We talk with Chad Halvorson, CEO of When I Work, a company that creates a software for better employee scheduling.
Jacob: Hello, everyone. I’m Jacob Shriar, Director of Customer Happiness to Officevibe. And today I’m with Chad, who’s the CEO of When I Work. Chad, thanks so much for being here with me.
Chad: No problem, thanks for having me.
Jacob: Awesome. Before we get started just so everyone understands, can you give us a bit of a background on what When I Work is, what you guys do, and maybe a bit of a background on you and how you started it and all that.
Chad: Sure, so what When I Work is we’re a scheduling software, a mobile scheduling software that helps businesses with hourly employees to schedule and communicate and coordinate and track time with their hourly teams, hourly work forces. So if you think about if you go to work an hourly job at a schedule that you’re meant to work to. We’re solving that problem in that kind of environment where you have a different schedule from week to week.
Where it came form is… the way that I started in software was 15 years ago I worked in a grocery store for my first job. And at that grocery store I was always frustrated with the fact that the manager would post the work schedule on Sunday nights and then I’d have to go into the grocery store on Sunday nights and check the schedule for Monday. And it was like your life’s in limbo, you’re like, “Do I work on Monday or not?” You’ve gotta go in and check the schedule, or you’re calling in and all of your co-workers are calling in trying to figure that out at the same time.
So the genesis for When I Work actually came in 1998 when I registered wheniwork.com and made a failed attempt at launching it in the early 2000s and ended up getting into software for the following 10 years and that was where I got my background in software development, internet marketing and the like and product and technology.
Jacob: Very cool, yeah. And that sounds like a very cool piece of software. I’m guessing that’s a huge problem. I’ve experienced that problem in Canada, but I know, correct me if I’m wrong, but in the US especially there are a lot more part time workers and hourly workers. So I imagine that this is a huge issue for a lot of people in the US, is that true?
Chad: Yeah, I mean it’s a huge issue all over the world. So we’ve been on the market for five years, and the product is in 50 different countries. We’ve got over half a million employees that are on the system, 10,000 customers. And it’s one of those things where whether you’re in restaurants, or it’s a food service, or it’s retail or it’s hospitality, you run into this problem where you’re trying to schedule and communicate with employees. And when you think about the market as a whole, in the US at least 60% of anybody with a job is an hourly employee. So when you think of the science of the market and the pain point that comes with being in an hourly work force and having those consistent and similar issues with coordinating and communicating, it’s a big problem that’s very widespread from small business all the way up to large chains and enterprise.
Jacob: You know at Officevibe obviously a big thing we talk about is employee engagement and making sure employees are happy and committed to their work. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I’m just thinking out loud here, but do you think that if you work like an hourly job, can you really be engaged in your job, or are you sort of in limbo, like you’re not really committed to the company because you’re an hourly worker? Do you think full time employees only can be engaged, or do you think hourly can be, too?
Chad. No, I think hourly employees can be just as engaged as full time employees. I think what happens, and what makes it more challenging in an hourly environment or even in a part time environment. But mostly in the hourly environment, when you think about the nature of the work that you’re doing in an hourly job, you’re not necessarily at work at the same time that your coworkers are at work or that even your boss is at work. So the need to be able to communicate asynchronously with your coworkers and your boss in an hourly job, it actually becomes much more important than in a full time corporate type job where you work 9 to 5 and everybody’s at work at the same time.
So If I need to go talk to Jacob, I’ll just go talk to Jacob and we’ll figure out what we need to do to do X Y and Z. Where if I work in an hourly job, whether it’s in retail or it’s a restaurant or it’s hospitality, whatever it is, if I need to communicate or coordinate the trading of shifts, like I want to trade shifts with Jacob for Tuesday, or I want to see if he can work on Friday for my shift on Thursday, you’re probably not working when I’m working, and our ability to communicate is often challenged because you and I have to communicate. Then I have to communicate with the boss or the manager who may not be working at the time I’m working, because I’m working the night shift and he or she works the morning shift.
