Podcast: Reimagining Apps, Workforce Management and Shift Workers

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Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. Today, my guest is Martin Hartshorne. He’s the CEO of When I Work, a workforce management platform that provides integrated scheduling, time tracking and team messaging for shift workers. We’ll talk about the impact of COVID-19, this product and the dynamics of shift workforces. All on this week’s PeopleTech, brought to you by Criteria. Finding and retaining great talent is a challenge and Criteria can help. Their assessments help you make better talent decisions by identifying high potential candidates. Learn more, visit www.criteriacorp.com. That’s www.criteriacorp.com.

And now, Martin, thanks for joining me. Let’s start with the most basic questions. Tell me about When I Work. What does When I Work do?

Martin Hartshorne: Yeah, sure, Mark. So When I Work, our mission is to make shift-based workplaces awesome. And that puts us into the workforce management domain kind of a subset of human capital management. Our solution features scheduling, right? In a shift-based environment, hospitality, food service, mobile healthcare, logistics, across all the different verticals. The common thing is people have different schedules all the time, right? And so in a sense that the core solution in those environments for employees is scheduling, which is why we’re called, When I Work. We’ve always taken the viewpoint of solving the problem of making schedules that make employees and employers and shift managers happy, but mostly from the standpoint of the employee. So our solution is mobile, the 99% of the end users who are the shift workers have the complete experience on the mobile device, and of course on the back end we’re a full SAS space provider. So that’s what we do.

Mark Feffer: You and I talked during HR Tech. One of the things that you said to me was that products like yours should solve problems through the lens of the employee. Could you expand on that a little bit? What do you mean by that and why is it important?

Martin Hartshorne: Yeah, no, absolutely. So if we go back a little further in history and in HR Tech, sort of once upon a time, the first pieces of technology were all about becoming the system of record, right? They were databases with advanced functions around them for storing information about employees and labor and organizational structures and relationships. And it’s kind of moved on after the mid 90s, into the mid 2000s on, being systems of automation. Then it was about, how can we do workflows and move away from paper? And as soon as that happened, it began the era of the end users, employees in an organization now becoming users of HR software, which by the way, was generally a terrible experience for them that it sort of subjected to participating in the processes.

And in the last 10 years or so, we’ve entered a new era where these systems are really more systems of engagement, right? And so they’re things that employees use every day or very frequently, and in particular, for us in shift-based environments, where if you go through that same sort of analog in history, the only point that an employee that’s shift-based would interact with their company digitally was at time clock, right? They don’t get a laptop with a corporate email address, and an outlook account, and a calendar, and the rest of it. And then today, they’re not using things like Slack and Microsoft Teams and Zoom and everything else we’re doing as knowledge workers. And so they would just come in and punch a clock and that was it, right? Two character lines displays, beeps, and a keypad. And so the sort of combination of mobile device becoming ubiquitous advances in cloud-based software provided the opportunity of to rethink these systems and solve the problems for employees, which is, how can I have a digital experience that is with me for my job? And for us that starts with figuring out what their schedule is, participating in choosing some of the shifts in their schedule, we do a lot of self-scheduling. That’s a really big across our customer base. Trading shifts with other people that have been assigned them and communicating digitally in a chat application inside our app with the other people in their organization, their supervisors, the other employees.

And so all of a sudden what used to be one small component of HR for getting hours correct for payroll, has now become an operating system that is kind of the beating heart of something that every employee that works in a shift-based environment uses, must use. Right? Every time they come into work they interact with the system, they care about their schedule a lot, right? It’s a critical thing. It’s like balancing your life and your job when you work is something people want to participate in, and want to know about, and want to spend time using a system so they can get the shifts that they want.

And so bit by bit, there’s been a transformation of sort of who has the power, if you will, to make the deployment of the systems and enterprises successful? It’s not just now back end users in the payroll department and the HR department, it’s the employees. And in a way it’s like you… I think that this is an overused phrase, but we talk about consumerization, right? This is a really good example of how no one decided that we should do that, it just sort of happened with all these other forces going along.

