2017 has been a year of reckoning when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. From the tech sector to politics, media, and entertainment, many powerful men have been exposed as serial sexual harassers, with records of misconduct sometimes years or decades long, and lost their jobs, were cut by sponsors, or had their projects canceled. In the business world, senior leaders and HR departments have been concerned with how this awakening may affect their organizations, but many business leaders are afraid to look into the issue because they don’t know what they might find. Are people in the company afraid to report harassment? Has anyone been committing misconduct and getting away with it?
While companies struggle with these challenges, several startups are developing technologies to make it safer and easier for employees to report experiences of sexual harassment, as well as for employers to respond to these reports.
Montreal-based startup Botler.ai is launching a chatbot to help employees in the US or Canada determine whether they have experienced sexual harassment. Khari Johnson of Venture Beat reports that the bot uses natural language processing based on a data set of over 300,000 court cases to determine if harassment has occurred and if there may be cause for legal action. If the user determines that he or she would like to report the incident to HR or law enforcement, the bot is also able to write up an incident report. This is a particularly helpful feature for victims as one major acknowledged barrier to sexual harassment reporting is the trauma of having to retell their story (and relive the incident) over and over again.
STOPit is an app that allows employees to anonymously report a wide variety of transgressions, from harassment to bullying, unethical business practices, and more. They can also provide video and photo evidence and begin a dialogue with “report managers” within the organization to either provide additional evidence or to chat further.
It’s time for Siri to get to work. Voice-command technology has already entered the workplace in the form of a benefits assistant, while one major tech company is betting that it can improve enterprise collaboration as well.
Emma is a voice-command app built by healthcare provider Alegeus which helps employees with their benefit plans. The service will take the place of a call center or help desk and is programmed to answer 100 questions on topics such as flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts, and other tax-advantaged benefits.
“There’s such a glaring obvious need for people to get easy and accurate information when they need it in a convenient way,” John Young, Alegeus’ senior vice president, consumerism and strategy, told Amanda Eisenberg of Employee Benefit News last week. “Consumers have questions but people don’t often seek the answers because they’re not easily available… what Emma solves is that instant resource for normal people.”
For those concerned with the privacy issues that may arise, the app will have a multi-layered authentication and authorization framework to maintain high levels of data security. Alegeus will not disclose how many clients are using Emma, but claims there was “considerable interest” before it launched.
Amazon, best known as an online retailer, also happens to be the largest cloud services provider in the world, and is looking to tweak its Alexa technology to speed up communication and information sharing in the office. Though the Seattle-based giant has been tight-lipped about the details of its plans, it has posted job listings around a “New AWS/Alexa Service” that offer some clues:
We’ve heard of online dating sites like eHarmony applying their matchmaking algorithms to job searches, but one dating app, Feeld has charted a different course in blending romance and work with a bot that essentially turns Slack into a matchmaking service. Leah Fessler at Quartz raises her eyebrows at what most HR professionals would agree is a very bad idea:
To use the bot, a designated administrator at a company must first choose to install the app. But once it’s downloaded, anyone on your Slack team can direct message @Feeld and enter the name of their crush. If the feeling is mutual, both of you get a notification; if not, no one’s the wiser.
The bot “does not constitute a partnership, official relationship, or endorsement from Slack,” Fessler notes—nor should it, as Feeld’s effort to enable romance in the workplace would likely lead to problems:
It’s one thing to acknowledge that workplace romances sometimes happen. (My own parents met at work.) But it’s quite another for a company to actively seek to facilitate them. …
Employees who share romantic interest in one another should be able to, as Feeld suggests, “embrace feelings” in appropriate, respectful, and consensual ways outside of the office. But when a dating app exists on what is essentially a workplace platform, any employers that deign to use it are sexualizing what is supposed to be a safe, professional space. That’s sure to make many employees uncomfortable, even if they opt out.
David Lumb at Engadget agrees, worrying that installing Feeld would disrupt the “sometimes-tenuous neutrality of a workspace”:
Tuesday brought multiple developments in the increasingly competitive market for workplace communication and collaboration technology, with Facebook and Microsoft both making newsworthy moves. At Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, the social media giant revealed that it had added several new features to its “Workplace” enterprise offering, Mashable’s Kerry Flynn reports:
As of Tuesday, Workplace offers new file-sharing integrations, including Salesforce, Quip, and Box. Notably, Dropbox is absent from the initial release. Facebook is also introducing bots into Workplace. Developers can build bots for work chat and for Groups to do tasks like help order food or order a Lyft. …
Facebook is also integrated with eDiscovery and compliance partners to help with exporting documents, making it a better product for companies that have regulatory restrictions and are traditionally unable to use third-party software. Workplace users can also soon broadcast live video from professional video gear.
