Workplace collaboration platforms are already an office staple for professionals working “desk jobs” in fields like technology and media, but these tools are less common among frontline employees in hands-on roles. Nearly two years after its global launch, Microsoft’s workplace collaboration platform Teams has added a series of new features to improve its functionality for workers in fields like retail, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing. The latest upgrade was rolled out last week, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, including:
- [A] new customizable mobile experience comes with a series of features specifically for workers on the go, such as location sharing, smart camera and the ability to record and share audio messages.
- Teams will now include a template to help IT managers grant individual employees access to the features they need.
- Microsoft is working on a set of APIs, which will debut in public preview later this quarter, that will allow companies to integrate workforce management tools that handle things like scheduling and payroll directly into Teams.
- Coming later this quarter, Microsoft is enabling a Praise feature, which allows employers to call out important contributions from workers.
This announcement comes just a few months after Microsoft showcased a series of new features for “first-line” workers at its Ignite developer conference in September. These included scheduling tools that enable users create and share schedules, swap shifts, request time off, and access announcements from their employers. Microsoft also revealed that it had a secure patient care coordination tool in private preview as part of an effort to bring Teams into the health care field.
A new poll from YouGov has found that just 6 percent of employees in the UK are working traditional 9-to-5 hours, while only 14 percent said they would prefer to work those hours, Personnel Today reported on Tuesday:
The survey, commissioned by Blue Rubicon and McDonald’s, asked more than 4,000 adults for their views on working hours and found that most full-time workers preferred to start earlier and leave earlier: 8am to 4pm were the most popular hours for 37% of respondents while 21% chose 7am to 3pm.
Just under four in 10 respondents (42%) were already working according to shift patterns, compressed hours and job shares and many of these people told researchers that they felt more motivated than when in fixed-time work and being able to work flexible hours led them to stay in the job longer.
The desire to work more flexibly in future was expressed by 70% of respondents, with 65% adding it would improve their wellbeing and satisfaction at work. However, a third of people said they didn’t think their employer would allow them to work more flexibly. Just under half (48%) said they would prefer to work a longer day in return for a shorter working week.
Evidence that traditional work schedules are becoming obsolete has been accumulating for a few years now, and not only in the UK: A CareerBuilder survey in the US in 2016, for example, found 59 percent of US workers saying they believed the typical 9-to-5 workday was a thing of the past. Work-life balance is also an increasingly important driver of talent attraction and retention around the world, as our research at Gartner has found.
At People Management, HR experts at the CIPD underscored that the survey’s findings reflect a need for organizations to be more attentive to employees’ needs in managing schedules and designing the workweek:
Significantly more North American employers are offering “Summer Fridays” to their employees this year, the latest data from Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor shows. A poll conducted in the second quarter of 2018 of more than 144 HR leaders in North America found that 46 percent of organizations were giving employees the option of leaving early, working remotely, or taking the day off on Fridays this summer—a jump of more than 30 percentage points from 2012.
Though some companies worry that summer schedules can have a negative impact on productivity, but as Gartner’s own Brian Kropp notes, “most companies have told us that with this benefit in place, they’ve found employees work harder earlier in the week because they know they have to complete their work before Friday,”
Summer Fridays won’t work for every organization, of course, or for every workforce, but Kropp outlines an alternative option too:
Pared, an on-demand hiring platform for restaurant workers, has raised a $10 million financing round led by CRV, TechCrunch reported last week. The platform aims to help restaurants fill last-minute staff shortages, particularly in back-of-house roles like line cooks and dishwashers, but could conceivably be used for waitstaff and other front-of-house positions as well:
Restaurants go to the app and say they are looking for what the app calls a ‘Pro’ in whatever role they need, and are able to book the employee right away for the slot they have in their schedule. It might come at a slight premium over the typical hire, but restaurants are already willing to pay overtime in order to cover those gaps and keep things moving smoothly, [co-founder Dave] Lu said.
For employees, it’s a pretty similar experience — they see a job posted on the app, with a time slot, and they make themselves available for an hourly wage. The second benefit, Lu said, is that they can start to slowly make a name for themselves if they are able to prove out their skills and move up the ranks at any of those restaurants. The culinary community is a small one, he said, and it offers a lot of room to start building up a reputation as an exceptional chef or just finally get a first shot at a sauté position in the kitchen after working at the back of the house. That, too, might be part of the appeal of jumping on a service like Pared rather than just driving for Uber.
