Blind: Coming Soon to an Employee’s Desktop Near You

Blind: Coming Soon to an Employee’s Desktop Near You

Blind, the anonymous workplace community app that bills itself as a “real-time Glassdoor” and has taken the tech sector by storm, is releasing a desktop version of its native mobile app this month, Joel Cheesman reported last week, citing an app update. The application, which claims hundreds of thousands of verified users including over 30,000 Microsoft employees and 16,000 at Amazon, allows users to chat, share information, and gossip anonymously with other people at their company, about their company.

Blind started out in South Korea in 2014 and came to Silicon Valley in 2015, where it has ignited a controversy over what anonymous forums mean for both employees and employers: Like Glassdoor, Blind is a place where employees can share information (not necessarily accurate) and express opinions (not necessarily positive) without what they say getting back to their employer, but also without that employer having much opportunity to present their side of the story. It has also raised questions about data privacy and security, though Blind assures users that it takes pains to encrypt and discard user data, so that nothing they write there can ever be traced back to them through digital fingerprints, and so that no personal data will be exposed in the event of a breach.

In any case, with the desktop move, Cheesman predicts Blind “will certainly introduce the app to a lot of people who hadn’t heard of it before.” That’s obviously the idea, anyway, as a fast-growing company like Blind naturally wants to expand its user base. Cheesman is skeptical, however, that Blind’s anonymous forum will survive:

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How HubSpot Helps Employees ‘Flex Their Empathy Muscles’

Caroline Cotto, culture content creator at HubSpot, writes at Fast Company about how her organization trains employees to be more empathetic, likening it to how athletes build strength though steady, diligent exercise. HubSpot’s empathy-building program begins with measurement, having employees take a quiz based on the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire and providing tailored resources to them based on their results. The inbound marketing and sales software company then uses several techniques to encourage employees to see the world through their colleagues’ eyes, including storytelling:

It’s not easy to train one person to be more empathetic, and it’s even more difficult to do the same for 2,000 coworkers across seven global offices. As we contemplated empathy building at scale, we decided to host “Humans of HubSpot,” a live storytelling show focused on sharing personal anecdotes, which conventional office settings might not always leave room for.

Drawing inspiration from NPR’s The Moth, employees share stories about their own lives and identities. This kind of unfettered vulnerability breeds trust between colleagues, and trust is what ultimately drives results. As it turns out, we’re not the only one preaching the power of storytelling to build a more empathetic work culture. Our event has already inspired other companies, like Wistia, to start storytelling nights of their own.

HubSpot’s approach here is notable because one of the key benefits of empathy in the workplace is improved communication. Building empathy helps employees not only communicate with external stakeholders but also collaborate more effectively with their peers, which is increasingly important in today’s highly networked work environment.

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Facebook Workplace Lands Walmart, Proves Useful During Hurricane Harvey

Facebook Workplace Lands Walmart, Proves Useful During Hurricane Harvey

Facebook’s enterprise social network, Workplace, has scored a major new customer in Walmart, the world’s largest private employer. The retail giant has already been testing the product, and will continue to phase the platform in among its other internal communication tools, though it’s not yet clear if or when Workplace will be available to all of the company’s employees.

Workplace by Facebook was launched less than a year ago, but with more than 14,000 companies using the service—including Delta Air Lines, Booking.com, Canadian Tire, Lyft, and Starbucks—it is already a serious competitor in an increasingly crowded field of enterprise communications and collaboration offerings. (Facebook hasn’t announced how many active daily users Workplace has.)

Since its inception, one of Workplace’s main selling points has been Facebook’s omnipresence as a social media platform. Most workers, and especially most millennials, are already likely to be familiar with the look, feel, and functionality of the Facebook-like Workplace, so organizations should have an easier time getting their workforces to adopt and actually use the platform without much of a learning curve.

According to a Walmart spokesperson, per Fast Company‘s Emily Price, that ease-of-use is precisely why the retail giant was drawn to the product, and they’ve already been pleased with how the service has improved communication where they have rolled it out. For instance, leaders at the company have been using the Live video feature to conduct more visually compelling all-hands meetings, and associates have been sharing photos of their best in-store display ideas. In addition, the platform became a vital asset to both Walmart and Delta during Hurricane Harvey, as Price explains:

“We were able to use the Live capability to share our current weather updates and what was happening with people that were in the field from our Emergency Operation Center. We also were using it to gather kind of information about what was happening on the ground very quickly. Part of that was because of the ease of use with the mobile [experience,” Walmart’s Dan Kneeshaw explained.]

And they weren’t the only company to use Workplace after the hurricane. Delta, for instance, used Facebook to help check in with its employees using a new feature called Safety Officer, a variation of Facebook’s Safety Check feature.

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Microsoft, Slack Roll out New Features as Competition Heats up

Microsoft, Slack Roll out New Features as Competition Heats up

The market for workplace collaboration software has been growing steadily more competitive over the past year, with tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook moving into the space formerly dominated by the startup Slack. Last week, Atlassian unveiled its new platform called Stride, which integrates with the company’s other enterprise technology offerings and aims specifically at meeting users’ needs in areas where Slack falls short. Both Slack and Microsoft made announcements about their products this week that show they are well aware of the heightening competition and prepared to respond.

