Mobile Strategies for Modern Staffing Organizations

08/03/2020
Ahmad Kadhim
Ahmad Kadhim is the Head of Product at TimeSaved. Ahmad leads the product, engineering, and design team to build industry-changing apps that make it easy for staffing agencies to find, place, engage, and retain workers.
Mobile Strategies for Modern Staffing Organizations

Mobile Strategies for Modern Staffing Organizations

“Mobile First” has become the reigning mantra for a number of organizations and platforms, and it was only a matter of time before the staffing industry joined the ranks. Paul’s guest today is Ahmad Kadhim, the head of product at TimeSaved, a platform that provides mobile-first workforce management solutions that help to attract, manage, and deploy a workforce in a timely and effective manner.

Ahmad takes us on a journey through the evolution of his career. Having originally studied biopsychology and economics, he shares how both fields have helped to shape his career in technology and the staffing industry, providing him with a deep understanding of varying cognitive biases, and how they inform user behavior. He and Paul also deep dive a bit into the important work that TimeSaved is doing, and Ahmad sheds light on the company’s two-phased mission of promoting a seamless mobile experience that promotes a powerful feedback cycle.

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Transcript of this episode

Ahmad Kadhim:

As an Uber driver, show your license, a couple of steps, and then that's it, you're ready to go. And you should never really need to go into an office or anywhere again, everything is just done through the app at that point. And that technology that they kind of pioneered for managing a workforce at a global scale, that's something that we're now starting to see trickle over into temporary staffing, into full-time recruiting, into many ways that people are experimenting with these seamless, quick, and easy ways to find work.

Introduction:

There's a revolution taking place right now. Talent and intelligence are equally distributed throughout the world, but opportunity is not. The talent economy, the idea that at the center of work is the talent is the individual. Companies today face a global war for talent, and high-skilled talent is demanding flexibility around the way they work and the way they live. This podcast brings together thought leaders, staffing experts, and top freelancers to talk about the evolving nature of work and how companies can navigate these changes to remain competitive, drive innovation, and ensure success.

Paul Estes:

Welcome to the Talent Economy Podcast. I'm your host, Paul Estes. Today, my guest is Ahmad Kadhim, head of product at TimeSaved. TimeSaved is working on mobile strategies for the modern staffing world. Candidates are looking for work on their phone, and it's time that they get an on-demand experience. TimeSaved provides mobile-first work management solutions that help attract, manage, and deploy workforces faster than ever before.

Ahmad Kadhim:

I'm Ahmad Kadhim, the head of product at TimeSaved, and we build a platform for staffing agencies to modernize their workflow and mobilize their workforce. And I mean that in two ways - that we put a mobile app in the hands of their workers but also allow them to move a lot faster to deploy people much more easily.

Paul Estes:

Well, I really look forward to learning about staffing via phone, but before we get to that technology and the work that you're doing there, I want to start off with your background. Every person I talked to starts from a different place than where they are when they join me on this show. And you're no exception to that rule. You studied biopsychology at Tufts and then financial economics at York. And now, you're leading a design and engineering team at a staffing app. Take me through that journey and what inspired you in biopsychology and how you got into tech.

Ahmad Kadhim:

Absolutely. Yeah, so I think at the heart of why I wanted to study biopsychology was just a really big fascination with how people work, why they are the way they are, and what they do and why they do it. And that's definitely a really interesting lens in getting into neuro-anatomy, getting into psychology, blending those two things. But I found that I wasn't really sure what to make of that as a career because I could either be a doctor or a researcher, and neither appeals perfectly to what I really wanted to do. So when I transferred to studying financial economics, the idea was that it would enable me to enter it into more entrepreneurial space after graduation. And economics at its heart is also really a large-scale understanding of how people behave and why they behave the way they do at a national scale, let's say. Going from there, I kind of found that again, it was like I liked studying economics but I didn't find any career opportunities in that space that really made sense to me and what I really liked to do.

So just by coincidence, I started a blog, a music blog, while I was in university, and that got me into the world of building my own WordPress and customizing it and designing it. And then, I started to feel the limits of that and how I wanted to do something different than what WordPress allowed me to do. So I went to a Bootcamp, and it was just opened—and this was before boot camps are a really popular thing—and learned web development there. And that's kind of what kickstarted a career in tech in different startups in Toronto.

