Moneymakers

9 Leaders and Startups Building the Future of Work

The workforce has experienced massive change over the last few years. Meet the people and startups reimagining our work life and the future of work.

Remote work was just the tipping point. The workforce has experienced massive changes over the last few years, including a mass exodus that turned almost half (44%) of employees into job seekers this year. At the same time, record amounts of people decided to launch their own businesses instead of working for another organization — a trend that continues to climb. 

In companies’ attempt to rescale and rehire after the lockdowns and layoffs of 2020, employees gained an upper hand. Instead of rushing back to the way things were pre-pandemic, people got vocal about their demands for better pay, more freedom, flexibility, and an overall improved work life

Now, we’re starting to see glimmers of a brighter future, as leaders launch initiatives to support a workplace community that’s more inclusive, balanced, and engaging. From technology empowering aspiring business owners, to platforms dedicated to improving employees’ time management and remote work experience, here are the initiatives, people, and startups behind the future of work:

  1. Ruben Flores-Martinez, Founder of CASHDROP, Makes Entrepreneurship Accessible
  2. Joey Grassia, CEO and Cofounder of Shef Creates Economic Opportunity for Communities in Need  
  3. Ed Zitron, Founder and CEO of EZPR Advocates for Better Work-Life Balance 
  4. Alexandra Moser, COO, of Clockwise Wants to Rework the Workday
  5. Phil Libin, Cofounder and CEO of Mmhmm Redirects Office Funds to Employees 
  6. Nicole Miller, Head of People at Buffer, Builds Connection into Remote Work
  7. Avand Amiri, Software Engineer at Airbnb, ReworksRemote Meetings
  8. Melanie Steinbach, Head of People at Cameo, Preserves Company Culture Remotely
  9. Sarah Manning, VP of People, at Hopin, Channels Global Need for Connection

Future of Work Startup Leader: Founder of CASHDROP Ruben Flores-Martinez Makes Entrepreneurship Accessible 

As more people continue to reevaluate their roles, 2022 is shaping up to be another record-breaking year for new business.

Recent survey data shows 17 million people in the US alone plan to start their own businesses this year, leading to an expected 5.6 million new business applications (up from 5.4 million filed in 2021). So, what’s helping drive this shift? Tools like CASHDROP, a mobile commerce platform that enables aspiring business owners to set up an online storefront. The process takes minutes via a user’s smartphone. 

When Ruben Flores-Martinez, CASHDROP founder, initially spoke with Worklife late last year, he told the team his inspiration to start CASHDROP stemmed from his work building people’s websites and Shopify pages to sell their products and services. 

“I realized it was very easy for me to keep making websites and making money, but it was too difficult for the average mom and shop owner,” he said in the interview.  “I saw a void in the ecosystem—there’s nothing to help first-time business owners to create an online storefront.”  

Future of Work Startup Leader: CEO & Co-founder of Shef Joey Grassia Creates Economic Opportunity for Communities in Need  

What started as a way for immigrants and refugees to earn an income in 2019 soon became a much-need avenue for furloughed restaurant workers to continue making money during the height of the pandemic. 

Founded by CEO Joey Grassia and cofounder Alvin Salehi, Shef is a marketplace where talented home cooks make an income by selling their homemade food as independent business owners. Once a chef is onboarded, they have the opportunity to sell their homemade meal to interested parties.

With more accessible tools like Shef to help business owners launch, scale, and grow, a more diverse pool of business owners can enter the space. And better representation was exactly what the Shef duo envisioned when the company launched. Their mission: Expand economic opportunity to communities in need—specifically immigrants and refugees struggling to create a better future for their families. 

Now, the company is helping a growing number of home cooks—over 80% of whom are women—build successful businesses, whether they’re aspiring restaurant owners or working part-time to make supplemental income for their families. 

With more than 16,000 home chefs on their wait list, Shef plans to expand to additional cities, fueling the growth of people with more diverse backgrounds working for themselves.  

Future of Work Startup & Leader: Founder & CEO of EZPR Advocates Ed Zitron Advocates for Better Work-Life Balance 

 More people are taking on their own businesses and side-hustles than ever, but the 9-to-5 as we know it is also changing—and for the better—thanks to folks like Ed Zitron, founder and CEO of media relations firm EZPR.

Through op-eds about mentoring young workers in a remote world, or managers’ role in surging levels of employee burnout, as well as his own tech and culture newsletter, Where Your Ed At, Zitron has been vocal about changing outdated work life expectations. 

In a recent article about the Great Resignation, Zitron demystified why many employees have left their jobs over the last year: “Despite what some may have you believe, it is very easy to foster loyal workers,” he wrote. “Pay employees well, and on time. When problems are created by the company or management, offer an actual apology and some sort of compensation. Set reasonable hours and give fair vacation time.” 

It’s calls to action like these that are sparking real change throughout the workforce. Now, more companies are beginning to adopt a four-day work week and are setting aside funds for record-high raises.

Alexandra Moser, COO, of Clockwise Wants to Rework the Workday 

Companies like Clockwise, a tool that uses AI to optimize peoples’ calendars by moving flexible meetings automatically, are helping to answer employees’ call for a more manageable work day. Last year, over half of survey respondents from Indeed’s Employee Burnout Report reported experiencing burnout and employees more than doubled their time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings, which only continues to climb. 

Even before the spike in virtual meetings last year, Clockwise COO Alexandra Mosers emphasized the cost of too many meetings on the company’s blog: “Looking at the cost of meetings based on meeting time alone misses the larger picture of how disruptive each individual meeting is to your team’s productivity. Even if it is worth having the meeting—and it often is—not all time is created equal, and the cost of meetings goes far beyond the literal time it takes to perform the meeting.”

