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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #30

By: Patrick Donegan

For some time, I’ve been looking for one “source” that curates modern takes on HR Tech, perspectives from the people who build it, and its impact on enterprise — something that’s tailor-made by professionals for decision-makers.

I never found it — so I decided to build it.

Every week, I’ll be sharing fresh insights on tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.

My Thoughts

This week, we celebrated five years of the Washington D.C. SEI office. We’ve grown so much over the past five years – from a dream to a thriving office of 35+ employees – but metrics can’t capture what matters to me. I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved, the culture we’ve built together, the value we bring to our clients, and the relationships we’ve built with our community. I wrote a reflection for the SEI blog on our five-year anniversary – to read more, click here.  

The members of the SEI DC office, both in person and on Zoom, posing for a photo.

Tech Innovation at Work

Rather than replace human workers with technology, the U.S. supply-chain arm of supermarket-owner Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize NV is bringing the two together to combat workplace injuries. 🧑‍🏭🤝🤖 Over the past year, the company has been testing their lightweight wearable devices on both male and female workers whose roles require them to pick and lift heavy boxes for the majority of their workday. The belts can reduce back strain by 30% to 40% while monitoring movement to ensure workers are using proper technique when lifting and carrying. While it’s a good start to improving an industry strained during the pandemic, experts say wearable tech won’t replace human interventions like ergonomic training and finding ways to limit strenuous activity.

PHOTO: WSJ/ADUSA SUPPLY CHAIN

Amazon is once again under fire for poor supply chain practices. A recent Bloomberg report has revealed that Flex delivery drivers, contractors used by Amazon to fulfill same-day deliveries, are being fired by an algorithm based on issues beyond their control. One former driver reported being terminated because he couldn’t deliver a package to an apartment behind a locked gate. In order to dispute a wrongful termination, drivers must pay a $200 fee before a real person will review their case. “It’s you against the machine, so you don’t even try,” one interviewee said. The case highlights the importance of using AI to enhance human capabilities — not replace them.

Admittedly, it’s been a bumpy few weeks for workplace tech. The FTC has hinted at increasing their oversight to combat biases in algorithms, which have proven again and again to be a major issue in implementing AI. Parity CEO Liz O’Sullivan wants to try combatting these issues at the source by using AI to identify biases in AI — an interesting WarGames-like approach. Learn about her impressive career in data design and her goal to help companies prevent biases before they happen. (Also, check out the new special report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology identifying how businesses can prevent biases in AI.)

The Changing Workplace

Salad is forecasting the future of work. 🥗📈 Sweetgreen, a popular lunch break destination with more than a thousand locations throughout the country, has offered insight into the transition from remote work back to office life. For better or for worse, Sweetgreen’s profits and customer counts are showing a steady return to pre-COVID levels, suggesting that more employees are returning to public work spaces than the work from home revolution has led us to believe. Many companies, however, intend to continue with remote work options. The article left me curious about the future of other vendors who cater to office workplaces. 

The makers of Peanut, the social network for women, have launched a new microfund to help startups often underrepresented by traditional venture capital funding acquire the capital they need to make it to formal rounds of investment opportunities. ♀️✊ StartHER will help female founders raise pre-seed capital traditionally provided by an affluent network of friends and family. “It’s our opportunity to finally level the playing field. We want to be the family these founders can turn to, opening the door to our professional networks too,” Peanut CEO Michelle Kennedy stated.

PHOTO: TECHCRUNCH/PEANUT

The widespread adoption of hybrid work models has opened up a once-relatively small market — and startups are scrambling to stake out their claim. 🚩 Most interestingly, a number are offering solutions for the physical and psychological effects of allowing employees to work from home. Kumospace has created a new model for video calls in which users enter a virtual room where they navigate with their keyboard to interact with different coworkers.  The design is meant to replicate in-person socialization and allows multiple conversations to happen in a single video call. 🙌🙏 💻 Other young companies have made fruitful pivots from their pre-pandemic products or marketing strategies to fill the gaps in this marketplace. Owl Labs is helping companies create a better meeting experience with their 360 degree camera. The smart device is positioned in the center of a meeting and can autonomously rotate its camera based on who is speaking, allowing remote workers a more in-person feel compared to a laptop or smartphone. 📵 Check out more of the highlighted companies here.

All About Data

Forrester Research has raised its forecast for IT spend in 2021 to $2 trillion dollars — a 7.4% increase from last year. 💪📈🤑The revision was made to reflect announcements made by companies to invest more in communications tech and AI as well as positive signs in consumer habits as restrictions are lifted. 👍

Google plans to spend $300m on Google Cloud this year, a 50% increase from 2020. The massive jump begs the question: is the cloud really reducing costs? 🧐 

Digital surveyed 1,500 small business owners about their plans for bringing employees back into the office now that the pandemic is subsiding. Here are the most interesting takeaways:

  • 39% of employers have fired or intend to fire employees who refuse to return to the office. 🙅
  • 55% said they will continue to require masks in the office. 😷
  • 54% said they will require employees working in the office full-time to be vaccinated. 💉
GRAPHIC: DIGITAL

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Patrick Donegan

Managing Director

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