Ringing the changes around clocking on

Clocking off using the old cards and Bundy clocks is so passe. In my younger days, I did a few factory and office jobs where at 8.30am or 9am you would clock in and at 5pm clock out.

Clocking off using the old cards and Bundy clocks is so passe.

In my younger days, I did a few factory and office jobs where at 8.30am or 9am you would clock in and at 5pm clock out. Today, we are much more flexible. My boss appears not to mind if I don’t roll in at 8.30am, but I usually make up for it by staying until 6pm or later, well after he’s gone home.

However, those firms where a fixed working week still applies are increasingly finding new ways to measure the time their staff put in, even if they work at remote locations. Tauranga-based Panztel has developed a phone-based system called ezitracker, for which the company claims 24 Kiwi customers and offshore sales.

Panztel sales and marketing manager Michael Smith says workers simply pick up the phone, ring an 0800 freephone number and enter a code, which takes about 10 seconds. When the worker finishes, they ring the number again.

Using interactive voice technology, the company knows when workers start and finish their jobs, and even the type of work. Panztel can produce reports for its customers detailing the work of the staff, avoiding paperwork. It also avoids the expense of Bundy clocks and cards if a firm is small or staff work remotely.

Smith says its Penrose office in Auckland used to deal with faxes from across New Zealand detailing the working hours of hundreds of staff. This task is now automated.

The software was developed in the Bay of Plenty and released last year. Panztel says the “lion’s share” of the country’s 20,000 cleaners use its system, plus Avis employees. Last November Panztel launched ezitracker in Australia and claims a dozen customers there. It recently appointed Massachusetts-based labour management company Kronos as a distribution partner.

Last month Panztel announced a $3.5 million deal with Yorkshire-based e-business and telecoms company Energis to supply e-tracker and related services. With two other UK customers since the company’s January UK launch, Panztel is now managing the time records of some 55,000 UK workers.

“All this is driven from little old Tauranga. It is clever technology,” says Smith.

But what about privacy issues?

Smith says his firm is careful with the data gathered and the “big brother is watching” argument always crops up.

“My old man clocked in and out for 45 years at the same factory and no one argued that was an invasion of privacy,” he says.

“Ninety-nine percent of employees who use our service prefer it to the old way. They make a 10-second call and get on with their job. If they work longer hours, they have a record of it,” Smith says.

While Panztel’s technology may seem innocent enough as a staff tracking mechanism, a web@work survey in Britain shows why the UK government allows firms to monitor email. The report says the internet is a valuable tool but also a major distraction.

UK employers are five times more likely to reprimand staff for inappropriate use of the internet than in many other European countries, and two-thirds of UK firms have internet access policies, compared with only a third in France.

Nearly half the office workers surveyed admit to spending more than three hours a week surfing the internet while at work. Some 44% surf for “personal interests”; and despite well-reported sackings, 7% admitted down-loading pornography. Some 60% book holidays over the web at work and as webcasts become more popular, more than a quarter watch sport.

I don’t bother with sport, but I send personal emails and a few smutty jokes, but not pornography.

However, email and the internet is essential for journalists. Three hours web surfing a week? That’s nothing.

Darren Greenwood is Computerworld’s human resources reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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