Pre-pandemic, Ben’s role with Yonderdesk was to provide employees and employers with the tools they needed for cohesive remote working. Given the journey that the world has been on since the start of Covid-19, we were excited to speak to Ben about his backstory and to understand his predictions for the future of work.
Can you start by telling me a bit about you and your background?
I started out in tech just before the millennium chimed in. I began working for AT&T in the UK in a helpdesk role. I remember the bell ringers of the ‘end is nigh brigade’, when it was said that all the world’s computer systems would keel over with the herald of 2000. I was actually excited to see what would happen.
Obviously, it was an anti-climax but I definitely became interested in our relationship with technology and the push and pull effect of that. From there I continued to go ‘up through the rankings’ until I was a network specialist supporting large companies around the world with their network infrastructures.
Over my years in IT, I spent a fair bit of time working from home. It seemed so logical to me that the commute was unnecessary, and that good online frameworks and strong company culture and relationships would be all I needed to work effectively.
My wife, Vanessa comes from a recruitment background and when we started Abodoo.com, we set out to enable people to have remote working opportunities and careers. Vanessa also felt the same way in terms of the freedom remote work offered in finding the best people for a role no matter where they were based. We both worked remotely 100% of the time at that point and this was all pre-Covid, of course.
Can you tell me more about Yonderdesk?
Before the pandemic flipped the world upside down, we'd been looking for a while at the tools that could be used to make remote working more cohesive for people and the companies they worked for. The big thing for us was that there needed to be a simplistic and minimalist approach to the solution. We are all surrounded by so much tech noise and I really started to feel the burden of that.
Even our own internal solutions were beginning to get choked through too many communication methods and fragmented processes. We started Yonderdesk to strip away all the superfluous noise and focus on what matters and we narrowed that down to a few core components.
These included being able to see your colleagues online, interacting and having the option to virtually lean over and start a quick conversation. And the ability to access a smaller amount of productivity tools quickly and easily from one location.
Yonderdesk does all of this through virtual floorplans, encrypted video and chat messaging, and console access to any number of apps. The platform can support small business owners right up to multi-floor call centres with thousands of users. We are taking that to the next level by incorporating the physical remote environment, providing companies with the option to service their staff with ergonomic and health orientated workspaces at home.
We are now offering online health assessments and even gym classes to ensure the wellbeing of people that are no longer all situated under one big roof.
What are some of the common obstacles that potential customers raise to investing in a digital workspace solution?
It’s somewhat ironic how quickly the resistance to remote working shifted when the pandemic hit. We went from working from home being a ‘perk’ in some organisations and others not trusting their employees enough to be remote, to the sudden need to implement remote working processes and procedures yesterday!
Now the mindset has completely shifted. It’s an absolute business requirement and necessity but how do we incorporate it into our existing strategies?
The answer to that is like the ‘how do you eat an elephant’ question? It’s a slow process. It’s a gradual roll out from a pilot program to maybe management level, and then into departments.
You can’t just send a memo and assume everyone will just get on board. Going back to the simplicity aspect of Yonderdesk though, this is something that anybody can adopt quickly. It’s browser based with a ridiculously low learning curve required so the ‘buy in’ is very short once up and running.
What are your predictions for the future of work?
We will absolutely forge ahead in the realm of hybrid working. This is where companies immerse themselves into the practices of enabling people to work where and when they can be most productive.
The output is the driver, not the militant rule of ‘bums on seats’ for specific periods no matter what. We were long overdue a reboot of how we work. Remember, a lot of our archaic beliefs are from an Industrial Revolution construct of the work regime.
How insane that we have abided by that for so long!
What are the positive changes from Covid-19?
Obviously, it's been a horrendous experience of loss, grief, pain and displacement for so many. The heartbreak has been overwhelming, but so has the courage and resilience that we have seen time and time again. At the crux of it there is a monumental cultural shift in what matters and true change in people’s attitudes and beliefs.
There are of course many who just want things to go back how they were, and there are always those who capitalise on the misery and misfortune of others. But there is definitely an uprising and a louder collective voice for a change in how we treat the planet, ourselves, and what our definitions of work and life are.
It’s forced companies to reconsider how they treat their employees and their customers. It’s forced us to reframe how we want our lives to be and how we want and expect the lives of our children to be.
