Larry Gadea, CEO of Envoy, says hybrid work is evolving but it’s here to stay

NEW YORK — Larry Gadea, CEO of the workplace platform Envoy, founded his company a decade ago to solve inefficiencies around front desk management. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down offices, the San Francisco-based company had to adapt fast.

Envoy launched tools to help clients manage workplace safety, including contact tracing. Now, as more companies bring employees back to the office, Envoy is helping them navigate hybrid work models that have become the norm. A new app allows workers to see who is coming in, book conference rooms, desks and parking spaces. An analytics tool collects data on attendance, helping companies determine how much office space they really need.

Envoy’s services are used in 16,000 offices around the world by clients including Slack and Lululemon. The company raised $111 million in new funding last year that brought its valuation to $1.4 billion. Gadea recently spoke to The Associated Press about the future of work.

Q: At the beginning of the pandemic, what was your company’s focus, and how did you pivot?

A: We created a desking product, which was all about keeping people away from each other … But as time went on, it was less about companies keeping people away from each other because of the pandemic and sickness. It’s now about bringing them together on similar days and having teams organize each other and allowing the flexibility and the hybrid portion of it all … There’s an app where you can see the availability of things, and you don’t have to walk around in circles in the office for 20 minutes trying to find a room … The pandemic was not great for us at first, but we were able to pivot it. There was a lot of drama internally.

Q: What was the internal turmoil?

A: Internally, people were like, ‘Is this still a business?’ ‘Will this still work?’ I had to give the confidence that yes, obviously it will work, look at all these things, but I don’t know the future either, nobody does. It’s a very tricky thing to balance.

Q: There have been more prominent companies getting serious about bringing employees back. How do you see this moment?

A: We are one of those companies that have brought people back in, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy for any company. I have bunch of learnings and I could literally list them, but the main thing is companies need to be clear on who they want to be. None of this ‘suggest that you come in, or strongly recommend it.’ We did all that stuff. None of it works, and it just causes further frustration for people.

Q: What is your policy now on in-person work?

A: Our policy is three days a week, and those days are specifically Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. We don’t want people randomly picking days because when they randomly pick a day, everybody picks a random day, which means that on average, the office is pretty empty.

Q: You have a policy about gamifying return to work. How are you implementing it?

A: One of the things we’ve noticed over time is that it really sucks to just give a whole bunch of downsides to not coming into the office, like, ‘your performance reviews will be impacted,’ ‘we’re going to be looking at the numbers,’ ‘we’re going to be turning off Zoom.’ That kind of stuff is not very great and it’s a very negative way of dealing with it. For what it’s worth, with all policies, there’s always a plus and a minus. But one of the things that we were really pushing ourselves to think about is what positive reinforcement can we do … So, they have to do at least three days but for the teams that actually do it, they will get a day off the following month.

Q: Do you think hybrid work is here to stay?

A: Even before the pandemic, there was this concept of ‘no meeting Tuesdays,’ ‘no meeting Wednesdays,’ and that kind of thing. Companies were already aggressively trying to do this kind of thing. I think this just makes it easier. One thing that will change, and will be very clear, is the data collection in all of this stuff. Knowing which teams are in which days and planning for that and seeing the trends among all your 100 offices — not just your HQ — is the really big part and the part that is really changing.