Office OS company wants to make the end of working from home and hot desking more fun than frustrating

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Envoy started testing Desks in November and has seen a spike in bookings as offices reopen.

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Office OS company Envoy launched Desks today to make it easier for colleagues to reserve desks together and to ease the transition back to life in the office. The platform allows recurring reservations and collects data on how and how often workers are using office space.

Individuals can reserve an individual spot and invite colleagues to snag a spot close by. Managers can invite an entire team to come into the office and reserve space together. 

The company has seen an increased demand for desk reservations, with Envoy bookings growing 95% from April to May 2021, with over 113,000 reservations in May alone. 

Previously hot desking was just about making sure you had a spot to sit but now the goal is different, said Larry Gadea, founder and CEO of Envoy.

"Now it's all about collaboration and making sure you and your team all get spots together, not on different floors," he said. "That's what we've built the product around."

SEE: Software as a Service (SaaS): A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Envoy launched the service in beta in November to help companies adapt to a hybrid workplace, meet social distancing guidelines and collect data on the use of office space. Between 400 and 500 companies used the beta version of the reservation software, according to the company. 

Alex Haefner, director of product at Envoy, said that the service has the potential to improve the experience of returning to the office for people who might not be excited about an end to working from home or hot desking.

"For people who haven't been back, the workplace has to earn it," he said. "We're thinking that the secret is getting groups to come back together." 

Gadea said the pace at which customers are rolling out this product surprised him.

"'Let's go back in August and September' has turned into 'Let's go back now,'" he said.

Gadea said that about 25% of his employees are back in the office. The company uses its own software—dogfooding is very important to the company, according to Gadea—and 60% of Envoy workers used the Desks service to reserve a desk on Tuesday. 

He said that working on tight development timelines requires developers to do more upfront planning, and that is easier to do in person than in a remote setting.

The service includes reporting on who is coming into the office and how often, whether people are using conference rooms and other spaces after making a reservation, and which spaces get used most frequently, among other data points. 

Gadea predicts that companies will use this data to measure how well a hybrid working plan is working. 

"We don't know where things are going to be six to 12 months from now, and this data will help companies make longer-term decisions," he said. 

"For people who haven't been back, the workplace has to earn it." - Alex Haefner, Envoy

Gadea also expects companies to build services on the platform that fit a particular need. 

"A company could integrate Desks with their own systems and use a TV screen to display who is in the office," he said. "People will be caught off guard that the workplace can give them that data."

Understanding what hybrid looks like

Envoy recently surveyed more than 800 workplace leaders from around the world to understand their return-to-work plans and priorities. The survey asked about how companies are going to use office space:

  • 45% of all leaders said they're transitioning to a mixed model of some permanently assigned desks and some space reserved for hot desking 
  • 14% said that they're transitioning to a full hot-desking model, with no permanently assigned seats. 
  • 18% have reduced the total number of desks and added more meeting spaces

Haefner said that the service is built to allow customization whether a company is requiring proof of vaccination or health screenings, setting rules by location or changing the rules over time. 

"We had one customer in Australia with thousands of employees going back on a daily basis," he said. "The rules are going to look very different from company to company."

The reservation service also allows employees to check out the profile of the person sitting next to them, a helpful feature given that many companies hired lots of new people during the pandemic. 

Desks was originally an app but the company realized that it needed a web interface as well. The platform also has more than 70 integrations with other services, including Microsoft Teams and Slack.  

The survey also asked about the top concerns about the hybrid model. Here is what company leaders said: 

  • 40%—maintaining compliance with changing rules and regulations
  • 35%—virus exposure and employees getting sick<
  • 33%—teams won't want to come back or the space will go unused
  • 23%—scheduling will be challenging
  • 19%—employees working remotely will feel at a disadvantage, despite their best efforts to create an inclusive workspace
  • 15%—they won't have enough of the right kinds of spaces available

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