Culture-as-a-Service is a new, USD300B segment ushered in by the transition to hybrid office-home work.
After working remotely at Uber for eight months and joining Square Peg mid-pandemic, I began thinking a lot about how companies build culture, and how the shift to remote work would influence those behaviours. Through that thinking, I developed a coinage for what I expected to emerge as a result: a new category I’ve dubbed Culture-as-a-Service, or ‘CaaS’.
CaaS is an umbrella term to describe the new wave of companies designed to productise and facilitate the growth and development of a company’s culture.
Read on about the trends driving CaaS, what it looks like in practice and a framework for thinking about corporate culture.
As the impact of the Pandemic became clearer and organisations began shifting their employees to work from home, employers and managers were asking themselves and their organisations:
What will happen to productivity as employees work from home?
How will we maintain employee engagement and keep them happy in such an uncertain environment?
How will we onboard new employees with only Zoom or Microsoft Teams at our disposal?
How will we adequately support those who are juggling more than just a busy job, but children and partners and other commitments?
What do employee career development and understanding exceptional performance look like in a remote setting?
Leaders were worried about employee engagement, and more broadly, company culture.
As one director at a US100B+ tech giant told me:
With work from home, it’s getting really hard to differentiate on culture. If you don’t differentiate on culture, then compensation becomes your primary lever for attracting talent, which tech has historically not done. So much of culture was created via in-person things - lunch, breakout spaces, happy hours etc. So the challenge is how you create culture in a hybrid/WFH workforce.
During a discussion on 2020 learnings in our founder Slack community, Nathan Walsh, CEO and Co-Founder of Athena Home Loans went as far to say that his biggest learning was that “Culture is the ultimate asset”.
Corporate culture has always been driven by the actions and words of leaders and founders: that’s unlikely to change. And increasingly companies have enlisted other levers to drive and measure culture: mentoring programs, offsites, recognition programs, culture surveys, learning & development programs, happy hours - the list goes on.
These activities all fall neatly into four pillars of culture, unified by a shared mission and vision.
The framework above was first introduced to me by Remote Social, a Sydney-based tech startup, who kindly allowed me to share it. I love it because it distils the elusive mystery of culture-building into key tenants.
So what’s the $300 billion dollar opportunity? COVID-19 dramatically and forcibly accelerated the transition of knowledge and white-collar workers to either hybrid or complete remote work. Tech companies, which had largely been hesitant to move any significant portion of their team or culture-focused activities into the remote world, suddenly had little choice. And for many of the larger organisations, this remote/in-person transition is here to stay: employees at Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Square and Atlassian all now have the option to work from home permanently. As I’ve heard someone put it: “10 years’ worth of HR policy change accelerated into just 10 months.”
The shift to remote work has left leaders with fewer tools in their culture-building kit. Logistics-based events and activities that had historically formed the major ways companies bonded, onboarded, learned and celebrated are now off the table.
Enter, stage right: Culture-as-a-Service (CaaS).
In the new world of CaaS, products will be built with a view of building a company culture that is both scalable and simple for employers, and consistent and effective for employers. It will be digital-first, with the addition of features that facilitate the new world of in-person and remote work. Lately, it’s seemed impossible for me to not come across more and more new CaaS startups, and I think the wave has just begun.
It’s hard to appreciate what that looks like without examples, so let’s look at the businesses that I believe are playing in CaaS today.
Trust & Transparency
Culture Amp Many know this great Australian startup. CultureAmp allows companies to survey their employees to measure employee engagement over time.
In a world of Culture-as-a-Service, I expect more of the emerging CaaS companies to measure engagement in new ways and on a more regular basis.
Pyn Pyn’s vision is to bring together the fragmented spaces in which your team operates - Slack, Teams, Zoom, Gmail, Workday, Salesforce etc - to tailor and perfectly time the communications employees receive.
I met Pyn founders Joris and Jon just prior to joining Square Peg, and while I wasn’t yet spending my spare time thinking about CaaS, I was enamoured by their vision.
Jon is one of the co-founders of Culture Amp and Joris is a former VP of People at a few brands you might know: Atlassian, Squarespace, Typeform. Suffice to say, if anyone has the chops to build an exceptional product in the “CaaS” space, Joris and Jon are very high on the list.
Collaboration & Competition
Remote Social At the heart of corporate culture is people and the way they interact. That's why I love Remote Social and think it's a great example of CaaS. Remote Social is empowering teams to build strong cultures through play. The early version of their product, which is currently in closed Beta, includes games and hosted experiences (think Airbnb experiences, but for teams). They are currently building products that create social touchpoints throughout the day and week, and strengthen each of the four pillars they’ve identified as crucial to building strong cultures in remote and hybrid teams.
Pluto We’ve just kicked off a new season of our podcast Founder Stories, and our first guest is legendary angel investor and operator Elad Gil, who's building a new platform, Pluto. A number of companies are trying to replicate the 3D conversations of the real world in the digital world, and Pluto is one of them. Pluto enables video-based avatars to walk around a 3D space: moving into and out of conversation. As a VR-evangelist, these programs seem like a stepping stone to a future of digital 3D communication facilitated in virtual reality (VRChat and RecRoom currently reign supreme here).
Connection & Community
Lubuto Lubuto prompts employees to connect in “sharing moments”, with questions like “what’s something your team doesn't know about you?”. These opportunities to learn about coworkers allow us to go beyond the superficial interactions we all tend towards, and consequently act as an entry point into more engaged teams.
Brancher Mentoring programs have long been logistically painful to run. Brancher allows companies to enrol mentors and mentees, pair them based on common values and personality traits and also train them to be great mentors - all using software and effortlessly leveraging founder Holly’s experience as a psychologist.
Reward & Recognition
OnLoop Ever go to write a performance review, and find that all of the feedback you’ve written is based on the last four weeks? Or try to create a recognition program and find that no one engages with it?
OnLoop solves both of those problems. OnLoop prompts team members to be constantly providing real-time feedback and recognition that’s tied to any organisation’s values.
Retrain.ai In a perfect world, organisations would have a bank of information about their employee’s skills, and they would be able to use that data to mobilise and upskill teams through organisational and macro-level workforce shifts.
Retrain.ai is setting out to do just that by enabling organisations to catalogue the skills of their workers and intelligently match those skills to current and emerging roles.
What’s emerging now is a collection of players that fall under a unified umbrella, built to scale across a rapidly changing workforce mix. As the space evolves, I expect we’ll see more convergence within these models that allow organisations more ‘CaaS’ in one place. We're already seeing more established players take strides towards that vision, with Microsoft announcing Microsoft Viva, their vision for a one-stop employee experience hub, just this month. However the landscape evolves, Culture-as-a-Service represents a massive new opportunity to service the world’s employees in a way that only software can unlock.
If you’ve got thoughts on what the future of corporate culture looks like, or if you’re building a company you believe falls under CaaS, I would love to hear from you. Email me at casey @ squarepegcap.com or Tweet me @FlintCasey.