place_conf_2021_bnr

Will ‘Office as a Service’ Accelerate in 2021?

One of the few positive enduring legacies of a Covid-inflicted 2020 will be the acceptance of remote work. That acceptance could turn into embrace in a post-Covid, era as forced new perspectives put a different lens on remote work’s cost and operational efficiencies. Moreover, it’s been shown to actually work.

Of course, that’s not the case in all fields, and mostly applies to corporate knowledge workers. But this is enough of a segment to make a dent. And like most other areas of the economy, there will be Covid-advantaged businesses (communications, eCommerce) and Covid-disadvantaged businesses (restaurants).

When it comes to remote work, clear victims are commercial real estate and high-rent municipalities, as Neal Polachek recently examined. And winners include productivity and communications software — everything from Slack to Zoom. But will other products gravitate to fill this demand gap?

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Office as a Service

One promising category of productivity and communications software is what I’ve been rolling up and calling “office as a service.” As enterprises continue to formalize policies and systems for the post-covid “hybrid” world of remote work, OaaS software will come out of the woodwork to meet the moment.

Of course, there are already several companies that can be classified as OaaS — most notably Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.. But as always, companies born into a given set of circumstances or market needs have a native edge over those that pivot towards it. We’ll see several that continue to emerge.

Some entrants will meanwhile scale by operating on top of existing platforms like Zoom. Phil Libin’s Mmhmm for example is a set of UX enhancements for video calls that democratize advanced functionality like filters, captions and other components that traditionally require a broadcast switcher.

Others will be radical departures: I’ve been spending time in Microsoft-owned Altspace VR for virtual meetups. Though we’re far from the hardware ubiquity needed for a network effect, the UX is compelling and rivals several aspects of physical interaction. Altspace avatars even have real-time facial expressions.

Will Remote Work Become the ‘New Normal?’

Simulated Structure

A more accessible tool is Teamflow. This week, it received $3.9 million in seed funding from Menlo Ventures to create a spatially-oriented digital interface for remote work. Resembling an 8-bit 80’s video game, it displays a 2D overhead office layout, the positioning of which defines status and functionality.

So if you’re in a Zoom meeting with someone, you’re shown within Teamflow to be in a conference room with them. If you’re at your desk for undisturbed work, it will likewise show that. And if you’re available for the serendipitous hallway chatter the UX facilitates that too, including spatial audio (see more here).

The point is to have a companion interface to existing tools that brings more structure to remote work. That structure was arguably the physical office’s greatest advantage. Definition around how (and where) you spend your workday is an influential factor for productivity and managerial confidence.

The question is if Teamflow’s UX will accomplish that. We’ll see others try digital interfaces to emulate the structure and synchronicity of a physical office. In fact, we predict that OaaS collectively will be a breakout software category in 2021. We’ll watch closely to hold ourselves to task for that projection.

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