So I think one of the ways that employees in the hourly work force can be more engaged is if they’re able to communicate easily in an asynchronous fashion. It’s when you’re on the job and when you’re off the job that you often need to be in communication even in an hourly type environment.
Jacob: I don’t know if you would know this, but do you have any idea why there’s such a big increase in the last year, maybe two years, in hourly and part time workers in the US? Does it have anything to do with Obamacare or the economy or anything like that? I mean what’s the big rise in all these hourly and part time jobs in the US?
Chad: I don’t have a direct thing to point to, but I do see that it’s become easier for a business to employ part time workers and hourly workers and even distributed workers. There’s this concept that I’ve started to see which is like the distributed hourly workforce… you think about innovative companies like Uber, or Grubhub or Deliveroo and these types of companies where they’re employing… these are companies that are employing lots of hourly workers that didn’t exist before. There wasn’t an economic environment and there wasn’t a business environment where the tools to utilize a workforce in that way existed. I think we’re seeing a lot of innovation within the tech sector that’s allowing business models to be created that would allow us to employ more hourly workers or even part time workers. And then there’s the technology to communicate and collaborate with that group is getting better and better as well. I think from my vantage point those are two things that I see contributing to that. There are probably other things, too, but I think those are likely part of the mix.
Jacob: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It must be good for your business for sure. That’s great. I’d love to ask you a bit about your company and how you guys do things there. Well actually first of all, I guess my first question for you is can you talk a bit about how it’s set up? Do you employ a lot of hourly workers, a lot of remote workers? What’s the setup in terms of number of employees and how they fit in the company, if you get what I mean?
Chad: Yeah, so we’ve got about 55 employees, and about half of the employee base is in product and in development. The other half is marketing sales and customer support/customer care. For us, most of our team is full time. No one is really part time. We do have shifts. We do have to have certain hours covered from a customer support perspective. Customer support may need to cover certain blocks of time throughout the day. As far as remote goes, most of our employees are all based here in the Minneapolis St. Paul area. However, our development team and product team is entirely remote. So while most of our engineers all live here in Minneapolis St. Paul they don’t office out of our headquarters, they office out of wherever they want. Then we have probably between 5 and 10 remote employees that are out of state. So we have employees in California, in Texas, in South Dakota, in Iowa, and Washington State.
Jacob: Nice. That’s cool. A lot of traditional companies and a lot of maybe old school thinking managers are very against flex time and working remotely. So I’d love to ask you how you make that work. If you could be really specific like maybe what tools you use to communicate with everyone, how you hold them accountable, because a lot of people think if they’re at home they’ll be watching Netflix all day. So how do you make sure that everyone… how do you get so that you can allow them to be working remotely and put that trust into them.
Chad: Right. There are a few things that I can point to specifically. One kind of broad stroking thing is writing everything down. We try to write down as much stuff as we can when we’re communicating. When we’re figuring out what we’re gonna do, what we’re gonna build or what project we’re gonna start, getting as much documentation around that as possible is really important because certain people are remote and you bring that in to have a point of record for what you’re trying to accomplish. That becomes important. It also requires a certain level of discipline that you maybe wouldn’t have to have in a non-remote environment. That’s one thing, writing things down.
The other is we use a lot of tools that enable us to communicate. We use HipChat, Atlassian HipChat for collaboration and communication within our team. We use a lot of email as well. We use GitHub. We track all of our work and development needs with GitHub along with a program called Aha! for product management. But I’d say that HipChat is probably the glue, like HipChat’s the glue that keeps the whole team together. HipChat helps the culture of our company permeate in the remote environment. It’s kind of like the digital environment of the company that allows culture to happen. It allows people to get as much of that essence of being here. The HipChat program is really important.
