The future of work arrived sooner than anyone expected — and employee engagement platforms are hitting their stride.
The current pandemic, with millions working from home around the world, has thrown into sharp focus just how important workplace communications are, as well as technologies tailored towards employee engagement and wellbeing.
For companies in the future of work sector, like Polish startup workai, this presents a big opportunity.
Founded in 2016, workai wants to make the communication apps we use in the workplace as simple (and enjoyable) as those we use in our personal lives. Its platforms allow in-house communicators to share personalised news, organise in-company events, publish videos and send newsletters with minimal fuss, with real-time analytics to measure engagement levels.
“We came to the market with very easy-to-use systems, which make you want to use them every day,” says workai’s chief technical officer Grzegorz Ciwoniuk.
Our goal is to have big go-to market partners in different markets like the US and the UK.
Going it alone
Ciwoniuk and his cofounder, Łukasz Skłodowski, established workai after years of working for big enterprises on similar issues: creating internal communications solutions.
“We constantly solved the same problems with the same old technology and we thought that there's a lot of new technology on the market, and we can do better to help those companies than just creating systems from scratch from the same old technology,” he tells Sifted.
They created the initial prototypes during after-work hours. The first version took three months. After that, Ciwoniuk says, they locked themselves in a basement for six months to add new features, making it cloud-compatible and SaaS-friendly — and therefore easier for potential customers to test out.
New ways to communicate
Ciwoniuk says that internal company communication has changed rapidly in recent years. “Four or five years ago people were just thinking about starting a news portal inside the company, to have a place to publish news or send newsletters. That was the easy part.”
Two years later the term ‘digital workplace’ came to life, he says, with different workforce communication tools and systems – like workflows, collaboration and productivity tools – being connected.
And then Covid-19 hit.
“There’ll be no after coronavirus,” says Ciwoniuk. “People tend to get used to processes very quickly. It’s changed and changed for good.”
As such, Ciwoniuk believes that companies need to provide better and more personalised information to their employees, as well as more interactive communication channels, since face-to face interactions are likely to be increasingly replaced by digital solutions.
Companies also “need to measure all those interactions, they need to measure engagement, to know how people feel, how people react to different things, how to improve the process,” he says.
Workai’s aim is to cover the full digital employee experience, right from the onboarding process, says Ciwoniuk. Over time it will cover more and more areas, like room and parking space bookings, through an app. “I think more and more companies will see this as an advantage,” he says.
Cloud as a leveller
Beyond finding the right balance between encouraging employee engagement and not overwhelming workers with too much information, a key challenge is to create something that requires little or no specialist technical or graphic design knowledge from the company side to run.
Simplicity is the name of the game, and workai is not alone in trying to solve this issue for corporations. Looking at only intranets, Ciwoniuk says there are at least 60 different companies offering technologies. “Then we have more complex solutions,” he adds.
Even so, for companies like workai, cloud-based solutions that can be delivered through a SaaS model have been a great leveller, allowing them to easily reach clients all around the world. “Being in the cloud, using all the services Microsoft Azure provides us, is game changing,” he says.
SaaS solutions, without the need to install anything on-premise, are also an easier sell to B2B customers, who otherwise might be reluctant to commit to purchases that require an extended rip-and-replace element.
There’ll be no after coronavirus.
Last year the company, which now has 30 employees, changed its name from Elastic Cloud Solution to workai. The change came at a time when it was shifting its focus from big enterprises to more SaaS solutions for smaller companies, which can sign up for a free trial.
While the majority of workai’s customers are in Poland, it has also moved into western Europe, with customers in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, among others. “We also have a partner network, with different companies that sell our products to their own customers, which is a good way to accelerate growth,” says Ciwoniuk.
And having bootstrapped to date, the company is now looking at a future funding round, as well as targeting a million daily users over the next 12 months. “Now we have 250,000,” says Ciwoniuk. “It means four times more users, and also new partners.”
“We are currently in talks with different big partners, like telecoms and banks," he adds. "Our goal is to have big go-to market partners in different markets like the US and the UK.”
At Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe, our vision is to help the region advance as digital hotspot, by enabling local entrepreneurs and businesses to innovate and scale globally. The Microsoft for Startups programme is part of that vision, partnering with B2B startups in the region to provide technology and business support and help them realize their ambitions for growth.