Podcast: WorkJam’s Will Eadie on Connecting the Deskless Worker

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Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. My guest today is Will Eadie, the chief revenue officer at WorkJam. WorkJam connects front-end workers with a range of business systems, with the idea of streamlining work and increasing engagement. It’s no surprise then that Will spends a lot of time thinking about what frontline and desk-less workers need and want from the technology they use every day. That’s what we’ll talk about on this edition of PeopleTech.

Hey, Will. So to start, could you tell me briefly what WorkJam is, what you do and how you came to do it?


Absolutely. So WorkJam is the first digital frontline workplace. And Mark, the term digital workplace gets thrown around a lot these days, and I think the big distinction we’re trying to make is, we’re very focused on doing it for the frontline, so for hourly workers, frontline workers, really desk-less workers. And one of the terms I think you’ve heard evolve probably very recently in the HR industry is now it’s being called a super app. So WorkJam delivers the ability to bring everything into one place, and for us, that really focuses on five big pillars. So it would be the concept of adding on top flexible scheduling, doing two-way communications, doing learning and upskilling, and then obviously task management. The fifth pillar being almost most important, which is how do you do overall reporting and analytics on all that?

And I think the big thing that comes across in what a true super app, or digital frontline workplace is, this isn’t just the portals that we all did 15 years ago to say, “Hey, let’s put a bunch of links in one place so everyone can see everything.” It’s, how do we make those, in terms of what we call, workforce orchestration? And what I think is really important, and what I think has evolved, is that all of those five areas, or really the four, if you take reporting out, thinking that that’s a corporate function, is how do they all work together? And for me, what workforce orchestration means is I should be able to answer a survey that says, “I want to be part of this community communication forum,” and I’m automatically enrolled in it. An administrator doesn’t have to go back and say, “Hey, what 3000 people want to be part of the manager upskilling channel?”

Or I should be able to see that there’s some open shifts becoming available, but I’m not quite qualified for them because I haven’t taken the pallet breakdown training, and if I just take the pallet breakdown training, I’ll earn that badge or that skill and certification, and now I’ll automatically see these open shifts that are capable for me to picking up. And if I don’t have that skill, I can automatically enroll in some of those micro learnings, or learning in the flow of work type trainings, to automate that process.

So what we really do is deliver that full suite digital frontline workplace to really enable the platform. And one of the things we think we’re doing that’s really interesting is, we’re trying to take advantage of all the really strong underlying HCM and WFM platforms that are out there right now. So most of our clients right in the enterprise space have implemented a SuccessFactors or a Workday or an Oracle Suite and a Ceridian or a UKG and a Blue Yonder, and that’s fantastic, they’re doing their platform backend job. But how do you bring all those pieces together? And the reason that those are so important is the employee master record unlocks all of this. And I think there’s probably the most important part of any digital frontline workplace is, how do you take advantage of that employee master record to really drive automatically your organizational and your operational hierarchy? Because that’s what makes this really important.


So let me ask about your audience a bit. Now, frontline and desk-less workers were really impacted by COVID, in one way or another. So did COVID have any impact on your business?


Listen, first of all, absolutely. I think everyone with hourly team members was impacted. We saw it in healthcare, we saw it in distribution, we saw it, obviously, in retail, really everywhere. I think that it had a huge impact, which is that many, many people woke up late March of 2020 and said, “My gosh, I have a whole bunch of information, I have a whole bunch of tasks, I have a whole bunch of operational things that have to happen, and I have no way to get them into the hands of these frontline workers. I don’t know how to tell them not to come in because we’re closing. I don’t know how to tell them this is what we’re going to do with your benefits over the next two to three months, or here’s the shifts we will have available, but we’re moving away from our traditional schedules.” So I think everyone said, “My gosh, we don’t have a great way to connect to the front line, except with that location manager.”

So you never want to say that something as terrible as what happened globally with COVID was a boon to the industry, but I think what it did is it showed people holes in our processes, and it made things like a digital frontline workplace even more prevalent and important. ‘Cause you had the companies that already had it in place that did really well. So I always like to give credit, Ulta Beauty is one of our customers, and they famously did an amazing job, not only communicating with their team several times a day about what was happening, but then on top of it, they were able to do, “Hey, here’s some training we need you to do as we reopen stores. Here’s things we’re doing around cleaning procedures. Here’s how we’re switching to buy online, pickup in store, and here’s all the training that goes along with that.”

