If and when workers return to offices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new Seattle startup called Worksphere is looking to make the process safer and more manageable with a software platform that tracks everything from seating arrangements to contact tracing.
Co-founder and CEO Aakhil Fardeen launched Worksphere in September along with a small team that worked together at his other startup, Lish, a corporate catering marketplace that grew to $12 million in annual revenue. Lish’s business is limited right now with so many office workers going remote during the pandemic.
Lish’s primary clients — and now Worksphere’s — are the office and facilities managers who oversee workplace experience.
“Our relationships with them gave us front row seats to the upcoming transformation of workplaces,” Fardeen said. “We worked hand in hand with an advisory group of HR, facilities, and office managers from 12 of those companies to design and build Worksphere.”
With remote work taking hold across the tech landscape during the pandemic, Worksphere is intended to help manage the ebb and flow of personnel between home and office locations. Fardeen called current technologies costly and cumbersome and said they don’t deliver what’s needed for a flexible work environment. With Worksphere, users can schedule time in the office and automate such things as capacity limits, wellness surveys and contact tracing.
The startup, whose co-founders include CTO Mark Piper and Director of Sales Theresa Klaassen, has raised $550,000 in pre-seed funding led by Kirby Winfield’s Ascend.vc and other seed funds and angel investors.
It’s the latest Seattle-area startup to develop technologies to manage environments during the pandemic. Nomad Go is helping physical retailers detect face masks and social distancing; Quivr just unveiled an AI-powered smart camera that detects application of sprayed disinfectant.
Seattle-based Allen Institute for AI is among Worksphere’s early customers, and will use the platform to manage three offices and more than 200 employees when they return to the office.
“I get a bird’s eye view of who’s in the office without the time consuming task of manually scheduling our entire team,” said Tran Luu, director of operations for the Allen Institute for AI. “With automated approvals, I can also rest assured that our space won’t be overbooked.”
Fardeen, who along with Piper spent time at Amazon, said he almost never worked at home before the pandemic, but now enjoys avoiding an hour commuting each day and getting to spend more time with his family. He believes offices will not be run as they were before the pandemic, but that people will still want to get back, at least part of the time — and he points to at least one survey that backs up the hybrid preference.
“Creativity, collaboration, and culture are hard to foster and build on Zoom and Slack alone,” Fardeen said. “I know many people whose home situations aren’t conducive to productive work for a variety of reasons, or who have roles that require them to go into an office. While remote work has its upsides, it isn’t viable for everyone all the time. People want greater flexibility, but they do still want to go to an office a few times a week.”