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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #47

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

As someone who has devoted their career to creating a better workplace, the recent New York Times piece detailing Amazon’s staggering HR struggles, and its devastating impacts on some workers, was an incredibly tough read. 😤 It left me harkening back to a phrase many of us will remember well and with disdain: too big to fail. Amazon is the second largest employer in the nation. With close to a million workers, the company is responsible for the health, safety, and wellbeing of one in every 150 members of the US workforce. 

The expose, which I discuss in more detail later in this issue, highlights the fact that the majority of Amazon’s struggles come from the fact that no HR software capable of supporting strong people operations policies exists at the necessary scale. 📊 As a result, employees are falling through the cracks thanks to a disjointed mashup of HR software. The results have been consistently devastating.

What’s to be done? The answer is simple, albeit an enormous undertaking. Amazon is in desperate need of digital transformation. 🌎 🖥️ 💫  Without an existing suite of tools capable of managing the scale of their operations, though, it’s likely that Amazon will need to build their own proprietary software. 🛠️ Is it a difficult decision to make? Absolutely not. Amazon is more than capable of investing in custom digital people management programs — especially considering the returns from reducing burnout and improving worker experience.

At the end of the day, every organization has three constituencies: their customers, their shareholders, and their employees. Amazon’s customers can have almost anything under the sun delivered to them in less than two days. Its shareholders have hugely benefitted from Amazon’s rapid growth. It’s time for employees to have their day in the sun. 

Market Moves

report from Allied Market Research is anticipating 13.2% growth in the team collaboration software market 👩‍💻🌎👨‍💻 between 2020 and 2027, reaching a staggering $26.5 billion. Above all, the report forecasts cloud-based software to have the highest growth amongst products within the market. Because companies rapidly deployed remote work systems at the start of the pandemic, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has also increased significantly in popularity, 📈👍complementing the transition away from enterprise systems. Next on the horizon: keep an eye out for the introduction of artificial intelligence capabilities 👀 which many SaaS providers hope to leverage as ways for organizations to better track productivity and identify pain points in remote work processes.

Tech Innovation at Work

If you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the past week, you’ve probably seen at least one article (or meme) about the latest Facebook news. In a video played during Facebook Connect 2021, CEO Mark Zuckerberg walks through a crisp white office building in Silicon Valley — except it isn’t the Facebook office anymore. 😮 Mark Zuckerberg is now the CEO of Meta, the rebranded corporate parent of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. 📱 “Our mission remains the same — it’s still about bringing people together,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Founder’s Letter about the announcement. “But all of our products, including our apps, now share a new vision: to help bring the metaverse to life. And now we have a name that reflects the breadth of what we do.” The announcement is not necessarily all that shocking; Zuckerberg has always been vocal about his plans to expand Facebook’s presence in the physical and digital world. The announcement was paired with a sneak peak of their first journey into the metaverse: Project Cambria, a VR and AR headset. 

What is the ✨ metaverse? ✨ Honestly, there isn’t enough time to get into it here. It’s abstract, expansive, and — in many ways — not even real yet. However, when it does actually arrive, it will have far-reaching implications on the way we live, work, and play. If you want to learn more, I recommend this article by The Verge.

PHOTO: FACEBOOK

At its WebexOne customer conference last week, Cisco announced that they are in beta testing stages for Webex Hologram, a service for virtual meetings in a photo-realistic augmented reality. The software is compatible with Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap 1, both smart glasses 👓 with computing and AR capabilities. (The choice to partner their software with pre-existing products is, in my opinion, genius, and a great shortcut for development). A Fast Company reporter attending WebexOne had the opportunity to experience a portion of the conference through the Webex Hologram. 😮 “I was sitting at the little bistro table in my kitchen, and suddenly Cullen Jennings, Cisco’s CTO for security and collaboration, showed up right across the table from me. 👨‍⚖️ His hologram, looked impressively lifelike,” the reporter recalls. This is not the first time I’ve brought you news on AR and VR workplace tech (and it certainly won’t be the last). But the fact that Cisco is already performing customer testing is very exciting. Jeetu Patel, Cisco executive and leader of the Hologram project, says a half dozen Webex customers are currently using the service. The company is troubleshooting and working out kinks alongside the test users, hoping to have the first well-developed VR service at manageable price points.

