Remote work

Remote workplace tech is raking in investment, but bosses have other ideas

The HR tech stack needs to be ‘reimagined with remote work at its core,’ one investor says.
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· 5 min read

Remote work became mainstream by necessity when the pandemic upended a multitude of norms—commuting, sitting in an office, microwaving a Tupperware of leftover lasagna—that may now seem like a sepia-tone relic of an extinct working era.

But the adjustment has been less like a revolution and more like a slow ascent up a ladder. The hope for venture capitalists, according to Jason Corsello, the founder and general partner of Acadian Ventures, a future-of-work-focused venture fund, is that technology can ease the burden on organizations managing teams across time zones and regulatory landscapes.

“There’s a lot of different approaches to solving the remote problem,” he told HR Brew.  “Whether it’s platforms that are specifically hiring for remote workers, whether it’s applications, like virtual headquarters…It’s kind of all over the map right now.”

New purveyors of remote-work tech have emerged over the last two years in what’s been heralded as a “startup wave.” The space has seen unicorns minted while investors, such as Anish Acharya, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, have remained certain about a distributed future. But questions remain about the future of remote work—especially when corporate America seems intent on pulling workers back into the office.

Push and pull. Any investor or startup founder vying to make remote work the global norm may not want to tell the C-suite. Some 67% of US managers and executives at large companies surveyed in October by Fiverr said they want employees in the office five days a week. Further surveys and RTO edicts issued by corporate leaders indicate an uphill battle facing remote work.

Certain VCs are betting big on remote work tech. Eldridge and Norwest Venture Partners led a $400 million Series B round for Velocity Global in May, bringing the distributed talent management platform’s total funding to $500 million. Andreesen Horowitz—known as a Silicon Valley kingmaker for its early investments in Roblox and Airbnb—declared that “the company of the future is default global” earlier this year. “It feels like it’s very difficult in this day and age to have a new startup that doesn’t have a point of view on being distributed,” Acharya said.

But the number of available remote jobs has been declining recently. Remote jobs comprised 14% of listings on LinkedIn in September, down from 20% in February, according to the company’s October Global Talent Trends report. Remote listings have also tapered off on Indeed, decreasing from a peak of 9.9% in February to 8.6% in October, according to data shared with HR Brew by senior corporate communications manager Carrie Engel.

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Corsello suggested that the level of investment may not be a reflection of how widespread remote work actually is. “I have a fear that some of the VCs view [a] world that starts and ends in Silicon Valley, and there’s a whole world outside of Silicon Valley that doesn’t run their companies…in a remote way [like] Silicon Valley companies do,” he said.

This idea is reinforced by data, as most full-time remote employees are sequestered in major US coastal cities, according to data provided by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom. In an email to HR Brew, he said that the urban density can be “explained by education and industry. Cities tend to have more educated employees and they are more likely to WFH as they tend to have more office-based jobs, which can more easily be done remotely.”

Wait and see. John Sumser, principal analyst at HRExaminer, said investors are attempting to usher in the next epoch of work through distributed technology. But many of the advantages afforded to workers in remote setups aren’t readily apparent to their bosses, possibly due to a lack of sophisticated tools, he explained.

“We don’t really know how remote work works. The better somebody is at their job, the less supervision they need. But none of the remote, monitor, control measur[ing] tools have any sense of that kind of nuance,” he said. Moreover, there is a “coastal view that remote work is a good thing,” which conflicts “hard against a middle-of-the-country view that it’s not,” he added.

For the investment and innovation to leave an enduring mark, “the entire HR tech stack needs to be reimagined with remote work at its core,” Acharya said. “We’re going to need to reimagine not just payroll, but also HRIS, and management practices, and really everything around the sort of work, workplace experience, and the technology that supports it.”

Whether America’s bosses are anywhere near as keen remains to be seen.—SB

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HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.