Workplace

How to make remote work work

Hofy made an early bet that COVID-19 would have a long-term impact on workplaces. The company recently raised $15.2 million for its remote workforce equipment management solution.

Desk

Hofy recently raised $15.2 million for its remote workforce equipment management service.

Photo: Jannis Brandt/Unsplash

It's your new employee's first day of remote work, but their laptop hasn't shown up yet. Not a good look.

This very 2021 persistent problem is part of why Hofy, a remote workplace management tool, recently raised $15.2 million to help companies deploy laptops, chairs, desks and other physical equipment to their remote employees. The idea for Hofy, which is launching out of stealth today, emerged in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — before lockdowns went into effect in the U.S. and the U.K. Hofy's co-founders, Sami Bouremoum and Michael Ginzo, had a feeling that COVID-19 would have a long-term effect on society.

"We bet in January and February [2020] that, irrespective of what all the public policy bodies were saying, this was going to be one to two years of disruption where people wouldn't be able to congregate in large groups," Bouremoum told Protocol. "So how can we help businesses in a very tactical way transition from five days a week in the office to five days a week from home in the most painless way possible?"

Hofy soft-launched the first week of March in the U.K. to help support local companies in the shift to remote work. Within three months, the company began to think about how to help companies democratize the remote employee experience around the world.

"What's pretty clear, in the past, is remote employees used to be the really low-level call center employees and they were being treated by their employers like second-class citizens from a benefits, experience, pay and compliance perspective," Bouremoum said. "But now that all the more senior people within the company are also remote, it's no longer OK to do that."

In an interview with Protocol, Bouremoum discussed the problem Hofy solves for companies, the company's plans for expansion and his thoughts on what the future of work entails.

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

What's the main value that Hofy provides to companies?

The product is a combination of two things. The first is a SaaS platform that integrates with most of the HR services in the market. And then you can go into the Hofy platform and define an equipment policy. You can say for engineers, they get a certain level of equipment, sales reps get a better headset or marketing people get a tablet, whatever that may be. And then employees can browse the products that you've pre-approved for their function. And then we fulfill those products on a monthly subscription.

We'll deliver it, we'll install it, we'll maintain it and then we will recover it from the employee's home. The reason it's a subscription is that there are actually a lot of issues around financials and health and safety compliance with those products. Let's take Facebook as an example. So Facebook decides they're going to give each of their employees a Herman Miller chair. Well, the first question they need to ask themselves is who owns the chair. Does Facebook own the chair or does the employee own the chair? If Facebook owns the chair, there's a whole host of financial implications around them owning a product that's in the employee's home. How does insurance work? There's also a depreciation risk. But if they say the employee owns the chair, the IRS is going to be like, "Hold on a minute, you've just given all your employees a $1,000 cash equivalent gift, and someone needs to pay taxes on that." Whereas, if it's a subscription or rental, we basically say it's just a business expense in order to meet the health and safety obligations as an employer. So that's what the subscription solves.

OK, so companies rent the equipment from Hofy and Hofy ultimately owns the equipment. Does Hofy warehouse the equipment or purchase equipment as orders come in?

So we are unique in this space in that we are actually stockholders. And the reason we are stockholders is that the vast majority of the use cases where companies use Hofy is onboarding new hires. And we need to choreograph that experience really well. And one of the super important things is that things arrive on time. And what we learned the hard way is that if we didn't hold stock, we wouldn't be able to deliver the 98.5% on-time rate that we deliver, which is much, much higher than any other IT or furniture vendor. In Europe, we have four warehouses. We're in the process of setting one up in the U.S. and in our non-core geographies, we have partners who hold stock on our behalf. And we've already deployed equipment into 55 countries.

Companies have been delivering great first days in the office for a long time, but doing that at home is really hard. And it matters because first impressions matter. And if people don't have a great first impression in their business, it's a poor experience.

How big of a problem would you say Hofy is solving?

This is one where it's not a "nice to have." This is a must-have. And it can be done, but it's incredibly painful. People were managing to do this before Hofy, but what we do is make it 100 times simpler, and the best illustration of how much simpler it is is actually with the amount of time saved. On average, it used to take companies about 3.5 hours to onboard someone. With Hofy, it's 15 seconds because you're clicking one button.

Hofy recently raised $15.2 million in funding. How do you plan to use the funding?

We're obviously going to be spending the money on U.S. expansion. We have a whole list of customers who want us to support them there. And I think we need to invest appropriately. We don't think it's possible to deliver the level of service that we need to without being physically on the ground, so my co-founder Michael is actually moving to the U.S. in January because he's going to be setting up the warehouse there. And then we'll start hiring a sales team in the U.S., and once we start hiring the sales team then I'll move there as well.

The other thing we'll be spending the money on is hiring. In order to get to where we need to be, we're going to be at about 110 people in the next nine months. And then the next thing is continuing to make sure we build processes that help us maintain that 98.5% or 99% on-time delivery because we are a premium service. And one of the things we're really proud of is we haven't churned a single customer to date.

How many customers does Hofy have?

We have about 35 paying customers. Customers can commit to a contract of anywhere between six and 36 months. Obviously, the longer they commit, the cheaper the monthly rate. And at the end of 36 months, they have three options. The first is they can continue renting. The second is that we can refresh their equipment and the third thing is we can sell the equipment either to the employee or the employer.

That's one of the cool things that we do. If you work at Protocol and then you decide to move on, you know, it's a bit of a crappy experience for you as an employee if you have to return all the stuff, including your desk, which Protocol would have to demand from you for tax reasons. What Hofy can do is say, "Hey, let us deal with it," and then we can just send you a Stripe payment link for 15 cents of the dollar of the value of the products and you get to keep it as kind of a better outcome for everyone. It's also a better outcome for us because we're not moving very big pieces of equipment all around the world and producing more emissions, which we don't want to do.

How do you see the hybrid work landscape evolving over the years, and how do you envision your company adapting to it?

One of the things I definitely don't think is going to happen is 90% of the world working five days a week from home. But similarly, I don't believe that you'll have 90% of the world going five days a week into the office again. And I think it will vary significantly across demographics as well as age, location and so on. But I think the future of work is going to be a combination of four things. The first is working in the office, which is what we've known for a long time, working from home, which is what we've gotten used to over the last 24 months. The next one is working near home, like working in a WeWork downtown instead or a cafe. And the fourth is digital nomads, which is where you basically decide you're going to Hawaii for two months and work from there just because you can.

What I think is going to happen, though, is we're going to see a democratization of pay across different cities. People have realized that they can get the same results from an employee based in the Midwest and one in San Francisco, or they could be in Brazil. So I think one of the really cool things that is going to happen, very slowly over the next two to three decades is that you're going to see an emergence of a wealthier middle class in rural areas in Western countries but also in developing countries because you won't need to bring that developer from India anymore, and that's going to create a flywheel because the person who's making money in India is going to want to spend that money in India.

I think in 20 to 30 years, people all around the world will be able to afford expensive products and that will create a whole set of problems around the global physical distribution of goods because that still hasn't been solved. And I think that's a really exciting opportunity in terms of democratization of pay but also how do we distribute physical goods at a global level more effectively.

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