Managing hourly shift workers through an app

Since 2015, The Populus: Coffee & Food Co. has been serving up its spread of contemporary dishes, seasonal coffee, teas, and chocolate concoctions. Like many other food and beverage (F&B) establishments, The Populus relies on hourly shift workers to serve its customers. However, managing their schedules and engagement of such workers has always been challenging, and now made more complicated by COVID-19 and its disruption to business.

Frontier Enterprise spoke with Qing Da, Cafe Manager at The Populus on how digitalising their management of shift workers with StaffAny has helped manage their team and improve their operations. Janson Seah, CEO and Co-Founder of StaffAny, also weighed in on the importance of hourly shift workers and how technology can improve the experience of both managers and employees.

The bedrock of our economy

Behind the glossy, postcard-perfect images of Singapore are the hourly shift workers who sustain the infrastructure behind the glamour and progress. The staff on public transportation, the crews at F&B outlets, the delivery drivers and riders, cleaners, security guards: these are the people who provide many of the amenities Singaporeans take for granted, working to sustain these services in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet managing these workers can be a daunting task. According to Qing Da, their decision to look for technological solutions to better manage their staff was brought on by their expanding team, creating mounting challenges in maintaining human resources (HR), clocking in and out, work hours, leave balances, and so on.

Janson noted that in Southeast Asia, many of these HR and operations processes – specifically scheduling, time-tracking, and consolidating time sheets – are still carried out using “manual, time-intensive methods”.

“Typically, these can take up to one week a month,” he said.

These challenges are exacerbated with the current pandemic where the hourly work industry can be impacted overnight, as restrictions can change at the snap of a finger. “Shift workers can suddenly be put on hold or laid off, simply based on expected fall in demand,” Janson added.

Besides affecting the hours that a company may require of its shift workers, the Safe Management Measures in place to curb the spread of the pandemic also place additional work on employers. Nevertheless, “a greater reliance on transient casual labour (or the gig economy) can be expected and in fact, we already see existing trends of this,” explained Janson, reminding us that ultimately, hourly shift workers “form the core experience between the brand and the consumers on the ground level.”

Technology for better management

Technology contributes to overcoming these challenges by improving the previously time-consuming and inefficient methods of managing hourly shift workers. According to Janson, technology can help automate all manual processes like calculations, matching records, and even flagging out errors. “Humans only come in when there is an actual need, such as for edits or approval, for example,” he added.

This has been the experience at The Populus, who were able to quickly onboard their team to the StaffAny app, helping them manage their team more effectively. “In addition, StaffAny stayed on top of the ever-changing COVID-19 challenges by integrating TraceTogether into the daily clock in and clock out,” Qing Da said.

Response from the café’s staff has been positive, with many benefitting from the app’s ease of use, as well as the transparency it provides in tracking their own working hours, days off, leave balances, and other concerns they may face.

This is an added benefit of technological solutions to managing hourly shift workers. “Besides improving productivity, technology also acts as the ‘second manager’ by enforcing rules and communicating performance to staff, leading to reduced time theft and improved staff punctuality,” remarked Janson.

“Repetitive reminders and communication taken over by technology can also be seen to be more impartial and objective,” he said.

Data for strategic planning

Beyond improving day-to-day operations, reminded Janson, technology can also be used to make data-driven decisions that impact the long term performance of an organisation.

“Take for example scheduling, where many factors need to be taken into consideration, such as ground demand, projected sales targets, staff availability, staff performance, and so on,” he explained.

“With technology, businesses can understand trends in past data more easily and make more sensible manpower allocation decisions which ultimately affect the bottomline. As businesses scale, technology becomes even more powerful in providing them with business health metrics be it in costs, revenue, or staff performance,” he continued.

This capability has been crucial for The Populus to manage the fluid environment of the current pandemic. Said Qing Da, “We’ve leveraged on StaffAny to analyse the total work hours and strategise on a manpower cost-efficient chart in a bid to reduce operating expenses.” This has also allowed them more time to adapt their overall business to the current climate.

“We’ve also had to pivot and digitalise our F&B experience to a home-café style vibes,” shared Qing Da.

The future of work for hourly shift workers

Technology has provided new capabilities for businesses of all stripes to survive and emerge stronger from the current pandemic. According to Qing Da, The Populus is currently looking to digitalise the dine-in café experience with QR code menus, check-in and out, and so on.

Janson observed that as shift work and the gig economy grows in importance, there will be a “shift of focus towards greater concern on employee engagement and rewards, so that businesses can keep retraining costs lean.”

At the same time, with greater flexibility being necessary to accommodate different employees, there will likely be “a mix of both full timers, part timers and gig workers in the same workplace.”

Janson advised companies seeking to improve their management of shift workers not to be afraid of shifting out of traditional processes. “While they may have served you for a long time, being comfortable with it might leave up to 3% of your labour cost on the table.”

All this highlights the need for businesses to remain flexible, whether it is in human resources or elsewhere.