After more than two years of remote work, many employees have no desire to return to the office – at least not without good reason. Employers have responded in kind, more or less, especially with tech companies Offering generous work from home and hybrid career options. Not all businesses are behind the changes, but there’s no denying that the pandemic has rewritten the rules in the workplace — perhaps for the better.
But the shift to a more remote workforce won’t happen overnight. According to ActivTrak, 41% of organizations did not have a remote work policy in place as of May 2020. And when changes are made. do They happen, they’re not always pretty. According to a survey, almost half of employees – 46% – will find remote work, at least in the early stages, making it more difficult to maintain professional relationships with key stakeholders.
Brett Martin, co-founder and president of Kumospace, believes a key part of easing the transition is workplace collaboration tools — especially video chat tools that promote a “virtual office” feel. It’s certainly biased – Kumospace sells a video chat platform. But Martin says the proof is in the pudding: Thousands of hybrid and remote teams use Kumospace today, some for more than five hours a day.
Those metrics certainly won over investors. Today, Kumospace participated in a $21 million Series A round led by Lightspeed from Boldstart Ventures and others. This comes a year after Kumospace raised $3 million in a seed round led by Boldstart, and as the platform moves from private to public beta.
“[Kumospace CEO Yang Mou] And I have been friends for a long time. We’ve built three businesses together, all focused on using technology to connect people – Sonar, ChangeAnd Kumospace. Kumospace is the end of our life’s work,” Martin told TechCrunch in an email. Martin is a co-founder of Charge Ventures and an adjunct professor at Columbia University, where Mau was an engineer at Google before joining Kumospace. “When Covid-19 hit, we struggled like everyone else to be imaginative. While doing this, we somehow realized in April 2020 that there is no good solution for group video chat. Two weeks later, Young did the proof of concept and we were off to the races.
One could argue that, actually, there. They were. In April 2020, “good solutions” for group video chat such as Zoom, Google Hangouts (now Google Meet) and Microsoft Teams. But As the epidemic worsened, their limitations became “painfully apparent,” Martin argued. For example, while platforms like Zoom are excelling with scheduled conference calls, they’re difficult for quick, spur-of-the-moment checks because they’re awkward and unfamiliar, Martin says.
“Clear and constant communication is the key to running any company, whether the company is physical, hybrid or Far,” said Martin. “We need to stop pretending that chat emoticons equate corporate culture and sense of community. [And ] We have to admit that one virtual team building event a month is no substitute for daily unstructured interactions with colleagues.
To this end, Kumospace is designed to reduce friction on board – uServers can log in as a guest without providing an email if they choose. Once they choose an avatar — a photo of themselves — they become a video game simulator of a physical office with chairs, coffee tables, water coolers and conference rooms. Spatial audio gives co-workers the illusion of coming in and out of earshot, while broadcast allows higher-ups to send messages with announcements to individual groups or the entire workforce.
KumoSpace users can move around the virtual space to join private rooms with features like status messages and simultaneous screen sharing. Where their avatars are – for example in a conference room – is to indicate clutter, availability for chat, and so on.
“The physical structure of the office and the biological needs of the human being create connections between people who don’t already work together — that is, the water cooler,” Martin said. “Everyone in the remote area [is] working in silos; [so] Relationships are lost and managers quickly become bottlenecks… Kumospace virtual offices help remote and hybrid teams build ‘dense’ social networks to improve company-wide communication and networking.
The platform offers analogues for team building activities such as games, music and drinks (in a virtual bar). Martin emphasizes that Kumospace focuses on “professional” use cases.
A workplace platformer with low-fi graphics and game-like mechanics is sure to be skeptical among old-school management. In an interview with the New York Times, Mu himself said that he was particularly influenced by massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft when creating Kumospace. Beauty aside, Kumospace and its competitors – Collect, Pluto, Hoppin, Precious Social, Teamflow, Branch and Run the World – Raise serious privacy concerns. From Ambient, “always on” collaboration software; Tracking employee activity is simple in theory.
In response to the second point, Martin noted that employees can delete any data they choose to share with Kumospace. For the first time, he said he believes the advantages of “virtual offices” over video conferencing — more frequent impromptu conversations, freer exchanges, etc. — will become apparent over time. Already, Kumospace has attracted big-name clients such as Google, NASA, Brown University, Deloitte, Wikipedia and several unnamed government institutions, he said.
Martin says the broader economic slowdown will bode well for remote work and, by extension, low-cost solutions like Kumospace. Unlike the impractical and expensive remote setups in virtual reality—though it’s not clear, but strong enough for current needs, to be fair—Kumospace is plug-and-play and sells for $150 a month for companies with more than 30 participants.
Supporting evidence is mixed. Hoppin was forced to lay off hundreds of workers earlier this year due to declining demand for virtual events. On the other hand, more and more companies are exploring virtual offices as a cost-effective — and, ostensibly, productivity — measure. Legendary VC firm Andreessen Horowitz recently announced that it will shed its physical footprint in favor of smaller global websites and online accounts.
“The pandemic brought into being the comospace and accelerated the paradigm shift in remote work… Spending millions to rent a brick pile that your employees don’t want to leave is a terrible use of money,” Martin said. “The next big thing often starts out looking like a toy, but over time it changes the parameters of the competition. We believe that this is how virtual offices are made. At first, people may dismiss them as silly, but as early adopters demonstrate cost savings, ecosystem benefits and flexibility, for employees’ lives and employers’ hiring, the desire to go virtual becomes undeniable. In a few years, people will look back at office lunches and mini-covers and wonder, ‘What were we thinking?’ They wonder.
The Series A brings 20-employee Kumospace’s total raised capital to $24 million. Martin said it will be used primarily for product development through mobile and desktop and growing Kumospace’s partner and customer base.
“Our Series A will position Kumospace to weather any future economic uncertainty. When all retreated we were eager to be on the attack; WWe see a huge opportunity to use people analytics to help remote teams stay connected,” said Martin. “Every day we add new integrations with other remote work tools so that teams have everything they need – without leaving Kumospace. You could say we’re building business-to-business flexibility.