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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #43

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

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen my reaction to PwC’s announcement of their new hybrid work models. 😤

PwC, an accounting and consulting firm is allowing its team of over 40,000 client-facing employees in the US to work remotely from now on. For an industry where 60 hour weeks can be the expectation rather than the exception, this is a giant step towards giving employees a better work-life balance. ⚖️👍

But there are some hangups. 🙆 Remote employees may be subject to a pay cut if they choose to move or live in a “lower-cost” location. 🤔🤔 PwC’s offices are scattered along the East and West Coasts as well as major hubs like Denver and Seattle. If the company is relying on a metric like the Cost of Living Index, it’s highly likely that any employees who move will fall under this “lower-cost” location caveat. 😐

I don’t have to explain why paying an employee less for the same amount of work is ridiculous. 🚫 So I’m going to move on to the other flaw in PwC’s new policies. According to the article, “Partners at PwC whose team members choose to be in the office regularly will not be allowed to work completely remotely.” Imagine if you were more productive and comfortable working in-person, but your boss made it clear that he wanted to work from home. Would you put your foot down and make him come back to the office with you? 😅😰 Probably not — which means people may not feel like they truly have the choice to work remotely, leading to all-around low adoption rates of the new policy.

How you implement hybrid work policies is just as important as whether you implement them. Though you’re likely to attract new talent, poor decision making like this could cost you current staff and increase your turnover rate as employees become frustrated. 💀💀

Market Moves

Silicon Valley VC firm Benhamou Global Ventures (BGV) closed its fourth round of funding having raised $110 million. The company has built an impressive portfolio of immigrant-founded startups around the world in the enterprise AI sphere. 🤖 BGV invests in what they call “Enterprise 4.0,” the next generation of cloud-native solutions. Their mission is to demystify AI and support solutions that move the industry away from bias and towards transparency and data privacy.

After ending talks with Microsoft earlier this year, Discord 👾 has announced plans for its latest $500 million investing round led by Dragoneer Investment Group. The online platform, which offers text, audio, and video chat services, is capitalizing on a year of explosive, pandemic-fueled growth in which the company saw its user base and valuation more than double. Discord CEO Jason Citron says the funds will be used to continue enhancing the company’s features and investing in its subscription service.

Tech Innovation at Work

FirstMark’s Matt Turrck released the organization’s annual AI State of the Union, an encyclopedia of the year in artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning. 💻🤖 Needless to say, we saw historic growth in technology this year, which means new categories and a more comprehensive scope of digital transformation for readers. This piece is a bit long, so you may want to grab a cup of coffee before sitting down to read. If you can’t get enough of AI deep dives, you can also check out Stanford’s Gathering Strength, Gathering Storms: The 100 Year Study on Artificial Intelligence here.

After holding out since the start of the pandemic, HomeGoods finally launched an online store this month. Why did the company take so long to make this move, when so many companies flocked to adopt e-commerce models at the beginning of the pandemic? Any Maxxinista (aka a T.J. Maxx or HomeGoods evangelist) will tell you that shopping at HomeGoods isn’t a simple errand— it’s an experience. From chaotic shelves of Tupperware sets to mazes of deeply-discounted furniture, parent company TJX Cos. has rightfully identified that the treasure-hunt like experience would be difficult to recreate in an online model. HomeGoods’ President, Ernie Herrman, has made it clear that online sales are not the companies’ primary focus, as is evident from the limited listings compared to in-store inventory. However, they still found a major way to enhance customer satisfaction. Customers now have the opportunity to purchase complete sets of items like furniture or dishware by supplementing their in-store shopping (where you’re likely to find only one or two individual pieces) with online purchases. It’s a premiere example of finding innovation in unlikely places.

PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

GoodRx 💊 has rolled out their content platform GoodRx Health in a bid to stay competitive now that Amazon has entered the pharmacy sphere. ⚕️👩‍⚕️ Both companies currently have free and paid membership offerings that provide deep discounts on medications, whether self-pay or insurance. Amazon has always favored fast and streamlined customer experience, but GoodRx is hoping that their new content strategy will build a loyal following as consumers look to them for expertise on their medical questions ❓🙆❓ as well as the medications themselves. Though the move is strategic with regards to the threat Amazon poses on their business model, it’s very possible that GoodRx will find itself facing new challenges competing with well-established giants like HealthLine.

