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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #70

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 we continue wading through the murky waters of hybrid work, one Wall Street Journal article caught my eye for its promising, yet vague, title: What if the Optimal Workweek Is Two Days in the Office, Not Three? 🤔 I was captivated. What if? For a second, I was willing to believe that we’d found the answer we’ve been searching for the last two years. As you’ve already guessed, we were not so lucky. 😐

The bulk of the article places very minimal importance on individual employees — their health, their happiness, their circumstances. It also has very little emphasis on organizational culture, and how different work models intertwine with each company’s unique design. The simplistic fallacy of a two-day in-office model is based in an equally simplistic metric: the amount of employees that immediately quit. 🎤 👋

The fact of the matter is that there is no one-size-fits all approach, nor is there a magic formula, for the optimal hybrid schedule. That’s because the best hybrid work schedule is whatever helps each individual employee be the most productive, engaged, and fulfilled. 🙏 If you can foster those feelings, the best workplace culture for your organization will follow. 💯

Market Moves

Of all the different areas of business, entrepreneurship and venture capital are unequivocally the most exciting. 🙇 Whenever there’s skin in the game, money on the table, or perhaps even a life on the line, scandal is never too far out of reach. (Fortunately, though, the latter is usually reserved for the subsequent inspired by a true story melodrama). 📽️ 🍿

This week, there was a scandal of sorts in the startup world — but with a twist. Three years ago, robotics professor and ocean advocate 🌊 Matthew Dunbabin was searching for funding for his new underwater robot that was showing promising efforts in restoring the coral reefs. 🐠 However, he didn’t feel ready to celebrate the success of his prototypes just yet. As Dunbabin explained in an interview with TechCrunch, “Universities can get stuck into three-year funding cycles. But global issues can’t wait three years.” 🌍 ⌛ That was in 2019. Now, just over three years later, Dunbabin is hard at work deploying, studying, and improving his design. The funding did come, but not from a university — and not from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the nonprofit that originally took public credit for the $2 million in grants awarded to Dunbabin. Just this week, the true financier was revealed to be the private LLC Oceankind, founded by Silicon Valley power couple Lucy Southworth and Google co-founder Larry Page. Oceankind’s website has now been updated to inform visitors that their funding tops $121 million, making it one of the largest non-government funders of ocean science in the world. 

Though quite the big reveal, that’s far from the end of this whale of a tale. 🐋 For all the good Oceankind is clearly doing, the venture has drawn a fair amount of criticism. As an LLC, arguments are being raised over whether the ability to operate without burdensome red tape will always outweigh the risks of lacking accountability. ⚖️ That, however, is an argument to be had another day (or, you can continue reading about it in TechCrunch’s article).

Tech Innovation at Work

Meta has announced that its first physical retail storefront 🏢 will be opening next week at the company’s Burlingame campus. The Meta Store, as it’s being called, is the digital giant’s first attempt at a physical storefront and a big move in its strategy of taking over both click and brick. The Meta Store will allow consumers to try out Meta’s expanding line of products, including the Quest 2 VR headset, 🕹️ Meta Portal, and Ray Ban Stories (the smart sunglasses 🕶️ Meta developed in collaboration with the designer shades company). But on the spot purchasing is not the goal of the Meta Store, according to its leadership. “Once people experience the technology, they can gain a better appreciation for it,” Meta Store Head Martin Gilliard says. “If we did our job right, people should leave and tell their friends, ‘You’ve got to go check out the Meta Store.’” 👭 To his point, the amount of different experiences available to visitors actually outnumbers the total unique products for sale. Nonetheless, the announcement is a major step in Meta’s goal for blending (and conquering) the physical-digital landscapes. 🌐 🤝 🌏

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PHOTO: META

Continuing our coverage of both Elon Musk’s newest venture 🐦 and the future of the internet as we know it: thought leaders in the World Wide Web space now speculate that Twitter will be the force to usher in Web3, overthrowing Zuckerberg and his Metaverse revolution. How can this be? 🤨 Among his many goals to improve the platform, Musk has promised to make Twitter’s algorithm open source. Like the transparency of blockchain and the decentralization of crypto, open source is a pillar of Web3 — and considering its lead over the Metaverse in terms of adoption and accessibility, the concept is intriguing, compelling, and a breath of fresh air from Zuckerberg’s evangelism. True, most people are in agreement that Web3 is “not quite ready for prime time.” But we’ll be watching this modern day space race closely. 