And so When I Work was founded in 2010 and Chad Halvorson was our founder, he’s still with the company, he’s our chief experience officer. And he’s kind of a thought leader for the hourly work environments. And he used to work in a grocery store in Minneapolis and was always frustrated with his schedules and figuring how to get them, and instead about building something to solve that. He’s not an HR tech person historically, and it comes from other spaces that he was just solving it. And the vast majority of our employees have worked in hourly environments. They’re passionate about it. And so we’ve just always been very employee oriented. Of course, our system has to provide the correct hours. Of course, we try to make sure that we honor budget constraints and requirements and everything else, but we take the most pride in satisfying the employee end users.

We have 85% weekly engagement across the end users of all of our… We have about 1.5 million employees using our system and 85% touch that system at least on a weekly basis. The ratings for our application, that’s the number one thing we… When I look at our metrics in our business of, is our R&D teams being successful? Are we creating more value? Are we building a good product? Then number one metric we use for that is the App Store rating on the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store, which we insist on being 4.6 out of five or higher, and they are, right? And so that orientation goes all the way through our company. And it does things like tell us if we’re going to make an investment in another feature or, what’s more important? Is it making the end users happy and giving them value, or is it adding sort of one more esoteric compliance role? We’re generally going to go for whatever makes the end users satisfied and happy.

And the belief there and it’s played out is, if they like it and they find it valuable, they use it. If they use it, the company gets valued. Because, getting people to use one of these systems is one of the most difficult parts, right? Of doing any kind of enterprise software rollout. So that’s some examples of what we mean when we say solving the problem through the lens of the employee and being employee centric.

Mark Feffer: Now, I can’t resist asking you say that you insist on having a rating of 4.6 in the app store, what happens if you don’t? If your rating slips down to 4.3 or something like that, what’s your [crosstalk 00:08:51]?

Martin Hartshorne:

Yeah. That’s a good question. It doesn’t happen very often and when it does… Because mostly it’s a defensive strategy, right? We’re up there and we are continually paying attention to what end users are saying, what the ratings are when we do a release, if there’s a technical issue we’re all over it. We don’t let that sit, right? And so it’s mostly about what you choose to pay attention to and where you put your focus and what you consider an emergency, right? And so whenever something happens… It’s been, I think, more than a year since that even happened at all, but when it does, it’s usually… And by the way, we can push out releases every day. We’re a full agile shop, fully cloud based. We don’t have any on-premise customers, no legacy customers, everyone’s on the same multi-tenant version. And so if we break something, right? If we break something, all hands on deck, we fix it.

And we know we’ve broken it because the end users use our stuff. Like I said, 85% weekly, 65% daily. And so we hear about it and all hands are on deck to fix it right away. And people know that and they genuinely appreciate how responsive we are on that.

A lot of other enterprise software companies, I’m not saying they’re wrong, but they’ve been around for a long time, they’ve gone through different generations, they’ve got lots of customers, and they now have mobile apps or responsive design mobile front ends, they have a subset of features, it’s just sort of one more way for them, and for us it’s the product, right? It’s the product. That’s what the product is, it’s not some other separate interface that a few people use. It’s the main thing. And so we’re all over it.

Mark Feffer:

Let’s take a break.

I’m talking with Martin Hartshorne, CEO of When I Work, and this edition of PeopleTech is sponsored by Criteria. They help you find great talent with assessments that have been designed and validated to predict job performance. They objectively evaluate the skills and abilities that lead to success and then go further by highlighting candidates who may have been overlooked based on experience alone. The result, increased revenue, reduced turnover, and raised quality of hire across the board. Learn more at www.criteria.corp.com. Back to my conversation with When I Work, Martin Hartshorne.

Now, one of the things that strikes me about shift workers, given where we are today, a year, more than a year until the pandemic, most of the discussion in HR seems to be about returning to work or hybrid work. Shift workers for the most part, they’re not returning to work because they never stopped going. They have to show up, right? So they have a different dynamic from most other employees and I’m wondering how the pandemic changed their dynamics. You haven’t seen a lot said about that, but how is their life different? How is their job different now in this whole new environment?

