What my kids taught me about Productivity

What my kids taught me about productivity

Firstly, I confess I made a mistake; we needed to write letters to just under half our customer base (650) before Christmas. This was part of our commitment to inform customers of new developments within our group.

We chose a letter (snail-mail) as these days email is more likely to hit the spam than get into the hands of the people you want to reach. My mistake was haste; Had I taken the time, I would have saved about 10-20% of the cost (about £60) by using a 3rd party.

However, I decided to do the mail merge and post in-house and was faced with the task of folding 650 letters and putting them into envelopes. My solution was to invite my children (I have 4 ranging from 8 to 13) to complete this task rather than burden my colleagues.

I calculated that it would take about 5 seconds per envelope and offered my children 5p per item. I was at first sceptical that at such young age they would grasp the potential prize (£32.50) if they completed whole project.

Initially I invited my youngest daughter Arabelle and her older brother Blake to the challenge. Enthusiastically they got to task immediately and within 5 minutes my oldest son joined the party.

Arabelle, independently came to the revelation that it was more efficient to fold all the letters first and then put them into the envelopes after, rather than switch tasks for each letter. She is only 8 years old yet came up with a way to optimise the task and improve her productivity.

Zach and Blake took this further by copying the idea and teaming up together (they agreed to share the rewards equally). They recognised the benefit of collaborating.

Halfway through my other son Jed turned up (he would normally spurn such an opportunity) but was inspired by the enthusiasm of his brothers and sister. He immediately joined the team. Arabelle being generous of heart agreed to team up with him and share the rewards even though she had already done a large amount of the work. She determined that she would fold whilst Jed would put in the envelope (another smart move) thereby focusing each on a specific task.

Naturally given it was now a competition and a limited number of opportunities (650), there was a pressure to cut corners and so I introduced a quality control process; The address needed to be fully visible in the window of the envelope. If it failed that test, then the envelope (and reward) would be handed to the other team for rework. From that point on quality control was embedded in the team and any queries were flagged up to me immediately (I took on the role of Quality Control Officer).

I was literally taken back by how quickly a group of kids could organise themselves, collaborate, optimise their activities and improve productivity without any direction.

With UK productivity still anaemic, there are some powerful lessons we can all learn from this;

  1. If you want productivity improvements, ask those who are doing the task – they know far more than you.
  2. Create a culture that encourages rather than frustrates the innate potential in people to improve efficiency.
  3. Improvements in productivity can be achieved very quickly if there is focus and incentives.
  4. Ensure quality control is embedded in the process not simply at the end.
  5. Measure and track the entire process to ensure continuous learning.
  6. Never underestimate the contribution of women in the workplace; my youngest daughter came up with the majority of productivity improvements. It is no surprise that the Mckinsey report identified that organisations with 30% or more female executives, are on average 15% more profitable (For more info watch our COO, Nicola Smart interviewed by the Telegraph Business Reporter)

For those interested in statistics

Arabelle and Jed achieved 259 with a failure rate of 0.77% (e.g. 2 that failed QC)

Zach and Blake achieved 311 with a failure rate of 1.93% (e.g. 6 that failed QC)

The failure rate was significantly below the industry average for manual processes.

Finally, the reason for the discrepancy (570 completed vs 650 letters) was down to management failure (me) to provide enough envelopes (I guess the final lesson here is to always invest in planning)

To find out more about hfx visit our main website or contact us

Hfx re-invents the website

hfx welcome to our website2

In 2017, hfx realised that it needed a new website, one which reflected our values, our innovation and our commitment to delivering solutions for the New World of Work.

Nicola Smart (COO, hfx) recalls “Early on we decided that the website should provide visitors with a positive and immersive experience that provided clear and concise information. Too many websites bombard and overwhelm you with pointless information and noise”.

