Whether you think employees should be coming back into the office five days a week or one, it’s clear that post-pandemic work will be at least some combination of the two. Naturally, startups building services to support the 'new normal' are raising funds.
The latest is Hubble, a British startup which helps teams book hybrid office space: combining an HQ with passes to working spaces around the globe. It’s just raised a £2m cash injection from Pi Labs, JLL Spark and Starwood Capital. The raise brings its total funding to £10m.
“There is a sort of existential question around what the purpose of the office is and how people will use them going forward,” explains Tushar Agarwal, Hubble’s CEO and cofounder.
“The vast majority of businesses are looking at hybrid offices and looking to balance office and remote work going forward,” he says. “But it's really difficult to do, because it's so new.”
Beyond Hubble, investor appetite for early stage companies working on hybrid work models is strong. Desana, a Scottish on-demand workspace network raised $4m in June and companies working on facilitating hybrid teams online work, like German startup Remi and Dutch company Kaizo, also raised last month.
Hubble saw a 95% dip in interest across the pandemic. Its pivoted its focus from helping companies to secure office space, to helping them work out the best combination of remote work and office space — offering them a mixture of HQ space and passes for employees to work in different locations. It’s a shift that’s seen it return to 80% of its pre-pandemic revenue levels.
For Hubble, Agarwal says the typical customers are small and medium-sized businesses of between 50 and 100 people.
Hubble surveys a company’s staff to work out what office model works across the team. Companies can then book HQ space in one the 5k offices around the UK in Hubble’s network — as well as supply team members with passes to access a network of offices around the globe — currently 200 in 12 countries. WeWork, in comparison, has 800 offices across 23 countries.
“We can help a company deduce something like shifting from a 100 person office to a 50 person office in terms of HQ,” explains Agarwal.
In London, he says, the average cost of having an employee in the office five days a week is £500 per month. Office costs come in second only to salaries in terms of companies’ outgoings, so reducing an HQ has dramatic effects on balance sheets.
It’s been interesting, Agarwal says, to see which companies will embrace hybrid models and which won’t.
As well as SMEs, Hubble’s seeing an increasing interest from larger corporate companies too. It’s been interesting, Agarwal says, to see which companies will embrace hybrid models and which won’t.
“Companies like Netflix, for example, have a CEO who has come out and said I believe that we need to be in the office five days a week,” he says. “Then you have other companies like Spotify and Salesforce which have come out and said they’re going to be very bottom up, we'll actually empower employees to choose where and how they want to work.”
The future of work
In the future, Agarwal says, companies will need to office what employees want or they’ll struggle to attract talent.
“Flexibility, autonomy, and optionality for where people work is certainly going to be a huge factor in whether people join a company or stay at a company.”
When Hubble surveyed companies, it also found interesting dynamics about who does and doesn't prefer to be in the office. Its found sales, marketing and business development teams want more time in collaborative offices than software developers, for example, and that — perhaps obviously — extroverts are keenest on the return to the office.
This is just the beginning
Agarwal is convinced that the evolution of the office will only continue after the sweeping changes Covid-19 has brought in.
“This is just the beginning,” he says. “The office as we know it was essentially a relic from the Industrial Revolution, where we would line up on factory floors to operate machinery. The modern office kind of reflects that same structure, just rather than machines, it's desktop computers.”
“The office was a one-size fits all pre-Covid then during Covid work from home was a one-size fits all. I think in five years time we’ll go from being a one-size fits all to [creating] environments that are relevant for the person, the role and the activity that's happening.”