The Future of [Good] Work: Supporting Small Business and creating the world we want to live in

We are at a profound moment of change. AI and tech are driving rapid changes into the nature of work, and bringing incredible opportunities for efficiency. This offers huge advantages to businesses, but it also threatens to flatten our experience as humans.

We face a choice: put simply, do we want to live in a world of fulfillment centers or neighborhoods?

This is not just about the vibrancy and character of the communities we live in. It’s about their health. Every study we have shows that when good jobs go away terrible things happen. Jobs provide a lot more than income.

Luckily we have a hero in this fight: small businesses. They provide our neighborhood vibrancy. But they also create the majority of jobs, and they are good jobs. They provide development, opportunity, and community, among many other things. There is a reason that job satisfaction is higher at small businesses.

From the beginning, we built Homebase to support these incredible local business teams. We have been building their everything app for hourly work to eliminate paperwork, improve the work experience, and build a more connected and impactful team. And we’ve made a good dent: last year we saved small businesses over 50M hours, and helped them provide a better work experience to 2% of the US workforce.

Over the next stage, we’re taking this further. We believe that the same technology that can flatten the world, can also make it more human and allow a thousand flowers to bloom. We’re here to build superpowers for local business teams that allow them to get more done and have a better work experience. Next year, we will save these teams 100M hours of work.

We’re here to help small businesses thrive so that they can do the thing they do better than anyone: provide great experiences to their customers and their employees. When they do this, we have our thriving communities.

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We are at an inflection point in “the future of work”

A decade ago, we started Homebase with the belief that if we helped local business teams move online, we could make work and life significantly better for them. At the time, over 3M businesses were stuck on paper schedules, post-it notes, and time-consuming legacy payroll. This wasn’t just causing a lot of inefficiency–5-10 hours a week wasted–but had profound hidden costs in quality of life and economic instability for 20% of the US workforce. 

Fast forward, Homebase has helped over 150K businesses move off paper. We’re making work easier for over 2% of the US workforce–more workers than the largest employers in the US. We saved them over 50 million hours of collective time last year. It’s a great start, and something I’m very proud of. But it’s just a start.

A decade in, the question is no longer “will these teams move online.” They will. It’s now a question of what happens once these teams are online. 

 

Technology can make jobs better, but it’s a choice.

There are many headlines and articles about how AI will eliminate jobs, but it also threatens to make our existing jobs worse. The technology-enabled drive for efficiency can reduce human interaction and turn jobs into mindless task completion. It can enable more jobs to become “gig-ified”, reducing advancement opportunities and long-term financial certainty.

But this same technology can also make jobs more human. Automation can eliminate the mindless tasks that take us away from the human interaction and creative parts of our work. It can enable more flexibility and control without sacrificing advancement. 

This is the choice we make with technology, and the decisions will have far-reaching impact for millions of people. Over 20% of our US workforce works in the local economy. Over the next decade, their work experience will change. We want to make sure it changes for the better. 

 

Good jobs are the foundation of healthy communities.

This is not a philosophical argument, this is an extremely pragmatic one. Imagine a policy prescription that could positively impact most everything we care about: improve children’s health outcomes, reduce divorce rates, increase child education outcomes, reduce drug abuse, reduce deaths of despair, improve sleep, reduce stress and negative health outcomes. It also improves self-reported life satisfaction.* This isn’t magic; it’s good jobs. Every time we study this, we learn the same thing: good jobs are the foundation of a healthy community.

So what makes a job a good job? There is research here too: Opportunities for advancement in your career and income. Learning. Predictability. Flexibility. A positive social environment. Feeling like your work contributes to something.** 

As we go through this technology change, it’s not enjoy to just talk about the unemployment rate. We must also make sure the jobs we have are good jobs.

 

Small businesses create good jobs.

We have a hero in this fight: small business.

Many people know that small businesses are the great job creators of the US, and that 46% of the workforce works in small businesses. They provide opportunities for immigrants and those without college educations. They provide career advancement and skills training for the future: as an example, 80% of restaurant owners started in entry-level restaurant positions.

