Gopi Mattel, based in silicon valley, serves as General Partner and CEO at Lifeboat Ventures, a venture fund that creates disaster impact mitigation startups. He is the Founder/CEO of CellarStone, Inc., Director at Founder Institute, and Advisor for Pepperdine University’s Most Fundable Companies program. The views expressed are his own.
For the last few decades, businesses have struggled with the idea of allowing their staff to work from home. Various options have been considered and tried with limited success. The vast majority of companies have a work-from-home option only as an exceptional arrangement.
This has been a big cost on the employees. Most employees waste a large number of unpaid hours just commuting. They take a certain number of risks getting concentrated in a central location. Employees’ family life and children struggle since school timings are different than work timings. Pregnant women and women with young children particularly have had to pay a heavy price due to the model of working at the office.
Some industries and some career paths certainly need to be at-office or on-site. But the majority of the companies did not allow work-from-home because of a fear of productivity loss, primarily. Management and even line managers have felt uncertain that they could get the best work out of their employees.
In one fell swoop the work-from-office model has been broken in the year 2020. Nature has just proved the justification for work-at-office is just a narrative, and when push comes to shove, practically all companies can accommodate work-from-home options. COVID-19 has forced most companies to stop employees from coming to office, due to the high risk of contagion and fatalities. Certain industries have been damaged terribly due to this pandemic. But most industries have adjusted to this new model and have actually flourished as we can see from the stock market levels.
Businesses have started rethinking the work location model. Microsoft, Dropbox and many other companies have announced permanent work-from-home policies. This is very likely a long-term change. Real estate in many industries can be almost 10% of the company’s expenses. Companies can move a lot of that expense into the bottom line by outsourcing the real estate function into the employee’s own home. They will not easily add back that expense.
There have been costs and it has not been a smooth ride. I live in the Silicon Valley area. In the last 6 weeks, I personally have dealt with 2 power outages lasting 2 days each. There were two more smaller power outages plus one internet outage from my ISP. I had to do to webinars during this period, and I found myself frantically running around to find a place with reliable power and internet. It was very challenging.
My company’s staff are spread across three countries. They are all dealing with two disasters at a time: come combination of Covid-19, fires and storms. Obviously, this problem is global.
This includes C-level, Vice President, and Director levels. The staff and the company are all losing large amounts of productivity. I have been looking for solutions to this problem. This productivity problem has to be solved and will be solved because it is such a big impact on the companies.
One idea that I could see my company paying for, would be a work-from-home resiliency kit for the work-from-home employee. For an employee to be productive from the business perspective, they would need phone service, internet connection, operating computer, phone, printer, and some lights. The kit could consist of a battery, a trickle charger using solar or wind and satellite internet and a phone device that could provide enough coverage for a minimum of 72 hours. It should work from a house or an apartment.
I could see the company paying $150 per month for such a service for each employee. Note: Please respond to this article and tell us how much your company should pay monthly for such a kit, to maintain your productivity.
Other ideas that could help in this area could be:
- A billing service that could aggregate home-based expenses that are associated with work-at-home and pass it on to companies for reimbursement automatically.
- Multiplex software that can maintain seamless internet connectivity across multiple internet connection channels.
- Virtual Reality based collaborative environment for better connectivity
Lifeboat Ventures is thinking about this and a few more ideas to fund in its quest to mitigate disaster impact on society.