8:12am Ashley: ok, I just got a text that Kelly is sick.
Don: what time does she start?
Don stares at his computer screen, toggling between tabs on the google spreadsheet: has Saul worked with Randy?
Ashley: I think Clay has.
Don: Clay? Before we do that let’s call Saul
Ashley: we’ve pulled almost all the *casuals, oh Mick is extra today
Don: Melody has worked with Randy
Ashley: ya we can do that
Don: ok I’ll change it in the schedule if you call
Ashley starts dialling: right!
Don: better put it on the chat before Francine steals her.
8:15am Ashley: yup
This was exactly the kind of conversation I was hoping to catch. From 7:50am to 10am, perched on a chair beside Don, I scribbled in my notepad as quickly as I legibly could. I was attempting to capture Don’s moves on a pretty micro level: his mouse clicks, the number of times he toggled between web browser tabs, text message sent and received, facial expressions (concentration face, calm, joking around, adrenalin), timings, interruptions, conversations between colleagues. We’re trying to learn everything we can about staff scheduling at our Burnaby project partner agencies, because the success of Kudoz depends on it.
Learning about scheduling at one of our partner agencies
I was hanging out with Don because he is responsible for managing the schedule of two disability day programs, comprised of about 35 staff. He is part of a 4 person scheduling team. If any of his 4 colleagues receives a sick call, even if the shifts in Don’s programs are balanced and none of his staff cancel shifts, he may need to move around his staff to figure out a new configuration. There are tons of variables and rigid union regulations that schedulers juggle in their head. A simpler staff switch may take a couple minutes to sort out. A tougher one can take a couple hours and up to 9 shift swaps, not to mention the accompanying calls to each of staff and families affected (this was the case with a sick call on Monday, Don tells me, where he couldn’t find anyone to cover the shift and ended up going on the floor himself). I record tons of clicking between google docs, one-handed text messages sent, scrunchy foreheads, jokes between the team, and greetings to individuals. By 9:35am, I already had 9 pages of notes.
The typical chain of events when Don receives a sick call
We were observing Don with a very specific aim: to spot opportunity areas, which are often disguised as bottlenecks and barriers. Specifically, we are seeking to understand: what is the most annoying, time-consuming or anxiety-producing part of the scheduling process, what is the most rewarding moments that make it worthwhile, what is considered a good scheduling outcome, what skills help you excel at this type of work, what motivates schedulers and how do incentive structures support that. Don used the above diagram to talk me through his answers.
Scheduling? So what?
I joined InWithForward full time about a month ago, bringing a business lens. My focus so far has been on the business model for Kudoz. And related to that, how this new service will fit into the existing organizational structure and systems of our three partner agencies and the developmental disabilities sector as a whole. Staff scheduling quickly rose to the top as a potential barrier for Kudoz. That’s because Kudoz uses paid staff time in 1-3 hour increments during regular program hours. For Don, this means that if any of his staff become a Kudoz host, the schedules he manages would be affected. In order for Kudoz to take hold and spread, we are working hard to figure out how to integrate Kudoz into existing structures and to make it easier and more convenient than the existing system. Because Kudoz will be squashed if it creates extra work or a headache for schedulers like Don.
[Some early thoughts on different ways Don’s staff could work around the schedule in order to become a Kudoz host]
(Early) insights & hunches
Based on our ethnographic observations thus far, we have a couple hunches.
One hunch is that Kudoz will be able to collect, accumulate, and leverage idle work hours in order to enable staff to share their passion with persons-served, all during work time.
For salaried staff with flexible hours, this hunch means using slower office times during the day, week, month, or year towards hosting Kudoz experiences (we are currently testing this). For hourly support staff with defined shifts, this hunch means shaving off and banking idle work hours from a shift, in order for the hours to be re-purposed towards hosting a one-on-one experience to share their passion with an individual-served.
For example, some possible idle time that disability day program staff could potentially bank include:
- (±40 minutes) when program staff are on the clock at the agency but their person served hasn’t arrived yet for their day program
- (±20 minutes) allotted to program staff for writing and reading log notes; casuals usually aren’t required to do so
- (3-4 hours) when casual staff are on shift but an individual served ends up not coming in; due to union regulations, the shift cannot be cancelled
- (1-2 hours) when a casual staff is called to cover a 2 hour staff meeting; but a casual cannot be booked for a shift that is less than 3-4 hours (minimum shift hours are different per agency).
These examples alone free up 6-7 hours for meaningful experiences that equate to individuals-served learning and growing their sense of self. And, staff get to share their personal passions on work time, leading to higher productivity and morale and lower absenteeism/presenteeism.
Another hunch is that much of the scheduling process could be automated to create efficiency gains and eliminate many of schedulers’ pain points.
One of the partner agencies has recently switched over to a bespoke software program for scheduling, that has been rolled out over the last year. Another agency uses google docs. Another uses paper. No matter the system, there are tons of variables that schedulers hold in their head. Some of this information is written somewhere, often the result of a scheduler going on a holiday and needing to share the info with their colleagues. But most of the tacit knowledge is not. And most of it is not reflected in the software they use. We think it could be!
We are making a list of specs that a Kudoz enabled scheduling system would need to include, and we are learning more everyday. Some of these specs include:
- automated text/call/email notifications of shifts when there are changes, based on the staff preferred method of communication, how soon the shift is, etc.
- the option of a daily automated text that let’s them know who will be working with their son/daughter that day, based on family’s communication preferences
- drop down menu per specific shift, with all the staff that are trained and available to work on given shift (even if they are scheduled for another shift), and the number of swaps that would be required if that staff was chosen
- recommendations of the most desirable swap, based on relationships between staff and the individual's, an individual’s preferences (would like a different staff every three days), past interactions with family, etc./ all of which would be inputted by schedulers
- include “long shot” swap options; ie. staff who are likely unable to cover a shift (based on the availability they provided) but might be able to
These specifications aim to minimize/eliminate the need for staff to negotiate swapping staff across programs (one of the major pain points identified by schedulers) and lessen the burden of communicating changes (calling people and waiting to hear back and adjusting the various systems to reflect changes, is often the most time consuming part of shifting the schedule).
For now, we are pulling inspiration from restaurant scheduling apps and flight comparison aggregators sites to think creatively about what is possible. Any suggestions of ideas are super welcome~ please include them in the comments section!
We’re left wondering…
There are many things to test and work through over the next 5 months. Some of the questions we’re trying to figure out and are working through at the moment include:
- How do we get parents on board with Kudoz? How do we help parents see Kudoz as an opportunity for growth for their children?
- How do we work with managers whose staff are signing up to be Kudoz hosts?
- What is the economic activity surrounding an individual served? Can we put a dollar amount on this? How can we bring out the stories behind the numbers, ie. what is the cost to quality of life and the ability to flourish? What are the positive deviant stories of individuals-served?
There is nothing like a deadline to keep one moving and motivated.
Some of the sector specific language used in this post:
*Casuals: a type of Support Worker that is on-call and employed when and if needed for disability day programs and for group homes (where 3-4 people with learning disabilities may live).
*Support Staff/Workers: assist adults with a learning disability on a day-to-day basis, either one-on-one or as part of a small group (usually no more than 4).
*Disability day program: a place where adults with learning disabilities go during the day. Day programs are staffed by support workers that help individuals work towards their personal development plans.