Is technology tearing us apart…or bringing us together? Learn how to use technology in the workplace to increase human connection with the Co-Founder and CEO of PairUp, Emily Harburg. (Watch on YouTube HERE.)
Get to Know Dr. Emily Harburg
Dr. Emily Harburg is passionate about building technology that helps people feel more connected, supported, and motivated. Her background spans industry, startups, and academia. She has worked at Walt Disney Imagineering where she designed technology for the Disney theme parks. She has worked at Facebook (Meta) where she worked as a UX researcher. Emily also worked at EF Education First where she led the Emerging Tech and Innovation team. Additionally, Emily co-founded Brave Initiatives, an organization dedicated to helping women gain confidence in coding for social impact.
After questioning whether technology could be used to make us more human, Emily developed an app called PairUp. This app is a cumulation of her work and research in how technology can be designed to deepen human connection. In an increasingly isolated world, Emily is a refreshingly optimistic voice that assures us tech can benefit us. Emily shows how tech can foster meaningful connection both in our personal lives and in the workplace. Let's see how...
How Can Technology in the Workplace Bring People Together?
The water cooler has a strong reputation of sparking office chit chat. But should a water jug be the most reliable option for colleagues to connect?
Rather than leaving it up to chance, technology can foster connection by matching the right people at the right times. Think online dating, but instead of a love interest, you're matching with a compatible mentor. Or you're getting matched with a co-worker who can relate to a shared experience. Or perhaps you're a new hire who could use an experienced staffer to show them around.
PairUp uses AI to analyze individuals' needs and skills. Then it suggests potential matches based on shared interests, complementary abilities, or common challenges. This facilitates organic mentoring relationships and productive peer learning. This essentially recreates those serendipitous "water cooler moments" but in a more intentional way.
How Can Technology Help Us Ask the Right Questions?
It's an everyday occurrence to pass a coworker and exchange the standard, "How are you?" "Good." and continue on with your day. Emily and her team at PairUp took this surface-level dialogue and asked themselves how tech could make it more meaningful.
One notable feature of PairUp is it sends thoughtful reflection questions that spark more vulnerable conversations and check-ins. Rather than the basic, "How are you?" PairUp encourages coworkers to share in more meaningful ways. In their research, they noticed even just changing the question from "HOW are you?" to "WHAT are you FEELING?" completely changed the conversation.
With a deeper conversation now in play, PairUp also tracks your interaction history so you can easily see what you've discussed previously with a colleague. This allows for more thoughtful conversations with prompts helping to scaffold the discussion over time. Emily has seen this feature lead to richer ongoing dialogues between colleagues, both for in-person and remote teams.
How Can Technology at Work Help You Measure and Celebrate Progress?
Have you ever been on a phone call and started getting the urge to hit a heart or thumbs up emoji on your phone while the person was talking, only to find yourself disappointed that capability isn't available for a phone call? Just me?...
Emily pointed to mounds of research done about how building confidence and self-efficacy comes from small wins plus sharing and noting progress along the way with validation from others. As you do this, it helps to build a sense of community. So those emojis you see everywhere may have more meaning than to just add a splash of color to the page.
At PairUp, they play "High, Low, Buffalo" every week where they share a highlight, a low point, and a random fact with the team. This allows them to cheer on each other's successes, support each other through challenges, and connect over the random bits of life. Technology can help measure and celebrate the team's progress to create more productivity, satisfaction, and engagement within your team for an overall better work environment.
Using Technology for Good
We can't ignore the negative aspects of technology. Technology can be addictive. It gives us access to compare ourselves against the whole world. Plus, it threatens to take away jobs as AI continues to develop and things get more and more automated.
However, there is light associated with the darkness of tech, and Emily has made it her mission to recognize where the light can be found. Emily believes tech is at its best when it is connecting us with the right people at the right time, when it allows for meaningful conversations to be had that enable useful help, and when it tracks, measures, and honors progress.
What do you think? Can technology bring us closer together and strengthen our human connection? Or are we doomed to a path of tech-induced isolation? We'd love to hear your thoughts!