But they also provide good jobs. Our own research at Homebase has shown that job satisfaction is higher in small businesses. When we conduct regular surveys of hourly employees in small businesses, the benefits they cite look remarkably like the research around good jobs. (More to share here soon.)

When we help small businesses win, we help workers win. Technology has a big role to play in helping small businesses thrive–and making these jobs even better.

 

We are here to help small businesses win.

Running a small business is hard, and managing an hourly team is hard. There is still an extraordinary amount of time that gets sucked into mindless tasks supporting operations. It’s chasing down employee clock-out times; the day spent running payroll and making sure everyone took their breaks; refreshing task lists; the hours screening resumes and scheduling interviews for people that don’t show up; the mindless filling out of employment onboarding forms; and, yes, building the schedule. This list goes on and on.

We’ve built tools to make this work easier, but our real goal is to eliminate it completely. We know that when we give small business owners and managers time back, we don’t eliminate the job: we make it better. Yes, they get more time with their families and friends. But they also invest it into the passions of their business that make them unique, and bring character to their neighborhoods. They invest it in their teams–the things that make them great places to work. 

Beyond time savings, we also want to make the jobs they provide even better. We’re killing the paycheck. We’re making it easier to make work fit in your schedule and hit your income goals. We’re helping great work get recognized. But we have a lot more ahead, including eliminating more headaches and enabling more benefits. It is always hard to attract and retain workers, and we want to make it easier for local businesses to compete.

When we use technology to enable small businesses to compete, we don’t do it by making them look more like the big corporations. We do it by accelerating the advantages they’ve always had: providing a great experience to their customers and their teams. Next year, our goal is to save small businesses 100M hours on the tedious stuff, so they can provide these great experiences instead.

As we head into the next decade of Homebase, we know we’re fighting for the health of our neighborhoods for the next 100+ years. Our mission supporting these local business teams has never been more important. My excitement about how we can accomplish it has never been greater.

Comment: there have been many people who have helped shape my views in this essay, but none are more important than the regular conversations with our incredible Homebase customers. Thank you for your trust, and the continued inspiration to all of us here.

 

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Sources:

* (1) “The Job Satisfaction-Job Performance Relationship: A qualitative and quantitative review” by TImothy A. Judge et al”
(2) “The importance of Employee well-being and Health Promotion in the Public Sector: An Empirical Analysis” by Karina Nielsen et al.
(3) “Job control, job demand, or social class? The effects of working conditions on health behaviors and obesity in Sweden” by Mel Bartley et al.
(4) “Employment quality and fathering: An exploration of the relationship in middle-class families” by Paul R. Amato and Brett A Beattie
(5) “Childhood poverty and depressive symptoms for Whites and African Americans in two American Cohorts” by Laura C. Hill, et al.

** (1) Judge, T. A., & Cable, D. M. (1997). Applicant personality, organizational culture, and organization attraction. Personnel Psychology, 50(2), 359-394.
(2) Tannenbaum, S. I., Mathieu, J. E., Salas, E., & Cannon-Bowers, J. A. (2012). Meeting trainees’ expectations: The influence of training fulfillment on the development of commitment, self-efficacy, and motivation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(4), 808-824.
(3) Greenhalgh, L., & Rosenblatt, Z. (1984). Job insecurity: Toward conceptual clarity. Academy of Management Review, 9(3), 438-448.
(4) Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16(2), 250-279.
(5) Beauregard, T. A. (2012). Perfectionism, performance, and job satisfaction: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Management, 38(5), 1451-1475.
(6) Greenhalgh, L., & Rosenblatt, Z. (1984). Job insecurity: Toward conceptual clarity. Academy of Management Review, 9(3), 438-448.
(7) Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., & Sparrowe, R. T. (2008). An examination of the mediating role of psychological empowerment on the relations between the job, interpersonal relationships, and work outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(3), 483-491.
(8) Wrzesniewski, A., McCauley, C., Rozin, P., & Schwartz, B. (1997). Jobs, careers, and callings: People’s relations to their work. Journal of Research in Personality, 31(1), 21-33.

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