Home office in an apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Many companies are implementing ways to replicate various aspects of in-person work remotely, as the majority of employees are showing preference for flexible work arrangements. — Getty Images/imaginima

Why it matters:

  • Remote and hybrid work is here to stay, with close to three out of four employees saying they prefer to work from home two or more days a week.
  • The remote tech category is “white hot” according to CB Insights, which listed more than 65 remote tech startups in a 2020 report.
  • One survey found that one-fourth of employees would consider switching jobs if required to return full-time to the office.

When human resources tech startup Hibob (pronounced “Hi, Bob”) was born five years ago, “we were built for what we used to call ‘the future of work,’” chief marketing officer Rhiannon Staples told CO—.

The founders envisioned a future where companies would employ decentralized workforces, hire people based everywhere in the world, and need something like Hibob to facilitate productivity, communication and collaboration with remote employees.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the future arrived overnight, and “every company on the planet was asking, ‘How do I drive communication, productivity, culture and engagement across my teams?’” Staples said.

McKinsey: ‘a once-in-a-generation disruption’

Hibob is one of the fast-growing tech startups that found itself positioned at the right time, with the right product, to capitalize on a seismic shift in how people work.

McKinsey & Company in July called the remote work transformation a once-in-a generation kind of disruption and an opportunity to reimagine the workplace, comparing it to the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, or the arrival of personal computers in the 1990s, which ushered in the digital age.

Like those shifts, remote work and hybrid workplaces aren’t likely to go away.

McKinsey surveyed management and employees and found that while the majority of executives want to see core employees in the office at least three or more days per week, nearly three-fourths of employees prefer to work from home two or more days a week. A quarter of employees said they would consider switching jobs if they were required to be in the office full-time.

Companies that facilitate remote and hybrid workplaces are enjoying explosive growth, aided by funding from investors who are doubling down on their bets that the future of work will be remote.

A CB Insights market report last year listed more than 65 startups focused on facilitating remote work, calling it a “white hot category for tech.” These companies offer video conferencing, messaging and chat, project management, collaborative design, and other tools designed to recreate some of the old workplace norms for a new way of working.

Investment in tech for remote work also has been fueled by the post-pandemic success of digital-economy darlings like Zoom and Slack, which are now public companies.

Hibob, which was founded in Tel Aviv and has headquarters in New York and London, has seen its client base grow to 1,300 businesses, with close to 250,000 users. It received $70 million in new funding in December, bringing its total fundraising to $124 million.

The work-from-home sector “is on fire,” Staples said, because companies are recognizing the need for new tools for remote workers.

As the pandemic closed offices, Hibob saw its clients seeking new ways to facilitate two-way communication between management and employees. The platform has a survey feature that allowed managers to get feedback from employees about what they needed to perform their jobs remotely.

Now, Staples said, companies are using that tool to learn what kinds of benefits and working conditions employees want in order be able to retain them.

[Read here on how to run a remote business.]

A CB Insights market report last year listed more than 65 startups focused on facilitating remote work, calling it a “white hot category for tech.”

Replicating in-person collaboration and water cooler chatter virtually

Hibob also wanted to give companies a way to create the type of water cooler and hallway conversations that occur in in-person offices. It added a “shoutouts and kudos” feature for sharing news about promotions, or personal news about employee milestones.

“It’s like a social media platform for your internal company,” said Staples. “So, for example, I know when one of my colleagues in Tel Aviv has had a baby. It’s a great way to build that connection between people that so many employers are concerned about losing with remote hybrid workforces,” she said.

Virtual office platform Tandem is another startup that saw the remote revolution coming before the rest of the world did. Co-founder Rajiv Ayyangar, in a showcase hosted by startup accelerator Y Combinator in August 2019, pitched the then-novel message that “every company is remote.” Investors responded to that message with a $7.5 million round of seed funding.

Tandem was created after its founders began working remotely, and discovered that it made them feel slower, less collaborative and more alone. They set out to build a desktop app that would allow real-time interactions that replicate in-person collaboration, and allow someone to instantly know which co-workers were available online and connect with them by phone call, video chat or screenshare, with one click.

Since the company launched in 2019, Tandem has helped close to 9,000 workplace teams around the world collaborate, and users have logged over 1.7 million call hours on the virtual office site, co-founder Tim Su told CO—.

Most of Tandem’s customers are small businesses and teams, Su said, although it lists major companies like Netflix, Coinbase and Dropbox among its users.

“Tight-knit teams of five to 50 are a great fit for Tandem to recapture the magic of working in person,” he said.

[Read here on perks to offer remote employees.]

Reserve-a-desk tech built for a hybrid workforce

Envoy, a San Francisco-based office visitor registration platform, pivoted when the pandemic began, expanding its platform into a COVID-screening program for offices.

Now, as the workplace is evolving into a hybrid model as employees split their time between the office and home, Envoy in June rolled out Envoy Desks, a program employees can use to reserve a desk in the office.

Envoy Desks launched in test mode last fall, and desk bookings grew 95% between April and May of this year, with over 113,000 in May alone, the company reported in June.

Zoom, Patagonia and Lionsgate are among the companies that have been using Desks, according to Envoy.

Now that so many employees have successfully worked remotely for more than a year, with companies investing in tools for remote work, it will be tough to put the remote work genie back in the bottle, Hibob’s Staples noted.

“It’s going to be really hard to force people back [into] the office,” she said. “We’ve gotten accustomed to this new lifestyle and companies have to modernize and adapt for that.”

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Published August 16, 2021