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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #51

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, major companies including Google and Ford have announced that they will be pushing their return to office plans in response to the emerging Omicron variant. I imagine there are a lot of employees out there sighing with relief over the reprieve, but they may be in for a worse fate than hour-long commutes and office attire. 

Since the start of the pandemic, companies have reported rapid increases in “workplace monitoring” softwares, which can track everything from keyboard strokes to eye movement. Obviously, most employees have some concerns, as do I. And I wrote about them in my latest Forbes article. Check it out and, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Market Moves

There’s been a lot of buzz around Twitter’s restructuring, following co-founder and now-former CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement last month that he would be leaving the company after 15 years. His successor, Parag Agrawal, spent over a decade climbing the ranks at Twitter and serving as Chief Technology Officer when he was named the next CEO. Right out of the gate, he’s shaking things up, announcing in an email to staff that there would be, “a number of organizational and leadership changes to best position us to achieve our goals.”

An original pillar of the social media era, Twitter has been at the center of some heated debates in the past few years, coming to a head during the January 6 riots. It will be interesting to see whether Agrawal’s changes will be contained to internal operations, or whether his vision will bring about a new era of Twitter.

Tech Innovation at Work

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Spotify Wrapped season. 🎄🔀 We’re all flooding social media with unsolicited recaps of our top artists and “audio auras” from the past year. But how does a single music streaming platform create custom end-of-year musical journeys for more than 380 million users? You’ve probably already guessed that it’s artificial intelligence. 🤖 Spotify’s extensive AI provides us year-round content suggestions, helping people discover new artists, listen to more podcasts, and beyond. But where do we draw the line between fun and scary? Or helpful and invasive? A recent Vox article I read summed it up perfectly: virality. So long as something is exciting and engaging, we are willing to overlook our belief of the importance of consumer data privacy and the classic fear of our computers “spying” on us. 🕵️ For the most part, I believe that daily AI uses like Spotify Wrapped pose little threat to personal safety. However, it’s a good reminder of the many ways we can be lured into sharing personal details. 

Last week, AWS held its 10th annual re:Invent conference, a nexus for all things cloud. ☁️ Although it wasn’t a blowout in terms of announcements, the conference gave us several clues about the future of machine learning (ML). In a word, Amazon wants ML to be accessible. 😯 Amazon executives announced SageMaker StudioLab, a free, no-config version of its popular SageMaker program, in an effort to democratize building and deploying ML models. In another effort to break down barriers in ML, AWS launched a $10 million scholarship program aimed to support students who are interested in ML, 😀 as well as improve diversity among the ML workforce. It’s a smart move on Amazon’s part; by making their ML technology more accessible, they also make it more adoptable, training a generation of ML programmers to prefer their solutions.

The Changing Workplace

I came across this tweet last week and thought it would make a friendly reminder and PSA for those struggling to attract talent:

IMAGE: TWITTER

In 180 characters, @KelgoreTrout has perfectly captured everything wrong with the application process. In an attempt to apply for a barista position at a local coffee shop, this Twitter user was asked to rewrite her entire resume, provide an emergency contact, and answer questions including Why is the sky blue? and simply The 90s are back. Discuss:. @KelgoreTrout decided against continuing the application process, instead sending back a well-worded but explicative-filled email you can read here

If you’re having problems finding the right hires, your first action item should be making sure you aren’t turning them away at the door with terrible applicant journeys. For a potential employee, the job application is the first impression of your company. And if it feels like you’re wasting their time with re-entering job history or asking irrelevant questions, their perception of potentially working for you will shift dramatically — and not for the better.

It doesn’t matter how big your company is or what industry you’re in. In an applicant’s market, every company could stand to reevaluate their candidate experience. Lest you wind up like @KelgoreTrout’s local coffee shop! Here are some tips from Qualtrics to get you started.

IMAGE: NBC

You can never go wrong with giving bonuses as an employee holiday gift. They tend to be well-received and never expire. However, I think holiday employee gift-giving is an amazing opportunity to showcase your company’s culture, far more than plain old bonuses can. 

Every company culture is different, so it’s difficult to choose a perfect gift that’s right out of the box. However, if you need some inspiration, here are three gift ideas that aren’t bonuses to get you started:

Travel credit: Even if your company offers unlimited vacation time, encouraging employees to step away from the office is difficult. A voucher for AirBnB, VRBO, or a national (or international) hotel chain can help reinforce a culture of personal wellbeing and work-life balance. AirBnB is probably my top choice, because they’ve expanded their offerings beyond accommodations to include experiences. So employees who don’t necessarily want to travel can opt for unique local activities, like bike tours, cultural cooking classes, or even goat yoga. 

A wine subscription: Even for those who love wine, it can be a struggle to choose between the hundreds of bottles available in the grocery store. Trendy wine subscription boxes are the gift that keeps on giving. Just make sure you have them delivered early enough for your employees to enjoy during their holiday dinners. I would recommend also having an equally fun, non-alcoholic subscription box gift available as well, to make sure team members who don’t drink feel included and celebrated. Before sending the first box, send an email to employees announcing the gift and noting that a non-alcoholic subscription is also available. 

Something for the office: And I’m not talking about new chairs. Especially for companies trying to coax employees back into the office, opting for a gift that will make the office more special can be a great idea. If you have an office full of coffee lovers, consider springing for a setup that will put Starbucks to shame. You can outfit the kitchen with a real espresso machine, a grinder and fresh whole beans, maybe even a Chemex. In this case, you could even pair the purchase with small personal gifts for each employee, like custom mugs, to really put a bow on the gift. You can get yourself a “World’s Best Boss,” mug — you’ve earned it.

All About Data

We are spending this week preparing for the one-year anniversary of Exit Interview, which we promise will include plenty of data. Tune back in next week!

Click here to subscribe to Exit Interview, a weekly email about tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.

Patrick Donegan

Chief Strategy Officer

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