Time tracking is easily the most challenging part of remote work, especially for those more accustomed to in-person accountability.
Time tracking browser extensions are my favorite solution because they integrate directly with the web apps my team uses all day.
I’ve seen thousands of dollars in lost efficiency thanks to clunky desktop apps, hand-written allocation reports, and disgruntled employees who don’t feel trusted working under screenshot trackers (can’t say I blame them).
After spending years trying out dozens of solutions at three SMBs over the past five years, here are the ones I can still recommend in 2021:
- Toggl: best for freelancers and sole proprietors
- Timely: best for automated browser tracking
- Hubstaff: best for teams of 10–50
- Upwork Work Diary: best for one-off contractors
Note that these are not affiliate links — just posting because I get asked this a lot.
Be sure to scroll to the bottom where I’ve written up what features matter most, regardless of the tool you choose.
- Best for: freelancers and sole proprietors
- Price scheme: $0–18/user/mo, depending on features needed.
- Pricing page
Toggl is best for freelancers and personal use because it’d dead simple, has smart reminders about toggling it on/off, and offers all the obvious features you’d need like task categorization, Pomodoro, and reports.
The Free plan tier includes everything you need for basic daily use — and that’s the plan I’ve always used. If you don’t have team members or advanced invoicing needs like time rounding, free will be enough for you.
The paid plans are priced per user, and include 20+ integrations with Asana, GitHub, Jira, and all the other major platforms.
Critically for my use case, Toggle integrates with Zapier — even on the free plan. Reports are also included in the free plan, which is handy for invoicing.
- best for: automated browser tracking
- Price scheme: $8–20/user/mo with a 14-day free trial
- Pricing page
Timely definitely wins the UI game — but it comes at a slight markup compared with the Toggle free plan. The cheapest plan is $8/user, but it comes with a big upgraded feature: automatic tracking.
Basically, Timely produces really beautiful charts showing what apps you used, and for how long, automatically. This is seriously helpful for knowledge workers and particularly writers and small agency owners, since you don’t have to constantly interact with the extension in your browser bar every time you switch to a client call or go into deep research mode. The app picks it up for you.
They have some “AI” features that are promising, but still a bit underbaked in my testing. That said, the regular non-AI features are well worth the cost for small teams and full-time one-person agency owners.
- best for: teams of 10–50, mixed in-person/remote teams
- Price scheme: $0–20/user/mo
- Pricing page
If you want corporate-grade time tracking software that feels like hip, 2.0 contractor software, Hubstaff nails it perfectly. This software has all the features you’d expect in corporate time tracking software, but the UI is miles better than their competitors. (If you’re in HR, you know who I’m referring too.)
Hubstaff has a browser extension that functions much like any other browser-based time tracker, but under the hood it has robust integrations with all major platforms, as well as GPS functionality for automated and location-based tracking, miles tracking, and other features critical for in-person workers.
If you have a mixed remote and in-person team, or multiple offices, this is the software I currently recommend. The reporting is designed with US labor compliance in mind, which will keep HR happy as well.
Upwork Work Diary
- best for: one-off hourly contractor hires
- Price scheme: free
Finally, I should mention the basics — Upwork Work Diary. If you’re using UpWork and hiring hourly, I strongly recommend using work diary, at least until you’ve built a level of trust with the contractor on repeat hires.
In general, I hate screencap software for time tracking. It make workers paranoid, and sifting through the captures to check that they’re working is tiring.
However, it can be hard to get around for tasks like research or data entry that are hard to quantify on output.
Not to state the obvious — but do not use screencap software with developers. Just get a time estimate on the task/milestones and structure around that. Screencaps should only be used for lower-level admin and non-technical work.
How to choose a time tracking browser extension
Time tracking extensions are really a commodity at this point — there are hundreds of them out there, and the features and performance are more or less the same.
My selections are based primarily on:
- integrations: Can it connect to Jira? can it send reports automatically each week?
- ease of use: Is the on/off/edit functionality intuitive and easy for my employees and myself?
- reporting: Are the reports sufficiently detailed and professional to share with accounting, clients, or legal?
- Longevity: Has the software provider been around at least a couple years, so we won’t have to switch if they run out of funding or abandon the market?
With these in mind, Toggle, Hubstaff, and the rest mentioned above are all long-time providers who have updated their UI with the times.
Benefits of time tracking
Sure, studies show that remote workers are 13% more efficient — but as a manager of remote teams, I can assure you that time tracking is essential for keeping contract work efficient.
Ultimately, measuring time is just another way of measuring output. It’s tempting to just “trust” employees to put in eight hours. But with all the distractions in a home office environment, the accountability isn’t just for you as a manager. It’s for the workers as well, so they can justify their value each month.
Browser extension vs desktop app for time tracking
Desktop apps are best for full-featured toolkits. But for the act of simply tracking time during the day, you need it to be convenient and not require a new window or screen.
All the tools I listed above have web app or desktop app components, but the core part you’ll interact with daily is packaged as a standalone browser extension that works with Chrome, Safari, and Firefox at a minimum, and feed your data back into the core app for reporting and analysis at your convenience.
If you disagree with the picks, please let me know which apps are missing and why — I’m always keen to try new tools with our team.