Martin Hartshorne: Yup, it’s a great question. And the shorter answer is, it is very different, and I’ll highlight some of the ways in which it is. First, I’ll say I definitely empathize with all the shifts that are going on in the knowledge based worker economy. This sort of white collar environment, the salary based workers. I’m one of those. Most of the people that work in my company are in that space and I’m a CEO trying to lead them through the pandemic and all of the sort of existential crisis of the past year. And so that’s all legitimate. And I don’t bemoan. Most of HR talking about returning to work and remote work and I’ll be doing hybrid and all those things, those are top of mind for me as the leader of people in our company. Having said that, we’ve also had to pay very close attention at When I Work to our customers, which are not those kinds of companies, right?

And the other thing that’s interesting in our customer base, we have over 36,000 customers, they’re using the product across over 175,000 workplaces, and about 33,000 of those customers are small businesses, and about 2,500, are medium and large-sized businesses. Our largest customer has 25,000 employees, our smallest customers have 15 employees, right? So we’ve got all kinds. And if you look at the industry pie chart, if you will, of the distribution, it pretty much mirrors the bureau of labor statistics, numbers of employees by vertical of hourlys, right? And so we’ve got everything. We’re not just a restaurant or hospitality player, we are a horizontal scheduling player. So we’ve seen all these different environments.

Martin Hartshorne: And some of these things are different in different shift-based environments, right? And so you take food service and hospitality who have been transformed more than any other in the shift-based subset, the first thing that they had to deal with was being closed, which by the way, has never happened. Restaurants and hotels, they’re always open. That’s what they do, right? And they’re open when we’re off work so we can go and use them. Putting aside all the challenges those organizations had in in terms of capital and payroll and costs and money on the rest of it, from a work perspective, one of the biggest challenges they faced is having to completely redo their business models of how they interact with their customers, right? And so you’ve seen so many food service outlets, restaurants stay open, but completely transformed their business model where the in-room dining is no longer the thing.

So it’s changed the compliment of labor that they need, it’s changed how many hours there are available, and the biggest thing in those environments, which generally have relied on a heavy amount of algorithmic forecasting and historical data and linear regression to predict, demand and predict labor requirement and then drive schedules, all that’s been thrown out over the past year. Because, looking at what it was one year ago is now completely useless, right? It’s like, what’s happening now? And also we don’t even know, are we going to be open in two weeks? Are we going to be dine-in? Is the patio going to be open? Right? And so people have had to be far more active agile in these environments. And I say that with a capital A, it’s one of the big takeaways in answering your question is, Agility has become the most important attribute in shift-based workplaces over the past year. And when I say agile, I don’t just mean that you can quickly do this and quickly do that, I mean you can change and adjust fast.

Now, what’s been helpful for our customers, with our product, we’ve actually done quite well in the past year. We’ve grown. There’s been so many customers coming to us because our product is fairly lightweight. We don’t have any implementation. We don’t have this long process where we ask a bunch of questions and bringing consultants to configure everything. Even if we have 2000, 3000, 4000 employees, you can get up and running in a week. One of the biggest sets of customers we’ve picked up in the past two months have been all of these operations. Some of them government-led, some of them private hospital-led setting up vaccine operations with 1000, 1500, 2000, 3000 employees in them and getting up and running within a week. And they’re choosing us because they can, right? And then they can because we’re in 34,000 small businesses, our whole system is set up. So somebody can come to our website, download the app, set it up, configure it, use it, and not need a bunch of heavy lift and shift type work to get up and running.

And that’s how we can help and how we have helped provide the agility. This week It’s 1000 people, next week it’s lower, right? In a food service environment I don’t need a wait staff anymore, but I need more people cooking, I need delivery drivers. And so there’s been so many changes and agility has become so much more important across all those environments.

