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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #66

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

Last week, technology giant HP announced an all-cash acquisition 💵 💵 💵 of Poly, a hybrid work company offering both enterprise solutions and catered tools for different types of workers. In a press release, 📝 HP backed the nearly $1.7 billion deal with stats reporting that roughly 75% of office workers are investing in their home office, an obvious market opportunity. The company also cites a report from Frost & Sullivan that forecasts a tripling in marketing size for office meeting room solutions in the next few years. 📊 

HPE has the right idea. Some articles are calling this branch out a “big bet,” 🎰 but the reality is the world of work has shifted permanently. There’s no bet to be had — hybrid work is clearly here to stay. 🛋️ For tech companies to remain competitive, they need to start investing in and pivoting their offerings to relevant tech that supports new work models. This acquisition is sure to bring big things to both Poly and HP.

Market Moves

GIF: NBC

For many workers, one of the biggest concerns surrounding a return to office has been concerns over what was once known simply as “bad air.” 😶‍🌫️ In the old days, it was normal — practically acceptable — for an office to be stuffy  with minimal air circulation and a lingering scent of someone’s lunch. 🤢 🍣 But the days of stale cubicles are coming to an end. Matt Hayas, director of product and innovation at interior design company 🪴  Ambiusexplains: “As a result of the pandemic, many people gained a heightened awareness of indoor air contaminants and other factors that impact their overall health…Employees want and deserve to feel safe and protected.”

The importance of office atmosphere now extends beyond its overall vibe 😎 and the market is taking notice. In 2020, the market for indoor air quality (IAQ) tech and monitoring systems was valued at $4.86 billion. 📈 That number is expected to rise to more than $8 billion by 2028. 📈 📈 Here are some of the companies seeing huge growth as they help keep our office air fresh 😮‍💨 in a post-pandemic world: 

Awair is a San Francisco-based startup designing air quality monitoring tools for retail, workplace, school, and  home environments. Awair’s solutions can be used for internal monitoring and even shared with the general public through a smartphone app. 📱 According to Dustin DeVan, Awair’s CEO, the company reported 400% growth year over year in 2021.

Atmotube, aka ATMO, has taken home multiple titles, including a 2021 iF Design Award, for its indoor and outdoor environmental monitoring tools. Late last year, the company rolled out the Atmocube. ☁️ This indoor environmental monitoring device provides holistic insight into a space’s air quality, measuring air pollutants as well as atmospheric pressure, light intensity, and a proprietary Airborne Virus Transmission Score.

Airly, is an international startup with HQs in Palo Alto, California, and Kraków, Poland. The young company offers personal and enterprise solutions for monitoring and predicting air quality while focusing heavily on climate change’s 🌎 impact on air quality. In 2020, the company reported a 200% increase in revenue for non-home based product lines, and closed on a $3.3 million funding round last year with the hopes of scaling up its global AI-powered air quality platform.

Tech Innovation at Work

The Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI) released their 2022 AI Index Report this week. 🤖 🤝 🙍 As the authors explain, the annual report “tracks, collates, distills, and visualizes data relating to artificial intelligence,” in the pursuit of ethical AI. Investment data shows that private investment in AI more than doubled in 2021 compared to 2020, totaling more than $93 billion with the “data management, processing, and cloud,” sector receiving the largest amount of funding. ⛅ Possibly as a result of the increased investment, the cost of AI training has dropped ⬇️  while its accuracy continues to improve. ⬆️ 

One thing I found very interesting and important to share is the research surrounding bias and “toxic” language. ☢️ I had inadvertently assumed that increases in the amount of data we use to train AI models would lead to a decrease in bias and stereotyping. 🤷 However, the inverse appears to be happening. For instance, between 2018 and 2021, the quantity of training data for a system studying language models more than doubled. But when it was tested last year, the output of toxic language (defined as rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable) increased 29%. Further research attempting to “detoxify” language resulted in an overall decrease in performance, though text containing mentions of or language commonly aligned with minorities were still more likely to be labeled as ☢️ toxic ☢️ than white-aligned text. What’s the takeaway? We cannot settle into the assumption that algorithmic biases will be solved by adding more data. On the contrary, until we are able to correct the root problem of biased data, it’s vital that we remain incredibly hands-on ✍️ when implementing artificial intelligence. You can access the [incredibly long] report on Stanford’s website.

PHOTO: TECHCRUNCH / GETTY IMAGES

The way we talk about the metaverse today makes it seem almost magical. 🪄 🎩 Endless digital real estate, unmatched virtual experiences, unleashed potential to go places and see things that were once out of reach. For better or worse, a piece from TechCrunch gave me a nice reality check 🧠 ✔️ about modern virtual reality. In its current state, the metaverse is not what Zuckerberg has been promising will change the way we exist in society. And despite how tightly intertwined the two concepts are, the metaverse is not web3🙅‍♀️  (largely due to the fact that web3 doesn’t exist yet). We’re so starstruck that we easily forget that the metaverse exists on the same internet that taunts us with that colorful loading pinwheel if we dare try to watch a video and load our inbox at the same time. In reality, the metaverse will require more infrastructure 🏗️ than any other virtual endeavor — infrastructure that simply isn’t here yet. If I’m raining on your parade, I apologize. However, if you’re one of the many people who lie awake at night, terrified 🙀 that a meta-pocalypse is right around the corner, this article is a great read.