Future of Work Startup Leader: CEO & Co-founder of Mmhmm Phil Libin Redirects Office Funds to Employees 

When startups like Mmhmm, a platform that helps make virtual presentations more engaging by embedding presenters’ video, settled into long-term remote and dispersed work, they cut costs massively by not having to pay for office spaces and the additional expenses that come with them.

Instead of pocketing the saved money for the organization, Cofounder and CEO Phil Libin decided to invest the funds back into his workforce, giving employees an additional $800 a month

"We gave up our office,” Libin told Business Insider. “We didn't give up our responsibility as a company to ensure our employees have a healthy and productive work environment.” 

Future of Work Startup Leader: Buffer Head of People Nicole Miller Builds Connection into Remote Work

Buffer, a company that provides social media tools for businesses and founded in 2010, has been a fully remote team for the last decade to support employee freedom. In 2020, while many companies were adjusting to remote work, the Buffer team was exploring the 4 day work week, a concept that’s just reaching mainstream this year. 

Now, the team is directing its attention to making employees feel engaged and connected in the remote and dispersed workplace, after findings from their 2022 State of Remote Work survey revealed a small majority (52%) of folks around the world who started working remotely due to COVID-19 say they feel less connected to their coworkers.

Buffer’s Head of People, Nicole Miller, has been with the organization for seven years and has driven many of the innovative policies that Buffer has implemented, including their inclusive family leave policy.

She recently shared the team’s 2022 cultural initiatives on the blog, which is organized by synchronous, asynchronous, and in-person culture building categories. The team is launching monthly TED-style lunch and learn talks among teammates, using a dedicated Slack channel for water cooler conversations with help from Donut to send regular questions, and exploring regionally-based meetups and local gatherings. Buffer is a great example on how company culture affects productivity, how to unlock joy at work, and how to build high-output teams.

Future of Work Startup Leader: Airbnb Software Engineer Avand Amiri Reworks Remote Meetings 

With the right tools in place, companies can increase employee engagement levels across their remote workforce. Avand Amiri, a Software Engineer at Airbnb, set out to create one such tool.  

After remote work became standard, and more people (including Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky) began working from anywhere, Amiri found that being away from the office detracted from certain aspects of Airbnb’s in-person culture. 

He described what was missing in a recent Medium article: “When you walk through the doors of an Airbnb office, you feel an energy that’s both inspiring and intimidating. After more than five years with the company, I explain this duality as Airbnb being both incredibly entrepreneurial and aspirational. Airbnb company meetings are no different.”

Until recently, it was difficult to match the in-person energy across a computer screen, especially when a limited number of attendees are viewable and the rest are represented by many participants. Amiri created a new internal tool called Awedience, which supplemented the live stream with small, thumbnail-sized videos of all viewers webcams, so each person on the call is seen and feels connected with the larger group.  

Did you know Worklife has supported more Airbnb teams than any other company? In fact, Worklife companies Transform, Iggy, Mage and Kairos started as ideas while each of their founders were working at Airbnb.  

Another fun fact? Worklife’s mission to help startups build a great place to work was inspired in part by the innovative team and culture at Airbnb. 

 Team from the future of work-focused vc fund Worklife poses with CEO Brian Chesky and golden retriever at Airbnb office tour
Photo of Worklife team with CEO Brian Chesky at Airbnb office tour in 2019. 

Future of Work Startup Leader: Head of People at Cameo Melanie Steinbach Preserves Company Culture Remotely

When Worklife initially spoke with Melanie Steinbach, Head of People at Cameo, last fall, she shared her strategies for maintaining a thriving company culture amid transitioning to a completely virtual workforce. 

She began ramping up employees’ onboarding experience (AKA ‘rolling out the red carpet’), by supplying new-hires with their tech as well as personalized cameos from celebrities and teammates ahead of their start date, to kickstart an engaging employee experience.

And once they were fully onboarded, the commitment to delivering engaging work experiences continues at Cameo. For example, the company takes a full production approach to all-hands meetings. Featuring employees through fun skits and comedy bits has increased employee attendance by 95%. 

This year, Steinbach is focusing on developing a knowledge transfer culture. She told Forbes… "Every place we have an employee is an office, so I think we have 400 offices. We want to go beyond just document sharing, but figure out how we can transfer knowledge in as many offices as we have."

Future of Work Startup Leader: Hopin VP of People Sarah Manning Channels Global Need for Connection

Hopin, founded in 2019, supports virtual, hybrid, and in-person events on one easy-to-use platform. The company gained popularity quickly when pivoting to online events became essential, and continues to grow as hybrid programming is now becoming standard. In just three years, the team has scaled from 4 people to over 1,300 employees in 52 countries, with Sarah Manning, VP of Growth, at the helm of recruiting efforts. Hopin supports virtual, hybrid, and in-person events all on one easy to use platform. The company gained popularity quickly when pivoting to online events became essential, and continues to grow as hybrid programming is now becoming standard. In just three years, the team has scaled from 4 people to over 1,300 employees in 52 countries with Sarah Manning, VP of Growth, at the helm of recruiting efforts. 

 

 Translating their mission to connect a global workforce internally, Manning prioritized geographic expansion, employee engagement, and culture and leadership across all levels of the Hopin team to lead a mass surge in employee growth and retention.

Learning from the pandemic and looking ahead, Manning helped drive success, curating the best possible employee experience by setting hard limits on work hours, implementing competitive pay and benefits, and embracing a remote-first vision for the organization, unifying its team across the globe.   

A Refreshed Step Forward 

From developing technologies to supporting the continuously changing ways we work across remote and distributed teams, to implementing innovative processes that make work a better place to be, these 9 leaders and startups are creating a workplace that meets employees’ needs. As a result, the workplace can become more inclusive, support employee wellbeing, and empower teams to function more effectively. 

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