Pared is part of a growing ecosystem of platforms offering an “Uberized” approach to hiring hourly workers in various roles. By catering exclusively to restaurants and promising to help chefs build their personal brands, Pared is looking to build its own reputation as a reliable place to find quality kitchen talent on short notice.
These new platforms are emerging in retail and food service to address these industries’ unique staffing and scheduling challenges: Customer traffic is variable, but employees’ availability may not be. To address this mismatch, technological solutions are being built to help connect businesses in need of shift workers on short notice with employees willing to take those shifts, on the employees’ terms. For instance, Legion, another startup that raised $10.5 million in first-round funding last year, is using big data to better predict customer traffic and schedule the right amount of staff in advance.
Although our research at CEB, now Gartner, has found that organizations with flexible working programs realize an increase in employee engagement and productivity, the stigma against flexible work persists and employees often fear that their colleagues and managers will question their competence or commitment if they ask for parental leave or remote work options.
In a recent piece at the Harvard Business Review, Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup offered some suggestions for how to mitigate this challenge. The authors recommended that workforce policies be designed in a way that is wholly inclusive, from parents who have to pick up their children from daycare to employees who have to tend to their sick grandparents. Although people’s reasons for needing flexible work arrangements can differ, they write, organizations should adopt a clear set of principles for managing that flexibility and ensure that it is fairly applied regardless of the reason.
Williams and Multhaup’s ideas for creating an inclusive policy are sensible, but the problem remains that organizations often don’t promote their flexible work policies effectively. In fact, our research indicates that flexible work practices are underutilized even by employees who value flexibility. In order to better enable workers to take advantage of these options, managers need to create an environment where they are not only used, but encouraged.
New data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics show that the number of people working on zero-hours contracts throughout the country had increased by about 100,000 last year, Jo Faragher reported at Personnel Today earlier this week:
ONS reported that in the year to November 2017, there were 1.8 million contracts that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours, compared to 1.7 million in the year to November 2016. However, in terms of labour market share, zero hours arrangements still made up 6% of all contracts.
These controversial contracts, which do not guarantee employees work in any given pay period but obligate them to be on call for shifts that may or may not be assigned to them, have been the subject of intensely negative press coverage and mounting regulatory scrutiny over the past two years. Ireland has moved to regulate them nearly out of existence, while a Scottish MP has introduced legislation to ban them in the UK. The ONS’s last report on zero-hours contracts, issued last September, found that they were on a steep decline.
So what gives? Fortunately, Faragher reports, the office’s latest data almost certainly doesn’t indicate a reversal of the trend:
In a randomized, controlled experiment at Gap, researchers Joan C. Williams, Saravanan Kesavan, and Lisa McCorkell sought out the effects of more versus less predictable schedules on the productivity of retail employees and the profitability of stores. “The results,” they write at the Harvard Business Review, “were striking”:
Sales in stores with more stable scheduling increased by 7%, an impressive number in an industry in which companies work hard to achieve increases of 1–2%. Labor productivity increased by 5%, in an industry where productivity grew by only 2.5% per year between 1987 and 2014. Our estimate is that Gap earned $2.9 million as a result of more-stable scheduling during the 35 weeks the experiment was in the field. Given that out-of-pocket expenses were small ($31,200), our data suggest that return on investment was very high. (If stable scheduling were adopted enterprise-wide, transition costs might well entail the costs of upgrading or replacing existing software systems.)
Unlike the typical way of driving sales through increase in traffic, the sales increase from our intervention occurred due to higher conversion rates and basket values made possible through better service from associates.
These findings, the authors underscore, contribute to a growing body of empirical evidence that lean staffing practices, with most employees on part-time, unstable, and on-call schedules, are not the money-savers they are often believed to be. It is indeed feasible for retailers to offer their employees more stable and predictable schedules, they add, but employers often overstate the benefits of an on-call system (reduced labor costs) while ignoring its drawbacks (such as poorer customer service and more management time devoted to scheduling).
This research comes at a time when schedule predictability has emerged as a focal point of labor activism and attracted the attention of regulators. San Francisco became the first major city to mandate predictable scheduling with its “retail workers’ bill of rights” in 2014, while Seattle passed a mandate in 2016 and New York City introduced a fair scheduling law for retail and fast food employees last year. Oregon became the first state to enact such a regulation statewide last summer and other states are mulling laws of their own.