Facebook is also rolling out some business-oriented additions to its Messenger product, Harry McCracken adds at Fast Company, in an effort to make it a go-to method for communicating with customers:
[T]his year at F8, Messenger is getting Smart Replies, a bot-based technology designed to let a business have common questions be automatically answered via Messenger–such as “What time are you open until today?”–so its proprietors can focus on responding to less typical ones. Facebook is starting off by providing this service to restaurants in the U.S.; eventually, it plans to roll it out to other sorts of businesses and in more countries.
Slack's San Francisco HQ (Courtesy Slack)
At the end of January, Slack released Enterprise Grid, a much-anticipated version of its signature group chat program designed to suit the needs of large organizations. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lundgren checks out the specs on the wunderkind tech startup’s competitor to Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook, which “comes with a range of features that are essentially table stakes in the enterprise software market”:
IT administrators are now be able to manage and provision multiple large teams; and, in addition to the encryption that Slack already offers, add in new layers of security and identity management (integrating with Okta, OneLogin, Ping Identity/Federate, MSFT Azure, Bitium, LastPass, Centrify, Clearlogin and Auth0); set new security and compliance controls; and new HIPAA & FINRA compliance and data loss prevention integration (working withPaloAlto Networks, Bloomberg Vault, Skyhigh, Netskope, Relativity by KCura and Smarsh, among others).
Along with this, Slack is also adding in new partnership with SAP where the enterprise services company is building a portfolio of bots to integrate with SAP services. The first three will be a Concur travel and expense bot; a SuccessFactors performance management bot; and a bot to interact with the HANA Cloud platform. This expands on the kids of relationships Slack already has in place with other B2B businesses like Salesforce and Google Cloud, and it looks like these SAP bots will work across all of Slack, rather than just for users of Enterprise Grid.
Lundgren’s colleague Ron Miller calls the new enterprise offering “the next logical step for Slack”:
Google has acquired API.AI, a two-year-old startup that helps developers build conversational chatbots like Apple’s Siri, TechCrunch’s Greg Kumparak reported yesterday:
API.AI helps developers who are building bots tackle this by providing them with tools to keep them from endlessly reinventing the wheel. Their APIs handle things like speech recognition, intent recognition and context management, and allows devs to provide domain-specific knowledge (like that “deep dish” and “Chicago-style” can probably mean the same thing to your pizza delivery bot) that might be unique to your bot’s needs. … According to a running counter on its homepage, API.AI has processed a little over 3 billion API requests to date. Meanwhile, Google says over 60,000 developers have built stuff with API.AI’s toolset.
The price and terms of the acquisition have not been disclosed yet, but API.AI had raised around $8.6 million to date according to Crunchbase.
And today, Kumparak’s colleague Steve O’Hear passes along the news that Amazon has at least partially “acqui-hired” another chatbot startup, Angel.ai:
Candidates may not like getting turned down for jobs, but what really bugs them is when employers don’t respond to their applications at all, as Sarah Fister Gale points out at Workforce:
A recent study from Future Workplace and CareerArc found nearly 60 percent of job seekers have had a poor candidate experience, and of those 72 percent shared that experience on an employer review site, social networking site or with colleagues and friends. This trend should be concerning to a lot of recruiters. … Recruiters may also be surprised to hear what constitutes a negative experience, says Kirsten Davidson, head of employer brand for Glassdoor Inc., the employer review site. It isn’t caused by aggressive interview tactics, or frustrating background check processes. “Most negative reviews come from people who just never heard back,” she said.
And it happens far too often. A whopping 65 percent of job seekers in the Future Workplace survey said they never or rarely receive notice from employers when they submit applications. Similarly, in CareerBuilder’s report job seekers said their biggest frustration is when employers don’t respond to them. “Candidates invest a lot of time preparing an application, yet they feel like the company is investing nothing in response,” [Future Workplace research director Dan] Schawbel said. “That sends a bad message about the company.”
Of course, when recruiters have hundreds or thousands of applications to juggle, responding to every rejected candidate is often too time-consuming, at least without technological assistance. Mya, a digital recruiting assistant released this week by HR technology company FirstJob, was designed in part with that problem in mind, Lydia Dishman reports for Fast Company:
The artificially intelligent recruiting assistant is a chatbot that communicates directly with applicants looking for tech jobs via text, email, or through its own chat platform. …