An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Spot service can help employees determine if harassment took place. The service allows employees to anonymously report instances of harassment and discrimination.
An employee has an “inappropriate moment.” Maybe it was a misunderstanding. Or maybe it was worse: he or she was just subjected to harassment or discrimination. Getting the facts of what happened can be challenging.
But it’s a problem that must be addressed. Workplace issues like harassment and discrimination are a hot topic for employers this year. Challenges, however, create opportunities for entrepreneurs — and a six-person start-up called Spot is rising to the occasion. The company has just launched a free online service that allows employees to anonymously submit a report detailing workplace harassment or discrimination.
Spot is a company — and it’s also a chatbot. It uses artificial intelligence to ask questions and record the answers of an employee — anonymously.
These “cognitive interviews,” as the company calls them, are programmed to ask practical and neutral questions objectively and without bias. The idea is that being interviewed by a nonhuman chatbot makes for a more relaxed and comfortable experience. It’s also scalable for bigger companies and available 24/7.
“There are a lot of hurdles to reporting these kinds of experiences,” said Spot cofounder and chief scientist Julia Shaw, in an interview with VentureBeat. “It’s incredibly easy to forget things or misremember them, which is why it’s important to record them when the memories are fresh.”
The company is working on a revenue model for itself where fees are charged to human resources departments that make use of the service.
So what’s the result? The interview creates an encrypted record and generates a private report with time stamps. The report can also be submitted directly to a company. It’s intended to get employees and employers talking about these kinds of situations in a constructive way, and to resolve them before they escalate. After its downloaded, the data is deleted from the company’s servers.
Spot isn’t the ultimate solution for determining whether an incident of harassment or discrimination took place. But it’s certainly a helpful way — at a minimum — for companies to learn whether their employees are experiencing harassment. I’m sure plenty of more products like this will be coming in the future.