The second thing that… And this is something in common with the knowledge based environments but it plays out differently, is empathy. Again, in the knowledge based environment, we’ve been talking about taking care of employees, and being sensitive to their lives, and their needs, and their wellbeing, and their health, physical and mental for years. That’s been dialed up to 11, right? During the pandemic for HR professionals.

Now, nobody ever talked about that at all in shift-based environments. There’s just been this longstanding mentality that it’s sort of commoditized labor, manufacturing style economy and you can get anyone to do the jobs, which by the way was never true. But now just the level of empathy required for workers who do have to go to work, that’s the thing. While we’ve been suffering at home with our kids running around and not being able to socialize, there are shift workers who only get paid if they go to work, there is no salary, and they have to go to work and they’re scared. And now the employer takes some responsibility. If they’re smarter they want to keep their people and they want them to be productive anyway for their health, for their wellbeing and these environments. And so again, they’ve had to implement all sorts of measures.

And even though many of the shift-based workers are required to go to some location across all these different industries, everyone is still been trying to minimize the interactivity of employees and workers when not necessary. So there were a lot of things, even with a system like ours, where we were using it for scheduling and clocking and time-tracking, they still had a lot of other sort of communication processes that were not digital, right? In the break room, on the board, grab the overtime shift, here’s a poster, again, because they’re not using corporate email. And now they’ve gone into a form of digital transformation for the shift worker, which is, they have phones and they’ve been pushing and using our system in our customer base, for example, to chat with each other to get employees to select their own shifts because, again, agility, demand changes. I have no idea, I put the shifts up, it changes. Everyone is listening to it, paying attention and taking those shifts off their devices and trading them. And however you can get it done is the new way. There’s no magic perfect way of optimally doing the schedule now, it’s getting it done and getting everybody happy and trying to be empathetic and sensitive to the needs, availability requirement, family demands, school, remote school, on site, daycare open or not. These concerns we all have. They’re far more damaging, right? To somebody who’s in a shift-based environment and needs to still put food on the table.

So agility and empathy have been at the forefront, but the things I’ve just shared and talk about how they play out a little differently than they do in the knowledge worker environments. By the way, those things are going to stick. I mean, I don’t know if that’s where we’re going here, but I don’t see that going back. You can’t suddenly do more to be sensitive to the needs of shift workers and help them get schedules that better allow them to manage their families and be happier in their jobs and feel more part of your company brand taking care of, you’re not going to take that away, right? So this has just raised the bar, which makes sense because these are accepted doctrine, right? In the knowledge economy, and so it’s about time that they come into the shift-based environment as well.

Mark Feffer: How has all this changed your approach? Have you had to design differently, build differently, focus on different kinds of features?

Martin Hartshorne: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s it hasn’t changed it a lot. I’m going to say you can decide where some combination of brilliant with foresight and/or lucky, because the nature of our system, the things that it’s good at, right? Like being agile, nimble, lightweight, having an excellent employee experience, those things have all paid off because now that’s the only way. Right now people have to do those things, right?

And so to give you an example, we’ve always had the capability of doing a flexible self-scheduling, but not all of our customers were using that. And flexible self-scheduling means you lay out the schedule according to labor requirement with some automated features and a little bit of manual, and then you say publish, and the employees get notified and they can take shifts, adjust them, change them and trade them. And you have the ability to approve and whatever. I believe that’s the best way to do scheduling, I think it’s more important to have a schedule where the most amount of people in it are satisfied with it. That’s actually more valuable than trying to solve a perfect math equation. But we had about, I’m going to say, 35 to 40% of our customer base using those methods, and the balance, shift supervisors or schedulers, we’re putting employees into shifts and that’s your shift, like, “Hey, Mark, this is your schedule. Good luck.” Right? And sometimes there were policies about changing them afterwards. Most of our customers would at least do that, but for the most part, they were taking the burden of scheduling.

What’s happened is the vast majority of our customers that were not using self scheduling are now using self scheduling, which means the feature requests to add changes, adjustments, new bells and whistles, configuration options, coming across new education challenges in different verticals about soft scheduling has become a big part of the roadmap and things we’ve been executing and focusing on through it.

