A Sweet Take on Automation vs Human Connection From Donut’s Co-Founder

 
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Remote and hybrid work models are the new norm, which makes fostering personal connections between teams and co-workers more important — and more challenging — than ever. As CEO and Co-founder of Donut, this week’s podcast guest, Dan Manian, was way ahead of the curve on this front.  

Donut is designed to foster camaraderie, connection, and community within the workplace — at any scale, no matter where people work. Since going remote, it’s become one of our favorite tools here at Ada. So we were excited to hear Dan’s perspective on the role automation plays in building meaningful human connections. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s dig in.  

Automation and authenticity

We often run into the misconception that automation runs counter to real human connection. But Dan explains, “Donut helps you meet people that you’ve never met before or never had a deep interaction with, and that need existed way before the pandemic.” 

While it’s easy to stay connected in a small start-up, as the organization grows, those connections become more concentrated, leading to partitioning. Even if you work in the same building, there may be many people you’ve never met. “This siloing of departments and teams is actually detrimental in terms of missed opportunities for bonds and friendships,” Dan says, “but also for innovation, creativity, and understanding more broadly how different teams work together.” 

Whether it’s a result of scale or being physically spread out, when people no longer run into each other in shared spaces, it’s important to create those moments so they can get to know each other.  And that’s exactly what Donut does using automation. 

we're looking to systematically create these social moments, these run-ins, which require some automation to make it keep happening

Automation is not the end product

Donut’s products integrate with Slack and other popular tools to do things like introduce teammates across regions, celebrate individual milestones, and start conversations. Donut deliberately automated this process to set the stage for those moments. “But hopefully,” Dan says, “to the end user it feels seamless and magical, like things just happen.”

Not surprisingly, Donut experienced a surge of interest in the early days of the pandemic when many workers were feeling isolated. In response, they developed a product called Watercooler, which aims to create those “little social moments” by dropping a non-work-related conversation starter into a Slack channel that anyone can answer on their own time.

The end product is interacting with other human beings who are answering the same fun question - not interacting with Donut

Many of Donut’s clients had been trying to facilitate these connections themselves and were grateful not to have to come up with a new topic of conversation every day. So Donut knew they were automating something important — but the automation is not the end product. It’s the human interaction, the experience it creates that matters.

Brand-building through the employee experience

At Ada, our primary focus has always been customer experience (CX). But we’ve widened our purview to include the employee experience (EX), which is also a critical part of the overall brand. Donut plays an important role in this internal brand-building. Because anytime stakeholders interact with your brand, it contributes to your ability to stay true to your brand promise.  

Dan explains, “Donut is an important part of how our customers stay connected within their companies, which is part of their brand.” This is also why Donut allows for deep customization within the setup.

Companies have different cultures and values that are the equivalent of their brand. Its really important to allow people to have some control over that voice and that content.

Blending customization with automation is the key to Donut’s success — and to its customers’ success in strengthening their teams and company cultures. 

Get the "hole" Donut story

To hear our entire conversation with Dan and learn more about these key takeaways, check out this week’s episode on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform:

  • Automation can remove friction points in the EX 
  • Creating bonds between employees leads to higher retention
  • Scaling workflows that are already in use makes the EX effortless

You can connect with Dan via chat on Donut.com or email him at support@donut.com. (Don’t forget to mention that you heard this podcast!) And be sure to sign up for the Brand Interaction Digest for exclusive content from the episode.

Lynn Charafeddine
Lynn Charafeddine

Lynn’s career has spanned across different kinds of content, from copywriting, to journalism, to marketing, and even mystery puzzle games. She brings facets from all these disciplines into her work at Ada. Outside of that, Lynn loves playing games, hiking, and reading about trees.

More info about Lynn Charafeddine: LinkedIn

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