The Changing Workplace

You catch more flies with honey. 🍯 🐝 Why, then, is the conversation surrounding bringing employees back to the office consistently soaked in vinegar? 🤢 A recent article by the Wall Street Journal is offering some tips for, in their words, luring employees back to work, rather than forcing them. I’ve written in previous issues about the tensionsfrustrations, and negative culture that can develop when employees return to the office to find no tangible benefits to being in the office. So, if you’re nervous about using a stick, it might be wise to start with carrots. 🥕 Carrots can come in all different shapes and sizes. Providing some of the comforts of home, for example — good snacks, upgraded toiletries, modern technologies — are simple enough to accomplish in a single online shopping session. More in-depth carrots involve solving the pain points of working on-location. Reduce the costs of commuting with travel stipends, and assist working parents with child care options. The last category of suggestions involves subtly highlighting the benefits of an office employees don’t get at home. For a parent, this may be as simple as some peace and quiet. 😌 Those without kids may be missing a regular place to interact with people in real life, so allocating more time for social activities and collaboration could tempt them to return. Check out all the tips here.

ILLUSTRATION: RAMI NIEME

I’ve written countless times about Amazon and their labor challenges. However, their most recent predicament perhaps frustrates me more than any other. Last week, the New York Times published an expose of Amazon’s nightmare HR processes. I’m not talking about just annoying redundancies. The article details the struggles of workers whose paychecks were inexplicably short upwards of 10% for months on end. 😧 A worker on disability leave was forced to sell his wedding ring after his payments stopped suddenly and without an avenue to resolve the issue. 🙆 These failures didn’t reach a head until one employee finally sent an email to Jeff Bezos himself, triggering the investigation in Amazon’s HR black hole.

What’s going wrong in Amazon’s HR department? 🙇 According to the New York Times’ reporting on the New York fulfillment center, it’s two issues we are all very familiar with: churn and issues with process. In the past year, Amazon’s turnover rate for hourly workers reached 150% annually. 😱 I don’t need to explain the impact that has on a company. Their people management challenges are more multi-dimensional. In recent years, Amazon has been forced to return certain HR processes, such as leave management, to an in-house team of more than 60 employees after providers failed to keep pace with the company’s growth. Without software capable of matching their scale, Amazon has adopted a “patchwork” of HR software that works asynchronously. The result is undeniable chaos 🌪️ 🌩️ 🌋 with errors and lag resulting in unwarranted penalties, docked pay, accidental terminations, loss of medical notes, and rapid burnout of human resources teams. Read the full story here.

All About Data

In remote work, digital transformation, and almost everything we do all day, there is one ubiquitous, often infuriating necessity: internet. We work in a fast-paced, highly-connected industry. No download speed seems fast enough. The WiFi always sucks. God forbid the pinwheel of doom appear on your Mac. But the same can’t really be said for most of the country — at least, not until the pandemic.

I’ve written before about OpenSignal’s 5G survey, which compared access to cutting-edge connectivity across the country. Their research clearly demonstrated the presence of a digital divide, in which rural areas experience consistently lower access to cutting-edge connectivity. Fortunately, new research from VentureBeat is painting a more optimistic outlook thanks to, of all things, COVID-19. White collar workers have fled major cities to work remotely in less populated states, and the need for better internet followed. As a result, we experienced some of the biggest jumps in internet speed since the internet was born. Here are some of the most notable gains from 2021:

  • Alaska: 170% increase in internet speeds
  • Idaho: 77.7% 
  • Kentucky: 70.6%
  • Iowa: 64%%
  • Wyoming: 62.6%

Overall, the average U.S. internet speed increased from 84.5Mbps to 118.4Mbps (megabits per second) during the pandemic, a 40% increase.

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Patrick Donegan

Managing Director

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