The Changing Workplace

The New York Times reported on Monday that the US has seen noticeable declines in COVID cases over the month of September and the first sustaining decrease in daily deaths since this summer. Though I encourage all of us to be cautious in our optimism, experts seem to be in agreement that the Delta variant is in retreat, with a former FDA commissioner interviewed for the New York Times article stating, “I’m of the opinion that this is the last major wave of infection.” 😭🙏

That means, barring any twists, leaders must once again start making decisions about their organizational structure for a post-pandemic world. As we’ve seen, employees are expecting a radically different workplace from the one they left nearly two years ago —  and we’ve seen and experienced what happens when employers fail to adapt to those expectations. 😬👩‍💻👋 So, I want to offer three pieces of advice to consider when making decisions about the how, when, where, and why of your workforce.

  • Understand that hybrid work is not what your employees want. 🙇 There is a big difference between a hybrid work model, where employees work remotely or in-office on set days of the week, and a flexible work model, in which employees have the autonomy to make decisions about where they’re working. In a recent interview, Credit Karma’s Chief People Officer, Colleen McCreary, offered a perfect example of how hybrid work models can go wrong. “If my kid has soccer on Thursdays and I have to be in the office all day on Thursday and can’t get him there, that may be hybrid, but it’s not flexible and isn’t working for me.” Organizations can’t implement a successful partially-remote work model without recognizing the real reason employees prefer it: it gives them the flexibility to succeed in all areas of their lives.
  • An in-office model needs to offer something that can’t be matched remotely. If some of your employees want to return to the office, it’s likely because they miss interacting with coworkers in real life. 👯😀  Imagine the disappointment many people have experienced when COVID protocols keep them boxed into their office or cubicle all day, forced to Zoom with people they know are just down the hall. 😯😢  Bringing your team back under one roof while forcing them to stay as far away from each other as possible can be even more isolating than working from home. And for those who preferred working from home, the situation can be very frustrating. Either way, it is more likely to have a negative impact than a positive one. 👎 If you decide that being together in an office (full- or part time) is the best choice for your organization, it will be crucial to balance safety with ensuring time together as a team is meaningful and offers tangible enrichment that can’t be achieved remotely.
  • Make conscious efforts (and adjustments) to keep the playing field level. ⚖️  From who is more likely to get a promotion to the haves- and have-nots of being approved to work remotely, hybrid structures are creating new types of inequity. Make sure your road map 🗺️ is equipped with new guard rails that foster inclusivity of remote team members, whether it’s an all-hands meeting or a company happy hour. 🍸👩‍💼👨‍💼👩‍💼 Speak honestly and ask that staff to do the same, iterating and reiterating that everyone is learning to navigate this new way of working. And lastly, schedule meetings specifically for touching base with remote team members to discuss their experiences and offer suggestions. 🙋

The necessity of making these changes comes down to the reality of today’s job market: if you don’t provide a comfortable work experience, another company probably will.

ILLUSTRATION: WSJ // BIANCA BAGNARELLI

All About Data

Survey results from Slack’s Future Forum have identified valuable insight on disparities between black knowledge workers and their white counterparts in the US. Above all, the survey indicated that the pandemic switch to remote work doubled black knowledge workers’ sense of belonging in their job, likely due to the decrease in microaggressions and unconscious discrimination. Here are some of the other highlights:

  • 97% of black knowledge workers want a hybrid or full-time remote working model, compared to 79% of white knowledge workers. The global percentage of knowledge workers who want this work model is estimated to be 63%.
  • Black knowledge workers experienced a 64% increase in ability to manage stress while working remotely.
  • Black knowledge workers identified “making sure [their] employer knows [they] are working” as the second most pressing challenge at work, compared to white knowledge workers ranking this as eighth.

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Patrick Donegan

Managing Director

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