The transition to remote work due to Covid-19’s sweeping impact in closing many in-person workplaces across the nation is just one thing many startups have to grapple with. But if your business is centered around helping the workplace and the workplace is now remote and potentially fundamentally changed, what do you do?
Traiangle-area startups All Elements, Plan2Play, StrongKey and InHerSight are in the middle of figuring that out right now.
Durham-based All Elements, a people experience management platform that we previously wrote about here, was just about to launch their marketing campaign for new product MeetingMaker when the pandemic hit the United States, said Founder and CEO Mutuk Karpakakunjaram.
“When this whole pandemic thing came about, I said this is probably not the right time to start a marketing campaign,” Karpakakunjaram said, noting the target audience of MeetingMaker is managers, HR teams and team members.
So Karpakakunjaram decided in March that offering MeetingMaker for free for as long as social distancing is recommended was the right thing to do. The teams going remote would need MeetingMaker’s help even more so now. The startup has had seven new signups so far.
In MeetingMaker, managers can set one-on-one meeting agendas, note progress on goals and tag achievements for annual performance reviews, all increasing the value of each meeting. Because of Covid-19, Karpakakunjaram said his startup has added two new categories for remote work meetings.
“It’s not something new within the tech industry,” Karpakakunjaram said of remote work. “But overall, I think this is a test for remote work and if we could manage to survive during this crisis working remotely, I think no one will question the remote work category once we get out of this.”
Durham-based Plan2Play was designed to increase real-life interaction by employees within companies. (We wrote about the startup in February.) But with social distancing in place, we aren’t supposed to be around anyone much at all. So Plan2Play’s Founder Louise Fahys pivoted.
The startup added new functionality to its app that allows connecting virtually with activities like virtual coffee. But even more, Plan2Play is offering a free service to connect neighbors for activities like picking up supplies for elderly or quarantined neighbors or organizing virtual or socially distanced activities like coffee or walks.
“I can’t do anything to help from a medical perspective,” Fahys said. “But the one thing I do hope is that we’re able to at least help people feel that they’re not alone, and that they have a way to stay connected with people in their community.”
Although Fahys said she’s usually a glass-half-full kind of person, she said this is a really scary time. Nearly all of the business owners she’s talked to have had to shut down or lay off a major part of their staff.
“I hope that we end up being in a good position to be able to help people still, but I mean, time will tell,” Fahys said. “Because it’s such a new thing for people to be pushed into a completely virtual world where they really don’t have that in-real-life interaction, which I feel is so important. So going forward, I’m hoping that our tool, once we’re able to be out with each other again, will be even more something that people are looking for.”
With increased reliance on online meetings, remote work and accessing company information at home, Covid-19 has touched cybersecurity startups as well. Durham-based open-source cybersecurity startup StrongKey serves many credit card processors as clients, and the hit by Covid-19 has affected them, COO Jake Kiser said. (We previously featured StrongKey here.)
“If you are a processor making your money on bars and restaurants, your business is in big trouble right now,” Kiser said. “It’s having a similar knock-on effect for us. I’m thankful that our business is not completely impacted like some of these are but also it’s not nothing for us, either. And we’re seeing some customers get a little more conservative with what they’re buying. It’s been tough. I think we’ve all got our own little unique piles of stresses right now. That’s certainly one of ours.”
During this time, Kiser said StrongKey is encouraging customers to incorporate FIDO security technology to increase protection with measures like face ID instead of solely passwords, which Kiser said are the root cause of somewhere around 80% of data breaches in companies.
Kiser said one aspect of Covid-19’s larger impact on businesses could be seen in highlighting the need for cash management. Currently, Kiser said he was disheartened to see how quickly many businesses have pulled the lever on layoffs and salary reductions. Fortunately, Kiser said StrongKey approached growth with a “thoughtfully conservative mindset.”
“We are okay with a more linear growth function because we think that we’ve got a long-term, systemic answer to the world’s security problem,” Kiser said. “And we want to be around for when that happens.”
InHerSight, a startup based in Durham, offers a platform where women can rate companies and match with jobs under their overall goal to improve the workplace for women. (We previously featured InHerSight here.) Now with many companies working almost exclusively remotely during the pandemic, InHerSight Founder and CEO Ursula Mead said that working women have changing needs and questions for employers.
InHerSight has increased content with tips for working at home and navigating balancing work with other demands like child care, as well as unemployment and mental health, which Mead said audiences have been most engaged with. InHerSight also features content surrounding sick days and which companies are hiring in response to Covid-19. Mead anticipates there will soon be a need for more coverage around bereavement leave and what is legal for companies to be doing at this time.
In all their content, Mead said they want to provide additional empathy and support for employees and employers.
“I think everyone right now needs to sort of be embracing the fact that everything is really fluid and changing and that people are adapting to the new information and the new circumstances at a rapid-fire pace,” Mead said. “That’s really hard on the employees. It’s hard on the employers. And I think this is just a time where everyone is looking for a little bit more empathy with their individual circumstances.”
In early March, InHerSight had a ‘Pandemic Day,’ working from home in preparation for Covid-19. Now, the startup has been working remotely for around a month. To stay connected, Mead said InHerSight has a weekly lunch and show and tell, where employees can share a hobby with each other.
InHerSight’s polling has adapted to include information surrounding women working during Covid-19, and the startup found that only 60 percent of women in their audience feel they have clear guidance on what their employer expects if they or someone in their family tests positive for Covid-19.
Mead said trends are emerging in companies being forced to look at every expense they are making, leading to furloughs, job losses and hiring pauses as well as new evaluations of benefits programs. Overall, Mead said tech companies are doing relatively well in their ability to be remote, with high demand for many services they are providing. Still, Mead waits for the day the InHerSight team is back together in one office.
“From a from a startup founder perspective, I think that when you have a small, tight-knit, close team like we do at InHerSight, you can have as many virtual meetings as you can fit into a day, but it’s never going to be the same as being together in person,” Mead said. “You miss each other. You miss your team and you miss the speed that you’re able to collaborate, exchange ideas and get something done as a group. It’s harder, and we’re all looking forward to the day that we can see each other in person in the office.”