Paul Estes:

One of the things that's always fascinated me is the amount of people that start in the social sciences with a true desire for understanding the complexity of humans, our behaviors because we're not predictable as much as the algorithms would like us to be predictable. And then, they apply those learnings to really providing value based on that deep understanding of behaviors. When you go back and think about your time in biopsychology and even looking at macroeconomics, what are some of the things that really stood out to you as you pursued your career in technology—and then more specifically, as you look at where we are in the staffing industry?

Ahmad Kadhim:

Well, I think with biopsychology, the biggest takeaway that applies to my job now is just a deep understanding of our cognitive biases and how that can sort of lead us astray. If anything, that actually blends in really well with economics. If you've heard of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, they did this sort of seminal work in the 70s, 80s, and 90s showing all of these cognitive biases from an economic standpoint. So this idea of like home economics, this ideal actor in an ideal economy, they showed how that wasn't true, that people don't always make the economically correct choice, so to speak. And that that was a predictable thing. And that those biases could be explained in large part by our evolutionary history and our psychology. So now when I'm entering into sort of a process of designing for people, it's knowing things like that, knowing about the availability bias, knowing about the heuristics bias, knowing how that affects people's decisions and how they think and how they approach something, whether that's a product and app, or just the idea of implementing technology. That's always useful to sort of reference that.

Paul Estes:

Tell me a little more about the availability bias and some of the others that you have studied deeply and maybe our listeners don't know so much about.

Ahmad Kadhim:

So the availability bias is that you tend to overestimate the probability of something that's easier to remember. So if there's a lot of examples in your own head about something happening, like if we were to think about what's the chance of you contracting the virus, then in a time when people are hearing about a virus and it's all in the news and it's everywhere, you might overestimate that chance. But there's also the primacy and recency biases - so if you're looking at a list of items and you tend to remember the first one and the last one much more than the ones in the middle. So just the way our brain works, the way that we think of things, and that helps us when we're designing, because if I was to present a list of options, then I might want to put the ones I want someone to think about the most at the top and bottom.

You see this all the time in web design, especially on sales pages, product sales pages. Right at the top of the page, they'll put a buy now and the most important, the most capturing information that'll get you to buy something. And then they'll repeat that all the way at the bottom of the page. So by the time you get to the bottom and you see that again—the thing that they think will get you to buy it—and then a buy now button right next to it. So that was kind of taking advantage of that primacy and recency bias.

Paul Estes:

Fascinating how much the psychology of how we interact has influenced technology. Let's talk a little bit about TimeSaved. TimeSaved is a company that partners with staffing agencies and builds apps that make it easier for them to find place and engage workers. Give me some examples and some industries where you're building mobile-first experiences to help companies attract talent.

Ahmad Kadhim:

Sure. So right now, we serve two industries: healthcare staffing agencies and industrial staffing agencies. And in so many ways, they couldn't be more different. The COVID crisis especially really highlighted that. What we saw in the beginning in March was that industrial business went to zero, and healthcare business tripled overnight because immediately, there was so much more demand for nurses, for hospital staff of all kinds, support staff, and janitors. Whereas industrial, whenever a recession happens, tends to be that they cut the temp workers first, and then they're the first to hire them back, as well as the other side of the recession when things are growing again.

Paul Estes:

Let's go back to human behavior. When I started my career, maybe when you started your career, if I wanted a job, I would fill out an application maybe online or maybe via paper, which is still done. And now, you're putting forth an experience where I pick up my phone, I scroll through some opportunities, and I select one. Talk to me about both sides of that market: both how talent has reacted to engaging in that way and how companies are starting to say, "Hey, look, this frictionless process is something that I might be open to versus the long vetting process and in-person interviews and things that are more traditional."

Ahmad Kadhim:

Absolutely. I think Uber was the one that really started this in a big way. They started this trend that all you have to do is download the app. And then, you head to the nearest sign-up center that they have, show your license, a couple of steps, and then that's it. You're ready to go as an Uber driver and you should never really need to go into an office or anywhere again, everything is just done through the app at that point. And that technology that they kind of pioneered for managing a workforce at a global scale, that's something that we're now starting to see trickle over into temporary staffing, into full-time recruiting, and to many ways that people are experimenting with these seamless, quick, and easy ways to find work. I think even an example like Toptal is actually a really good example because it's something [inaudible 00:09:47] or to find these kinds of freelancers or contract relationships to find the companies and the companies to find the people you might have put out an ad.