On Monday, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, Microsoft released a new feature on its Teams product called Guest Access, which gives organizations “a way to bring in freelancers or consultants on a project and show them everything they need to know, and nothing more”:

Larry Waldman, a program manager for Teams, told GeekWire that guest access has been among the most frequent and long-standing requests from customers. “We knew we needed it because people in companies work with folks outside their companies very regularly,” Waldman said. “That’s something we heard feedback on even as we were developing Teams.”

Microsoft also announced that Teams is now being used by 125,000 organizations, more than double the 50,000 who were using it when it launched globally in March.

Not to be outdone, Slack put out an announcement of its own the next day at its Frontiers conference in San Francisco, Levy’s colleague Monica Nickelsburg adds. The company revealed that it had grown to 9 million weekly active users in more than 100 countries, including 50,000 paid teams, and 2 million paid users, generating $200 million in annual recurring revenue. Slack also unveiled a feature that enables ongoing collaboration between multiple organizations:

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Hipchat’s Atlassian Strides onto Slack’s Turf with New Collaboration Platform

Hipchat’s Atlassian Strides onto Slack’s Turf with New Collaboration Platform

The software company Atlassian, already a major player in the enterprise technology game with its applications like Jira, Confluence, and HipChat, has released a new collaboration platform for employees and teams called Stride, to compete with existing products like Slack. Kerry Flynn at Mashable describes Stride as “all about taking action”:

It cuts down on notifications by letting users put themselves in a “Focus Mode,” and it makes it super simple to switch from text to video. The design is mobile-friendly and easy to use, not unlike its competitor Slack. But it offers features that make it arguably a better product than Slack for actually getting work done. …

One of the core features is letting users set themselves as away. That feature is available in competitors, such as Slack’s emoji statuses, but Stride allows users to actually mute specific channels, share what they’re working on, and more easily catchup once they’re done. … Any room in Stride can start a meeting and allow any user to join in via audio or video. It eliminates the need to move to Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, or another third-party video system and can encourage people to switch to video more often.

Steve Goldsmith, general manager for Stride at Atlassian, tells GeekWire reporter Tom Krazit that Stride is integrated with Atlassian’s other software products and will be available in both free and paid tiers with different features:

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European Rights Court Limits Monitoring of Employee Communications

European Rights Court Limits Monitoring of Employee Communications

In a landmark ruling on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of a Romanian man who was fired in 2007 after his employer determined that he had violated its policy barring the use of company resources for personal matters. Bogdan Barbulescu had created a Yahoo Messenger account for work purposes, and was terminated after his managers looked at transcripts of his chats on the application and saw that he had used it for personal communications. Romanian courts had ruled against Barbulescu, and the EHCR had agreed with those courts in January 2016, finding that the employer was justified in reading his personal chat logs in order to enforce its policy.

According to the New York Times, the 2016 decision courted controversy in Europe, where privacy is seen as a fundamental right. On Tuesday, the ECHR’s highest appellate division, the Grand Chamber, reversed the court’s position and found that Barbulescu’s privacy had been violated as he had “not been informed in advance of the extent and nature of his employer’s monitoring, or the possibility that the employer might have access to the actual contents of his messages”:

It said that only a few countries in Europe — Austria, Britain, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Slovakia — have explicitly regulated the issue of workplace privacy through domestic legislation. Most countries in the region do, however, require employers to give prior notice of monitoring. In countries like Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden, employers may monitor emails marked by employees as “private,” but may not look at the content without permission.

The chamber ruled that countries should ensure that companies’ efforts to monitor employees’ communications, are “accompanied by adequate and sufficient safeguards against abuse.”

The court’s ruling is applicable in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe, including non-EU members Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey—in other words, every country on the European continent except Belarus and Kosovo. Following this decision, employers in the court’s jurisdiction are still allowed to monitor their employees’ digital communications, but not without limits, and not without making employees aware of that monitoring beforehand. TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas outlines the criteria the court created for determining whether monitoring is valid:

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Hurricane Harvey: What Employers Need to Know, and How HR Can Help

Hurricane Harvey: What Employers Need to Know, and How HR Can Help

In one of the worst natural disasters in US history, Hurricane Harvey has dumped more than 11 trillion gallons of rain on the Houston metro area and other parts of southeast Texas, leading to catastrophic flooding throughout the region. While the city of Houston was not ordered to evacuate, most organizations in the city, including major employers like NASA’s Johnson Space Center, ConocoPhillips, and Waste Management, Inc., were closed on Monday and instructed employees to stay home, according to the Wall Street Journal. Some encouraged employees who were safe to work remotely from home. Many local businesses and national firms with a presence in the region, including major retail chains like Target and Walmart have closed their stores in the area and are participating in relief efforts by donating money or emergency supplies.

For organizations whose employees are affected by the hurricane, the first priority in the coming days and weeks is to communicate with employees about the status of their workplaces and projects, as well as benefits and resources available to them, as Amanda Eisenberg highlights at Employee Benefit News:

“The most important thing to communicate is what the employers are doing for the employees and the community,” says LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the National Business Group on Health. “First of all, that help is on the way.”

Employers also are going to have to be flexible, she says. Employees need to know if they are expected to come into the workplace, and if they can’t, whether they can work remotely. Schools are likely to be closed, and relatives might have been relocated from nursing homes or hospitals to shelters. Employees might need access to childcare or eldercare, and companies should be in constant communication to relay those benefits, Heinen explains.

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