Whether it’s aged care workers, nurses, retail assistants or hospitality staff, the deskless workforce has been on the front line of COVID-19. Never have shift-based workers played such a pivotal role in the Australian economy, nor have they ever wielded so much power.
Dynamic Business sat down with Bruce Mackenzie and Clayton Pyne from Humanforce to discuss how technology can help businesses retain a motivated and committed casual workforce in a competitive labour market.
Mr Mackenzie founded Humanforce to provide workforce management solutions for businesses employing casual staff: people who have been known as standing, deskless, and gig workers over the years.
Workforce management systems automate timesheets, rostering, award interpretation, workforce analytics and onboarding. But perhaps most importantly, they facilitate effective communication and employee engagement.
“When I started Humanforce in 2002, my clients were predominantly in retail and hospitality, and workforce management solutions were like punitive systems of record,” explains Mr Mackenzie. “They made sure people were there.”
In a post-pandemic world, workforce management systems link head office and the frontline, and provide a way for casual workers to take control of their careers.
“We’ve always been in the business of giving our customers compliance confidence, ensuring that they run a really efficient operation in terms of their costs and their labour,” says Mr Pyne. “That’s what we’ve always done, and we continue to do that.
“But the biggest challenge that we work on with our clients now is how to enhance their employee value proposition. And after so many customer conversations, it’s truly my belief that Humanforce will increasingly become about engagement and employee experience.”
So how do workforce management solutions help a business strengthen its employee value proposition? “By putting talent in the centre of the conversation, by helping them with on the job learning and development, providing flexibility around work, and making sure that they can offer a really compelling kind of well-being and rewards approach to a sector of workers that typically haven’t had it,’ says Mr Pyne. “They’ve been underserved and perhaps unloved, and that’s got to change.
“And I believe the businesses that get this and act on it will become the market leaders because they will figure out how to attract and retain the best, to deliver great customer experiences. And remember, 82 per cent of hourly paid casual workers sit on the front line, directly interacting with customers. So that connection between the employee experience that you offer your staff and how they show up for your customers has never been stronger.”
What workers really want
While rates of pay were once the most important consideration for casual workers, it is now widely understood that flexibility is their top priority.
“I think deskless workers have felt a latent frustration about their inability to enjoy flexibility around when and how they work,” says Mr Pyne. “I believe that today’s workforce wants to be able to manage their important life and family commitment alongside their career aspirations.”
“At Humanforce, we think about the important role that technology can play in helping [casual staff] set their availability to work.
“This flexibility gives control to the worker. It’s giving them control around setting their availability to work, to maybe swap shifts with their colleagues or friends, to bid on shifts at times that make sense for them to accept those shift offers.”
And, as Mr Mackenzie points out, all this is delivered in real-time through a mobile phone.
Automated award interpretation
Automated workforce management systems also give businesses compliance confidence. The systems calculate overtime, holidays and loading, and the automatic capture of timesheet data reduces the risk of fraud. There is no manual interpretation and no manual data entry.
“We feel that Humanforce is one of the market leaders when it comes to making sure people are paid properly, both ways,” says Mr Mackenzie. “The employer pays the right amount, and the employee gets the right amount: we think that fair and accurate is exactly how it should be done.”
Mr Mackenzie says that employers’ attitudes toward rates of pay have changed now that workers have more leverage in the relationship. “Employers who used to want just to pay the award are now saying, ‘What rate can I round up to make me look more attractive to a good quality employee?’”
Training at your fingertips
Casual work has traditionally experienced high employee churn and when combined with the current worker shortages, engaging and developing the next generation leader in settings like hospitality or aged care becomes a complex challenge.
“I’ll be honest, in the white-collar world, we’ve all taken learning and development for granted,” admits Mr Pyne. “For the standing worker, it has to be mobile-first, and we have to deliver moments that help them with their learning and development on the job in the flow of their day to day, week to week work. We call it micro training.”
These bite-sized chunks of learning take place via a mobile app and are tested by very short quizzes that are spaced out over time.
“So, if you think of a casual who is paid by the hour, learning may be on the train or the bus going into work, or on a break during their shift. You want to engage with them in those moments, which is very different to a traditional learning management system. You can engage them in these simple learning moments that allow them to enhance their qualifications, certifications, or bespoke learning.”
Employee wellness is now a priority
Providing a safe work environment and employee wellbeing can also be enhanced using workforce management systems. Humanforce research shows that 70 per cent of casual workers suffered financially because of Covid-19. The company has worked closely with clients during the pandemic to enhance not only the mental and physical health of their workers but also their financial well-being.
For example, the Humanforce system can give employees access to pay, so they can work a shift and immediately have their managers approve the timesheet. “This helps people stave off some of the financial challenges that can be very stressful in their working life,” says Mr Pyne.
Mr Pyne says that as the Australian economy continues to recover, his clients just want to return to normal trading. “They want to be open more than anything else.” He expects a significant acceleration in March, with workers returning to more normal conditions and returning to CBD areas.
And he believes that it will be casual workers leading the charge. “I think that the COVID 19 event has shone the brightest of lights on people and culture. And if you’re not delivering your team great experiences and embracing technology to help you do that, you’re going to be challenged. I think the business leaders who get this right will be the ones who are paying attention to their team.”