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For companies with employees who work remotely, task management tools can automatically break down and distribute work, which allows for greater inclusivity.Getty Images

When Don Gray and his wife, Debra Demeza, co-founded Givex as a part-time project in 1999, they also built a little piece of software to help stay on track.

The “JobJar,” as they called it, gave the founders – and later, the employees – a clear rundown of what they were responsible for and when, automatically breaking down big projects into small tasks and assigning them to individual contributors.

“Let’s say we’re onboarding a new client; we have a template of jobs that have to be looked after,” explains Mr. Gray, chief executive officer of Givex. “There’s a series of maybe 10 or 15 jobs that go out, and depending on the nature of the client they’re automatically assigned to the people in the areas that need to be part of [the customer onboarding] process.”

Over the years, Givex has grown from a husband-and-wife duo in Toronto to a multinational with 300 staff spread across 10 countries, and from a provider of gift cards to a provider of loyalty programs, point of sale (POS) systems, digital displays and more. All the while the JobJar has remained the centrepiece of its operations.

The custom-built solution gives users a rundown of their daily tasks and deadlines, inviting them to log their progress, attach completed work, request assistance and assign follow-up tasks to others.

“You can’t work on anything that’s not in the JobJar. If it’s not in the JobJar, it’s just a rumour,” says Mr. Gray, adding the tool has tracked more than 800,000 tasks to date.

As the organization grew, he explains, the JobJar enabled teams to work effectively across offices and time zones, providing a clear view of work processes and hand-offs, and making it easy for managers to identify opportunities for improvement. It also enabled a much smoother transition to remote work during the pandemic.

“By looking after your jobs, you get a lot more control over your life.”

Don Gray, CEO, Givex

“The productivity of our team did not go down at all; in fact, we believe it increased, and we were able to track that,” he says. “As a bonus, it helped us with our recruiting, staff retention, and overall, the teams are very happy with it.”

Mr. Gray adds that the accountability provided by the JobJar made it easy to offer both locations and time flexibility. Today, team members are only required to work from their local Givex office every-other Wednesday, and only need half of their working hours to overlap with the standard nine-to-five. Where and when they work the rest of the time is up to them.

“By looking after your jobs, you get a lot more control over your life,” says Mr. Gray.

“This company seems to be very special in terms of the way they thought about things and the way they organize,” says Veit Siegenheim, the global head of Future of Work for digital advisory services firm Avanade. “What I like about it is it’s very outcome focused, and if you are outcome focused, then it allows more flexibility on the employee side.”

Mr. Siegenheim says that custom-built solutions offer more bespoke features that meet specific business needs, unlike generic alternatives. The downside, however, is that it’s harder to keep them up-to-date and compatible with newer technologies.

“Technology companies build products that scale for millions of people, so it’s much easier to add new functionality and features,” he says. “It’s very difficult for a single company to keep up with these technology advancements, and generative AI is a good example.”

While Mr. Siegenheim wouldn’t advise every company to build their own software tools, he’s also impressed with the ingenuity of Givex’s JobJar tool, and the kind of flexibility it enables.

“If you can get people across different time zones and work times, you can actually go from an eight-hour innovation cycle to a 24-hour innovation cycle,” adds Kathryn Brohman, program director and associate professor of digital technology at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. “Those project management tools are especially important when you’re working on a 24-hour time-zone stack to make sure people are tracking what they’re getting done, and so people wake up knowing what to do.”

Prof. Brohman is similarly impressed by the inventiveness of Givex’s JobJar, and even more so by the fact that it was built in 1999, long before task management tools were standard. She also sees how it could make life easier for managers, and even reduce the potential for bias.

“Especially if it automatically breaks down the work and distributes that amongst people, it allows it to be more inclusive, because a machine is allocating the work,” she says. “The technology platform allows for clear role assignment – fair role assignment – plus a roll-up view that can be used for performance management, and also to look at the ways in which work is getting done.”

Prof. Brohman adds that such custom solutions may become more popular in the years ahead, as new innovations like generative AI make it easier for those without the technical know-how to build low-code or even no-code custom software solutions.

“You build them the way you want them, so the technology is built to the way you work, as opposed to the way you work adapting to how the technology is built,” she says. “That’s the biggest benefit of building your own stuff.”

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