Q&A: ADP’s Linda Mougalian on Data, Reopening, Gigs and Compliance

Workforce Data

We spoke with Linda Mougalian, division vice president of product marketing and strategy for ADP, about data’s role in helping employers navigate the pandemic, the widening role of the gig economy, and the pressure on business when compliance becomes a moving target.

I wonder whether the return to work effort is going to be one of those things that moves in fits and starts, because of the unpredictability of the virus. What are your thoughts about how businesses are going to be able to deal with that?  

What I’ve been observing, both from an ADP standpoint and from a broader industry standpoint is, is that the way we’re going to get through this is with data. I think that we’re getting to a leveling out.

To a certain extent, a lot of the initial waves of answers were around “OK, here’s how we’re all going to shut down,” and “OK, here’s how we’re all going to return to work.” What we’re finding is that there’s a lot more nuance. So within states, you’ve got multi-phase plans coming out. Then you’ve got each of the counties and specific locations where they’re actually looking at the data to determine what’s their specific scenario, what makes the most sense for them to move forward.

I think the way you described it, as moving forward in fits and starts, is a good way to think of it. But I do believe that from an employer standpoint, knowledge is power. If you understand the data, that’s going to be how you’re able to have some level of competence as you’re moving forward.

Q&A with @ADP's Linda Mougalian. We talk data, gigs, compliance and #COVID-19: "From an employer standpoint, knowledge is power." #HR #HRTech Click To Tweet

One of the things that we have is a data mashup, where we’re taking data from Johns Hopkins and mashing it up with HR data, so we can see where the cases are and where our employees are. That’s one type of data. And then the other piece of it isn’t just about how people are feeling and what are the stats. It’s about what’s their sentiment about coming back to the office? Do they feel comfortable?

I just had a conversation with one of my co-workers and asked, “How comfortable are you coming back?” This was just a personal conversation, and he said, “Well, I’m not very comfortable at all. I will be perfectly happy to be one of the last people to come back.” As an employer, it’s important to know that, and to get a read on the emotional readiness of employees to come back to the office, as well as all of the logistics—whether they’ve got the sanitizers, PPEs, a way to distance and all of those other data elements. I think this is another aspect of data that will help employers move forward.

ADP’s been doing a lot with AI and with machine learning, and much of it’s geared toward making data more accessible to the business person or business owner. Is that kind of accessibility becoming more important? Are you hearing more demand for that kind of flexibility?

ADP's Linda Mougalian
ADP’s Linda Mougalian

Yes and yes. We went about it with something we call Executive and Manager Insights. Basically, we’re looking at all of our data and distilling it down into tiny nuggets of insights at the team leader level, and pushing it out to them. So, if I’m a manager I can go into particular office and see that my turnover is high. These insights can be prompted and pushed to their mobile device, so they get proactively notified that there’s something going on. Then we give them the ability to drill down and understand more about why it’s happening.

From a data standpoint, it’s about understanding what’s going on, having the ability to dig in and understand what to do with the data so you can move forward. We’re not necessarily just saying, here’s the trend and you can dig into it and figure things out on your own. One of the things that we have is this idea of story boarding and presenting things in very clear English, with recommendations. So we’ve moved from predictive insights to being prescriptive.

I think as we get further into the return to work, it’s going to be even more important to get more of this data around the sentiments that people have. As they’re coming back to the office, what are they looking for?

I do want to point out that we take the privacy really, really seriously. We’ve gotten a lot of questions about privacy as we’re developing all of these data insights. We’re making sure that we’re working with Legal and, where it makes sense, to have things aggregated. In other instances, where it’s more appropriate, we’ll disclose some specific things. So, for example, health attestations are not stored against an individual. Those are stored in aggregate. Things like that.

I’d like to shift gears a little bit and look at the gig economy and contingent workforce. Here again, I’m wondering what you’re seeing. How is the use of technology evolving, especially in light of COVID and the changes that the workforce is undergoing?

The story that I love to tell about this one is the idea of the volunteer surge. I’m going back a couple of months, when there was a lot of uncertainty around the capacity to actually address all of the cases that were going to be coming in. There was this big push, and ADP’s WorkMarket was a big part of actually trying to help generate more people who were qualified to help us through this.

We basically decided we were going to create a talent pool where people could say they’d like to participate in this. We help track the training, so they’re actually getting the training they need. And then they were paired with [organizations] in whatever their locality was, once they had sufficient training. They were specifically placed to help manage the caseloads.

