How technology can help manage new overtime rules

By Laura Haight

It’s been more than two years since the Department of Labor began having hearings, inviting comment and studying the state of overtime in the workplace. On May 18, businesses started paying attention.

For those that got a head start, technology may have already been a major asset in determining the status of work hours, responsibilities and staffing levels in their businesses.  But many businesses that may have been “holding out hope that there will be a delay” aren’t prepared, according to Gregory Kaye, CEO of Ideal HR. Or, as CEO of Innovate HR Paula Fulghum says: “They’re freaking out.”

Both companies are heavily invested in technology solutions to address workforce management issues.

The new overtime rules that go into effect Dec. 1, present a multi-faceted challenge. While extending overtime to some 4 million workers, it also in some ways assails the self worth of many employees. Addressing this issue is a “huge communications challenge,” according to Fulghum, who says Innovate HR has been very “focused on the cultural aspects.”

This may be especially challenging for mobile workers, millennials, and tech workers like programmers, who have traditionally been exempt from overtime because of the creative, unsupervised nature of their work.

Biometrics do double duty

But if you’re envisioning a traditional time clock, get your mind out of the 20th century. Today’s technology brings biometrics and geofencing front and center in the workplace, says Kaye. Biometric systems can use fingerprints, retinal scans and hand prints to log employees in and out of the building and have the added benefit of adding authenticated access into secure areas of a building, like data centers.

Current HR systems, Kaye says, have the ability to program location parameters. For example, if an employee is only expected to be putting in time while they are in the office, they could be prevented from logging time when they are at a Starbucks downtown or checking email from their living room. Or, mobile workers’ client sites can be programmed inside a digital boundary, so that employees are not permitted to log time until they are actually at the client office, not pulling into a parking lot or grabbing a sandwich.

All this logging in and logging out may be offensive to some, says Fulghum, “You’ve got a lot of people who consider themselves professionals and they don’t want to clock in and clock out.”

Digital systems have extensive reporting capabilities as well, which can not only help a company accurately track hours, but also help make business decisions. Johanna Inman, Ideal HR’s COO, says detailed analytics on workforce hours by person, by team, by project have helped clients determine how to implement the new overtime rules. “We can be proactive, rather than reactive,” she says.

Biometric time systems are great - for workers who are clocking into a building. But what about mobile workers, road warriors and remote employees? There are a lot of apps for that too. Some are integrated into a complete end-to-end system, but for small businesses there are a lot of desktop/mobile apps offered as a monthly service for as little as $5 per user. There’s a pretty good Top 20 list here:

Managing millennials, mobiles, and remotes

One of the work-life balance benefits for mobile workers is not to be tied to a clock, to be able to work at a pace that “works” for them. But as most of us know, it is very easy to blur the lines between working and not working. If you are checking personal email and you happen to see something come in from work, and it takes you 10 minutes to read and compose a “quick” response that is untracked time. Get more than five or six emails a week like this? That’s an hour. And for most mobile employees, that kind of unrecorded time probably runs well beyond that.

What’s a system to do? Maybe not much. Notes Inman: “Eventually, it's a question of management. If you have to micromanage every one of your team, if no one is listening or responding to the rules, you have a management problem, not a technology problem.”

Even if you’re recording your time, it is really easy for time to get away from you. This has been a big problem for businesses without some systemic tracking capabilities. “The worst is companies still using spreadsheets, or manual time cards that get turned in a week or two later by employees. Everything is reactive,” notes Kaye. That’s also where technology can make a huge difference.

Time tracking systems that integrate with email can send messages to employees and managers when a particular threshold of hours is reached, usually a warning that you’re approaching your weekly limit.

Ultimately, Inman notes, “technology gives you information to make faster, better decisions.” And it provides consistency for employees, what Inman calls “a fairness factor.” But what it can’t do is manage your staff for you.

There’s no getting around it: that’s your job.