Swiss start-up Novu Office offers companies a solution to provide employees with the best equipment for the home office. One of the co-founders, Samuel, told us in an interview how the idea took form and what his vision of hybrid work looks like in the future. He also explains why good home office equipment will still be relevant after the pandemic and describes what a well-equipped desk at home can look like.
1. How did you come up with Novu Office, what do you do?
At the beginning of the pandemic, the three of us, Fabian, Falk and I, were working in different fields. Two of us in management consulting, one in digital marketing. But we kept a close eye on what was happening in the world of work and noticed that during Covid-19, not only did employees get used to home office or remote working, but companies also rolled out processes and landscapes for it.
We quickly realized that these developments bring challenges and opportunities. There is no way back and companies have to face this reality. From the various areas of transition such as workplace health, corporate culture, collaboration or infrastructure needs, we addressed the latter issue. After all, from our own experience we realized that companies need support and are wondering how they can offer employees an ergonomic and functional workplace at home. At the same time, we share an enthusiasm for aesthetic, physical products, and this combination led us to found Novu Office.
With our concept, we offer companies to equip their employees' home offices in a contemporary way, but employees can also choose for the first time how they want to do this. After decades of companies dictating which chairs their employees sit in, it is now the employees themselves who are being empowered. After we found the right partners for furniture and IT, Novu Office was launched.
2. How do you see the future of Hybrid Work after the pandemic?
Over the past few months, we talked to more than 150 Swiss companies from a wide range of industries. The trend is clearly hybrid, and for us it was particularly exciting to note that not only service companies see it this way, but also companies in the manufacturing sector want to make work more flexible. At the same time, together with the University of St.Gallen, we have launched a large-scale study that deals with the topic of hybrid work in Switzerland. So far, more than 700 companies have participated. The results will be available in a few weeks and will provide even more clarity.
I often compare the situation in recent years with a pendulum. Before the pandemic, remote work was unthinkable for many companies. During the pandemic, the pendulum swung completely to the other side to fully remote work. Now it will slowly settle into a hybrid work model that combines remote and on-site. The moods of managers and employees during this evolution are marked by emotional ups and downs.
Today, we see employees in many companies demanding a hybrid model in order to take advantage of its benefits. This is a challenge for many companies. Some are still in the conceptualization phase, others have already implemented this demand. Also because the home office obligation has been abolished in Switzerland, Swiss companies now increasingly see a need for action in the area of flexible working.
I therefore believe that the future will be more hybrid in all industries. On the one hand, this is driven from an employee perspective, but employers also see two clear advantages in it: they can increase their attractiveness as well as enlarge their talent pool.
3. So who are Novu Office's customers? Is there a minimum number of home office days for employees at which point your solution makes most sense?
It varies. Our offer is not linked to a certain number of days, but it differs depending on the company or even employee need. In consulting, for example, it is sometimes necessary to work in the evening, so companies equip their employees so that they can still be ergonomically productive instead of working at the kitchen table. Another example is employees in the field who also work at home from time to time. From Hybrid Light to Fully Remote, our customers have it all, but it's all about management mindset. Starting with just one day per week in the home office, it is important to enable productive work. With this in mind, we always emphasize that we are not a lockdown equipment provider, but a partner for hybrid work.
4. How do attitudes toward hybrid work differ in different industries in Switzerland?
I will be able to answer this question in a more data-based way in a few weeks, once the results of our Hybrid Work Compass are available. So, in advance, just a few highlights from the conversations over the last few months.
What has impressed me so far are state-owned enterprises and government-related organizations that are very innovative and proactive on the move, which is not something you would necessarily expect. In the banking industry, remote work was almost impossible before Covid-19, but now there has been a major shift in thinking. Cost savings from space reductions are also a driving factor in the trend toward Hybrid Work.
For consultancies, opinions are divided. While larger consulting firms are still waiting, smaller consultancies are differentiating themselves with New Work. Nevertheless, this industry remains quite customer-dependent. In telecommunications, companies are quite open and innovative, which was also the case before the pandemic.
We find the development in the manufacturing industry particularly exciting. Although remote working is difficult in some cases, we are seeing leapfrogging to some extent.* For example, if a company is located in a region with a relatively small employee catchment area, this model can be used to expand the talent pool. The tension between employees who can easily work remotely and others who have to travel to the site to work is also an interesting topic. For example, I know of a company that allows its production employees to flexibly divide their weekly workload into subteams. Whether they work less on Monday when it's sunny or more on Tuesday when it's raining is up to them. Of course, this doesn't work for everyone, but flexible working can give you a competitive edge.
*Editor's note: Leapfrogging originally refers to the omission or skipping of individual steps in a process. In the work model area, companies are jumping from traditional, rather rigid models to very flexible work scheduling.
5. What does the typical home office space look like for an employee who selects products at Novu Office?
The most popular at our company is the height-adjustable desk. To date, few employees are equipped with it at home, although it is almost standard in the office. The underlying reason is that the purchase involves not only financial, but also logistical effort. But the ergonomic chair is also extremely important. Chairs in the kitchen are simply not made to sit on for eight hours.
Generally speaking, three factors come into play with all furniture products: ergonomics is their raison d'être, functionality is just as important, but design must also be on point. Especially if the furniture is quite present in homes, it has to integrate well into existing room concepts.
In the IT sector, we offer all kinds of peripheral products around the laptop, i.e. plug-and-play tools such as a screen, headset, mouse, keyboard and so on. The screen is an especially popular item. Many employees took equipment from the office back home during the pandemic and companies now have to decide whether they want them to bring it back or allow keeping it.
6. What is the working model at Novu Office? And if you also work from home, how is your home office set up?
We also function on a hybrid work model and split our time. In the home office, it's very easy to hold calls and work productively in a concentrated manner without being interrupted. I even put my cell phone away and close my email inbox.
That's why we at Novu Office are all super-equipped with height-adjustable desks, economic chairs with automatic contact pressure and a second monitor. Personally, I use a conferencing monitor from Dell with an integrated camera and sound bar, which I can easily connect to my laptop via USB. Then I have a lamp where you can adjust the light color. In the morning, for example, a colder light is good for concentration, in the evening it can be a little warmer. In addition to the screen, laptop and lamp, I also have a plant.