12 months later and hfx releases a completely new design of website, different in almost every respect to traditional websites;

  • No annoying banners asking you to accept cookies. We decided early on that we wouldn’t be “stalking” our visitors and therefore have no need for tracking cookies. If visitors want to contact us, they know where we are.
  • No visitor badgering or callouts to nag the visitor into contacting us. We believe you either want to contact us or you don’t. No amount of badgering is going to make you change your mind – indeed in some cases the annoyance of callouts is enough to make you leave.
  • No bombarding you with information you didn’t ask for. Your time is precious, so we simplify and summarise information into key points. If you need more information you have the option to download a pdf or visit our microsite (www.hfxworkforce.com)
  • No email grabbing. We don’t require your email before you can download documents. The only time we will ask for your email is if you want to contact us via our contact form.
  • No Scroll to Infinity. So many websites insist on the “long scroll” – which is intended to take the visitor on a journey ending up with a call to action. The journey, of course, is predefined and makes to many assumptions about the visitor. Users often end up getting lost, frustrated or confused by having to scroll through the irrelevant to find the relevant. There is a need to simplify and we have achieved that eliminating almost all scrolling.

Naturally, when you buck the trend and go against the rules of website design, it’s never going to be easy.

There are no templates or previous designs to base yours on and you are battling preconceived ideas of how a marketing website should be designed. It had to be conceived and built from the ground up.

A new menu structure and navigation system was designed, redesigned and after that several more times to accommodate the vision we had for the website.

There are also trade-offs to be made; Google search and SEO friendly http://www.hfx.co.uk is not. Nor is it particularly mobile friendly. We also accepted that for many the new site would be like “marmite”; visitors would either love it or hate it, but at least it wouldn’t be another bland corporate design.

Let us know what you think of hfx.co.uk

Introducing A New Integration Paradigm

black and white blank challenge connect

Einstein stated that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” and for hfx this has become a mantra and even our core values are expressed by one word: simplify.

We follow this principle both in terms of our processes, methodology and vigorously within our cloud solution design and development.  The first challenge we tackled with Time and Attendance was the complexity of reflecting real world work rules within a simple and easy configuration that end users could quickly master and enable them to take complete ownership of the solution. The result was amazing; implementation time reduced from 9 months to 1 month enabling the customer to achieve accelerated ROI and significantly reduced costs of configuration and implementation.

This success gave us confidence to tackle the next challenge which was more nuanced but no less radical; solving the thorny issue of integration using Application Programming Interfaces.  As a group of seasoned developers with over 30 years’ experience of integration (and a combined list of over 250 interfaces developed under our belt) we looked at the fundamental issues with integration. We recognised that the issue had little to do with coding ability, language but everything to with mindset.

At a high level we recognise three key mindsets that pervaded all interface development characterised “The Solicitor Mindset”, “Pedantic Officialdom” and “S.E.P or Someone Else’s Problem” – Our analysis revealed all 3 mindsets in all 3rd party integrations we had ever seen and worked with historically. Each requires a little explanation to see how they manifest;

The Solicitors Mindset:

If you have ever had dealings with a solicitor (whether when buying/selling a house, Non-Disclosure Agreement etc) you will instantly recognise the legalise, Latin and jargon that seems to confuse rather than clearly communicate its purpose. Any attempt to simplify the text is met with a firm response by the solicitor that “Its not meant for you but for another solicitor”. This is a lazy excuse to avoid clarity and simplicity by relying on someone else with 7 years legal training to decipher text that could and should have been presented in a way that a lay person could understand. This same mindset influences the development of API’s with the argument being that the P stands for programming so there is no need to simplify the API as its not meant for anyone other than another programmer.

Pedantic Officialdom:

We’ve all had this when asked to fill out a form to change some information. Often you must enter the very same information they already hold and then when you hand it in you are told you’ve used the wrong form (often they have different forms to register new information versus amend existing information). When you fill in the correct form (which is almost identical to the other form) you are then told you must use blank ink rather than the blue or that your signature isn’t fully in the box provided (which is often too small) – I could go on, but you get the point. This very same approach is often applied to Application Interfaces. As with Pedantic Officialdom the whole purpose isn’t to make life easy for the consumer (or 3rd party) but a lazy approach to make it easier for the recipient.

Someone Else’s Problem:

Incapsulating and extending on both the previous mindsets is the overarching view that it is someone else’s problem to decipher and to comply with these pedantic and overly cumbersome rules. This approach to integration enables API’s to be created very quickly but the consequence is that they are dumb, brittle and difficult to work with and significantly increases the effort by the third party.

 A New Paradigm:

Overcoming these issues isn’t a question of technology, coding skills or even language, its harder than that because it requires a paradigm shift in thinking about the whole approach to integration.

