What if you are only tracking time for job invoicing purposes and don’t care about using hours for payroll? What kind of time-keeping App can you use?
Despite the fact that I wrote an entire series of articles covering more than two-dozen time-tracking apps in February 2022, a recent review of those apps left me with the following answer: “Not many.”
The reality is that of the half-dozen major time tracking apps I explored over a recent three-week period, I only found a couple of solutions that weren’t focused on payroll pay periods when it comes to the time employees report.
Most time trackers let you clock in, record hours and track those hours to customer, job, billable (or non-billable) items and payroll item(s). They may even allow you to clock in to track class, location and project, depending on which accounting solution you are going to sync with.
The problem is they post those hours against the pay period you have told the application you are using inside your accounting solution.
In my case, I was researching for a client who uses QuickBooks Enterprise and wanted to track time using a time-keeping app that offered a “kiosk-like” functionality where multiple employees could quickly log in, select the customer, job and task (billable item), insert notes, and let the clock run.
They needed the ability for those employees to go on breaks, and then return to their work assignments. They also needed the employees to easily switch from one work assignment (customer, job, task) to another (different customer, job, task).
Most importantly, they needed the ability to verify recorded hours when completed, make required adjustments and post the time immediately to QuickBooks. They were not interested in the time accumulating a half-month until the end of their corresponding pay period because these hours would never be used for payroll purposes.
Brief History of QuickBooks Time Tracking
Most time-tracking app developers have forgotten the history of time-tracking in QuickBooks Desktop. The first-time trackers in Desktop didn’t even have the option to track pay items.
That feature was added after the fact, which is why the pay item field is on the right-hand side of the single-time entry window along with “class,” which also came later. (Note the absence of a Payroll item in the Time/Enter Single Activity screen below.)
Time-tracking was a way to track job time for purposes of billing hours. QuickBooks Pro Timer was the first time-tracking app (example below). It was a free utility QuickBooks that could be loaded on your computer. You then had to import a small list file with the names and billable items.
You then could export an iiF file for import with time flies when you were ready to use the time for billing purposes and it populated the single-entry time records (example below).
When the payroll features were added to QuickBooks and payroll items were added to time-tracking, the weekly timesheet option also was made available for those who wished to have employees with direct access to QuickBooks track their time using timesheets.
It was only when Intuit announced that QuickBooks would stop giving away the free QuickBooks Pro Time time-tracking app that developers started producing the kinds of time-keepers we know today, but they focused on payroll time tracking.
Why the Time-tracking Focus Changed
The answer to that question is QuickBooks Online.
We really cannot blame QBO. QuickBooks Online wanted to provide subscribers with the convenience of not having to record employee time from manual records for the payroll add-on, just as had been done for QuickBooks Desktop.
That sounds good enough, with one big difference.
At the time, QuickBooks Online had no “job costing” functionality, so there was no need to track time to jobs.
Projects didn’t even come along in QBO until much later after time tracking was well into development and integration as some of the first apps for QuickBooks Online.
Since there was no job costing to worry about billing time—it could be focused exclusively on the pay-periods to match the QBO payroll functionality.
Time-tracking app developers accumulated employees’ hours into timesheets that corresponded to the pay-periods so supervisors could quickly review and adjust them before finalizing the time in the app, then sent over to QuickBooks Online.
It made no changes when they built its interface to work with QuickBooks Desktop via the QuickBooks Web Connector.
App developers assumed the primary reason Desktop users wanted to track time, even if they tried to track it against Customer: Job and Billable Item was to have that referenced on the Payroll line items and reporting.
Trying to Track Job Time for QuickBooks Desktop
Most app developers created interfaces designed to sync time to QuickBooks Desktop only upon the conclusion of each pay period.
Many time trackers don’t even allow you to set up their applications unless you define a pay period and provide payroll information within their app so they can compute pay-hour value for time tracked.
If you are tracking service items that have been set up as “two-sided” in QuickBooks Desktop, both the income and cost components are computed in QuickBooks. You don’t need the time-keeping app to calculate a pay cost that is arbitrary to the purpose for which you want to track the time.
Today, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to find an app that allows you to track time the way you need to if you only want time for job-tracking purposes and not payroll.
For example, you might need to track time with a mobile device such as an iPhone or Android phone that can use GPS so you can monitor employee location when they travel to and from a client or job location.
While that’s easy enough, the vast majority of apps offering that capability will force you to record the time into pay periods, and not let you sync time back to QuickBooks Desktop until the pay period is closed.
You might need to track time for multiple employees at a centralized job size using a Kiosk-type device that allows an employee to clock in, select the customer:job, and task to be performed, and perhaps record job notes.
Later, that employee may need to change to a different task, or maybe another customer:job, or even take a break.
Different employees must be able to use the same kiosk device and perform the same functions. They also need to be able to perform these tasks from perhaps numerous kiosk devices at the same location.
At the end of the day, an employee must clock out for every customer:job and task, or the system must clock out for them at a reasonable time after their assigned scheduled work period ends.
As mentioned earlier, supervisors or administrators must be able to review this time on a real-time basis, determine the appropriateness, make changes if required, and approve the time in the time-keeping app so that it can ultimately be synchronized with QuickBooks Desktop.
Good luck finding an app that will let you configure multiple kiosks that collect the time in such a way so you can approve the time on a real-time basis and send it over to QuickBooks as soon as it’s approved.
And when the time is sent to QuickBooks Desktop, you want the time to appear exactly as if the time were entered within QuickBooks Desktop itself. For example, you might want to see the time in the Single Activity timesheet for a specific employee on a particular date, or you might want to know the time in an Employee’s Weekly Timesheet.
In addition, the time needs to reflect the Customer: Job, Billable/Not-billable status, Notes and hours.
When it comes time to invoice time, it must show up in the Billable Time for the Customer: Job along with the related notes and other information. This way, the individuals responsible for generating Customer Invoices can adequately assign the appropriate time to the job.
You may find what you thought was the perfect app that met all your requirements “in the field,” so to speak, fails you when it comes to the data sent to QuickBooks Desktop. They simply forget to send needed information like Notes, or they want to send every hour over as either billable or non-billable with no option available.
The reality is you have to search and research, then try and test-try app after app to find the perfect app to meet the requirements that work. It may very well boil down to ‘only one solution available’… what in government they term sole source.
If you want to know what solution we identified and my client selected to accomplish their goals, stay tuned for Part 2 of this mini-series.
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