Could avatars show what employees do to keep work-from-home teams from being distracted and lonely? That is the idea behind Pragli, the Bitmoji for the company. It is a virtual office app that actually makes you feel like you are in the same building.
Pragli uses avatars to signal whether employees are at their desk, in a meeting, in the zone while listening to Spotify, pausing on a digital virtual water cooler, or ready for the day. From there, you know whether you can make a quick ad hoc audio call, collaborate via screenshare, schedule a longer video meeting, or send a chat message that you can reply to later. In essence, the real presence characteristics with which we coordinate the collaboration are translated into an online workplace for distributed teams.
"What a slack have for email, we want to do for video conferencing, ”Pragli co-founder Doug Safreno tells me. "Traditional video conferences are inherently exclusive, including pragli. Just like in an office, you can see who is talking to whom. “This means less time wasted planning meetings, interrupting current colleagues, or waiting for critical answers. Pragli offers the focus that makes remote work productive, with the togetherness that keeps everyone healthy and in sync.
The idea is to solve the three main problems that Pragli's in-depth interviews and a Buffer / AngelList study hate among workers:
- Communication friction
- Missing boundaries
You never have to worry about whether you are interfering with someone else's meeting or whether it is faster to find something when you call, rather than vague text. Avatars give remote workers a sense of identity, while the Prague water cooler provides a temporary get-to-know place rather than an endless flood of GIFs. And because you get on and off like in a real office in Pragli, employees understand when to respond quickly and when to respond tomorrow, unless there is an emergency.
"In Pragli, log on to the office in the morning and it's clear when I work and when I don't work. Slack doesn't give you one It makes a lot of sense whether they are online or offline, ”explains Safreno. "Everyone stays online and feels pressured to respond at any time of the day."
Safreno and his co-founder Vivek Nair know the feeling firsthand. After graduating from Stanford University with a degree in computer science, they developed StacksWare to help enterprise software customers avoid overpayments by accurately measuring their usage. But when they sold StacksWare to Avi Networks, They worked remotely for the buyer for two years. The friction and loneliness crept in quickly.
They would send a message to someone, hear nothing for a while, and then walk back and forth to discuss the problem before finally planning a call. A leap into synchronous communication would have been much more efficient. "The loneliness was more subtle, but it started to build up after the first few weeks, ”recalls Safreno. "We just didn't connect socially, both at work and in the office. Loneliness was de-motivating and had a negative impact on our productivity."
The founders interviewed 100 remote engineers and found that outside of the scheduled meetings, they only had one audio or video call to employees per week. This convinced her to start Pragli a year ago to give work-from-home teams a visual, virtual facsimile of a real office. Without further full-time employees, the founders created and published a beta of Pragli last year. Usage increased 6-fold in March and has increased 20-fold since January 1.
Pragli officially starts today and is free until June 1st. Then freemium should be. All experience is reserved for companies that pay per user per month. Pragli today also announces a small pre-seed round led by K9 Ventures. inspired by the joy of the company to use the product itself.
To get started with Pragi, teammates download the Pragli desktop app and log in to Google, Microsoft or GitHub. Users can then customize their avatar with a variety of face, hair, skin, and clothing options. Using mouse and keyboard interaction, you can see whether you are at your desk or not, or occasionally translate snapshots of your facial expressions into your avatar using your webcam. You can also connect Spotify and Calendar to indicate that you are listening to music (and may be concentrating), to show or hide details of your meeting, and to decide whether people can interrupt you or if you are unavailable at all.
From there you can communicate with any of your available employees via audio, video or text. Guests can join conversations over the Internet and on the go, even though the team is working on a full-fledged app for phones and tablets. Tap someone and you can talk to them right away, although their microphone remains muted until they answer. Alternatively, you can jump into Slack-like channels to discuss specific topics or hold recurring meetings. And if you need a certain amount of downtime, you can stay in the water cooler or in the quiz channel or set a manual absence message.
Pragli has made a remarkable amount of considerations as to how the small office gives social information about when someone should translate online, for example when someone is wearing headphones, already in a deep convoy, or when chilling in the micro kitchen. It's better than having no idea what someone is doing on the other side of Slack or what's going on in a zoom Call. It's a real virtual office without the chunky VR headset.
"Nothing we've tried has delivered the natural water-cooler-style conversations we get from Pragli," said JT Olio, vice president of engineering at Storj Labs. "The ability to switch between “rooms” with screen sharing, video and voice in one app is great. It really helped us improve the transparency between the teams. The avatars are also very charming. "
Due to Microsoft's lack of social experience, the associated scaling problems and the duplication of text by Slack, since zoom integration takes priority over its own visual communication functions, there is plenty of room for Pragli to thrive. In the meantime, COVID-19 quarantines are turning the whole world of remote work, and it is likely to continue afterwards as companies place less emphasis on office space and hire more abroad.
The biggest challenge will be to make such a broad product, which includes all communication media and lots of new behaviors, understandable enough for entire teams. "How do you build a product that doesn't distract like Slack, but where people can still have spontaneous conversations that are so important for business innovation? Safreno asks. The Pragli founders also discuss how to include mobile devices without people feeling that the office is tracking them after hours.
"L.In the long run, (Pragli) should be better than being in the office because you don't have to walk around looking for (employees) and you can decide how to be presented. " Safreno closes. "We won't stop because we want to work remotely for the rest of our lives."