These are things that companies that weren’t able to communicate at scale with their whole team, or their whole universe, struggled with, because traditionally, what they were saying is, “Hey, manager, send some text messages out, try and communicate to people.” Maybe they had emails, but you and I both know in this HR industry, we’re moving very quickly away from we don’t want to have your personal email, we don’t want have to rely on having your personal phone number. We want to have a closed loop system where we can communicate in a compliant way. Because the other thing we all know in this space is, hey, I can’t be texting people at 10 o’clock at night. I can’t ask them to take some training. I don’t want them to read email that is compensatory time. So how do I make sure that I’m be able to communicate with people with something that’s beneficial to them, while still making sure we’re not putting ourselves at risk?

So companies that already had this in place were well ahead, and I think the ones that were maybe laggards and they were slower on the digital transformation, they’ve all jumped into the game and tried to figure out, well, how do we bring our backend systems closer to the front end? So yes, it was growth, and I think that the big thing we saw is that we spent the past two to three years overburdening our site managers, so now we’re even, how do we fix that?


So to talk about the users then. I’m wondering, have you noticed any big changes in the behavior of employers or employees and how they’re using the system or just how they’re going about their work?


Yeah, I think I like to talk about it as, so those that already had a digital frontline workplace, I think they just saw they were already ahead of it, and they’re getting way more focused on giving team members information. So I’ll talk for a second about folks I think that had a great digital transformation strategy. I think what they saw is, even though they were communicating, even though were there offering optionality and flexibility, and they had an ability to close loop real time things like communications and productivity and upskilling and learning, what they realized is they still need to give more information.

I think one of the things I learned, and I’ll give Mary Dylan, who was the CIO of Ulta Beauty at the time, credit, is, she used to say to me all the time. “Information is respect and communication is respect, so if we’re not telling people what we’re thinking, then they don’t know and they start forming their own opinions.” So the companies that are doing it great, they already knew that, especially if you’re dealing with the millennials and the Gen Z that make up a large portion of our frontline workspace, to them, it was table stakes to have communication. They wanted to know, I work for a company that shares my ethos, that’s doing something about it. And what they learned is they still weren’t communicating enough.

And the thing we heard a ton, and especially over the past six months, is you have really great large companies who have amazing benefits for their hourly workers, but if you go and talk to those hourly workers, they didn’t know they even existed, so they weren’t taking advantage of them. Or you saw people saying, “Boy, we didn’t even know we had that.” So companies had to do a better job at saying, “Hey, here’s where your benefits are. Here’s how you participate.” Listen, they all existed, it wasn’t like they were hidden, they were just on an intranet, and on the intranet, a frontline worker needs two or three passwords to get in, they probably don’t use that password that often, so once the SSO says, “Hey, get a new password,” they just abandon it. So if we can put this in their hands, make it easy, accessible, on their phones, on a kiosk, on an onsite device, then you get that information out easier.

I also think what we’ve seen is companies that didn’t have it or did have this technology are figuring out, how do we democratize the tasks? And when I say a task, I mean the traditional, hey, here’s an onsite checklist or a store walk or an audit, but also the task of saying, hey, the manager is basically the one that we were giving information to. We sent them an email on their back office computer and said, “Hey, tell all 45 people at your site this information by the end of the week.” That’s a lot of burden.

What if we were able to democratize that, and let the manager know this information was coming, but take the information directly down to the front time team member, whether it’s about new policies, new benefits, new procedures, new cleaning, new trainings? It should go to everyone on the site, so the manager doesn’t become the single choke point to say, “Hey, make sure you see all these 45 people by the end of the week, and tell them the information we want them to know.” So by getting it into everyone’s hands, while still letting the manager be the strong operator that they are, that’s become really important.

When we talk about things like traditional tasks, that all fell on a manager, here’s the 52 things that have to happen at your site this week, make sure you divvy those out to people. But if the manager had a day off, or if the manager didn’t see someone, the manager likely was just saying, “You know what? I’m just going to do these themselves.” So again, you have managers reaching extreme burnout. Where the companies that can say, “Hey, these are the 52 tasks that have to happen on site. Manager, we know you’re a great operator, we know you know that Mark is the only one that can do the front of the house checklist at the end of the day, but you can still assign it to him, so now you have the control of it.”

But what if you could go to your site and say, “You know what? There’s really 12 other people that are highly qualified to do this, I’m going to assign them that badge, or I’m going to ask them to take some training.” And now, the system can say, “Hey, you have 12 people on Monday that can do this task list.” That’s taking so much burden off the manager. Same thing for call-offs. I think the one thing we’ve learned, whenever I go, I’m lucky enough to get to do a lot of visits with our frontline managers, and Mark, you hear this all the time too, write time off requests or requests to change shifts.