The Changing Workplace

IMAGE: DISNEY / CNN

New and improved retirement planning legislation is moving through Congress. 🏛️ Last week, the Securing a Strong Retirement Act 💪 received overwhelming bipartisan approval in the House. This new bill is based on the 2019 SECURE Act, which improved retirement savings options for workers, and has been dubbed SECURE 2.0. The benefits added in this new bill include increased catchup contributions, delayed required mandatory distributions, a “Lost and Found” for retirement savings 💰 from former employers, and a faster path to 401(k) plans for part-time workers. However, proponents appear most excited for automatic enrollment legislation, which would require employees to automatically enroll eligible workers into retirement plans and increase their contributions every year. Advocates say the bill 📜 is a crucial step forward in helping more Americans plan and save for retirement, especially for minority workers who historically lag behind in saving. According to research economist Anqui Chen, “Though enrolling in a 401(k) involves simple tasks—filling out a form, signing a document—behavioral science research indicates that people need a nudge.” The Senate is also working on its own version of the bill, but there are already reconciliation plans in the works to merge the two bills together without disrupting the process. 📜 ➕ 📜 You can discover 14 more benefits in the SECURE 2.0 Act here

These days, you can never be too concerned about talent retention. We’re still very much within the throes of the Great Resignation, and losing employees can add to the workloads of their former team members — leading to burnout and further attrition. Skip the snowball. 🏔️ ❄️ Here are four tips and reminders from Entrepreneur for keeping talent:

  1. Money can’t do all the talking. Employees are more than willing to take pay cuts if it means a better culture and work-life balance. If you feel that your turnover rate is higher than normal, start there. Implement some measures like anonymous pulse surveys to get a sense of how employees feel about their work experience and be ready for constructive criticism. 👷‍♀️ 
  2. Follow through on every commitment. You wouldn’t break a promise to your paying customers — what kind of message do you send by failing to follow through on your employees’ expectations? Get your ducks  in a row 🦆 🦆 🦆 by aligning company leadership with company values, and avoid lip service at all costs. 
  3. Give the people what they want. And by people, I mean employees. Nine times out of 10, they won’t ask for the moon and stars. 🌙 You’re more likely to get requests for learning and development opportunities, wellness stipends, and mental health benefits. If you want your employees to be invested in their careers, you need to invest in them. 🤝
  4. Be flexible. 🧘 Similar to tip #1, a lack of flexibility and willingness to help employees achieve their desired work-life balance could be your downfall. If an organization doesn’t have the infrastructure to support hybrid work models, it may very well be worth upfront investments to avoid attrition down the road.

All About Data

Consulting and research firm PwC recently performed its 2022 HR Tech Survey to help leaders understand the benefits of and anticipate blockers to new tech adoption. 🖥️  ☁️ 🌎 Here are the highlights:

HR leaders 🧑🏻‍💼 identified the following as their biggest tech challenges today:

  1. HR insights/ data analytics: 39%
  2. Recruiting/ hiring: 39%
  3. Cloud transformation/ modernization of HR systems: 36%
  4. Learning and development/ employee upskilling: 28%
  5. Retention of key talent: 27%

Other top contenders include managing remote or hybrid work, benefits, DE&I, manager and employee self-service capabilities, and compensation. 💰

Beyond external issues, one of the biggest challenges in new tech adoption has always been — and maybe will always be — getting employees on board. However, it’s possible that employers are simply not employing 😉 the right incentives. Among the HR leaders surveyed, those few that implemented programs saw far-reaching results:

Getting over the implementation and onboarding hurdles can be a pain, but it’s important to focus on the benefits to come. 🤩 When asked about their capabilities post-deployment of cloud HR, leaders ranked these as the most common achievements:

  1. More employees using HR: 91%
  2. Greater HR control: 89%
  3. Improved data security: 88%
  4. More managers using HR: 87%
  5. Improved UX: 87%

Nearly every HR leader surveyed found the choice to deploy cloud 🌩️ HR to be net positive, 👍 but sentiment towards their vendors was mixed. In fact, only 20% of respondents said it was “very unlikely” that they would switch vendors at the end of their subscription term. 

Before you pick a deployment partner, make sure you’ve reviewed key aspects of your organization, potential vendors, and the platform’s capabilities. Here’s a brief checklist to get your started:

  • Cost vs. ROI
  • UX and integration capabilities
  • Platform’s alignment with growth goals
  • History of client satisfaction
  • Your organizational culture

Now that you know what can stand in the way of seamless cloud deployment, there’s nothing stopping you! 💪 Dive deeper into these insights in PwC’s full report.

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Patrick Donegan

Chief Strategy Officer

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