And then, you'd hope to have to interview that person. And you don't know if your interview process is even the best process for saying that that's the right person. And so you might end up with someone that isn't the right fit, and then you have to find someone else. And that whole thing can be simplified these days because we can have these really rich digital profiles. We can see what other people have said about working with them. We can understand their experience, and they can also understand a lot more about the company that they're looking for and what they want to see.

Paul Estes:

On the talent side, one of the things that we often talk about on this show is that talent now has a choice. You alluded to that in your last comment: the idea that I get to choose the company I work for based on some information that these platforms provide. How are you seeing that play out with the work that you're doing?

Ahmad Kadhim:

We're always working to try to improve that experience for workers to know what they're getting themselves into, what to expect on the first day, what kind of work is it. I heard a story that blew me away that was just so surprising. A few months ago, I was speaking to a worker and just asking him about his experience with his staffing agency and the app that he's using through TimeSaved and just asked him about his last job and what was his experience like. And he said, "Well, when I first started, I really didn't know what to do. I walked away from that first day on the job, had to go meditate on it. I didn't know if I wanted to come back. I really had to think about it." And I said, "Well, how come?" Well, I was just so surprised that it's not what I thought I was going to be working on.

And he's like, "Do you know what I do?" I said, "Well, I just thought that you were working at a recycling company." He's like, "Yes. But so when I walked in the first day of the job, it turns out that the company is recycling precious metals from human remains that come from cremation. And I didn't know if I was ready to do that." And I was just stunned, I was like, "Wait, so you didn't know this when you walked in that you walked in on the first day and then they explained that that's what you were going to do." And he said, "Yes. And then, I didn't know if I wanted to come back. And eventually, I did. And I grew accustomed to the idea and I understood that for myself at least, I don't see anything wrong with it, but it really shocked me." And that shock is something I think one should have to feel.

Paul Estes:

It's interesting on the type of information that you're able to communicate via an app or via some of these experiences that are frictionless versus the longer in-person interviews, where you're able to talk to people and really understand the type of work you'll be doing. And more and more, we're seeing people want to match their morality or their purpose to the type of work that they want to do. And I think that there's a bunch of technology and opportunity to align people from a personality perspective as well as a purpose perspective.

I want to talk a little bit about the remote culture at TimeSaved. I mean, many people still believe that in-person collaboration is necessary for any product team, but I hear it in a couple of areas. And in a lot of ways, we're starting to see these walls get broken down. In fact, Twitter announced that employees can work at home permanently, and that's a fairly significant product. What are some of the challenges that you experience in leading a remote team?

Ahmad Kadhim:

I think it's a lot of the usual challenges that people note is how can we foster a culture that feels fun, that feels social, that people get to know each other. It's not purely about work. It's a bit harder to do that with digital tools. And the other aspect is the information headspace, the brain of the company in a physical location tends to be, you just overhear your conversations, you naturally get into them. That seamlessness of knowing what else is going on and knowing how other people are doing. That's not really naturally there in a remote work environment, but it's something we can create. So we just have to learn the different tools and the different ways of making that. Sometimes, it can get awkward even to sort of create this social dynamic online, but once you get used to it and you start to see that, it really doesn't feel any more or less difficult in my mind than what we were doing before.

Paul Estes:

One of the things that I debate with colleagues and a number of people that are in this space is the idea that overhearing those conversations and that seamlessness is good is accurate. I mean, there is some value, but there's also the downside of it. The gossip, the politics, all of the other things that are aspects of that idea that there's a bunch of chatter going on, the distraction, people stopping in and interrupting you. Do you find that there is more downside than upside in that idea? Or are you able to be more productive remotely and still have to address the seamless transparency of information?

