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Taking notes

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In Jeremy Potvin's 18 years in the apparel industry – the latter part, running his own chain of outlet fashion stores in southwestern Ontario – he was continually struck by the amount of time and effort that went into the most universal and mundane of tasks: Scheduling employees' shifts. Drawing up plans in Excel or Google Calendar was one thing, but the real time-suck was in handling the flurry of e-mails requesting changes and swaps that would always follow.

"It was frustrating for the managers, and was taking away from the jobs that were actually making the company money," says Mr. Potvin.

Now, ShiftHub, Mr. Potvin's online startup, wants to simplify the process of shift management and to distinguish itself in a growing field by applying the lessons of analytics, location-aware check-ins and social networking.

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ShiftHub is primarily geared at small and medium businesses (with 50 to 100 employees) that face logistical headaches but don't have dedicated HR departments to help them with scheduling. Employers tell the software which shifts they need covered by what types of employees (for instance, not everyone might be able to open or close the store), a schedule is generated and then ShiftHub is able to process the employee requests that follow.

For instance, a 'Shift Marketplace' allows employees to offer up shifts they'd like to trade to either an individual, or the whole company; a manager needs only to sign off on the swap once it's been arranged. Meanwhile, the system keeps track of it all: Which employees never miss a beat for months; which ones are consistently there for their colleagues; and which ones chronically wait until the last minute to schedule a shift, then ask for a change.

"The company gets back data they didn't know they needed yet," says Mr. Potvin.

Employees will notice even more of a shift. Taking a cue from applications like FourSquare, ShiftHub's mobile apps allow for GPS-enabled check-ins at the workplace, turning their smartphones into punch-cards. The employer gets data about who's checked in when and employee can collect badges of the sort FourSquare popularized. At the same time, rather than simply owning accounts in the system, employees get full profile pages. In fact, if an employee leaves a company, their data stays with them, so that if they arrive at another company using ShiftHub, they can retain their original profile.

After trying a tiered-pricing model, ShiftHub has moved to a simpler, more scalable fee of $1 per employee, per month. The 7-person company, which recently graduated from the Extreme Startups accelerator and moved into its own Toronto offices, has about 3,000 employees in its system – and Mr. Potvin says they're halfway towards raising a seed round of $1.2-million.

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