Going Global with Uber

By Tatiana Goff-Morrell, Iliyana Zdravkova, & Jill Barry, Uber

When people think of Uber, they think of a fast-growing company that changed the way people move from one place to another.  Uber is only ten years old and grew quickly from 1 billion global rides in 2015 to over 10 billion in 2018.  This fast growth meant that customer support grew quickly everywhere that Uber is.  So this meant not only support for US and Canada and Latin America but also Europe, Middle East, Africa, Australia, and India.  Teams were doing workforce management in our locations all over the globe but didn’t really have any connection to one another.  Some of them didn’t even really know that what they did was called workforce management.  We used different methods, processes, and terminology.  This created a problem when we wanted to compare results for even simple things like shrinkage.  Our goal was to find a way to pull the WFM teams together to create synergies, standards, and efficiencies but still respecting local differences.

Uber WFM supports our vast outsource network (BPO), our internal Centers of Excellence (COE), and in-person driver/courier locations (Greenlights).  These centers can support multiple languages and might have phone, email, chat, or in-person interactions. While going through our discovery phase for WFM, we found that each team was at a different stage when it came to WFM practices, tools implementation, and adoption. Some of our sites had established teams, others were loosely developed.

Our approach to centralizing and globalizing WFM was to first learn about how each team was currently operating independently and what was unique to their location and the locations they supported.  We learned a lot about the various parts of the world and how we had to look at WFM practice.  Fundamentally, we wanted to have an inclusive approach to the WFM centralization and make sure we were really listening to the needs of the local teams.

Questions and concerns we had to consider were:

  • Were there transportation concerns for the center (especially women vs. men)?
  • What were the local holidays?
  • Did the country observe daylight savings (and which direction did it go, very important to recognize that the southern hemisphere goes the opposite direction than the US)?
  • How much vacation time is allotted in that country?
  • What type of religious considerations did we need to schedule for?
  • Was there a communication preference for Zoom vs. chat vs. email?

And many more…

Each team presented with different nuances that were taken into account in our efforts to build a global team. Our Egypt team’s work week is Sunday – Thursday so we had to be careful not to have global meetings on Fridays, for example.  France basically takes all of August off. The complexity of the labor laws in Brazil and Poland create huge challenges for the schedulers who have to weigh the needs of the business with complicated rotations. The teams sitting in the Philippines and India were staffing 24×7 because they were supporting multiple regions across the globe.  We also found that the job titles in India made a significant difference in the talent we attracted to the roles. Consulting not only the local WFM teams, but also local HR teams, helped us understand the specifics of local labor laws and what was and wasn’t allowed both legally and culturally within a center.  Additionally, we knew that there can be a perceived American bias and we didn’t want our global teams to feel like they had to always adapt to the way the US did things.  Even small things like having meetings during local hours so that the local teams weren’t always having to work early or late hours helped foster teamwork.

The next step we took was to work on the WFM support needed.  This ranged from long range forecasting and planning to scheduling, real time management and reporting.

We then got everyone in the same place (often virtually), introduced ourselves and each other, then started to map out global processes.  What does it mean to map a global process?  You have to ask where the overlaps are across regions which would point to a potential global standard, and where there are necessary regional variances.Across the various regions, we agreed to the roles and then worked on standardizing responsibilities using the RACI method (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed).  This matrix not only determined which WFM roles were involved in each process but also who the operational partners were and where there were handoffs.  There were some differences in the roles within each location, but the important thing was to have a clearly defined process for each location.  Clear RACIs flow into predefined roles and responsibilities so that all stakeholders understand their authority and accountability.


Working off of the scheduling tool applications, how do the regions take inputs and support them?

  • Forecasting: Budget or Long range — who gives that info?  What is the frequency?  How do you break that into a usable short range forecast (daily, interval level)?
  • Planning: How are the staff from each region accounted for?  What are the tools to track them (Google sheets, a WFM tool, a payroll tool)?  How do Learning & Development and Hiring tie in?
  • Scheduling: What are the groups supported by scheduling?  Are full schedules implemented (including planning for shrinkage)?  What is the frequency of publishing?
  • RTA: Are there groups that aren’t supported by real time?  How can utilizing the scheduling tool tracking of adherence/compliance work to manage agent real time behaviors?  What automation is available and realistic?

We felt good about integrating the various WFM teams’ feedback to align on which items needed to be standardized as well as what could be customized to accommodate regional needs.  Our next step was to sell the vision to operations.  We needed to educate our stakeholders on what WFM meant and how that support would differ between Business Process Outsourcers (BPOs), Centers of Excellence (COEs), and Greenlights (face-to-face driver/courier centers).  For instance, our WFM team does not schedule for the BPO centers and we don’t manage real time monitoring and changes for our Greenlight hubs.  There were also some areas that had no WFM support.  Furthermore, we shared how developed WFM support was in each region and where we had opportunities to improve.

From all of the regional discovery, we also knew that we needed a centralized team that would help support our regional teams and monitor network performance as well as apply load balancing.  We needed to have a Global Command Center.  Our vision was to have a command center that could manage outages and support, provide short range (1 – 3 week) interval forecasting along with balancing resources and volumes wherever possible for the network.  We successfully launched the Global Command Center in 2019 with a secondary center in 2020 for redundancy.  This team has become an integral part of the Uber WFM team and compliments our local WFM teams.

It’s also important to acknowledge that even with research into local laws and with good intent, things don’t always go as planned.  We have found ourselves in trouble in Brazil when trying to create standard “off queue” codes and communicating examples of when to use them.  We used the example of an agent needing to go “off queue”  to use the bathroom.  This resulted in a reprimand from HR that our use of “bathroom” could be construed that we were not allowing people to freely go when they needed to go.  Even asking people to change their schedule can get a WFM team in trouble if it is seen as a directive instead of a choice in many countries where agents are hired into contracts and, often, specific schedules.

So in closing, when considering a global WFM structure, we recommend that you are sensitive to the local markets and teams that you will be working with.  Recognize that you will have a bias no matter how much you try not to.  Understand when global standards are necessary and when local rules make more sense, but document this so it’s clear to everyone.  Work on integration not only with the WFM teams, but also with their stakeholders to clearly diagnose where there are challenges.  Engage HR or even Legal to better understand the labor laws and constraints within that country. When in doubt, run any new policy through the local teams to make sure there are no issues.  With the right amount of engagement and adaptability, you can successfully centralize and globalize your teams.

Tatiana Goff-Morrell is Uber Global Head of Workforce Management and she may be reached at tatianagm@uber.com. Iliyana Zdravkova is Uber Head of Workforce Management EMEA, and she may be reached at iliyana@uber.com.  Jill Barry is Uber Global WFM Process Lead, and she may be reached at jill.barry@uber.com.