To me, the idea of a gig ecosystem that allows that is huge. And I think that’s going to continue to be the case, as we think about people adapting to the new world of work. In some cases, it means that people are lucky enough to do their jobs from home, as I do. In others, they may be either displaced or find there’s a different need. Over the long term, people are starting to say their traditional experience in working doesn’t have to be a 9-to-5 job. They’re finding ways to make connections and do the things that they love to do through this gig environment. I think that’s going to continue.

From an employer standpoint, I know that there’s a lot of interest in leveraging gig workers because it’s a way to manage through some of this uncertainty. So I think that both from an employer and a worker standpoint, this idea of opening up opportunities where we can pair people with skills with employers with needs—in a very flexible, agile way—will continue to grow.

Do you think it’s going to be permanent, in that more employers will rely more on gig workers as opposed to full-time workers?

It’s so hard to say right now, just because of the environment we’re in. I’ll go back to the idea of evolving in fits and starts. Employers are still trying to find their way. So whether it’s going to be permanent is a tough question to answer right now.

But I do think that on the employer side, whether it’s going to be permanent is one question. On the worker side, people see that they have more flexible options. If you were to ask what’s my gut on this one, I’d say you’re going to see more people who would like to continue to have that gig experience, where maybe they’ve got a full-time job and a gig on the side, or maybe they’ve got a part-time job and a gig on the side.

When we did our engagement study, the folks who were most engaged were the ones who had a part-time job and a gig on the side. It gave them a nice balance of having the stability of a more traditional job for at least part of the time, and access to benefits and things, while they were able to have a creative outlet, or something they had passion about, in the context of their gig work. So I think that from a worker standpoint, once people find their way to a situation that works for them, I believe there’ll be more people who find gig working is a part of that.

A little bit of this is left to be seen, but I think that the first time we try something, it’s a little bit scary. A lot of people and a lot of businesses have been put in a position where they’re trying things for the first time. Some of them are going to find they like this. Or maybe they were a little bit apprehensive about trying it before, but are a whole lot more comfortable now that they’ve had to do it.  

Let’s talk about compliance. It seems to me compliance can be a heavy lift right now, with new laws, location-by-location restrictions on opening and what have you. What are you seeing among different types of employers, in terms of how they’re coping and keeping up with all of this?

I can tell you a little bit about our experience here at ADP and some of the things that we’ve been doing to help from a compliance standpoint. From the first moment that there was a legislation around this—this goes back to when the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] became effective—we’ve been pushing out content, and we’re working with the government and others to make sure that we’re as on top of this as we can possibly be. So we have compliance specialists around the world, because this isn’t necessarily just the U.S., this is also international.

From an employer standpoint, we saw the appetite for people to see this information. One of the interesting things that I heard very early on was that as employers were trying to navigate through what they needed to do from a compliance standpoint—and in addressing all of the COVID-related processes—HR and payroll providers were among the top resources they were looking to.

So we put out content. We had an employer preparedness kit, we had an employee communications tool kit. We had webinars, we put out a PPP website. We put all of this content out there, and we found that people were thirsty for this.

With our PPP site, one of the things we saw was not only were people visiting it, but they were staying there longer than any normal traffic. They were looking at the assets we made available for the tool kit, the preparedness kit. We were finding that on this PPP site, they were actually staying five times longer than a normal visit.

Compliance has always been a double-edged sword in that everybody knows it’s important, but a lot of employers don’t really pay enough attention to it. Has that changed because of the virus?  

I relate this a bit to the ACA [Affordable Care Act] a few years back. That was a situation where people also didn’t necessarily have the robust information they needed, and they needed to jump on board.

I’d say with this, we’re in a situation where businesses needed to understand exactly how much people made. This is about pay information for the most part—how much Paycheck Protection Program were businesses going to be eligible for. You’re talking about the employee-retention credits, how much of what they were paying was going out against pay as opposed to other expenses and things like that.

I think that people absolutely have a heightened awareness of the need to keep and track data. When it comes to pay information, companies are, generally speaking, more rigorous about keeping that information. But when you tie that to the compliance aspect, and really look at how much of this retention credit am I going to be eligible for, I think that people probably are a whole lot more intimate with their data now than perhaps they were before.

With the ACA, there was data they weren’t tracking and they had to scramble a bit to get the right data into their systems. Although there’s some of that here, I think the bigger thing is this idea of getting super close to your data, understanding where you are and making sure that you’re headed in the right direction from a compliance standpoint, and from an eligibility standpoint, when you think about the employee retention credits.

Disclosure: ADP Next Gen is a sponsor of the HCM Technology Report

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