Startups for the modern workplace


GREAT UPHEAVALS always spark innovation. The covid-19 pandemic is no different. The share of new patent applications in America connected to remote-working technologies more than doubled between January and September 2020. Opportunities abound to invest in a host of transformative early-stage ideas. The pitches below are from startups that aim to improve the modern workplace and are inexplicably struggling to raise capital. Are you in?

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Offices are being rejigged to allow more room for collaborative working. More desks are being shared and space is scarcer. Workers often need to make reservations to secure a spot. Towels on Deckchairs is a German startup that uses algorithms and manual workers to claim and hold the best desks. Our high-frequency bots can book slots as soon as reservation systems open; in offices that operate a finders-keepers system, our gig workers will physically occupy space for our customers.

Bottled Boss produces a line of fragrances designed to help harder-hearted managers display their more human side. “Empathy”, with its notes of cedar, has a sedating effect, rendering the wearer unable to do much else except look understanding. “Vulnerability” does not smell of anything but if you squirt it in your eyes, it does make you cry.

Class Pet takes the same contact-tracing technology used to monitor whether people have been exposed to covid-sufferers and applies it to the problem of proximity bias in the office. By tracking how often people are physically close to each other, Class Pet can alert firms to whether bosses are giving too much face time to specific people in the office. It’s also excellent for gossip.

Employees are under scrutiny as never before, both in the office and at home (see Class Pet). The degree of surveillance is becoming more transparent: a law goes into force in New York state next month requiring employers to tell workers how they monitor their activities. Chaff is a new startup that gives employees a range of options to fight back. Chaff’s customers can alter web-camera feeds to show pre-recorded looped footage of them working furiously. Proprietary software will move cursors at random intervals in order to show that employees have not fallen asleep. (Not available in China.)

Video Vici improves the experience that people have on video calls. We have developed a set of features that work on all the main conferencing platforms, and include the following: time-on-mic countdown clocks, to limit the amount of time that any one person spends blathering; a ticker showing how many people are not paying any attention to you at any one time; and nostril filters to help with unfortunate camera angles.

From Serene and Focusmate to Todoist and Evernote, a bewildering array of productivity apps promises to make workers more efficient. Cull takes a new approach to this problem, by ruthlessly prioritising the things you need to do. We use artificial intelligence to work out which colleagues are above you in the organisation, or soon might be. Messages from these people are pulled into your inboxes and notifications, and ranked in order of seniority. Communication from other people is automatically deleted before you even see it.

The commute into the office wastes time that could be spent a) more productively or b) snoring. The same logic applies to the time people spend getting ready to work from home. That is why we founded Bedesk, maker of a revolutionary piece of furniture that allows you to sleep and work in one location. Modelled on hospital beds, Bedesks can automatically adjust their angle of recline and feature a foldable work surface with multiple charger points. Headboards can be stamped with your corporate logo, and our first 1,000 customers will receive a free bedpan.

Pretty soon it won’t be enough to spout off about the metaverse; you will actually have to go there. Metamorph is like a personal shopper for your avatar, offering customised advice on what your digital twin should look like. Higher-end avatar designers such as Ready Player Me already allow you to reshape eyebrows, thicken hair, choose to wear virtual combat fatigues and generally have a digital mid-life crisis. Millions of middle-aged workers are about to make some seriously embarrassing choices. Don’t be one of them.

If any of these investment opportunities appeals to you, please just send a blank cheque to The Economist and we will make sure it gets to the right people.

Read more from Bartleby, our columnist on management and work:
How to sign off an email (Apr 16th)
How to make hybrid work a success (Apr 9th)
The case for managerial decency
(Apr 2nd)

This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Calling all sharks and dragons”

From the April 23rd 2022 edition

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