The Future of Work: Selected insights, opportunities and market maps

  • This piece builds on and is inspired by existing research. The links can be found at the bottom.
  • Focus is on early stage Europe based startups that were mostly founded after 2016 and raised less than $5m. Some exceptions are made by referring to international leaders in order to make the subcategory positioning clearer.
  • Many companies could be attributed to multiple categories and/or subcategories, such as collaboration and productivity. I decided to choose the one I thought made the most sense.
  • The list of start-ups and categories is non-exhaustive. I simply included the ones I have come across and like.

PART 1: Key trends and categories

  • Huge digitization across all (traditional) industries in the coming 5 years. Reducing workplace density using automation and AI in areas where pre-Covid a lot of people came together (warehouses, grocery stores, call centres, manufacturing) is inevitable. In Germany alone this year (2022) >300k more people will retire than enter the labor market. In 2029, the yearly gap will be 670k, adding up to 5m cumulative by 2030. The consequences of not adopting digital tools will be detrimental to the economic progress of many countries.
  • Stellar UI/UX is essential. By 2028, almost 60% of the workforce will be millennials and Gen Z with incredibly high UI/UX standards. Startups can compete with legacy players by simply offering prettier and easier to use product. The consumerization of IT is here (as predicted by Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer in 2012).
  • Independent workers are on the rise. With a wave of creators and freelancers arriving, driven by the rising remote work demands as well as the popularity of the creator economy, we can expected a lot of startups offering solutions that will make this target audience’s work life easier (personal finance, collaboration tools, hiring platforms…)
  • Remote first companies will become even more popular. These are likely to become more successful models than hybrid remote work in the long run as they offer full flexibility on location, are often at advantage when building a companywide coherent culture and have a lower cost structure.
  • Organizations’ tech spending is up by 57 percent in 2021 compared with 2020. The category’s growth is fuelled by VCs investing massively: In the first 10 months of 2021, total funding stood at $7.5 billion for the year — more than 2019 and 2020 combined. A trend that will continue in the next 2 years.
  • Successful hiring platforms not only offer “local”, however also integrate features that make remote and even freelance hiring easy.
  • A strong company culture will be a driver of top talent recruitment and retention, especially in a remote/hybrid world. Tools helping companies achieve this will thrive.
  • Learning and development will become increasingly important. The World Economic Forum estimates that 50% of employees will need to be reskilled by 2025. Tech platforms are on their way to help people learn new skills, especially on the b2b side.
  • In a world of hybrid office setups, offering flexible furniture, office and equipment rental will become hugely demanded. Already now, 55% of remote workers who didn’t use a co-working space prior to the pandemic are considering joining one in the future. Companies solving administrative related tasks (booking, renting etc) to this will thrive.
  • Payroll tools for international and remote hiring: Easy to use features around tax, compliance and FX rates are the main differentiators that will be looked for.
  • Target client: The growing numbers of freelancers will need sophisticated yet easy to use personal finance tools.
  • 47% of IT leaders say that the greatest ROI from automation occurs within operations. This will be especially for relevant for distributed teams.
  • 50% of business leaders say that they’re planning to accelerate the automation of repetitive tasks within their organization. On top of operations, compliance related tasks will be another growing use case given its repetitive nature.
  • One of the main opportunities I see is targeting more SMBs and traditional industries: This will be the decade of digitization for them. Less staff, more automation.
  • Atlassian estimates that 73% of the average meeting participant did other work during a meeting and 45% felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attended. There are $1800 annual productivity costs per employee due to unnecessary emails. Productivity at work still has a long way to go!
  • Startups developing virtual personal assistants are becoming increasingly important to a large number of people (not only C-level).
  • Search is another subcategory getting lots of attention: Allowing people to find a set of data or information in a fast way often using a “zero click” approach. Given nowadays’ large amounts of recorded meetings, notes and data, startups in this space will continue to raise a lot of attention (from users and investors). Especially for distributed and remote teams, search tools seem to be extremely relevant.
  • Asynchronous communication tools will thrive for remote work, given everyone’s varying schedules.
  • In a remote first company, a virtual office may well become essential in order to foster informal communication between employees. Startups in this space benefit from an additional tailwind: The arrival of the metaverse.
  • Bringing desk less workers online by developing tools that allow them to communicate effectively and securely with their white-collar workers is a trend that will continue to grow.
  • Within the collaboration category, the unbundling of incumbents such as Microsoft office and Gsuite seems to be a strong trend with opportunities to build leaders in each sub category (Notion, Airtable…).
  • Startups developing collaborative solution for company & client interaction present a big opportunity as people realise that many in-person meetings are not necessary and existing digital interaction still have lots of friction and too many iterations (emails, calls, etc).

