Working in payroll management provides a noble sense of purpose. A payroll master, for example, has a direct hand in a person’s livelihood. And they’re able to gain a great sense of pride when they do their job well. 

However, feeling fulfilled in one’s job can only go so far. The struggles of traditional timekeeping and manual processes can wear down the best workers. And often, these talented people are the ones with high hopes that their company will soon invest in the most advanced tools.

For HR professionals, those tools are already here. The typical ways of tracking shifting schedules and calculating government deductions on a spreadsheet are falling by the wayside. It’s time for these new offerings to match what the modern workplace needs—flexibility, customization, privacy compliance, and much more.

But how did we get here, though? We certainly didn’t go from DTR cards one day to fingerprint detection the next. 

A Condensed History of Timekeeping for Work

From the invention of time clocks, punch card machines, timesheets, spreadsheet programs, and HR software we know today, timekeeping for work has progressed to leverage the tech of its time. 

The old ways of tracking working hours, however, had inherent constraints. The ‘next big thing’ in tech tried to provide solutions to fulfill the needs and expectations of the modern workplace. Let’s do a quick history lesson to find out how we arrived at the HRMS solutions that we know today.

13th century mechanical clocks

According to Scientific American, mechanical clocks were invented as early as 1283, primarily to aid the Catholic Church in observing prayer times. If “praying” was considered an occupation, then these clocks with descending weights were the first formal timekeeping devices in the context of work.

1888 to 1894, the Bundy clock and the punch card

In the United States, William LeGrand Bundy had the first patent for a time clock. By 1888, his patent for a “time recorder” was granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In the same year, Alexander Dey invented the “dial recorder” in the U.K. 

In 1894, Daniel M. Cooper invented the first punch card machine, dubbed a “workman’s time recorder.” It worked via employees sliding a card into the machine and receiving a time-coded hole punched in their cards. This invention proved revolutionary for factory workers, hospital staff, and other shift workers—adapting to the fast pace typical of the Industrial Revolution.

1913, the rise of timesheets

Any average fan of the hit lawyer drama show “Suits” would know how Louis Litt loves his billable hours, and it turns out that a lawyer named Reginald Heber Smith was the first to use time sheets to charge clients by the hour. Little did he know that his invention would prove useful to independent contractors and freelancers, especially in the digital era.

1979, the first spreadsheet program

Behold the MBA student’s sword and shield—the spreadsheet. Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston designed VisiCalc—the very first spreadsheet program for the Apple II computer. One might say it was the older brother of Microsoft Excel (released a decade later), and the grandfather of Google Sheets (launched in 2006). 

We might have to thank Bricklin and Frankston for manual payroll processing and for helping create many administrative and bookkeeping jobs.

1980s, electronic time clocks that also did other stuff

New machines in this era could collect data using an electronic time card, but some could do more than just track time. Many of these devices could now transmit data directly to a payroll computer, track overtime, and record withholding tax. Early adopters were Marriott Hotel and Montgomery Ward.

1990s, timekeeping device makers pivot to software

In the 90s, electronics became commonplace, with the likes of pagers, cellphones, and PCs becoming more ubiquitous. Not wanting to get left behind, producers of the electronic time clocks of the 1980s shifted their focus to software. Advances came quickly, mainly because of stiff competition. This encouraged frequent updates in timekeeping technology, and ushered HR tech into an era of mobile tracking, and ultimately, to software as a service (SaaS), where data is stored in the cloud and can be accessed online wherever, whenever.

Where We Are Now

Payroll management is entering its own ‘golden era,’ where its value can be fully recognized and utilized by organizations that go all in with automated payroll systems. Automating manual processes, however, is only a fraction of its potential. The HRMS tech of today is making business leaders see that this function is so much more.

