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Microsoft takes a crack at organizing the workplace with Project Sonoma

If you work a part-time job at a restaurant, brick-and-mortar outfit, or any other business that revolves around shifts, you no doubt appreciate the value of an up-to-date time sheet. But a larger staff roster makes keeping an accurate ledger much more difficult — especially if everything’s handled by pen and paper. Enter a new Microsoft app for Android and iOS: Project Sonoma, which seeks to ease the chaos of coordinating work schedules by distributing them among employees.

Project Sonoma, which was released unceremoniously in preview early Monday, is at its core a chat app. It sports a slimmed-down, streamlined interface where, much like popular workplace messenger Slack, “team members” (i.e., participants in the aforementioned chat) can contribute to and comment on a never-ending stream of images, messages, and links shared among one another, or carry on one-on-one in direct, private exchanges. But unlike Slack, Project Sonoma places an emphasis on workplace scheduling. The My Shifts section of the app lets employees easily view their shifts in a blown-out calendar view. Another section, Requests, grants additional capabilities like the ability to swap out your shifts with others or request a schedule change from management.

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The app’s subdued launch may be the result of a clandestine acquisition. TechCrunch reports that the Android version of the app contains the package name — in other words, the internal development code name — “shiftr.” And Shiftr, it turns out, is a Sydney, Australia-based startup responsible for the eponymous employee management portal Shiftr, which conspicuously went offline ahead of Sonoma’s debut.

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TechCrunch notes that one of Shiftr’s key investors, Steen Andersson, has ties to Microsoft — he sold 5th Finger, his mobile marketing company, to the Redmond, Washington-based behemoth several years ago. But Microsoft, for its part, denies having purchased Shiftr. “Project Sonoma is an app we are testing with a limited group of customers that lets employees view and manage their work shifts from their phone,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re always building and incubating new solutions to help people get more done … [and] we can confirm that Project Sonoma has been developed internally by Microsoft from the ground up and is not based on an acquisition.”

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Project Sonoma remains a rather exclusive affair, as of now. Interested parties — that is to say, companies with a measurable number of employees — can sign up for a preview through the project’s bare bones website. Those approved will join a growing waitlist.

As for when Project Sonoma will finally exit its public testing phase, it’s anyone’s guess. The iOS client launched in early June, and the Android version followed this week. “People whose company has signed up to participate during the testing phase can install and use the app,” the spokesperson told TechCrunch. “[We] don’t have any availability timelines or details to share at this time.”

Here’s hoping for details soon.