‘Culture-as-a-service’ could be the next big thing in the workplace

When Microsoft unveiled its new Viva platform earlier this year, it was sizing up a $300 billion market for employee communications and engagement.

It marked a move beyond simple communications and productivity tools with a focus around employee engagement and company culture as remote or hybrid working becomes increasingly normalized.

Tools like Zoom, Teams and Slack have all proven indispensable in keeping companies’ operations flowing. But one of the biggest challenges for managers and team leaders since the beginning of the pandemic has been cultivating a company culture, especially when everyone is scattered.

For Casey Flint, an associate at Australian venture capital firm Square Peg, a burgeoning area dubbed “culture-as-a-service” is one to watch as start-ups build bespoke tech solutions to help address these gaps in employee engagement.

“Culture-as-a-service is software that is orientated around the employee experience and that’s how I distinguish it from HR tech,” she told CNBC.

This will be key in managing hybrid workforces and attracting and retaining talent, she said.

“It encapsulates a bunch of different things that have been typically done by HR and people leaders at companies. That’s things like feedback on performance, onboarding and value sharing, learning and development, team activities.”

One such tool is Workvivo. The start-up, which is backed by Zoom Chief Executive Eric Yuan, develops a workplace social network that connects management and staff on an equal playing field for feedback and discussion.

According to a survey conducted by the company, 57% of employees “feel less connected to their organization’s goals” since the coronavirus pandemic took hold while more than half feel their work achievements are noticed less by higher-ups since moving to remote work.

“In the digital world, recognition does a number of things,” Chief Executive John Goulding said. “There’s a feel-good factor but it’s also bringing alive what’s happening in the organization, the culture and ultimately shared values and beliefs.”

“That’s a huge part of people feeling part of something bigger. It hugely influences the emotional commitment to the organization and that’s what organizations are reaching out to us for help with.”

Inclusive meetings

“The people in the room spoke to each other in the room so the dialogue became very fragmented compared to those that were online.”

This is one of the bottlenecks to be addressed to ensure that no one is overshadowed in this new normal.

“Part of it is having to upgrade technology within their office environment so it makes it easier to have that seamless experience of traversing from a physical world into collaborative working online with other people who are outside of the physical space,” Gardner said.

Square Peg’s Flint said face-to-face interactions can never be fully replicated digitally and leaders still need to be actively involved in their company’s culture.

“You still can’t let it go on autopilot. I think a lot of this will make it easier to scale these programs but you can’t take your foot off the gas and can’t stop being intentional about how you build culture.”

While Microsoft has thrown its hat in the ring, start-ups will play a major role in this industry by tackling niche challenges, Flint said.

“Start-ups can move a lot faster. That will work in their advantage. One big difference that I see in culture-as-a-service start-ups is that they’re really selling bottom up,” she said.

Leap of faith

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