Listen, when someone comes to you on a Friday and says, “Hey, I need next Tuesday off.” I know it’s a time off request that a manager has to approve, but let’s be honest, what manager is telling me is that person’s basically telling me they’re not coming in on Tuesday, so you better have a way for them to try and swap the shift themselves, or a way for the manager not have to go back into their scheduling system and redo a whole schedule, but maybe broadcast that shift to everyone qualified to work it. So if we can take that from the hour, two hours, it generally takes a manager to replace someone on a shift, automate the process, and make it five minutes for the manager and then let the team do it, it’s a huge unlock. So it’s really, to me, this automation and this continuum of the orchestration of those five pillars I talked about at the beginning.


So let me take a step back for a minute. I’m curious about what kind of impact do you think products like WorkJam, not only WorkJam, but your competitors too, what kind of impact do you think they have on the overall operation of a company, and does it tie to business results?


Oh, I think it’s got huge business results. Interestingly enough, and happy to share this with you, Mark, so just, about five years ago, we did what we call the total economic impact study with Forrester, so we commissioned Forrester to do it. They went out and met with about 10 or 11 of our clients and really measured what this result was. And all in all, across all of those different pillars, it really delivers around a 410% return on investment, because you’re doing things like cutting manager time, you’re giving people flexibility so it’s easier for you to meet shifts. Think about how hard it is for a lot of these customers, still to this day, to get labor into their sites. Well, if you can add flexibility, you get that labor, they don’t leave or it’s easier to hire them.

But just this past year in January, we did a second report, which was having Forrester go out and looking at a state of the digital frontline workforce. And I’ll tell you, the customers that were ahead of the curve on communications, on flexible scheduling, on productivity, they were experiencing double-digit growth, where the laggards that hadn’t figured out a way to do the digital transformation, weren’t seeing that growth. So you’re seeing the ROI, not just in taking dollars out of the operating expense, but actually in delivering a large amount of dollars to the top line growth as well, so there’s a really large ROI.

Because we’re talking about frontline workers and the passion and all of the work goes into it, I actually think one of the best things, Steve Kramer, our CEO, he says to people, “Our job is to go figure out how we win hearts and dollars.” And I think what that really dials down to is, if you can win the engagement, if you can win the loyalty of your frontline workers, and deliver to them what they want, which is a flexible schedule, ease of use of seeing their benefits, being able to take advantage of those benefits, and gain the hours that they want, you’re actually going to gain the productivity. They’re going to work hard, they’re going to stay. And we all know the numbers that happen when you retain people, how expensive it is to onboard a new person.

But being able to retain those people does a couple of different things. One, that tribal knowledge that exists now stays. And when you can take that tribal knowledge and communicate it to 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, team members, that really unlocks something, because you and I both know, I go back to this manager burden thing. Imagine a manager knows, again, Mark is the best person to do this, but Mark then decides to leave. Well, what’s happened if Mark hasn’t taught anybody else how to do that, or shown anybody else? You’re the only one that knows that if you jiggle the expensive merchandise cabinet the right way that it locks the first try. That sounds so meaningless, but it’s hugely important if now everybody knows that.

And the second thing that I think everyone has realized is that we’ve spent so much time and money, rightfully so, on customer experience, that employee experience becomes that last mile of that. So if you’ve done everything you can in your supply chain, in your POS, in your logistics systems, your inventory control systems, to make sure that you’re getting things into your buyers’ hands as quickly as possible, if you haven’t now unlocked the employee experience to actually deliver on the last part of that, then you’re actually not taking advantage of all the money you already spent. So there’s huge ROI in that too. And I’ll tell you, we see all the data, the longer you have tenured somebody dealing with a customer, the longer a tenured person is dealing with process, you’re reducing the cost of that process, and you’re largely including the amount of money that customers are spending.

We had Aramark last week at the Women’s Hospitality Forum do an amazing presentation on an event that they held, where Garth Brooks in Ireland was doing five nights at a five nights at the Cork Amphitheater, gigantic space. They sold out the tickets for 500,000 seats over those five nights in 10 minutes. Well, traditionally, Aramark would have to go to an outside staffing agency to fill those last minute shifts, but because they were able to use WorkJam to communicate and broadcast and train anybody on what it meant to work that five night event, they saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, but more importantly, they filled those shifts in about a day and a half for a concert that was happening three weeks out. So there’s a huge unlock in productivity.

But do you know what else happened? You had 3,000 Aramark team members that got more hours, so more pay, they were super happy, and they were able to say, “Hey, I want to fill it.” So we’re able to self schedule an event, which is a huge ability for someone to feel comfortable that they have control over their own schedule, while the operators still had the comfort of saying, “We had all these shifts filled in a day and a half.” So again, that’s the hearts and dollars piece that I think when you put those two together, that’s when you’re delivering it.