The Changing Workplace

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PHOTO: TODD ANDERSON/ THE NEW YORK TIMES/ REDUX

Another case study for the radical landscape of work has surfaced this week. Mary Gundel, a former Dollar General employee, made headlines in the New York Times 📰 after sharing her story of working as, then being fired from, her position as a manager of one of the company’s many Florida locations. Formally, Dollar General’s official cause for Gundel’s termination is presumed to be the result of her publishing videos of her store to TikTok 👩 🤳,​ a boilerplate violation for many organizations. But it’s more than likely that the videos themselves — in which Gundel describes how new company policies have wreaked havoc on her store — were the true cause of her termination. 👀 Ever since Gundel’s videos went viral, other Dollar General store managers and employees have come forward to share their stories, using the hashtag #PutInATicket 🎫 referencing Dollar General’s standard response to informants of poor working conditions. All this publicity has restarted unionization efforts, spurred employee walkouts, and even led Gundel to speak with class action suit attorneys. I’m sure that when Dollar General fired Gundel for airing her grievances online, they hoped the situation would blow over quietly — not sound off a hundred sirens. 🚨 But by trying to force disgruntled workers into silence, Dollar General discovered a fundamental fact: in the Digital Age, the truth will come out. 🗣️ Discover more lessons from Dollar General’s Gundel Fumble here.

The transition to more flexible, asynchronous, and remote everything has been great for almost all aspects of personal wellbeing — except emotional intelligence, arguably the most important soft skill in the workplace. 😱 According to a paper in the Journal of Personality 📓 and research on generational change, college students in the Western world are experiencing steady declines in EQ, as well as increased levels of neuroticism and exceptionally high expectations (informally known as the exact opposite of EQ 😬). Researchers share concerns that, ironically enough, these shifts will eventually have negative impacts on wellbeing — a trend that will impact every aspect of an individual’s life. Fortunately, Atlassian is helping leaders form strategies for preventing this issue from straining workplace culture. Get their tips here.

All About Data

Future Forum, team collab platform Slack’s research division, released their April data on current employee experience trends. This month’s survey focused on how severely a full-time return to office is damaging employee fulfillment, happiness, and wellbeing. 👎 Here are the highlights:

This month’s pulse survey revealed the largest jump in employees who are being called back to the office full time, with 34% of knowledge workers reporting that remote or hybrid schedules have all but disappeared within their organizations. ⚰️  As a result, key employee retention metrics have taken a true beating. Compared to hybrid or remote workers, full-time office workers are now:

  • 2x as likely to see a decline in work-life balance. ⚖️
  • 1.5x as likely to report worsening work-related stress and anxiety. 😰
  • Experience a 1.6x steeper decline in overall work satisfaction. 📉

These declines are seen in every aspect of an employee’s work experience:

Screen Shot 2022-05-03 at 3.22.46 PM

In case those numbers didn’t paint a clear enough picture, Future Forum’s survey also got right to the point:

Screen Shot 2022-05-03 at 3.25.13 PM

The in-office vs. remote disparity is not black and white, either. Compared to those with work schedule autonomy, knowledge workers with limited ability to set their own hours reported: 

  • 2.2x worse work-related stress and anxiety 😓
  • 1.7x worse work-life balance ⚖️
  • 1.4x worse burnout 🔥

Get all the insights from this month’s Future Forum here.

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Patrick Donegan

Chief Strategy Officer

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