, or simply IBM.
$950,000

CTR's net earnings were in 1911
$25,300,000

CTR's earnings of 1911 would be in 2017
$5,753,000,000

IBM's income in 2017
(227 times higher than CTR's could be)
Almanac: The punch clock by CBS Sunday Morning
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According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, in 2017:
  • 50% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20%-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency.
  • 80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part time. Two to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).
  • Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their space around the fact that employees are already mobile. Studies have repeatedly shown that workers are not at their desks 50%-60% of the time.
  • 3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time.

In other words, a significant number of working people do not physically clock in/clock out, but instead use software to track their time.
Let's review 4 primary types of time tracking.
Big companies still track time using an old school approach, albeit with modern technologies. One of the oldest (funded in 1996, which is 22 years ago) examples of such time tracking software is Replicon – an enterprise-oriented platform for time tracking, resource management, expense tracking, payroll, and invoicing. They also have a chatbot and attendance tracking based on facial recognition.

Nowadays attendance tracking could be done via QR codes, iBeacon, NFC, RFID, GPS tracking, an fingerprint and/or facial recognition.
Professional services are a billable hours-driving industry. Timesheets are the core of consulting business operations. In 2006, the most popular time trackers were founded, including TSheets, Harvest, Toggl, and Tick.
TSheets was the first company to create and release a native employee time tracking app for the iPhone. TSheets was acquired by Intuit in 2017 (35-year-old company, creators of TurboTax and QuickBooks).
Free for 1 user.
Monthly plans start from
$20 + $5 per user.
Harvest began as a web design studio, which is why it has a very nice user interface, making it a pleasure to input hours. It has been integrated with 100+ apps.
It might be the most popular among US-based web design and development agencies.
Free for 1 user.
Monthly plan is $12 per user.
Toggl has applications for all platforms and includes flexible workspace management.
Free for 1 user.
Monthly plans: $10 per user and $20 per user, enterprise plan is $59 per user. There are significant discounts for many users.
Toggl has a very detailed feature comparison page.
Tick offers beautiful and well-done services with web and mobile apps as well as good integration in major third-party applications. Tick doesn't charge per user, and teams with many projects like it.
Free for 1 project.
$19/month – 10 active projects, $49 for 30, $70 for 60 projects, $149 for unlimited projects.
Historically, the global freelancing platform Upwork (Odesk) has used a desktop app to record screens and track freelancers' time. Not every freelancer or employee accepts that level of transparency. But Hubstaff does and even shows its financial metrics publicly.
Hubstaff is time tracker with an activity log for all platforms, with multiple deep integrations into third-party services. It also offers GPS time tracking via mobile apps to account for employees'/contractors' driving time.
Free for 1 user. Monthly plans $5 or $9 per user (depending on features).
Rescuetime's apps activity report
RescueTime's apps activity report
Another notable company that started at 2006 is RescueTime. It focused on personal time tracking in an automatic way. Its desktop app tracks time spent on each application. RescueTime recently released analytics results for 255 million tracked hours. The key takeaways follow:

  • On an average day, we use 56 different apps and websites.
  • We jump from one task to another nearly 300 times per day.
  • We do our most productive work on Wednesdays at 3 pm.
  • Software developers do not hit peak productivity until 2 pm each day.
  • Writers are more likely to be early birds.
  • Email rules our mornings, but never really leaves us alone.

RescueTime for organizations costs $9 per user.
You might have heard that time tracking is hard, and many companies struggle with it. Why? The answer in distraction. It is easy to track time in the old-fashioned manner of clocking in in the morning and out in the evening, but this is possible only if you focus on one task, which is rare in our multitasking digital era. Should you switch the project to track the time for 5 email responses?

Manual time tracking seems annoying, and people often forget about it. These companies are trying to solve that problem.
Slack is very popular among distributed teams, and bots were the trend in 2017. Nikabot asks team members what they worked on and makes sure everyone keeps their data up-to-date. It prompts users when they are on Slack so they never have to switch contexts.

Take a look at interactive demo of team and projects reports overview.

$4.99 per tracked user per month.
Nickabot works in Slack
Nickabot works in Slack
Allocate aims to track time in a semiautomatic way via desktop apps that capture activity, calendar events, and email metadata analyses. Users still have to confirm which block of time they have dedicated to which project, but Allocate utilizes machine learning to make the best predictions.

Allocate's AI is not a rule-based framework, but at the same time it is not fully automatic artificial intelligence time tracking. The probabilistic model supported by machine learning with a good interface seems like a appropriate balance between correct and unobtrusive time tracking.

Monthly plans start from $12 per user.
Review and submit your timesheet with Allocate
Review and submit your timesheet with Allocate
The goal of this service is end manual time entry and switch people to fully automatic time tracking. The tool has been announced, but not yet released publicly. While we are waiting for the public launch, let's watch the promo video.

Memory AI creators offer the app for activity time tracker for teams Timely, which also integrates with multiple services (Gmail, Github, Trello, Asana, Wunderlist, Todoist, Office 365, Moves).

Monthly plan from $15 per user.
For personal use it costs $8.

Memory AI - fully automatic time tracking
Although Metric.ai is not a time tracker, but rather provides business analytics for professional services, it is able to pull the data from any time tracking software.

According to Metric.ai, most agencies and consulting firms are well disciplined and track time with available third-party services.

Metric.ai performs calculations with aggregated data from timesheets, resource scheduling and bookkeeping services, and prepare flexible dashboards of KPIs for finances, hours, utilization, and employees while offering granular segmentation and access control.
Review and submit your timesheet with Allocate
Metric.ai – professional services KPIs measured from your tools
Good companies do track hours, and some systems remind consultants about their time, helping them stay focused. There are solid software services on the market for manual and semi-automatic time tracking.

The future might be in fully automated AI-powered hour detection services.

Time tracking is annoying, but not the hardest problem facing professional services.
Management offices need reports, but preparing them is a time-consuming task; if you want to aggregate information from multiple tools into one dashboard, take a look at Metric.ai.