Former Uber product executives set their sights on replacing outdated workforce management practices. By using artificial intelligence, employees get a say in how and when they work
While working at Uber, Arjun Vora noticed something interesting about the workforce he was empowering through his app design.
“People were not driving for Uber at that time because they were making a lot of money,” said Vora, who was the head of Uber’s driver design. “They were doing it because they were their own bosses in terms of having a voice and when they wanted to work.”
Together, he and Tito Goldstein (who was head of product design for Uber for Business) used this as inspiration to modernize the way employers manage their blue-collar workforces.
They left their jobs and built Zira, a workforce management company that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to keep track of employee availability and preferences, create and optimize schedules, track performance, and much more.
The hope is that Zira can be used to give employees a voice in the way they work, eliminate biases inherent to managing shift workers, and create clear paths for upward mobility.
Giving employees a voice
Adding nuance to workforce management has been commonplace for white-collar workers for a long time — giving workers the ability to work when and where they want, simplifying payroll and benefits, etc. However, management of blue-collar workers, who make up the vast majority of the world’s workforce, has lagged behind.
“This demographic — which is about 70 percent of the world’s workforce — has been forgotten by recent technological advancements. They are the ones left to handle the shortcomings of legacy technology. Whether it is unpredictable hours or inconsistent pay, the pain is very real and COVID has only made the stress of managing the everyday harder.”
The old model of managing shift workers — which usually relies on managers creating schedules and keeping track of employee preferences manually — is prone to error and inconsistencies, and employees suffer. By automating the process, employees can know they’re getting a say in when, where, and how much they’re working, and employers save time spent on scheduling.
That same automation in recording, scheduling preferences, and tracking performance can eliminate some of the bias inherent to blue-collar work.
As Vora puts it, a manager in an office job may oversee 5-10 employees and have close working relationships with each one of them. However, a floor manager in a factory might oversee 100 or more workers and know only a handful of them. Zira helps business take the manager conscious and unconscious bias out of the equation, and rewards employees based on their past performance.
“We looked at the data and learnt that not only do employees deserve a voice, but they also deserve to be treated equally, and be presented with transparent and consistent policies,” Vora said.
Automation takes that bias out of management, ensuring equity among how employees are scheduled and how their work preferences are considered.
Creating upward mobility
Many people working blue-collar jobs have experienced difficulty advancing up the ladder, in part because it can be difficult for management to notice the good work individual employees are doing.
Through automation and AI, employers can create metrics that matter to them, track how employees are doing against those metrics, and then reward them accordingly.
“We provide them with that data, and you can let employees know that if you do X, Y, and Z things, you’ll be able to move on to the next level,” Vora said.
Vora says the aim with this is to move away from the traditional punitive model of blue-collar work — where the only acknowledgment employees receive is when something goes wrong — and move into a more positive, rewarding system of work.
Automation and technology are at the core of this revolution to empower 70 percent of the world’s workforce by giving them a voice.