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TecHRseries Interview with Martin Hartshorne, CEO at When I Work

With all the shifts in organizational trends and employee working models during the 2020 pandemic, there has been a change in how businesses are opening up to newer technologies and processes to help make the best of the current day business challenges. Martin Hartshorne, CEO at When I Work weighs in with a few thoughts and tips:




Tell us a little about yourself Martin…and your (two-time!) startup journey, we’d love to hear about your day at work at “When I Work”?

I’m a once-upon-a-time engineer turned entrepreneur, and I’ve spent my entire 20-year career in HR Tech. I’ve worked at Workbrain, Infor, EmployTouch (founded), Ultimate Software and When I Work. This has taken me from the days of client-server software to web-based licensed software to SaaS & Cloud, and from physical time clocks to mobile devices to AI. I’ve been through very high growth followed by an acquisition three times (and an IPO at another), and I’ve also made several HR tech acquisitions.

The consistent thing is that I’ve always been involved in providing new technology for employees and employers.

I joined When I Work because everybody in the company is very passionate about making shift-based workplaces awesome for hourly workers. I’m totally in for that mission. We do that by giving the employees the best product experience, and by allowing employers to involve employees in the process for scheduling creation and changes, namely flexible self-scheduling.

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Over 1.4 million employees across 150,000 workplaces use When I Work, and they genuinely seem to love it. My job is all about keeping that magic going for our customers, growing our company significantly by helping more workplaces use our product and making sure that the amazing team at When I Work (and their families) are well taken care of.

What was your experience like taking over When I Work as CEO in the middle of a global pandemic? How have you seen the gig economy / hourly work employment segment evolve during this pandemic?

I’m a sucker for change, chaos and new things. 2020 has provided a lot of that! I joined in April and, like everyone, our team was dealing with the shift of working from home, the health concerns of the pandemic and risk to our business as shift-based workplaces were closing. We tried to do everything we could to help our customers through the uncertainty (while also experiencing our own). We gave many customers a break on costs to help them stay in business in April in May. We then helped many of those same customers get open again in July, August and September, but differently than before—they’re using our product in different ways.

We’ve seen a huge surge in organizations across healthcare, retail, food service and logistics looking for a product like ours that offers unparalleled flexibility in scheduling and handling countless changes due to the enormous complexity in employee availability and adjusting demand. It has helped me learn about When I Work in detail, very quickly.

I’ve said a few times that in “work,” the pandemic has been an inevitability accelerator. The future of work is definitely shifting WAY faster now than before. It’s an exciting, but very busy time to be in HR Tech.

In what ways do you feel the gig economy / hourly work will impact the tech marketplace in 2021 and beyond? 

The biggest thing is just the continued shift in power toward employees. We are seeing the same shifts that have happened in salaried knowledge-based jobs over the past 20 years, starting to happen in shift-based workplaces. Employees want a say, they want to believe in the company they work for, and they want flexibility in when they work.

Shared labor is going to become more widely adopted. For example, fulfillment centers will operate in a less siloed manner, and make shifts available to team members who traditionally only work at a single fulfillment center but can now pick up extra hours by grabbing a shift across town.

Traditional PT and FT hourly teams are going to operate more like gig-based operations. An organization’s PT and FT employees will have more opportunities to monetize their free time and optimize their work schedule to better fit their life situations.

As work models start becoming more flexible in part due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, how do you feel gig workers / hourly work models / the concept of remote workers will evolve in future?

Flexible work for shift workers is now table stakes. You can already hear larger organisations advertising flexible shifts as part of recruitment. During the last few months, the working model had to adapt to constant change and to figure out the best way to support their employees. One of the best ways for both employees and organisations to do that is to create a scalable flexible self-scheduling system. This is built in a way that leans on communication and collaboration between employer and employee so that it is employee-friendly and business-outcome focused.

What are some of the biggest people challenges you see HR and business heads in B2B and Tech still struggle with despite sophisticated talent management systems and intelligence platforms today? How would you advise teams to revisit how they deploy / optimize their HR tech stack to yield better results when it comes to identifying talent with the right skills?

I think the biggest challenge employers in shift-based workplaces face is remembering that the happier the employees are, the better the businesses will perform. Most shift-based workplaces today don’t have sophisticated (or any) talent management and intelligence platforms. Many of them only have payroll and time tracking. One of the opportunities the pandemic presents is that it reveals just how special and heroic shift-based workers are—and that they too have talent to manage, develop and enrich.

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It’s more important than ever for employers to take care of their employees and recognize that they are responsible for keeping them safe. Employers should shift how they look at their workforce to reduce turnover, training costs and create overall better service to their customers/ patients/etc.

Additionally, something that we come across a lot at When I Work is employees’ desire for more flexibility in scheduling. In shift-based or hourly environments, flexible schedules have been notoriously difficult to achieve. But with the right technology, flexible scheduling can be a reality for workers balancing school closures, policy changes, cancelled plans, family demands and more.

How would you tell HR leaders to use data-driven insights to further optimize their core processes and people culture / employee experience today?

Data definitely matters, but it doesn’t become information without some context and purpose. One of the challenges with HR data (versus financial data, inventory data, etc.) is that people make choices along the way based on a mixture of data and their feelings. So, looking at numbers alone doesn’t tell you why something happened. For example, if your no-show rate is higher than you want it to be, you might think it means you need to put more restrictions in place for employees who don’t show for a shift. In reality, if you provided an easy way for team members to communicate about shift changes, you’ll likely get the coverage you need and enable your team to find coverage themselves (which makes your managers happy too).

What are some of the top tech trends you feel will dominate HR and HR Tech in the near-future?

People-centric artificial intelligence is what I’m most excited about in the HR technology category. Where I see its value most in the HR/people management space is with predictions and machine learning about people. So far, AI has been applied well to solve numbers-only business problems. In HR, the humans involved ensure that a lot of unstructured data like emotions, sentiment, current events, relationships play into outcomes too. In other words, there is a gap in the way we use the people-focused unstructured data, such as if an employee likes their schedule or if they believe in the company’s product, services or brand.

There’s an opportunity for artificial intelligence to converge structured data about people—

demographics and performance metrics—with this unstructured data to facilitate decisions about talent, creating effective schedules, choosing managers for a specific operation. And, at When I Work, we’re experimenting with these drives in an effort to better understand how to do our job better.

Before we wrap up, we’d love to hear a little about the employee culture and experience at When I Work.

Everything we do starts with a mission to help hourly teams work better together. We’re motivated by a strong, innovative, and passionate work culture and we’re constantly searching for ways to improve and Get Shift Done.

For us, the pandemic has taught us many things, but two stand out.

(1) That we’re great at remote work. We’ve leaned into that, and we’ve been hiring nationally and onboarding new team members virtually. Employees can work here and live wherever they choose. We’re hiring for over 25 positions right now, so this is very helpful.

96% of our employees said they are as productive or more working remote, compared to the office. Our people are mostly loving it, so we’re going to keep doing that and reincorporate the utility of our office space differently once it’s plausible to do so again.

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(2) Everybody genuinely cares about each other. In my opinion, that’s the most important thing in any business that wants to have a good culture: People need to care about each other, stick together, fight together, win together and support each other when things don’t go well. At When I Work, we want to be the best at HR ourselves, and we strive to value each of our employee’s unique life experiences, and we promise to treat everyone with dignity, to listen and to always seek to learn and improve.

When I Work

When I Work is a market leader in hourly workforce management SaaS (Software as a Service) with 150,000 workplace partners worldwide.

Martin Hartshorne is the CEO of When I Work

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