Thursday October 22, 2020

Bringing the smarts to work instead of commuting blues

With almost full employment, it can be difficult to find the right talent for a full-time role right now. That’s where start-up Abodoo’s remote worker pitch comes in

11th March, 2018
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Abodoo founders Ben Wainwright and Vanessa Tierney in their home office in Gorey, Co Wexford

Smart working is more than just jargon: it has the potential to bring major benefits to companies and workers alike, and Abodoo is set on helping them realise that.

If you could take something away from the national mauling delivered by the Beast from the East and Storm Emma, it’s that most people could still work while away from the office. Granted, there are certain positions that require you to be on the ground, but for the most part technology has allowed people to work remotely.

This can benefit those who want to avoid long commutes, parents who need to stay at home to mind the kids, or those who can’t access the office due to lack of public transport infrastructure, a disability or for other reasons.

The opportunity is there for companies to embrace smart working. It’s something Abodoo is pushing and for good reason. It’s expected that 70 per cent of the workforce will be remote in some form by 2020 while 68 per cent of millennials are interested in working remotely.

“My last business was a recruitment agency, but we were fully remote and we were recruiting for large multinationals, says co-founder Vanessa Tierney. “There started to be a trend in the last seven years where companies were less focused on where people were located. It was all about the skills and talents.

“When the team and I were looking for the talent, it was very difficult to find online someone who was open to working from home or a co-working space if they had the connectivity.

“That was the core idea, yet at the same time the IDA was a client of the agency and we were recruiting for them around the world. It was very interested in us being successful despite having no office and it said there were more and more companies landing in Ireland which wanted to hire people remotely or to do smart working, saying it would be great if a national talent database existed.

“That was the eureka moment because essentially if this is created, it would be something the IDA would use and promote because it would help Ireland on a global scale.”

Thus Abodoo was born. Tierney and her partner and co-founder Ben Wainwright spent a year working on the product. They wanted to make sure this was more than just a bog-standard portal for companies and workers.

Considering that both of them have embraced remote working over the last few years, they’re in a good place to understand the challenges associated with it.

“We could have been very knee-jerk and just thrown up a website which let people attach their CVs but my background is 15 years in recruitment and you can see a lot of the pain points for job sites out there,” says Tierney.

“People are getting alerts every week that are just inaccurate and they become numb to them. Companies complain about getting hundreds of CVs of irrelevant candidates and the whole online recruitment industry is broken right now. So we said if we’re going to do this, we’ll do it right.”

Self-motivation

Part of the challenge for a start-up like Abodoo is how much work has to go into educating people about the merits of smart working.

While the term remote working is more common, they avoid using it for a couple of reasons. The first is that the term is used in IT circles – as in IT professionals accessing other devices remotely – so posting remote working positions tends to confuse people.

The other is that most people might not even realise that working away from the office is a possibility. Those based outside the cities aren’t at a disadvantage because they’re somewhere else; they can complete the same work at home as they would in the office. Simply put, it’s something that most companies can take advantage of, not just multinational companies.

The process of selling people on the concept ties into a personal ambition for Tierney and Wainwright, which is for Abodoo to become a thought leader in the field.

“We have a consultancy division which is made up of a panel of experts in data protection, work transformation, HR, all supporting companies that are going from the traditional office space model to some level of smart working,” says Tierney.

“Companies know that someone has come to the site, thought and read about how we educated people about smart working. Then they’ve taken eight minutes to register and do a broadband speed test and that they’re committed [to the idea].”

Ben Wainwright and Vanessa Tierney: ‘You can see a lot of the pain points for job sites out there’ Pictures: Mary Browne

One potential concern businesses may have with smart working is employee motivation. You would be forgiven for thinking that working from home would result in numerous cups of tea being made in the kitchen, wasting time on social media, or going awol during important moments.

It’s a misconception Wainwright wants to address. He finds that people are usually more focused at home, as they’ve more control and autonomy over their working day. In fact, remote workers experience a 15 per cent increase in productivity, with a 40 per cent average improvement on attrition.

“We work remotely, and we know we’re running our own company but if anything our work ethic is greater, because you’re responsible for yourself,” he explains. “You’re responsible for your own results, and nobody else is going to be accountable for that except you.

“When you sit down to work, I keep saying to people it’s good to work on some sort of reward yourself scheme. You sit down, do some heavy graft for an hour or two hours and then you take a break where you’re able to step away to do something that’s enjoyable for you.

“You don’t have to go into that office gym. You have the option to step outside your home, go into your garden, your local cafe. You’ve got other options and all of those aspects, when you pull it all together, make that work ethic a lot stronger.”

Laying the groundwork

Another potential question that may come up is broadband. Ireland’s quest to connect up the island hasn’t exactly gone to plan. Abodoo’s approach to overcoming that has been manifold.

It has partnered with Open Eir, and gives you a broadband test when you sign up to the service. It’s also working with local enterprises, Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and county councils to help push the smart working concept forward.

“We’re pulling them all together to say where are the black spots of unemployment in Ireland, and if we can capture those skills,” says Tierney.

“The way the platform is designed, we can capture so much incredible data and then produce a high-level infographic to show companies that you’ve got all these gaming skills in this county and you have all these finance skills in this county. Being able to give companies access to where the talent truly is in Ireland, means they can make decisions.”