The ability to integrate timekeeping, productivity analytics, self-service, and workflows into a single platform turns payroll analysts into strategic partners. This value expansion wipes away the ‘simple processor stigma’ that had once plagued the profession. Through cutting-edge tech, payroll masters can be unfettered from repetitive admin tasks. More importantly, this enables them to harness their analytical and creative thinking skills—the two most important skills for workers in 2023, according to the World Economic Forum—strengthening purpose and meaning in their work.

Adjusting to the Needs and Expectations of the Modern Workplace

We didn’t get here by accident, though. While the COVID-19 crisis accelerated the widespread adoption of remote work technology, this was a long time coming. The workplace is no longer static; it’s not confined to a rented space in an office building. Rather, today’s work environment has turned into a confluence of workstyles that includes onsite, hybrid, and remote work.

Flexibility has become the new norm. In a 2023 survey by FlexJobs, 96% of workers believe that a remote or hybrid workstyle is best for their mental health. This hints that employees now expect their employers to allow them to work remotely to some extent. With that said, accountability, along with other core values that form the ‘soul’ of a company, should be preserved. The last thing senior management wants is a Wild West situation, where rules are seen as mere suggestions, and policies are either pieces of paper or unread emails.

HR software must, therefore, provide, at the ground level, the capacity for employers to fully apply their regulations while enhancing the employee experience. Is this too much of a challenge for today’s HR tech?

This is what Payruler, the most comprehensive HRMS and payroll system in the Philippines, was built for.

3 Features Your HR Software Must Provide at Minimum

Real-time Tracking

At the heart of letting employees work remotely is being able to trust them to do their jobs. But how can employers know that their workers aren’t misusing their work hours? Well, this is where real-time tracking technology comes in handy. Payruler offers multiple time tracking options, such as its mobile app Timeruler, the Payruler web app, and seamless integration with various biometric readers, facial recognition, and other devices.

With these options available at a company’s disposal, managers can easily hold their workers accountable while allowing flexibility in how they report their work hours.

Mobile Accessibility

The expectation for services that leverage the power of the internet and the ubiquity of connectivity is that they must be accessible by the palm of your hand. The greater public expects the ability to access every well-known website or desktop application on their phones.

With Payruler Mobile, this expectation is not only fulfilled but exceeded. For employers, the ability to manage payroll and other HR functions through mobile devices improves their connectivity with employees. And for employees, having a convenient way to track their work hours and access benefits keeps them engaged.

Integration Capabilities

Lastly, and the third thing HR software must provide, at minimum, is the capability to integrate multiple business functions that might not have everything to do with timekeeping or payroll. We’ve talked about how payroll management can become so much more than the simple processor or transactor it’s often perceived to be. This is where the core technology of an HRMS is put to the test.

Payruler is likely to pass that test. Its integration capabilities allow your company to incorporate finance, accounting, and even functions done by third-party software and devices. Integrating these other aspects of the business elevates payroll managers into strategic decision-makers. Having a rich supply of data and insights helps them have a seat at the table. This is a seat where their voices can be heard; where they’re able to influence key decisions.

We’re Heading into A New Era of Timekeeping

As we’ve learned here, the latest tools for timekeeping at work are no longer limited to tracking work hours. The Bundy clock, which used to be revolutionary during its time, is now an expected feature in most typical HRMS systems, albeit simple. And timesheets, which used to take hours to do manually before the computer, and maybe a few minutes with spreadsheet programs, now take only a click of a button on the screen.

This new era of timekeeping is gradually turning into wellbeing-keeping or experience-keeping. Not many leaders have this view yet, though. To take full advantage of the latest that timekeeping technology has to offer, leaders must see payroll management through a different lens. And to arrive at the ‘golden age’ of payroll, those who make the decisions must unlock the untapped potential of automated timekeeping systems. This is where we’re headed. This is a glimpse of the future of HR.

You can realize the value of automated timekeeping with Payruler. Leave the dreary world of spreadsheets or the confusing labyrinth of fragmented systems when you use Payruler for your organization. Try it for free by booking a personalized demo, and take a peek at how the future of payroll management software ought to look like.