As more companies mull a return to the office and surveys suggest a hybrid approach could be the way of the future, a fledgling Ottawa startup has created a software platform designed to keep better track of workers who are spread across multiple locations.
Incorporated earlier this year, Nook is a spinoff of Foko Retail, a local firm whose app allows managers, front-office staff and employees on the shop floor to communicate via instant messages as well as share photos, videos and documents with one another.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Foko’s management team began brainstorming other potential revenue streams as it braced for a potential downturn in business from its largely brick-and-mortar customers.
Sensing that many employees would probably want to keep splitting time between home and the office even after the pandemic abated, Foko’s engineers came up with Nook.
The app not only gives managers and their employees a more precise view of where everyone is planning to work on a certain day – say, at home, or in a particular boardroom or meeting area – it also displays their purpose for being there.
For example, users can set their status to let colleagues know if they’re open to meetings or whether they’d prefer not to be disturbed while they focus on a particular project. A colour-coded indicator on an employee’s avatar instantly shows others if a co-worker is up for a bit of social chat, is tied up in a meeting or is completely unreachable.
New mode of working
In the end, Foko made out just fine, securing $3 million in fresh venture capital in February before being acquired by U.S. firm Workforce Software in May. But by then, Nook had taken on a life of its own.
Co-founder Chad Carlson, an engineer who previously served as Foko’s director of product management, says the system is designed to help companies navigate a new mode of working in which not everyone is going to be in the same workspace at the same time.
“Really, we’re trying to give people the tools they need to determine when the best opportunity to go into the office is,” he explains. “You might go into the office expecting to see someone, and they’re not going to be there.”
A beta version of the product was launched to about 500 users in May, and earlier this week it became available to both iPhone and Android smartphone users. The company has also partnered with Slack to allow its users to access Nook’s web or mobile app directly from the popular workplace communication platform.
The basic platform can be downloaded for free. But Carlson and his team see big revenue potential in “premium” features such as analytics tools that will crunch data on where employees are working and when in an effort to help companies use office space more efficiently – for example, by pointing out rarely used boardrooms or meeting spaces that could be ditched or repurposed.
Funded by Foko boss Marc Gingras and a few other angel investors, Nook currently has four full-time employees. The firm expects to keep growing as vaccination levels continue to rise and more companies start contemplating a return to the office while still accommodating employees who wish to continue working virtually.
Recent studies would seem to suggest that Carlson is on the right track when he suggests such a mix will become the “standard model of work.”
Respondents to the 2021 Ottawa Business Growth Survey, for example, collectively predicted they would spend 49 per cent of their time at home and 47 per cent at the office once the pandemic begins to subside, with the remaining three per cent of their working hours spent at a co-working space or other shared premise.
“In the fall, things will be potentially full steam ahead, and we want to make sure that we’re building the solutions that people find important as they start to work in the hybrid environment,” Carlson says.