The Covid-19 crisis hasn’t come with many silver linings, but one positive is that many companies do now have access to technologies that ensure they can carry on operating amid the pandemic. Working from home isn’t possible in every industry, but at large numbers of companies, staff have moved seamlessly to remote working. Indeed, in many cases, organisations are reporting increased productivity – and employees are welcoming more flexible working patterns.
However, there is a problem. People working on their own at home all day miss the social interaction of the office. In one report published earlier this year, more than two-thirds of people said they missed those interactions; almost half felt positively lonely. And when people feel isolated, they disengage and lose focus; two-thirds of companies now worry that with staff working from home, they are losing the collaborative ethos and team spirit that helps drive their business.
Enter Let’s Dive, a platform for remote engagement and team building, which is today announcing that it has raised $1.7M of funding in a finance round led by Surge, Sequoia Capital’s scale-up programme for start-ups in India and South-East Asia. “In this new world of remote work, keeping your employees happy and engaged is your biggest challenge,” says founder Nitesh Agrawal. “We eliminate isolation by creating a social space where staff can come together.”
Agrawal and co-founder Om Prakash have each built a series of start-ups in recent years and it was the former’s experience founding Indiez, a community of engineers working remotely, that inspired the launch of Let’s Dive. “In a company that was 100% remote, we found people came and went without ever feeling part of the culture,” he recalls. “Then a colleague started organising Zoom happy hour sessions and the effects were remarkable; it really seemed to encourage people to collaborate – to solve problems between themselves, for example, rather than referring every question to managers.”
The experience prompted Agrawal to set up Let’s Dive last year, well before Covid-19 began to cause chaos. The platform enables workers to meet up online to play games, watch YouTube videos together, or simply to hang out with one another. In other words, it begins to replicate some of the social experiences that people enjoy when they share a physical workspace.
The company grew by word of mouth. Agrawal and Prakash stared out by offering the platform on a trial basis to a handful of companies, but soon found themselves being approached by other businesses keen to use Let’s Dive. “It just seemed to build – without doing any marketing at all, we were suddenly getting requests from all sorts of businesses.”
With the onset of Covid-19 – and the dramatic increase in remote working that followed – Let’s Dive then found itself in exactly the right place at the right time. The platform is now in use at more than 100 companies in 28 countries. Clients include Facebook, Airtable and Indian technology companies such as Swiggy and Hike.
The key, says Agrawal, has been to make the platform as simple to access as possible, rather than requiring users to download new apps or join new systems each time they want to interact, which would kill spontaneity and engagement. Instead, the platform is opened through a single link, which instantly gives users access to its games and services – and, most importantly, to colleagues joining from their own homes.
So far, Let’s Dive has rolled out on an invite-only basis, but its fundraising round gives it the firepower to invest in distribution and to start building scale. With companies required to pay a monthly subscription fee for each employee given access to the platform, Agrawal believes there is scope for very rapid growth. “It’s had amazing traction so far,” he says.
In time, of course, Covid-19 will pass and many people will return to the office. But the crisis is widely regarded as a turning point, with businesses and their employees embracing the benefits of working from home – from the reduced environmental footprint of organisations requiring smaller physical offices and less commuting to the more family-friendly nature of flexible work patterns.
Accordingly, remote working is set to remain, and Agrawal argues that this requires us to tackle some of its downsides. “If remote working takes all the fun out of the workplace, millions of people will feel disengaged and productivity will suffer,” he says. “That will mean businesses losing billions of dollars – we have to find ways to make remote work feel more human.”
There will, of course, be reluctant adopters. Before Covid-19, some less enlightened employers rejected remote working, for fear that staff would take advantage; such anxieties have proved misplaced, but employers may still not feel inclined to dangle opportunities to take time out of work in front of their staff. Eventually, however, Agrawal believes results will prompt a change of heart.
“Companies will realise how important these issues are when their staff start leaving,” he warns. “Studies show that companies that focus on engagement tend make more than twice the revenues of those that don’t.”
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