Uber apparently recently kicked of an internal project to reorganize its engineering teams in order to make them more efficient and coordinated and less duplicative or competitive in their work. It sounds like the prior structure and approach grew partly out of Uber’s aggressively competitive culture and partly out of a lack of proper structure, both of which need fixing if the company is to make the best use of its resources, a consistent theme in its strategy over the last few months. The historical culture around engineering sounds a lot like that which prevailed in the various Google fiefdoms which built hardware for a long time, with little cohesion or coordination between then and teams often working on similar projects without talking to each other. Fixing that should not only make the company more efficient but more effective, and it may also help to fix the diversity and other issues if the team is run as a single unit rather than a disconnected set of engineering clusters.
Lyft will be breathing a big sigh of relief over the finalization of this settlement, which has been in the works for months, and Uber probably is too. Even though the latter is the focus of a lot of news coverage of how ride sharing companies treat drivers, it’s worth remembering that Lyft has exactly the same relationship with its drivers, which it insists on treating as independent contractors rather than employees. Both companies have now fought (and in Uber’s case are continuing to fight) groups of drivers lobbying for employee status and the benefits that would come with that, and so far they’ve prevailed. Keeping this arm’s-length arrangement in place is critical for maintaining the current financial structure of the ride sharing market, and any change to employment status would have pretty severe effects on the business model, so expect these companies to continue fighting these attempts to reclassify workers tooth and nail.
Uber’s public Q&A with drivers was a disaster – The Verge (Feb 17, 2017)
Uber’s relationship with drivers has often been contentious, and it appears that even when the company is trying to “listen” to its drivers more, things often go wrong, as in this case. The big problem is that there are simply too many deep-seated frustrations and problems in Uber’s relationship with its drivers for them to be substantively addressed during such a public Q&A session, and Uber’s management should have known this. Without first establishing a level of trust and ongoing communication over a longer period of time, these occasional opportunities become venting sessions for drivers who feel like they’re not being heard, which makes them unproductive for all concerned. Uber needs to do better at really listening to its drivers regularly (something it sounds like Jeff Jones does at least try to do semi-regularly in smaller groups), but more importantly it needs to get better at actually addressing their big concerns.
via The Verge
When Their Shifts End, Uber Drivers Set Up Camp in Parking Lots Across the U.S. – Bloomberg (Jan 23, 2017)
Along with its distaste for regulation, the other big narrative that dogs Uber is its treatment of its drivers. This piece stops short of saying that Uber mistreats its drivers, but provides quite a bit of detail on those drivers and their habits, including the fact that a number sleep in their cars at night, while others regularly sleep in hostels and motels rather than traveling home between shifts. The article also says that half of its driving gets done by full-time drivers, despite Uber’s marketing to those who are looking for a “side hustle”. The pressure for Uber to treat at least these full-time drivers as employees with better benefits isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, and one of the biggest questions around Uber is whether it will ever be able to afford to give them what they want as it reaches the point where it drives towards profitability.
Amazon launches Pivot a new training program to help employees in danger of being fired – Business Insider (Jan 19, 2017)
Amazon has gained a reputation over time for treating its employees poorly – the New York Times famously did an in-depth investigate piece on this topic as it relates to Amazon’s white collar employees, and it talked about Amazon’s Performance Improvement Plan for underperforming employees. This article talks about a new program intended to benefit those placed on a PIP by helping them develop their skills, and can be seen as an effort by Amazon to help those with poor evaluations rather than merely taking the first steps towards an eventual dismissal for cause. The PIP process was far from the only element of working in a white collar job at Amazon that the New York Times wrote about, and of course Amazon pushed back against some of the other allegations in the report. And then there are the working conditions in blue collar jobs at Amazon’s warehouses and fulfillment centers. So this is part of changing the narrative, but only really addresses one small piece of it.