However, as with all challenges we were confident with the right approach we could completely turn integration on its head to simplify work for 3rd parties and especially to our customers.

The first design principle we applied was that the API shouldn’t be developed for another developer, it should be developed so that a competent IT professional or implementer could consume the interface.  This principle ensures that we don’t make assumptions about who will be consuming the interface and a good test to ensure that the interface is a simple as possible (but no simpler).

The second design principle is that the API should be intelligent and not pedantic in terms of the calls into the API (for instance demanding a different call to add information versus amending information or refusing data based on lazy or pedantic rules).  If the new data requires the creation of associated or dependent information the API can automatically create this on the fly rather than simply failing. This simplifies the work for 3rd parties whilst reducing both manual entry and lazy rejection of data.

The third design principle was that the API should be easy to configure, so that if requirements change (e.g. some information previously sent IS no longer required) the API can ignore the data without the need for changes by the 3rd party. This ensures that the interface is flexible, and our solution can adapt to changes in data without the need for either the 3rd party or the interface to change. It builds in flexibility.

These 3 guiding principles enable a paradigm shift and focus all the intelligent development work within our solution making it simple to integrate from a 3rd party perspective. It turns integration on its head by making “integration our problem” rather than “Some Else’s Problem” and this changes the mindset with the result that issues are tackled and eliminated from the get go.

This approach rapidly increases integration time, reduces the need for testing and 3rd party development work. It also means that with a simplified approach to web services we can easily integrate legacy/on-premise third party products even if they are csv based using our rapid scripts that convert these into web service calls.

The Future of HR

man with steel artificial arm sitting in front of white table

In a future where many jobs will be lost to automation the question arises as to both the future of the workforce and the need for traditional departments such as HR.

The reality though is that whilst automation will encroach further and further into the workplace removing swathes of jobs and assisting with others, AI for all its hype, has its limits.

To understand where the watermark rests is not quite so simple, but there are guiding principles. Machines are capable of processing huge amounts of data instantly and identifying patterns, trends and correlations. This provides enormous benefit to decision makers who can leverage this data to make informed decisions.

However, decision making at a high level is often the result of considering not just one data point however well evidenced, but many and from different disciplines. Computers often can do one thing very well and fast but can rarely assess the bigger picture.

Neural Networks are capable of learning, but again this is often domain focused. We will see in future the rise of self-driving cars and literally billions of pounds are being spent each year to make this a reality. Whilst there is a high degree of confidence that this huge investment will succeed, the code behind it won’t be able to diagnose cancer in a patient.

Humans are never born to drive or diagnose a patient but have the unique ability to learn completely new and unrelated skills. Given the rapidly changing world and technology, this is a good thing, and it is ironical that whilst we are rapidly adapting to new technology, technology itself is not very good at adapting.

So, what does this all mean for the workplace, the new world of work and HR? Computers and AI will be focused on “narrow field” activities and tasks, those that require speed, accuracy and analysing big data. On the other hand, humans adapt rapidly, have holistic and “outside the box” thinking, multi-disciplinary knowledge and creativity.

Whilst HR contains a lot of administrative tasks which can be automated, there is much that cannot. HR requires a whole range of diverse knowledge and insight from understanding the Law to the values and culture of the organisation, from the needs and objectives of both company and staff to respecting union rules and the wider culture of society in which it operates.

HR acts not just to re-enforce polices and values, but also a change maker within the organisation. In fact, to do HR well, you need to understand that you are working with human beings; A statement so obvious it is often missed when discussing how a computer (with no sense of self, empathy or deep understanding) could replace people in role that requires deep interaction with others.

Computers can learn but learning without context can be at best a disaster, and at worst, catastrophic. For example, Microsoft took down Tay, an AI Chatbot on twitter only 16 hours after launch because – through learning – had started tweet offensive and racist comments. It had no moral compass or understanding of the wider culture to recognise that there is good learning and bad learning.

Imagine you are driving your car 60 mph when a child crosses the road in-front of you. There is no time for you to break without hitting the child, so you can either swerve the car up onto a pavement and hit a wall (with the potential you will incur life changing injuries) or kill the child. This is not hypothetical but a real moral and legal dilemma for the manufacturers of self-driving cars. Is their legal responsibility to the owner of the car or to other road-users? There is no legal requirement for a driver to risk or sacrifice their life to save another. Supposing the car is programmed to risk your life rather than kill the pedestrian, but now the person running across the road is a terrorist with a gun whom you are trying to stop with your car.