Part of its partnership with the county councils is in focusing on skills acquisition. The start-up is speaking with a number of councils at the moment about developing skills and bringing employment to each county through smart working.

It also ties in with the rise of the co-working space, a place where you can rent a space in an office for a flat fee every day, which is usually associated with entrepreneurs or freelancers.

With 200 spaces in Ireland currently, Tierney mentions that between 25 per cent to 30 per cent of all members of co-working spaces are working for enterprise companies. Something that can take people by surprise.

It’s a trend that is gaining traction as 78 per cent of businesses now have remote working places and in the US, a survey by commercial brokerage firm CBRE found that 65 per cent of companies expect to use co-working as part of their office portfolio by 2020.

Also JLL, a major brokerage firm, predicts that by 2030, up to 30 per cent of all office space will be, in some form, flexible or have an open layout design.

Add to that the savings they’ll make, and companies have reason to take notice. American Express reported savings of between $10 million and $15 million through remote working, while Aetna, a company that specialises in health and dental coverage, saved $78 million by reducing its office size by 2.7 million square feet.

“[We were asked] who pays for it, and right now a lot of the employees are,” says Tierney. “They’re prepared to pay €15 a day but then when you monetise the petrol and diesel that you spend every day and then the additional coffee and lunches you spend every day in the city versus what you spend in your rural community [workers can save a lot].”

“Companies are sitting up and saying we’ll pay that cost so people can save up to €10,000 a year when you remove that expense.”

While that is an eye-catching element for workers, Abodoo’s chief executive Sue Marshall says the benefits go beyond just saving money. It’s also about the well-being of workers as a whole, with workers more likely to choose flexibility over a pay rise if given a choice.

“You can imagine after you finished a two-hour commute . . . the last thing you want to do is take your coat off and start work,” she says. “You want a coffee, you want to relax, you want to calm yourself down and the whole day starts on a back foot.

“The people we speak to, and we’ve done surveys with candidates who are registered with Abodoo . . . if people are given an option between a pay rise or a more flexible way of working, they’ll go for the work at home or remote package.”

Based on merit

As for the Abodoo platform itself, it has been live since September, and so far hundreds of companies have signed up.

It operates on a freemium model where companies can post an unlimited number of jobs on the platform and get matches. It’s only when the candidates are matched and agree to go to process that the company is charged €425.

For those companies which do volume hiring like large multinationals, a monthly subscription can be agreed based on their volume.

There are two main features that would appeal to both workers and companies. The first is that matches between worker and company only appear when the match percentage is 50 per cent or more, something that is calculated by comparing skillsets, abilities, and other factors.

That ensures that you’re only getting matches that are relevant to you, not related jobs that don’t fall under your skillset.

The other more important element is that all entries are anonymous. The worker’s identity isn’t revealed until both have agreed to go through an interview process. So far, they’re happy with the system but as Wainwright mentions, it requires regular updates and tinkering to improve it further.

“Some features we’ve now made mandatory so they’ll be a higher weight in the results,” says Wainwright. “For instance, a client . . . might be looking for specific skillsets in a specific area.

“What we’re doing now is fine-tuning the system. It was accurate to start with but now what you can do is hone in on that accuracy and pinpoint where you’re trying to find that talent.”

Keeping it simple

When you’re developing a system like this, one of the biggest challenges is to keep the front end simple for users. Succeeding on this front normally means you have a complex backend to work with.

“Instead of giving you a lot of convoluted results, we keep it very much simplified in terms of you get back the results according to what you’re looking for,” he says.

“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the back end to make that happen. That was what we focused on initially and then how can we give people what they want to see, not all of the superfluous stuff but the really essential business-critical stuff that they’re interested in.”

Making it anonymous gave the system another unintentional benefit: it embraces diversity. Since you’re being matched on skills, location, and preference, you can’t be discriminated on based on age, sex, nationality, name and so on.

Also, it ensures that those with disabilities won’t be overlooked either, a group that can also benefit greatly from the smart working push, or the Irish diaspora who may be looking for a way to move back, but need to secure employment first.

It results in a doubling of the talent pipeline for companies, something that isn’t possible if commuting was the only factor.

For the future, Abodoo is set to expand its services to Britain and has its eye on the US market as well, since most of the multinational companies it works with have operations there. With an estimated 118 million people expected to be working remotely, more companies are looking at ways to embrace the idea.

Wainwright mentions that a number of senior players are using the service and a mixture of major brands and smaller companies are signing up, giving them feedback from both ends of the spectrum. The real excitement is the potential aid this service will bring to those living in more rural areas.

“I think if we can get enough people to register, then we’ve got a very powerful story to go to companies who are struggling to find talent,” says Marshall. “The talent pool in Ireland is amazing, we’ve seen that from the registrations so far, and if we can get everybody who wants to work smart to register, it puts us in a strong position to be able to push and educate companies to offer that kind of smart working environment.”

A typical hiring process using online recruitment can take 30 to 50 hours to find suitable candidates. Abodoo can provide instant matching and the fifth candidate download will be refunded.

Register and post all of your Smart Roles for free at abodoo.com, quoting Sunday Business Post. For further information, email [email protected] or visit abodoo.com.

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