For years, Beth Blankenship would spend nearly three hours doing payroll every Friday. She’d been manually tabulating hours from paper time sheets and entering them into her Quickbooks payroll software. She’d been looking for a better way that could save the company time and money. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March, it gave them the push they needed.
Beth owns Blankenship Farms and Nursery with her husband Jerry. The McMinnville, Tennessee, wholesale grower specializes in trees and shrubs, especially native container trees and shrubs for mitigation, conservation and lining stock.
A two-week COVID-mandated shutdown in March would have been very costly for Blankenship. That’s when their business takes the bareroot trees and shrubs out of the barns and plants them. If the planting doesn’t get done then, the whole business model can go off the rails.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to switch to a touch-free system besides COVID concerns. Between the cost and hassle of ordering and receiving new cards each week and the desire to free up Beth’s time for other tasks, the nursery had been looking for other options to handle this part of the business since last fall. Beth says they looked at systems that used a fingerprint sensor, but because of the dust and dirt in the nursery environment, they decided that wouldn’t work. However, the FaceIn biometric time clock system from Lathem seemed like a good fit, especially since it was easy to set up.
“Just take it out of the box and plug it in,” she says.
At Blankenship Farms, the face scanner is set up on the wall next to the door heading out to the fields, in a very high traffic area near both the kitchen and the bathroom. Still, Beth says there hasn’t been any issues with accidental clock-ins or outs.
It takes about two minutes to get each of Blankenship’s 25 employees registered into the system. That process involves the employee standing in front of the screen and moving their face around while the machine scans it from different angles. Once an employee is in the system, it takes about two seconds for them to clock in or out.
Lathem’s PayClock employee time and attendance software that works with the FaceIn time clock integrates easily with Quickbooks Online payroll system. That meant Beth didn’t have to transfer her employee list from Quickbooks to PayClock; everyone was already entered in the new system. As a result, the PayClock solution significantly reduces Blankenship’s payroll processing time — by as much as 83% — freeing her up to check on farm crops or take care of personal matters. She is also able to check on employee attendance from an app on her mobile phone while she’s out running errands, instead of having to be physically present at the clock.
Beth likes how FaceIn creates a healthy workplace at Blankenship Farms by providing touch-free, contactless employee time and attendance tracking.
Employees at Blankenship Farms don't need to touch the clock when recording their hours so there is no potential spreading of germs or viruses. And because the time clock system records punches in seconds, employees don't have to wait in lines close to each other to clock-in and out. It's much appreciated when employees are practicing social distancing at work.
“They're not touching anything to clock in and I'm not touching the timecard at the end of the week that they’ve touched all week,” she says. “So, it's really good for everybody.”
She’s been pleased with the other efficiencies of the system as well.
“There are no cards so cost-wise, I don't have to buy cards anymore,” she says. “And I was spending about two and a half hours on Friday to do payroll. I can get everything done in about 30 to 45 minutes now. So it's about a two hour savings for me. And that's a lot of time on a Friday.”
It also eliminates the possibility of human errors, like transposing numbers when reading them off a timecard and entering them in Quickbooks. Beth jokes that she wears bifocals now, so that type of mistake is a real possibility.
There’s another potential benefit to using the face recognition system for clocking in and out. Standard time card systems are open to the potential of “buddy punching” — a system exploit in which an employee swipes his or her friend’s card for them, allowing their friend to get paid despite not actually being at work. While Beth doesn’t think that their nursery had a buddy punching problem before, it certainly won’t now.
Customer service has been easy to use, as well, with any questions she’s had answered quickly over the phone.
“I can’t think of a drawback, because any time we’ve had an issue they’ve been able to change it,” she says. “Every nursery is different, everybody runs it differently and they are able to customize what you need, the rules to be in the system. Like, what time you take breaks. It'll allow you to do that without you having to enter that in.”
Beth was concerned about pushback from her employees. But it turned out that they were less apprehensive about privacy issues than she was.
That’s because the device uses two cameras to perform a 3D analysis of the 60 facial points that are unique to each employee. These are all mapped at the time of that first scan. The facial data is recorded and stored in the time clock and cannot be reproduced as a photographic image.
“The logarithm of the face, the ‘math’ of the face, is what causes it to be ID’d,” she says. “And when I talked to the guys about it, they were kind of excited about the technology and doing something new.”