You might think this is going off-topic, but having a moral perspective, values and a big picture view are all important for the right decisions to be made every day.

Even the best AI lacks these things and for those who believe these issues will be sorted in the future, the answer is that we might not need to wait after all. Many in the AI field believe these kinds of issues can only be solved if AI moves to a biological architecture (rather than digital), that it requires consciousness, self-awareness and intentionality. If correct, then these attributes already exist in what we currently call humans.

From the North Pole (with Love)

With over 1,400 customers you’d expect us to hear some rather extraordinary stories and you’d be right. In our 45+ year history we’ve heard many stories about of the antics that companies have uncovered through our Time and Attendance solutions.

Here is our Christmas Special.

From the North Pole with Love

It is always important for staff to take that special time out on holiday and refresh themselves away from the hustle and bustle of the production line…and some would think it is especially nice if the Supervisor clocks them in and out while they enjoy that holiday, so they don’t waste any of that holiday entitlement.

Not quite so nice though for the manufacturing company concerned. Fortunately our biometric solution soon put an end to that. 

Download our Product Sheet to find out how you can ensure #ItDoesNotHappenHere!

Download Time and Attendance pdf

Contact us for more information

Barnfather

Barnfather Wire, the UK’s largest independent wire production company, produces a broad range of specialist drawn wire products to the highest possible standards. From its state-of-the art plant in the West Midlands, Barnfather Wire can provide product from stock and manufacture bespoke to customers’ individual requirements.  One of the company’s most notable achievements was to supply the wire used to create the stems of the 888,264 poppies for the stunning ‘Blood Swept Lands and ‘Seas of Red’ Armistice displays at the Tower of London in 2014.

Ever-expanding company requires agile technology

Since starting out in 2007, Barnfather Wire’s friendly, professional service, quick turnaround and honest approach have created a flourishing business that today has a loyal client following from blue chip companies supplying some of the world’s biggest brands to small and medium British manufacturers.  Success is down to just 46 individuals who combine extensive hands-on industry experience with innovative technology across all parts of the business as Dean Horton, Works Director at Barnfather Wire explains:

“We have already achieved incredible things with a relatively small number of talented people but we are a growing business that requires sophisticated technology to support us and take us to the next level. Earlier this year, we took the decision to focus on improving the efficiency and accuracy of some of our most critical workforce management processes and set about searching the marketplace for an innovative, fully automated solution.”

Wages are top priority
Barnfather Wire has recently invested in AUTOTIME’s cloud-based Biometric Time & Attendance system Vanquish to replace the company’s existing clocking in-and-out system that was extremely difficult to use and failed to deliver accurate readings of employee attendances and absences.  This had a hugely negative impact especially when it came to calculating the staff’s weekly wages.  Dean continued:

“Before Vanquish, every Monday morning would be spent working with a colleague from the accounts department to finalise everyone’s pay packet.  The old clocking system was highly ineffectual because it regularly over-clocked and you couldn’t even read the cards very well.  Now, thanks to the simplicity of the Vanquish solution, the whole payroll process is so much quicker, down from half a day to just half an hour.  Even better, I can do it by myself and have it all done and dusted before 9.30am in the morning.”

Real-time information all in one place
Barnfather Wire selected AUTOTIME primarily for the ease of use of the Vanquish system.  Staff use it to clock in and out by simply placing their hand over the Vanquish biometric hand reader terminals when they start and finish work.  Then, Dean and his two colleagues from the accounts team use the single, integrated solution to capture and store all information relating to employees, their shift patterns and pay details.

Dean added, “Having information all in one place is one of the major benefits of deploying the Vanquish solution.  It’s fast and gives us vital, real-time information on shifts and pay along with critical absence data such as holidays and sickness. We can even add our own comments and attach important records such as disciplinary notes to build a living virtual library and valuable audit trail. At the click of a button, we have a clear view of our end-to-end time and attendance activities.”

