How Uber plans to get more 'humane'

The company is standing by under-fire CEO Travis Kalanick...

How Uber plans to get more 'humane'

Picture by Gene J. Puskar AP/Press Association Images

Uber has outlined its plans to improve conditions at the company and, crucially, turn the negative tide of public opinion back in its favour.

Despite struggling to deal with the numerous scandals that have rocked the ridesharing business in recent times – and indeed, being central to one when he was filmed berating a driver in an argument over pay – the removal of co-founder Travis Kalanick from his position as CEO is not on the cards.

Board member Arianna Huffington offered a show of support for Kalanick on Tuesday, backing him as the man to rehabilitate the company's damaged reputation.

Huffington said during a conference call:

“The board is confident in Travis, and we are proceeding ahead with the search for the COO. Put very simply, change starts at the top.”

That roughly 45-minute call, a rare phenomenon when it comes to Uber, unveiled a multi-part plan to get it back on track.

As highlighted by Huffington (pictured), putting a suitable chief operating officer – "a peer" – alongside Kalanick is key.

She said:

"Many of you have been asking what qualities we’re looking for in a COO. In short, Uber needs a leader who has significant operational experience and who understands service-related businesses at a local and global scale; who can thrive in a hyper-growth company; and someone with the strength and smarts to work alongside a founder as a true partner.

"We know that this skillset is hard to find. But Bill Gurley – who is leading the Board subcommittee effort for the COO search – and I have both been impressed by the calibre of candidates that we’re talking to already: truly world-class leaders who have worked in very complex organisations already. And what’s clear is that whatever Uber’s challenges, the best of the best are coming to the table, excited about the company’s potential, which Rachel will talk about in a moment."

Listening sessions, diversity and humanity

Beyond providing Kalanick (pictured below) with executive assistance, the company has been looking to its general employees to figure out how to address the apparently toxic culture that exists there.

Recently-hired human resources head Liane Hornsey revealed that it had held more than 100 "listening sessions" with workers, and had established an anonymous hotline to deal with employee complaints on sensitive subjects. Its much-criticised feedback system will be overhauled. 

Uber will also publish its first diversity report, breaking down the ethnic and gender makeup of its workforce – Hornsey made a point of noting the addition of a global head of diversity, Bernard C Coleman III.

Former US attorney general Eric H Holder Jr is currently conducting a company-wide investigation into its workplace practices. That should conclude in late April, and Huffington pledged to honour its results and abide by recommended changes.

Uber will also strive to improve relationships with drivers, who operate as freelancers for the San Francisco-based firm.

Rachel Holt, the head of Uber’s ride-hailing business in the US and Canada, said:

“We need to bring more humanity to the way we interact with drivers."

"Drivers are at the centre of the Uber experience," she continued, "and the app they use to go online and earn money is at the centre of theirs. It’s about more stable earnings, a better product to take the stress out of driving, providing more human and understandable communications, and support so that drivers are true 'partners'."

Business still booming

While Uber's reputation may not be what it once was, business has not been severely hampered as a result.

Indeed, Holt noted that riders took more Uber trips in the US last week than in any previous week:

"In our most mature country, we’ve grown faster in the first 10 weeks of 2017 than in the first 10 weeks of 2016.

"Looking at less mature regions like Latin America, trips were up 600 percent in February, year-on-year."

While approximately half a million people requested Uber account cancellations during the week that saw a #DeleteUber grassroots campaign launch in January following concerns that it was trying to capitalise on a New York taxi work stoppage, New York Times sources familiar with Uber's internal metrics confirmed deletions have slowed drastically in recent weeks, with the company continuing to draw new users.