Can You Take My Shift?

New phone app replaces notes on a bulletin board and much more.

You may not be aware of it in the midst of your frantic holiday shopping, but a phone app called Branch Messenger may be making your trips to the St. Louis Park Target a little more efficient this year. As an entrepreneur in residence at Idealab in Pasadena, the company’s founder and CEO Atif Siddiqi “stumbled upon a problem in retail,” he says: the way hourly workers communicate (often with notes on a wall) to manage schedule and shift changes. Siddiqi set out to make communications about swapping and picking up shifts fast and easy. Other solutions include changing paper to digital schedules and creating channels for workplace-specific messaging.

Branch Messenger was launched in November of 2014. “It took off organically,” says Siddiqi, spreading to hotels, gyms and many other small businesses. “We knew we were solving a problem,” he says, “but we wanted to figure out how to connect employees to their employers on a bigger scale.” Enter Target’s retail accelerator program, a business mentorship attracting applications by 550 companies from 45 countries. Branch Messenger was one of 10 companies selected for the program in summer of 2016. A year later, Target piloted the Branch app in 10 local stores; now it’s used by thousands of employees in hundreds of Target stores across several states, as well as Great Clips (including the one in St. Louis Park) and McDonald’s.

Siddiqi encourages any business to download the free app from the App Store to see how it can work for them. Fee-based services, such as analytics regarding employee absence rates and overtime use, can be added at any time. “Ultimately,” he says, “customer experience will improve.”