Scheduling up for efficiency
For example, when it comes to scheduling Barnfather Wire’s employees, Dean can log into the cloud-based system from anywhere to allocate shifts quickly and efficiently, track the number of hours each staff member has actually worked and reconcile them against the original planned schedules.  If an employee does not turn up on the day, is sick or on holiday, he is able to move people around and deploy them to areas that need extra support, versatility which Dean believes is invaluable to keeping the company agile and dynamic at all times.

Spotting trends for improved decision-making and faster results
The ability to record and monitor accurately the number of hours worked along with absences like sickness or holidays makes it easy to identify trends that aid improved decision-making.  For example, the Vanquish system will automatically alert Dean to recurring incidents out of the ordinary such as if an employee regularly calls in sick on Mondays or Fridays or leaves early. Being forearmed with this type of information means Barnfather Wire can proactively assess the situation, take remedial action, if necessary, or provide the additional support that staff need before employee morale or efficiency levels suffer.

“Introducing automation into our organisation has yielded impressive results.  Just four months after going live with the new Vanquish system, we feel in complete control of our time and attendance activities, have made tangible time savings and improved payroll accuracy beyond our expectations.  The AUTOTIME team have been fantastic.  They even configured the solution with our four main shift patterns to ensure we were up and running in no time. There’s still a lot to learn but the success of the implementation so far is a real motivating factor.  Who knows what more we can achieve in another six months?”

About Barnfather Wire

Barnfather Wire is the UK’s largest independent wire production company.  From its West Midlands plant, it manufactures a broad range of drawn wire products to the highest possible standards. It provides products from stock or bespoke to customers’ individual requirements.

One of Barnfather Wire’s most notable achievements was to supply the wire used to create the stems of the 888,264 poppies for the ‘Blood Swept Lands’ and ‘Seas of Red’ Armistice displays at the Tower of London in 2014.

For more information, visit www.barnfatherwire.co.uk or Contact us

 

 

 

HFX partners with Wagestream

Innovative ‘earned income’ payroll provider teams up with HFX’s established workforce management solutions to provide staff with flexible, financial benefits

HFX, market leading provider of cloud-based SaaS flexitime and workforce management solutions, has announced a partnership with Wagestream, the first Get-Paid-As-You-Go provider accredited by the FCA. Wagestream allows workers to access their ‘earned income’ at any time during the monthly pay cycle and can be implemented by companies without impacting cash-flow, payroll or timekeeping processes. Experienced in workforce management for over 40 years, HFX’s solutions complement Wagestream’s platform by providing the tools to manage staff working hours efficiently to administer pay as you go payments.

Nicola Smart, COO of HFX said; “Our collaboration with Wagestream perfectly complements HFX’s focus on playing a key role in the new world of work, combining efficient workforce management with wellbeing and staff benefits.  By deploying our solutions companies can benefit from improved productivity, more motivated staff and higher retention as well as cost savings and improved profits.”

Andrew Fenwick, Enterprise Partnership Director at Wagestream said; “Our new pay concept enables companies to offer employees a benefit of remunerating them their ‘pay’ for short periods worked, whether for overtime or even a few days’ work, instead of waiting until the end of the month or taking out expensive loans.

“It is already popular in companies with high turnovers of lower skilled staff, where employee retention levels increase because they value having quicker access to their salary when they need it. Our vision is aligned with that of HFX’s in this new world of work – we will be able  to offer companies a true holistic workforce management solution where the efficient recording of hours is directly related to remuneration, enabling staff to take control of and manage their finances and working hours.”

Wagestream’s service benefits employers which operate large numbers of shift and temporary workers, in sectors such as hospitality, security, retail and manufacturing. HFX’s workforce management solutions have an established pedigree of providing solutions to manage working hours, shifts and rosters to meet legislation and ensure staff wellbeing.

About Wagestream

Wagestream allows all employees, both salaried and hourly, to have complete control over when they get paid. It effectively ends the stress caused by monthly pay cycles and prevents millions of UK workers suffering overdraft charges, credit card debt, or worst case, entering cycles of poverty caused by payday loans.

Wagestream is a social impact, charity backed platform, that has proven and significant retention, productivity and recruitment benefits for employers.