Ahmad Kadhim:

I think that's where each personality is going to take it a bit differently. For me, I like alone time and I don't do well with distraction. I need to kind of be in a headspace for a few hours to really get things done. And that's definitely something that works so well with me for remote work is just not being distracted when I don't want to be. I can just shut off notifications and that's it. And in an office, it's a bit harder for sure. But I know, for example, the CEO at times says he's a really in-person kind of guy. He loves to just have those kinds of chats. Even if, let's say, we're doing it remotely, but he'd rather have a video call than just text on Slack. So he's always wanting that kind of physical, personal connection. So I think for each personality, they do take it a bit differently, but for me at least, a distraction-free environment is way worth it.

Paul Estes:

It's one of the things that I noticed when I switched from location-based big tech to working remotely is I didn't realize how much energy I got from having focus time of being able to set my schedule and focus because we don't have meetings an hour long and work like that. We work asynchronously because I work for a fully distributed company. And that work is different.

Hey, if I look forward to 2021—and specifically, I want to talk about TimeSaved, not the macroeconomic situation—do you think that the adoption of freelance marketplaces, the adoption of Uber-like experiences will accelerate this on-demand matching as we start thinking about more sophisticated and higher-skilled jobs? I mean, are we going mobile-first?

Ahmad Kadhim:

Absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind that if we weren't already primarily mobile-first, then within one year, we will be, as an industry, staffing agencies as a whole. And COVID just accelerated this trend rapidly. It's something that we knew was going to happen eventually. But once COVID hit and the workflow changes that had to happen, people aren't going to leave it the same way that they entered. And what we thought was going to happen by 2023 to 2024, maybe this would be a majority, is actually probably going to happen next year, that the majority of people are going to work this way.

Paul Estes:

When I talk to people, even think about it myself, everybody as well, the Uberization of everything is not going to happen. And I ask them to pause and say, "Well, it's not just the modality of connecting people that Uber created. It's also a number of other factors that are coming together, whether it's cloud technology, the acceptance of remote work, and in a lot of different things that are starting to change." What are you hearing from staffing agencies? Are they open to this idea? Are they saying, "Hey, don't worry, we've got this figured out. I do local matching and I've got people that have relationships"? Are they leaning into the idea that technology can really help accelerate their business?

Ahmad Kadhim:

I think everyone knows that it's going to have to happen, but different people are slower at adopting it. So they might know that yes, one day, we're going to have to have a mobile app. One day, we're going to have to switch to doing chats versus phone calls. And one day, we're going to have to do all these things, but we don't have to do them now because we're too busy or we're too this or too that, or it's too difficult to change all of our recruiters to work in this new way. And those people are going to get left behind. And the people who are ready, they say, "We're going to invest in this now, and it's going to be a big upfront change, but that means we're going to reap the rewards and we're going to be ahead of everyone else for years to come."

And those people are going to, I think, have a booming business, because they can move so efficiently, they can move so quickly. And the next big part that we really see, I think of TimeSaved's mission in two phases. The first is to make everything mobile, to make everything seamless, and to just allow for a very frictionless experience. But the second is all about using a tight feedback loop that allows us to analyze this data at a large scale, that allows us to feed that back to the worker, the recruiter, and the client. And for each person to really understand how well are they doing and how well are the other people that they're working with, how are they doing too. So if I'm an agency, I want to know who are my top workers, who are my top recruiters, and who is the right person for this job.

And when we start collecting that feedback, Uber is also a really good example here because it's not just that they connect you with someone but it's the rating system and the details around that rating system. So if you put a three-star, they ask you, "Out of seven or eight options, what didn't go so well?" And they can start to say that in the future, this person, they didn't have the best smelling car and they can feed that back to the person and say, "Hey, you've been getting some negative feedback about the appearance of your car. You might want to work on that." And that really helps people improve. That helps people grow and figure out how they can be better. And right now, I don't think there's a lot of that in the current staffing industry.

Paul Estes:

I was thinking as you were saying that a lot of feedback that people get is still person to person, in-person, very analog, and not digitized. And the idea that you can give direct feedback from customers directly to a company and offer that as improvement without it having to go through lots of filters and even human filters of like, "Hey, how should I let this person know?" or, "How should I couch this?" is an interesting dynamic of these types of digital marketplaces. When you talk to staffing companies that are slow to adopt these types of technologies, how much of it is self-preservation of certain roles within those agencies? Because in many ways, these freelance marketplaces in the work that you're doing at TimeSaved will disrupt the organizational structure and a number of the employees of these staffing agencies. Do you think that that's part of the inability to really lean in, or is it, "Hey, I don't feel the pressure to make change now, I'll figure this out later"?

