Why IT leaders need to meet the needs of the hourly worker

This post was also published in CIO.com.

Hourly employees are frequently overlooked in IT strategy — but often present the highest case for return on investment.

In IT decision making, the core stakeholder of a business system is typically the business function. The finance department selects the finance system, the human resources department selects the HR system, and so on. Downstream from these decisions, regular employees are then frequently confronted with Byzantine systems.

This issue is particularly pronounced for hourly workers, who are rarely considered when building and investing in work systems. At many large and midsize companies, hourly workers use a variety of non-intuitive legacy systems to perform functions like submitting timesheets, scheduling shifts, and looking up inventory.

The business challenge of integrating hourly workers

Hourly employees are usually the most underfunded in terms of IT spend, but often present the highest case for IT return on investment. It typically takes over a week to train an hourly employee in the systems and processes for their job, which quickly adds up when you factor in seasonal employment and typically high turnover. Once an hourly employee is on board, retention quickly becomes an issue, too: A recent study by Unisys of 12,000 workers showed that workers at companies considered to be technology laggards were 450% more likely to want to work at a different company.

Finding, training, and retaining hourly workers can quickly add up in costs that far outweigh the cost of modernizing systems. To solve this challenge, and increase retention while reducing onboarding and training time, IT can look to improve the specific tools that hourly employees use from each system.

For example, one of the biggest pain points for hourly employees is being burdened with using legacy applications, often from character-based terminals, in order to do their jobs. While it used to be incredibly expensive to upgrade those systems, a new wave of application modernization tools offer specific workflows with single-function micro apps. Reviewing the common tasks performed by hourly workers and partnering with the line of business on how an IT investment is optimizing each specific workflow can result in increased efficiency which can unleash profound results in both hourly employee satisfaction and productivity.

Let’s look at the challenges that hourly workers face and specific areas that IT can focus on to give these employees the work tools they need to succeed.

Scheduling and time sheets

The most popular mobile applications for hourly workers are those that provide shift planning and time management. Many businesses still require hourly employees to call into a help desk to change shifts and even use paper to submit timesheets. Time sheets can be particularly onerous especially for remote workforces that are out in the field.

Providing mobile apps so that hourly employees can easily perform these simple tasks is a huge step forward for both hourly employee satisfaction and business efficiency.

Device access and compliance

Hourly workers have very unique compliance requirements that vary significantly by jurisdiction. Although providing mobile access to IT systems from personal devices seems like an obvious and simple solution given the popularity of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for salaried workers, many jurisdictions have restrictions on the types of information that can be accessed by hourly workers depending on the situation.

For example, oftentimes it is critical that access to certain systems be limited by whether or not an employee is on the clock. Other apps, like those that enable workers to change a shift or request time off, are not giving employees the ability to do actual work on their devices while they are off the clock and thus can be made available anytime. In addition, many jurisdictions require businesses to provide alternative devices such as a company-owned desktop computer so that using a personal device is optional. No matter the requirements, investing the time and effort to ensure hourly workers have access to the tools they need to be successful will help them become better integrated into their organizations.

Application access based on identity

Many companies use separate identity systems for hourly employees rather than the same Active Directory or LDAP used by salaried employees. Hourly employees are typically provisioned in a separate database with an obscure username and password based on name, birthday, and parts of their Social Security number. This separation took place years ago, when maintaining identity systems like Active Directory and LDAP was expensive and cumbersome, and had many associated help desk costs like employees calling in to reset a password.

Today, however, modern identity servers are far cheaper to run and there is no longer a need to maintain a separate, complicated system for hourly employees. Consolidating onto a common system saves IT money and provides hourly employees with a login similar to the full-time employees.

Once hourly employees have a company-standard login, they can access common business functions like email and corporate portals. This helps hourly employees become a part of the team and better enjoy the corporate culture.

Providing access to portals enables hourly employees to access information about the company and benefits like any other employee. It also helps HR publish content specific to hourly employees the way they publish content for other employees, directly into the content portal.

What’s next? Rip and replace vs. embrace and extend

With a better understanding of how to cater work systems for hourly workers, the question is: Should you rip and replace your current work systems? Or should you embrace and extend? It’s an age old question in IT. At this point, many systems are so sedimented and intertwined with other systems that it is incredibly expensive to replace them.

To improve the digital lives of hourly workers, IT should instead have a flexible approach. Some tasks such as shift scheduling can be fully replaced with apps like Humanity or Kronos that can then export back into your existing systems. Other tasks that are more specific to internal applications can be extended with micro apps. Regardless of the approach, it’s important to keep an open mind and evaluate which method provides the best time to value and return on investment.