In our recent interview for The #WorkLifeShow, Kathryn Wilson was joined by Bob Teasdale. He is the newly appointed Managing Director of myhrtoolkit, a company that empowers SMEs with easy to use, highly secure HR software.
The interview aimed to find out more about myhrtoolkit and how it can enhance the HR function, particularly in current times when many people are working from home.
Myhrtoolkit is an HR Tech Company based in Sheffield, offering core HR software for SMEs. They currently have 1200 corporate clients with some 20,000 people logging into the system on a regular basis. The system is designed to help clients run their companies more effectively, manage HR administration, manage transactional and procedural HR and boost employee engagement.
When Bob joined myhrtoolkit some years ago as only their third member of staff, he didn’t even have a job title. Through the years he became more and more involved in running it, eventually becoming business manager, “To get the top job eventually is flattering but daunting as well. But I'm very excited about it.”
He elaborated on what myhrtoolkit does, “Primarily we manage the HR. So everything from keeping a record of who's actually working for the company through to managing holidays, sickness, training, lots of other bits and pieces. But the cool thing is that they all talk to each other and they all sit in one place.”
Bob however hadn’t always been in the HR field: “I was a child of the 80s, and as a result, I ended up doing a lot of different jobs. I was a forklift truck driver. I was a lifeguard. I cleaned aeroplanes for a short period of time. Sounds a bit grim up north, but you took what jobs you could.”
“The making of me was probably when I went to do a three year degree at what was then Sheffield Polytechnic, now called Sheffield Hallam University. I studied recreation management. After that I did a short stint working for a bingo club - it was a pretty grim job.I fell into IT recruitment, which I did for 17 years. I started as a trainee consultant and then slowly but surely I moved within the same company into being involved in the service desk. I was responsible for building up the British Airways worldwide service desk. Which I really enjoyed, and it exposed me to the world of HR.”
It was in 2012, just after the credit crunch, that Bob was made redundant, which gave him time to take some leave and enjoy the Olympics, and shortly thereafter through a mutual friend of a friend he was introduced to myhrtoolkit, a product aimed at SMEs, the smallest being three or four people and our largest in the several hundreds.
“The main thing is that it helps SMEs to centralise and control their data and their processes. In doing so, rather than using multiple filing cabinets or Excel spreadsheets, it puts everything in one place. It allows you to secure permissions to that data and it gives you one source of truth. So a good example of that would be company handbooks. Companies may issue updates that change the handbook over time, and for employees in a paper based environment it is hard to know that they're looking at the correct version.”
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“But if it's the version in the toolkit, it's the correct version. So it allows you to control that and all that other data but also defined processes. So you don't have every manager invent for example their own absence policy and then have poor quality reporting. It standardises and it allows companies to coalesce around one single defined process.”
Kathryn noted that due to the pandemic, 76 percent of small businesses are relying more on digital tools. She asked Bob if he had seen any shifts recently when it comes to using HR software during the pandemic.
Bob agreed that many have: “One of the main drivers was that in March last year, as everybody very rapidly moved to home working, they realised that they couldn't take the filing cabinets with them. Very often in our business, the accounts staff did go home with a few bundles of files under their arms that they thought they might need. But obviously, you can't transpose all of that if you're anything like a medium sized business. Very quickly, people's processes and data access broke down.”
“After the shock of March, we saw an increase in people making enquiries about taking their systems online, using HR software so that they could communicate with their now distributed workforce. Some companies had never considered working from home. To some companies, it was anathema. Then all of a sudden it was forced on people, they had no preparation for it whatsoever, and a large number came knocking on our door.”
Bob explained how their own business managed the change: “[At the time] we as a business hadn’t really embraced it. We had a few people who would do a few days home now and again, but we just never really thought about it. And most people liked coming into the office. We've got quite a local workforce. We are based in Sheffield and people live relatively locally - a lot of our workers would walk to work. But we did make the move to homeworking sooner before it was mandated because we saw what was happening and we planned it quite effectively. So to some degree, it was a seamless service.”
“One of the things that we thought when it first started - none of us knew how long it was going to last - was the idea of recruiting in a pandemic. Recruiting people you'd never seen before seemed crazy, whereas now it's totally normal. We've got several computer programmers, people in our marketing team - we have met them now - but not when they joined us. The only reason they met was to hurriedly set a laptop in their hand, give them a quick briefing, and then it was all on Teams and Zoom. As a country, as a workforce, work is probably ever going to be the same again.”
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“So there will be a demand for connecting software, whether it's something like myhrtoolkit or Zoom or Teams, accounting software, recruitment software, the future development of these products is going to take that into account.”
Kathryn asked if such software could make HR professionals feel threatened in that it could affect their traditional job roles. Bob was understanding of this concern however he believes that technology should add to the HR function rather than replace it.