We've reached a pinnacle of human history right now that will be examined and evaluated for many years to come. The question is: how much positivity can we continue to make from it?
Do you think that the mainstream culture of 9-5 in an office has/will be transformed permanently?
Oh, 100% yes! That construct was sold to us for too long. It’s deeply saddening that it has taken a devastating pandemic to rip the lid off that antiquated stronghold, but now we can build from that.
To revert back to mindless commuting, choked cities, the daily exodus depriving local community businesses, the devouring of the planet's resources at an exponential rate, and the toll that it has taken on our mental and physical health would be the biggest travesty of all.
We can now move forward and inspire the next generations with our freedom to create and grow in far more sustainable and healthy ways.
Yonderdesk also provides solutions to the education industry. Can you tell me more about that?
It’s early days for the education side of Yonderdesk, but the aim is to deliver hybrid virtual classrooms to the education system. What I mean by that is enabling schools and academic facilities to recreate their physical environments and allow individuals to connect and learn without geographical barriers or restrictions.
Yonderdesk can work on relatively low bandwidth so we are particularly interested in providing this to countries where it is difficult to get education to the masses in certain areas. Even hybrid pop-up classrooms could enable connectivity to a larger educational system and give people learning opportunities they may not have had otherwise. It’s exciting to think that we could play a part in that. We now need to hack into those old learning and working principles and re-engineer them.
I’m determined that our kids get a chance to learn true life skills and not a recycled curriculum that holds no relevance. From the education system up, they need to feel inspired that they can do anything and whatever they choose will bring them fulfillment.
This is how we can really change the beliefs around how we live to work and work to live.
Are you seeing any trends with traditionally in-person education establishments offering virtual education services?
The virtual space is growing so fast because of the multitude of industries that see the scope and potential. It’s one of the new frontiers in a lot of respects. Certainly, education will play a big part in that evolution. Right now, there are virtual and augmented reality products that are making big advancements in the medical, engineering and educational spaces.
Then there are the web based virtual environments that are certainly moving towards creating richer experiences in terms of inclusivity and interactivity at social, corporate, and academic levels.
We’re likely to see a huge explosion in these spaces as more and more start-ups jostle for attention with great ideas and innovation. Competition is healthy!
What’s it like being a tech entrepreneur? What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced?
I don’t see myself as a tech entrepreneur at all. I recently listened to someone talking about writing their eulogy and how you would look back and define your purpose in just a few words. I thought about that and decided mine would be: ‘to restore dreams’. I’d like to think that my place here is to help people tap into what makes them thrive.
I used to think in terms of challenges, but part of my mindset shift is to view them as opportunities instead. Just the very change in word association can be incredibly powerful.
The opportunities we face are never insurmountable. The compound effect of dealing with so much can create inertia so it’s about breaking it all back down into manageable chunks.
Once you step aside and empower those around you to do what they do best, that momentum can build until it’s hard to stop.
For instance, I am involved in multiple projects. These include a new hybrid working model that gives people a new work/rest/play experience away from the traditional hotels, by immersing them in luxurious rooms amongst nature with surroundings to optimise creativity. Check out TheWildRooms.com.
What’s the best thing about being part of a tech start-up?
There is something compulsive and thrilling about moving forward even when being told no. Vishen Lakhiani (founder of MindValley) talks about 'Brules' (bullshit rules) and I completely agree. It goes back to the Industrial Revolution constructs.
We’re in an age now where we can politely but firmly push aside the old Brules and start to see an exhilarating unchartered adventure ahead. That’s addictive!
Finally, what’s your proudest achievement?
Aside from my wonderful little family of course…at this particular moment I’m most proud of my ‘awakening’. I can look back in a non-judgemental way at my previous beliefs and behaviours and see where I was misdirected.
But I'm totally focused on forward momentum and I take strength and confidence in knowing that I have an open mind and that I am continually evolving. How dull it would be to think that I know it all or that the future is predictable! I could be wrong about everything that I’ve said in this interview of course. And you know what, I’m OK with that!
Click here to learn more about Yonderdesk and the great work they do.
If you're interested in being interviewed as part of the BPS Perspectives series, we'd love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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