Without the COVID pandemic, we wouldn’t be here. We’ve seen first-hand the effect of lock-down on teams of highly motivated people. Teams who, over many years, had built up high levels of social cohesion, understanding, trust, and belief. During nationwide lock-downs, with few other out-of-work activities possible, people worked like never before. Six months later, burnout took hold, hard. The resignations that followed scattered teams to the wind, and changed company cultures the world over.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, most of us spent more waking hours in an office with our work colleagues, than we did at home with our family. Knowing your colleagues really well was normal, and many of us would follow friends from one employer to the next because we enjoyed working with them. Those relationships are very important for our own mental health: having close friends that we can talk to, laugh with, rant at, and relax with, is essential for our well-being. We all need a range of friends, from different walks of life, to help keep us balanced.
Joining a company now, with a hybrid or fully remote work environment, can be quite intimidating. Without bumping into people right across the company, it’s much harder to get your bearings, to find out how this jigsaw of people fits together. Even if you’ve been at a company for a while, it’s very easy to now feel isolated and disconnected. If you’re having a miserable day, it’s much harder to go to the kitchen and have a chat with an old friend, to restore your mood.
Serendipitous conversations are essential for many companies to function and be productive. Every company suffers from information management challenges; it’s incredibly difficult to write down and share knowledge in such a way that it will be found when it’s needed. But the human brain is brilliant at that sort of thing: overhearing part of a conversation where colleagues seem to be missing a key piece of information, you’re sure to help them out. It’s only human.
This then is our singular focus: bringing back the ability to have that serendipitous conversation, without having to be in the office. If there’s one thing computers are good at, it’s facilitating communication. To us, being able to have all sorts of important and meaningful conversations, without staring at a laptop screen, is key to making hybrid and remote working a happier, healthier, more productive, and more fulfilling experience.
We’re not the only company who think this is important. There are several companies and apps now trying to address these challenges. Some of them do video calls. The pandemic has got everyone used to video calls after all; it’s de rigueur. But we think sometimes you hear more with the camera off. There’s a lot of emotional information in your tone of voice, and it’s easier to hear that without visual distraction. We want you to be able to pop to the shops, or go for a real walk. It’s a bit weird to walk around holding your phone out in front of you!
Some of these technologies don’t really work on your phone: they’re much more laptop only. They encourage you to always have your webcam and microphone on, and try to recreate the office environment. We think getting up and having a chat away from the screen is of huge benefit for your health. I can’t find anyone claiming being chained to your desk even more is good for your well-being!
Very few apps encourage you to chat with people you’re not already good friends with. We think it’s really important to both maintain and nourish existing relationships, and also build new friendships. That’s why we try to facilitate walks with a few people: some you may already know really well; others may yet become valued friends. And then some of these apps and technologies are incredibly well funded. I think in one case over $75 million! I’m not quite sure how you could spend that much money on trying to address these problems. Maybe it suggests their focus is much broader, it’s hard to be sure.
So that’s us: a very small team, who want to encourage people to talk, want companies to be productive, and want to help address the mental health challenges that come from remote and hybrid working.
Be human, connect, take notice.