And then the second is communication. So similarly, a minority of our customer base, we’re using a part of our application that allows employees to chat with each other and the ones that were sort of not there yet on do I want them to be able to do that, right? If you go back 10 years or someone allowed to bring their phone to work, that seems like a ridiculous idea now, thank God they have them. How else would we be having the different software that we need them to use? But the applications where they can communicate with each other like, “What’s the deal with that?” And we have that capability and it’s also the adoption of that is accelerated dramatically. It’s because they want to keep the face-to-face discussions that are not necessary from happening, right?

And so there’s this digital remote experience for shift-based workers with their colleagues and their supervisor and their peers that’s happening in the software. And that’s now become part of their work experience. Right? We talk about the employee experience and now that employee experience for shift-based workers has gone outside of the building. But it’s mostly on topics that are not their work, not their productive work, but it’s about the Metta work. Like, “Did I get paid? What’s happening? I’m I trading the shift?” Like, “Oh, can I pick up this shift do that schedule?” They want to do those things. Those are valuable tools that the employees want to use.

And so the adoption of those two things has been paramount over the past year and that’s just changed some focus on… We just listen to our customers. They tell us what’s next usually, and we keep adding more features and adjustments there.

Mark Feffer: So what are they anticipating? What are you looking at in terms of the market’s dynamics and your customer’s needs in the next year or two, say?

Martin Hartshorne: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. I think for us, one of the biggest epiphanies through this process has been how much more employers need to think about the employee experience in a shift-based environment, right? There’s been a lot in the past five years of discussion about the employee experience driving HR technology and knowledge worker environments. And so there’s emerging domains of applications where there are vendors out there building solutions for things like performance management and continuous performance, and engagement surveys, and benefits and wellbeing and mental health, right? There’s vendors in all of these, there’s emerging technology, big players are building modules and applications that people are using them to certain degrees, but nobody has really ever contemplated what those should be like in a shift-based environment.

The shift-based environment has been relegated to scheduling clocking payroll, right? Nobody thinks about the HR system, right? And so what we see with the heavy engagement in use of our system, the level of satisfaction users have with the value it provides, and also the experience it gives them as an app, we’re looking at, how do we expand as our business grows, and our revenue keeps increasing, and we keep hiring more people, and we keep building and innovating, going beyond scheduling and attendance tracking? But we’ll do it for other areas that make the employee’s experience in that job even better, right? And so, how can we help them track their career? How can we help them improve their performance? How can we help them do reviews and ratings? How can we track engagement levels? We’re not going to do surveys per se. I don’t know the answers to these things yet, but these are the questions in our minds and the questions are there because I believe that there’s been a seismic shift, and the importance of making the experience of working somewhere paramount.

And I think that now that people are doing that and they’ve had to do it, when the job market starts surging back and it will, people in shift-based workplaces are going to have a lot of choice about where they work and who they want to work for and how they want to develop their skills. And people always ask, “What’s the difference with shift workers and knowledge workers?” And the first thing I would say is, “Very little. They’re human beings. We’re all the same. They worry about their families, their lives, they want to make enough money, they want to grow their careers and skills, and they want to buy a house, and they want to live happily ever after and be in love.” Right? I mean, that’s just the description of all human beings. And so there’s much more in common, right? Than there is differences. But I think HR Tech is focused on the differences historically and it’s time for us to start putting in place broader platforms with more functionality to create a great experience for employees in shift-based environments. And that’s where our mental energy is, Mark.

Mark Feffer: Martin, thank you. It was great to talk with you.

This has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. A publication of RecruitingDaily.

This edition is brought to you by Criteria. Resumes and interviews aren’t good at predicting job success and they lead to bias that gets in the way of hiring a diverse high performing team. Visit criteriacorp.Com to see how Criteria can help you unlock the potential in your candidate pool. That’s www.criteriacorp.com.

PeopleTech is a member of Evergreen Podcasts. You can check out other shows at www.evergreenpodcasts.com.

And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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