As far as accountability and that kind of thing, it’s very results-oriented approach to getting things done. If things aren’t getting done it’s pretty easy to figure out if someone’s not pulling their weight kind of thing. Everybody has specific things that they’re really responsible and accountable for getting done and if they don’t get it done at a certain point then there’s definitely a question there. So whether they’re here at the office and I or others see the back of their head or they’re remote, it doesn’t really matter as long as we’re able to see the results.
Even on non-project type roles like customer support/customer care, even if you’re not able to see everybody which we can’t here because if the satisfaction of the customer or the volume of inquiries that you’re trying to handle you can pretty quickly figure out if there’s an issue or problem that needs to be addressed. And if you keep good communication even on a weekly basis on a one-on-one perspective, I think it works really well.
Jacob: Cool. Nice. Thanks for that. My next question for you: What are some things that you’ve either done already or maybe that you want to start doing to help with retention and making sure employees are happy? I’m sure you know as CEO you’re working hard to build and maintain an amazing company culture. So I’d love to understand what initiatives you try to put in place either that you’ve tried already and you have put in place or maybe things that you are thinking of exploring, like I said, to keep happiness high and keep retention high and things like that.
Chad: Yeah. I think one of the things that we’ve done from a hiring perspective and from orientation, like right when someone gets started that I think has been well received is when we hire someone, when we bring someone on and their start dates are usually two weeks or more out from the date that we decide or agree that we’re gonna hire someone or accept their offer. Some of the things that we’ll do in that span of time between when they accept the offer and when they start is we’ll send them a care package. We’ll send them a welcome package from the team to help get them initiated into the culture. We’ll send them like a thank you card that I’ll sign, and we’ll send them a t-shirt and a hoodie kind of like a uniform, but not really. It’s like a hoodie and a t-shirt and a couple other things. We put together this package of items so they can see that we’re welcoming folks before they start.
The day they actually start is… and then this is pretty simple, but a lot of companies don’t do this. I’ve been at companies in the past where it’s almost like they’re not ready for you when you start. Like your first day comes around and then you realize that they’re not fully prepared for you to start. I’ve seen instances where someone’s computer isn’t even ready for them and it’s their first day kind of thing. So we put a lot of effort into making sure that we’ve got the entire first week and they day they start is planned out so that that first impression of them joining the company is as good as it can be. Because I think getting off on the right foot is probably the first ingredient to having a good strong culture going forward. Those are some things that we’ve implemented that have worked.
We also try to do company events. We try to do events where everybody gets involved, whether it’s a food event or we’re just hanging out eating, or it’s a game thing, or whatever it is. We’ll go somewhere, we’ll go on a boat for the afternoon. We try to do that at least once a quarter, or even more regularly, just to get folks from different departments to commingle and to get to know each other. As a company grows… when we were 10 people or 15 people it was pretty easy for everybody from every department to commingle on a daily basis, but as you grow and you become 40 employees, 50 employees, 80 employees or more, the responsibilities of each department become, not necessarily siloed but people are getting their stuff done. And creating circumstances where everybody can get together, I think, is a good way to continue the culture and to ensure that everybody has got some level of connection with everyone in your company as you grow.
Jacob: Definitely, yeah. That’s so important. I love that idea, what you do for new hires. That’s really, really smart. And it’s important to note that I guess that it’s smart that you do these team building activities so frequently because when you make that good first impression with the care package, that’s the beginning phase of the onboarding but where companies make a lot of mistakes, and good for you that you don’t make this mistake, but they sort of stop the onboarding process after the first week, or first two weeks, something like this. And it really is a continuous thing. You’ve got to get them going for at least three or four months down the line, if not more. It’s a very serious thing to onboard someone onto a new team. It’s not just like here’s your computer. Have a nice day, right? It’s really much more serious than that.
I think we’ll end it here, but honestly Chad I just want to thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to chat with me. This was great. Maybe we can do this again sometime soon.
Chad: Yeah, sounds good. Thanks for having me, Jacob.
Jacob: All right, great. Take care.
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