How to Manage Your Workforce With Mobile Apps

Examples From Pioneers Sears, Aeropostale and Home Depot

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We think of mobile devices as being useful for both the collection and presentation of information, but they can also management tools to organize a sales force (or any other workforce), especially one that operates in a variety of locations or over a large area.

Mobile can be used to:

  1. send directions to staff,
  2. provide information to them at a moment’s notice,
  3. check on their performance through taking photographs and videos of completed tasks,
  4. test for compliance when required, and
  5. provide feedback.

For example, Sears has a mobile app that sends employees three tasks at the beginning of their shift, which they check off as they are completed. As tasks are completed, new ones are added to the bottom of the list.

Similarly, Aéropostale has implemented a mobile app for managing their store-based workforce. The app allows them to schedule time off, check work schedules, and review time sheets and pay earned. Managers can check employee attendance, track tasks, have access to store employee contact information, and send mass text messages to employees on their mobile devices. The system also has a key performance indicator dashboard to monitor store sales and expenses in real time.

A pioneer in this area, Home Depot rolled out over 30,000 mobile devices to its associates in 2010 that combined inventory management, analytics, a phone, a store walkie-talkie, and label printing. I can see this program as a combination of performance support and staff management because it allows store managers to get a picture of what is happening in all areas of their store.

It should be noted that if companies don’t require staff to use their mobile devices to document display compliance or that company standards are being followed around cleanliness, orderliness, friendliness, or attention to customer needs, such behaviors will be monitored by customers and brands themselves.

A recent article on this topic in Retail Touchpoints reported a study that showed, on average, 15% of displayed merchandise was out of stock, and that 49% of merchandising displays and 22% of promotional displays did not conform to agreements between stores and brands.

The solution for brands is to hire customers to take pictures and videos of stores casually as they shop.

Systems like EasyShift and VerifyPro are now available for brands to monitor compliance with their agreements with retailers by paying customers or casual workers to do the monitoring for them and send the results directly to brand managers.

As the Wall Street Journal reported last year, some people are earning their living by traveling around and using their mobile phones to report on store staff compliance.

On their own customers will sometimes post videos of what they find problematic to YouTube or other video platforms, often with negative results for the retailer.

Mobile is changing the tools that managers have to track and regulate their staff. New companies are springing up with offerings for staff management using both tablets and smartphones. Examples include:

If you want to see over 50 apps in this category, go to the getapp.com website.

This new category of mobile apps raises the issues of employee control over their work, privacy, labor legislation, and labor agreements. This kind of software has the potential for causing conflict in the workplace and increasing efficiencies.

There are many things to sort out here before implementing employee management apps.

If you would like help thinking this through, please contact Float.

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Gary Woodill is a senior analyst with Float, as well as CEO of i5 Research. Gary conducts research and market analyses, as well as assessments and forecasting for emerging technologies. Gary is the co-editor of "Mastering Mobile Learning," author of “The Mobile Learning Edge,” and the co-author of “Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds.” He also presents at conferences and is the author of numerous articles and research reports on emerging learning technologies. Gary holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Toronto.

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On September 8, 2014
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