One other thing that I think is really interesting that we see is, often, I’ll talk to a frontline team member, and they’ll say, “Will, I have a better relationship digitally as a customer of my company than I do as an employee.” So if you can take that customer focused lens and turn it inwards on the employee lens, what a big unlock that is, so we can have a great digital relationship with our customers and a great digital relationship with our team members. That’s huge. Everyone has, again, rightfully so, spent money on customer loyalty programs. It’s time to take that same energy and focus it on employee loyalty as well.


Which leads me to my next question, it’s, what do these tools, these platforms, what do they have to do to make sure the employees are engaged?


Listen, it’s a great question, and if you think about the whole point of a super app, it’s, how do I bring everything into one place? The other thing that came out of this Forrester study, and some studies I’ve seen Gartner do, is we are really asking our frontline team members, but especially managers, to go to five or six different apps. It’s great that we’ve moved everything to this app economy and we’re making it easier for everyone to interact with systems, that traditionally headquarters or district managers or managers we’re interacting with. But the same problem is, once you’ve got down to all these apps, you’re giving people seven apps. People are wasting two to three hours a day going to a bunch of different systems.

So to answer your question about engagement, if you put everything in one place and you give someone the reason to come there, and let’s be super honest, are they coming there to see your new policy or to learn your new procedure? The great employees are, but most people are coming there to see what’s important to them, is, what was my paycheck? What are my benefits? What is my schedule? How do I interact with my schedule? So if you bring them to a super app with that in mind, they’re going to stay and do the procedural stuff, do the HR policy stuff, do the stuff that is important. We see an average around 87% weekly active user engagement, which is super, super high. Traditional intranets or learning tools or comm tools are down in the 35% range, even Facebook is in the 45% weekly active users. So if you can get a company super app where people are interacting, it really delivers.

Now, once you get them there, what’s important to stay? Great content. And what is great content? It’s hearing from your senior leadership about what they see coming. Your team members don’t want to be disconnected from that C-suite. It’s great that we’re briefing Wall Street, but why aren’t we briefing our team members here what we see is coming for the quarter? So giving them what they want. Giving them easy access to enrollments, to trainings, that’s what’s going to keep them there. And then, it comes down to simple. Great graphics, great content. Using something as simple as, instead of just posting a static PDF, how do I turn it into a dynamic interactive PDF? How do I use a SCORM file or an XAPI file? How do I use something as simple as a GIF to tell a really quick message in a channel post, so that everyone sees it and that it’s interactive and fun? Those are the high level pillars that I see being really useful.


So the economy seems like it’s in flux right now, business conditions seem in flux, the labor market seems in flux. So with all that said, what do you think is going to be the biggest challenge you face in the next few years?


Listen, if I had the total answer to that, then I’d probably be a daily on a CNBC right now, Mark. No, I think what we’re going to see is that, with what we’ve seen the economy doing, I think people are being cautious, and I would maybe almost say cautiously optimistic. If you look at people are still having trouble hiring, so that’s not an issue that’s gone away over the past three years. Even as maybe people have a little bit of concern for what might happen in the next six months, they still need people. So the smart customers are focusing on, how do we keep the people we have? Because it’s always easier to keep them than it is to find new people. But they still need to go out and source new talent. So I think having a tool where they say, “Hey, we’re giving you flexibility when you come to work here. We have the benefits that you want.” That’s how they’re managing that upside and that downside risk.

By having a flexible digital workplace where you can do all of these different pieces, you’re actually giving yourself a hedge against no matter what happens. If you have to keep people really, really quickly, you can do that. If you have to keep going forward with what you have, meaning someone says, “Hey, I know we are planning on hiring 10,000 people, let’s not hire them.” You can’t just say, “Okay, great. Let’s just make all that labor that we thought we were going to spread across other people, and have the current team do it.” You have to offer the flexibility. So if we can switch from more of a part-time model to a full-time model, or switch from a full-time model to a part-time model, if you have that flexibility because you have the tools to offer that, that’s what people are really focused on.

I do think, not to be too Pollyanna, I do think people are seeing that, especially in retail, especially in distribution, and especially in healthcare, the demand for frontline workers and the services they’re delivering, it’s not going away. So if they want to continue to manage costs, but also grow revenue, they have to be able to make sure their frontline team is happy, is staying, and is equipped to handle whatever comes from a consumer confidence standpoint in the next six months.


Will, thanks very much. It was great to see you again, and it was great to talk to you, and I really appreciate your taking the time to talk.


No, this was great, Mark. Thank you much. Thanks for letting me philosophize for a little while this morning.


Hey, always.

My guest today has been Will Eadie, the chief revenue officer at WorkJam. And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of RecruitingDaily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcast.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.

Image: WorkJam

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