Ahmad Kadhim:

I think for most agencies, it's that they delay it because they don't feel enough pressure, or they just are scared of that upfront change in work. But to the extent that it could, let's say, change or replace recruiters jobs, we always look at it as when we talk to recruiters and we understand what do they split their day. How do they do the work that they do? For example, let's say we've learned that at least an hour and up to two hours of the average recruiter's day is spent making phone calls to workers and saying, "Hey, I've got this job. Are you available? Do you have this certification? Can you do this? Yes or no?"

And then, whatever the answer is, they drop the phone and make the next call. And it's the exact same call over and over and over again until they fill that position. Now, if I could just click three buttons and immediately have a filtered list of the five workers who are available and have that certification and then click one more button. And now, they all have been invited to this job. That recruiter just saved an hour of their day that was the most tedious and boring and sort of least exciting part of their job. So we want people to look at it as let's remove all this mundane work that you have to do. Now, what can you do better? Now, how can you improve your role?

Paul Estes:

The scenario that you just described is the definition of work that is highly repetitive and work that technology will replace whether somebody wants it to replace or not. People like yourself and many others are out there trying to figure out how to take some of this basic, mundane work and automate it so that people can spend time on recruiting higher talent or strategy and other sorts of things where humans can provide great value.

If there was one piece of advice that you would give to a company saying, "Hey, look, I've got..." - I think of your healthcare clients and some of the others, or even the industrial clients you have as in a year or so, when we come out of this economic downturn, what advice are you giving them? How do you pitch the idea and this new way of engaging talent that TimeSaved is advocating?

Ahmad Kadhim:

I'd say the biggest advice I could give is to take the plunge and give it a try. And whether that's in just a small section of your agency or the entire thing in a smaller way, once you see it, it's almost like everything clicks. And you realize how much of your old process you didn't need that you thought you needed and how much more seamless this new process is. And once you start to see that in a real tangible way and you've tried that internally, the change management that you then have to do is so much easier than if you're trying to make the decision all up front.

Let's change everything in one go without ever having tried it ourselves. Once you do, then you think, "Oh, wow. I actually love that feeling of just being able to send out an invite and immediately get an answer in five minutes." Made me so much more productive, and then I could focus on who was the best candidate for it, not just who could do it. And so I think it's, that would be my advice is just take the plunge, give it a try. And from there, you can start to make a better decision about how to implement it across your agency.

Paul Estes:

Great advice. And it's one of the things that I talk to a lot of people about. In my experience, I learn by doing. And so in order to engage freelancers, I started working with them nonstop just to understand what this new world would look like as it relates to the various platforms. And I find in companies, there are a number of people that are making these types of decisions that don't actually use the products or don't actually use the experience, and they do it in the abstract. And I'd just like to encourage every company, every staffing agency, to your point, there is technology that can be helpful and to start small and to do a pilot is the advice that I think people consistently give. Well, thank you so much for your time. If somebody wants to get in touch with you and learn more about TimeSaved and the work you do, what's the best way to reach out?

Ahmad Kadhim:

So I'm on Twitter @ahmandkadhim. I'm also on LinkedIn. So either LinkedIn or Twitter is the best way to reach me.

Paul Estes:

Sounds great. And we'll put all that information in the show notes, as well as some of the information you outlined about various cognitive biases. Thank you so much for your time.

Ahmad Kadhim:

Thank you so much, Paul.

Paul Estes:

I'm your host, Paul Estes, thank you for listening to the Talent Economy Podcast. Learn more about the future of work and the transformation of the staffing industry from those leading the conversation at Staffing.com, where you can hear from experts, sign up for our weekly newsletter, and get access to the best industry research on the future of staffing. If you've enjoyed the conversation, we'd appreciate you rating us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or just tell a friend about the show. Be sure to tune in next week for another episode of the Talent Economy.

Ahmad Kadhim
Ahmad Kadhim is the Head of Product at TimeSaved. Ahmad leads the product, engineering, and design team to build industry-changing apps that make it easy for staffing agencies to find, place, engage, and retain workers.