Find out more here https://wagestream.co.uk/ or Contact Us

Drayton Manor

Drayton Manor Theme Park in Staffordshire welcomes over a million visitors every year and is home to a variety of exciting attractions with roller coasters, a 15-acre zoo and Thomas Land.  Considered by many to be the ‘ultimate family day out’, Drayton Manor has received numerous awards that recognise the company’s inclusivity such as ‘Best Attraction for Children’ and ‘Access for All’ along with Certificates of Excellence from TripAdvisor in four consecutive years.  There is also an on-site hotel.  The four-star 150 bedroom Drayton Manor Hotel features executive rooms, presidential suites and 15 Thomas & Friends™ rooms, as well as two bars, two restaurants plus The Grill Inn, adjacent to the hotel.

Complex requirements need a reliable and robust solution

The scale and diversity of Drayton Manor requires a large number of staff to provide an excellent visitor experience and operate other complementary on-site services such as conferences and events and a popular education programme.  The theme park’s 750 staff – regularly reaching 800 during the peak summer season – are employed in a broad range of roles from front-line guest services at ticket points, at catering and retail outlets and in the hotel to maintaining buildings, grounds and keeping the rides safe and attending to behind the scenes administration and marketing.  Managing them all and ensuring they are paid correctly, on time, and in line with National Pay and European Work Time Directives is a critical success factor.

Clare Beasley, Director of People at Drayton Manor takes up the story, “Running a theme park of this magnitude is a complex business and requires sophisticated technology to simplify the whole process of knowing how many people you have on-site at any one time and then reconciling this information to payroll quickly, accurately and efficiently.”

Fast, comprehensive real-time information from a solution that is easy to use

Drayton Manor first turned to AUTOTIME, a division of HFX over eight years ago in 2010 and has recently re-invested in the company’s real-time Biometric Time & Attendance system Vanquish.  Clare continues: “As Drayton Manor grew and more staff were employed, we considered different ways of managing our employees but nothing matched the automated approach to scheduling that Vanquish offers.  The software is so easy to use both for our team leaders and for our people on the ground.  It’s fast, gives us vital, real-time information on holidays, time off in lieu and other absences, allows us to create and download valuable reports in an instant and we also benefit from AUTOTIME’s constant innovation in the product. In a nutshell, all this so why would we want to change?”

Controlling costs and gaining efficiencies with Rostering

Today, Clare and her team use Vanquish for Time & Attendance and are beginning to roll-out the system for rostering purposes, a move Clare believes will help Drayton Manor to “control costs better and gain efficiencies” by minimising the risk of overpayments.  All staff use Vanquish to clock in and out whether they work in the park, the zoo, in the hotel or in back office functions.  They simply place their hand over one of the 14 Vanquish biometric hand reader terminals when they start and finish work and whenever they leave the premises for breaks or other business reasons.

Around 40 managers rely on Vanquish to view their own teams’ activities and keep track of their weekly hours to make sure staff are not falling below the National minimum wage threshold and comply with European Work Time Directives. For example, they can check absences such as any accrued Time Off In Lieu (TOIL) and make sure it is booked in for the relevant member of staff.  Clare’s team has recently started to expand the Vanquish solution further by exporting data from the hand reader terminals directly into Drayton Manor’s corporate Sage Snowdrop payroll system to accurately track the hours that staff work.

Saving time, increasing accuracy and better Compliance

Clare sums up the benefits: “Deploying Vanquish has released a series of valuable operational and business benefits.  Vanquish gives us good visibility of how many people we have on-site at any one time and shows who hasn’t turned up for work against the planned roster. This helps us spot any gaps that need filling and is invaluable for payroll purposes.  Automation reduces error and saves huge amounts of time.   What is more, the solution offers a robust audit trail, a complete history going back eight years.  This supports our compliance with important industry legislation and demonstrates our commitment to driving best-practice throughout the organisation.”

Automation increases productivity

The automation gained by from the intuitive solution has boosted productivity through tangible time and cost savings while the availability of dynamic, real-time data has improved the accuracy of timesheets to reduce absence, time theft and unnecessary overtime.

Clare concludes, “AUTOTIME offers top-notch technology and support to match.  From initial implementation to day-to-day guidance, we can ask any questions and know we will get answers straight away.  Moreover, the team is 100% focused on innovation and has even tweaked the system quickly and efficiently to suit our needs perfectly.   Quite simply, AUTOTIME is continually looking to push the boundaries of customer service and we really appreciate that.”

To find out more Contact us