He shared the following anecdote: “I think back to one of my first ever customers who had bought our product. Most people put perhaps a year's historical data on it, but they wanted to put something like 12 years of data on it. It was a big undertaking.”
“So I went along to help them and show them the ropes. What was telling was that they never achieved that goal. In part, it was because one or two of the administrators in that business were fearful that if they ever deployed some new software that would do the holiday calculations, then it would somehow diminish their role. People were a bit threatened by the new technology that seems to automate the functions they're doing.”
“People are a bit more enlightened now and have seen that it automates generally the simple stuff, the drudgery, the stuff that really people don't like doing. People don't really like calculating holiday entitlements - it makes them nervous in case they give too much or too little. So a simple example like that - people will understand what it will do for them. They like that.”
“HR these days is not supposed to be about calculating holiday entitlements and ticking boxes. It frees up the HR components in a business to provide more true value to think about things like succession planning, what are the processes, and are they actually improving the businesses as they go along rather than merely running a system.”
“It depends on which camp you want to fall into. But when one looks at professional HR advisors, and we work with quite a lot, they see it as an enabler to help their customers to become more efficient, to cut out all the menial work and to move forward and to make the business better, which is what HR is supposed to be about.”
He believes that taking away menial tasks can improve processes, “Very often a company will design a process when it's of a certain stage of maturity and very often, companies are functional before they're transformative. They're very transactional. And so the processes are built around that. For example, If you are sick, ring this number.”
“Very often those processes become embedded. The company grows, managers are taught to run those processes. there's never the time to say, ‘maybe we should have a process to look at this sickness data, find out why it's happening and see if we can do something about it. For example, do we get sick at a certain time of year? Is it just a certain part of the business? What can we do?’”
“You’ll see companies that understand this because they don't have sickness processes - they have attendance management processes because that's the desired outcome.”
“Processes also review things like succession planning - in five years, who will be at each rung of the ladder, who will work in larger companies, who do we need to recruit now to be in those places to move through? Each person may have a career development plan who could follow one of these routes. So let's provide them with the skills that they need. Again, that takes time, thought and expertise. But that's the sort of task that is not spending all day, every day picking up Post-it notes with somebody who says ‘can I have next Wednesday off’ and having to deal with it. That's the reality of it.”
Myhrtoolkit provides the software with opportunities built into it, rather than being the ones who go out to advise the customers. For this they rely on larger customers’ own HR advisors as well as freelance advisors: “They would be the person who would go into the companies, look at their needs, and decide on whether it's the attendance management or performance management system. Then they would, in conjunction with us, modify our software to model the process that they've set up for them.”
Bob spoke about managing his own work-life balance: “I'll be honest. I'm not very good at it. I actually really enjoy what I do. I find it quite hard to turn off, so I certainly haven't got a secret formula. Things that I enjoy doing in my spare time? I like gardening. I've got a large workshop at the top of my garden where I go out and tinker for hours! My wife often says, well, what have you made? But a lot of it seems to involve tidying up, but it's therapeutic tidying up!”
“I've also started walking a lot more in the pandemic. So this month at work we've got a step challenge. So I've never measured them before, but I'm measuring them now. I think between about 16 of us, we're going to hit three million or something like that!”
“So that's it, try and break it up a little. I've been fortunate that although a lot of our staff have been working from home, I've been able to go into the office from time to time, sometimes on my own, and work from there. That’s been quite bizarrely pleasant, going back into a different working environment and being able to visit the sandwich shop around the corner.”
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“Our team has been spectacular during the pandemic. We had nobody work from home before, and we just threw everybody into it. We said ‘here's Teams, here's Zoom’. We bought a load of laptops and delivered them. People have been brilliant, But I’ve so missed just chatting with people and sorting stuff out.”
Bob is optimistic for the future: “Personally, I'm looking forward to getting back into the office, bringing people back. Really we've done well in the pandemic, but we've not been able to develop too many new processes. We've got some exciting ideas for new things that we can do. We changed offices in the middle of the pandemic and some people have never been in it. So to bring everybody together, start to get that buzz - particularly from the sales and marketing team.”
“Professionally, I’ve done various senior board level roles, but I've never been the managing director before, so it's a little bit daunting. But that's going to be my personal challenge - to make that a success. To look back and say, you know, I held many roles throughout my career and I made a reasonable stab of all of them!”
Bob finished with the following words of wisdom: “You've got to enjoy your work. If you're not enjoying your work, you're probably in the wrong job. Sometimes it takes people fifteen years before they go, you know what, this is terrible, and hopefully then they are going to find something that they love. It's not easy, but I think if you can do it and if you find it - it's such a great position to be in.”
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