This new world of hybrid work leaves a lot to be desired — the New York Times has even dubbed it “the worst of both worlds.” While we have more flexibility and less commuting time, many of us have experienced that work is now nonstop. Burnout and stress are heightened across the workforce. And yet, hybrid work doesn’t seem to be going anywhere: A survey by Initialized Capital found that 86% of startups plan to be in the office three or fewer days per week moving forward, and less than 1 in 5 executives want to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic, according to a PwC survey about remote work. As a result, 44 million American workers are estimated to work remotely multiple days per week even after the pandemic.
That’s why our team at Headline is leading a $5 million seed round investment in Pesto, a virtual office for remote and hybrid teams that aims to do away with Zoom fatigue and bring human connections back into the workplace. Doug Safreno (CEO) and Vivek Nair (CTO) launched Pesto in April 2020.
Pesto’s technology is challenging some of our assumptions about what work online can be like. With Pesto, we see a company earnest in their commitment to not only make hybrid work better—but to also bring the humanity we’re missing from the office into our increasingly digital work-lives.
Pesto Brings the Best Parts of the Office Online
Our online work atmosphere leaves so much to be desired because the tools we’re using are so-so. Zoom works for formal meetings, but it’s clunky for casual, quick internal discussions. “Zoom fatigue” is real. Email and Slack power communication, but they don’t quite replicate spontaneous conversations and run-ins, and employees feel the pressure to edit themselves on those platforms. None of these tools allows for bonding, for connection. It’s no wonder companies are struggling to keep vibrant team cultures, and employees are struggling with the lack of collaboration, communications issues and even loneliness.
By recreating the best parts of the office virtually, Pesto is trying to create a remote work experience that is more engaging and less draining. It aims to reestablish the humanity of in-person work.
When you walk into a Pesto office digitally, it looks a lot like walking into a real office. You see co-workers’ avatars “in the office” who are currently on the platform. And as your avatar walks around, you can survey everything going on, replicating the open-office, “glass wall” feel where it’s clear who is sitting in a meeting, who is sitting at their desk, and who is in the virtual break room.
The interactions are more natural, too. You can tell, for example, who's at their desk listening to music — you might even see what they’re listening to — and be able to interpret that they’re doing focused work and shouldn’t be disturbed. Or, if you wanted to have a quick discussion, you could spin up a conference room instantly (with no extra clicks) and be connected over audio and video (if you choose). You have access to a virtual whiteboard and more tools that make remote collaboration better resemble in-person interactions. Pesto also offers space for team bonding through features like virtual game rooms.
The personal avatar is the central concept of the platform. You can change it every day, if you’d like, to reflect a new style or a way you’re feeling on a given day. It adds some fun and opportunity for individual expression that is sorely missing from the online work environment.
Above all, Pesto is a more human approach to the future of hybrid work. It helps companies move beyond putting 100% focus on the work shifts it to the people and interacting with them.
Pesto’s Founders Prioritize People
Pesto Co-Founders Doug and Vivek met as students at Stanford and have worked closely professionally ever since. Before founding Pesto, they co-founded StacksWare (acquired by Avi Networks) and worked at Asana and Palantir as software engineers together. They’re technologists first — so much so that they custom-build the audio/visual stack for the Pesto app to ensure its quality and make it easy to maintain as they evolve the platform.
Doug and Vivek also have a relentless focus on people — on the platform, but also in-person. Even though their team is all-remote, they are intentional about getting to know people and finding opportunities to collaborate on the Pesto platform, as well as regular team on-sites that take place near where Pesto team members live. They carefully budget and plan for these meetings so they can continue to sustain them.
We really were taken by the fact that Pesto was not only work-centric but also people-centric. Work can be more human, it can be more fun and it doesn’t have to be nose to the grindstone all the time. We’re really excited about Pesto’s ability to bring that to the workforce as they grow.