PART 2: Deep dives & market maps of each category

Human Resources

  • People Analytics: Tools offering a data driven approach by tracking and analysing HR KPIs.
  • Culture: Platforms offering various solutions with the common goal of building a strong company culture, remote or in office.
  • Perks: Employee benefits made easy.
  • Coaching: Developing engaged employees with online coaching.
  • Mental health: Solutions allowing employees to take care of their mental health.
  • Learning: Workplace learning platforms that help guide and upskill employees.
  • Hiring: Platforms that act as HR operating systems making the hiring process more efficient: Sourcing, interviewing, screening and recruitment.
  • Remote talent: HR platforms focused on cross border and remote talent hiring.

Administration

  • Virtual mailboxes: The future of admin is paperless.
  • Payroll: Software to make payroll fully digital and easy.
  • Back office & accounting: Platforms to digitize invoices, spend management and bookkeeping.
  • Next gen office/office management: Platform for flexible office furniture procurement and desk booking.

Workflow automation

  • Compliance: Automating compliance related checks and documentation.
  • Analytics: Automating data science with no/low code tools.
  • Client workflows: No/low code solutions for companies to guide clients through signups, invoices, forms, quotes and more.
  • Operations: Removing manual & repetitive coordination work such as document labelling, task instructions, approval requests and more.

Productivity

  • Calendars: Tools to help you organise your calendars efficiently and making scheduling easy.
  • Email: Anything that helps you to organise your inbox or write better emails.
  • Project & task management: Resource allocation & estimation and dynamic to-do lists.
  • Meeting management: Tools that help you to have efficient meetings. Preparing, note taking during and following up post meetings.
  • Voice: Transcribing calls using AI and analysing every interaction to come up with insights.
  • Virtual PA: Replacing the traditional office PA using a part-time remote one or fully automating it with an intelligent virtual assistant that is trained using AI.
  • Search: Software solutions that help users find information or data in the cloud with the least clicks possible.

Communication

  • Messaging & chat: Mainly used for text based communication between employees.
  • Virtual office: Allows remote teams to have an online workplace with meeting & focus rooms, social lounges and more.
  • Video: Communication via video.
  • Noise reduction: Tools to help reduce unwanted background noises when on calls.
  • Events: Solutions that help organising and hosting online events.
  • Customer communication management: Platforms that helps employees engage with clients via various channels.
  • Screen sharing: Tools that drive communication by enabling screen sharing.

Collaboration

  • Company & client: Tools enabling efficient document sharing, updating and collaborating for industries that require multiple company & client iterations.
  • Design: Collaborative software to make things beautiful and be creative.
  • Wiki/Note taking: Knowledge sharing and management tools.
  • Data & Spreadsheets: A more user friendly and collaborative version of Excel, integrating multiple sources of data.
  • Digital white boards: Helping teams collaborate together by brainstorming, planning and mind mapping.
  • Developer: Platforms allowing software developers to collaborate together more easily.

Conclusion

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Early stage VC @ Mangrove Capital Partners. Excited about the future of work, digital health and more...

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Yann Decroos

Yann Decroos

Early stage VC @ Mangrove Capital Partners. Excited about the future of work, digital health and more...

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