(Photo courtesy of Munir Pathak)
Anyone starting a new job or rising through the ranks at a company knows that it can be hard to navigate friendships at work.
But feeling like you belong at your company can be one of the most essential parts of your work experience, says Munir Pathak. It’s why the engineer and data scientist began work on Swirl, a Slack application that focuses on inclusion and belonging in the workplace by forging connections between coworkers.
Pathak began work on the app last July, and has been piloting it with a few small- to medium-sized tech companies in the city. Swirl was one of 12 early-stage ventures to participate in Philly Startup Leaders‘ accelerator program this year. (We also named it a runner-up in our 2019 realLIST.)
The application starts by asking users some open-ended questions about themselves — their hobbies, background, upbringing, sexual or gender identity or even dietary restrictions. Then, every other week, Swirl will match two colleagues who have something in common, give them a few conversation starters and suggest they grab a coffee or eat lunch together.
“Many companies are focused on diversity and inclusion while recruiting, but we want to focus on the other side — building inclusion and feeling of belonging once you’re there,” Pathak said.
He added that building the application for Slack, a messaging platform many companies already use for communication, made the most sense to make the process seamless.
“We were trying to essentially embed into communication tools that companies already use,” he said.
Hardik Savalia, a product manger at PromptWorks, has been testing the application.
He said it can be hard to show up to a company where many of the employees already have strong connections with one another, and that it’s common to get placed on projects for months at a time with colleagues they’re not very familiar with.
“Having a personal connection, allows us — at least me — to humanize people before we go into the deep end with them,” Savalia said.
PromptWorks’ Rachel Drane, a software QA specialist, agreed, saying the app also helped with some of the awkwardness of approaching a coworker who you may have known at a distance for a long time, but don’t know much about them personally.
“I learned that some of the first impressions I had made maybe were inaccurate,” she said. “But also when the company was going through a point of lots of change, and moving offices, having the program was really helpful with feeling like we were connected.”
Guru People Ops Specialist Bobby Lundquist said the company uses a similar feature called Donut, but is interested in supporting the Philly startup. Guru will start piloting Swirl next month.
“When I was filling out the profile, I was amazed at how quickly it put me in a reflective space about my background and how that might connect me with people in similar spaces,” Lundquist said.
For now, Pathak is Swirl’s only full-time employee, but he’s working will a part-time engineer and a network of advisors.
Once the app is out of testing phase, he’s hoping to expand the customer base, launch on the public Slack marketplace and begin building out a team.
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