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5 Models for the Post-Pandemic Workplace

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Since late 2020, Australians have been going back into the office with numbers approaching pre-pandemic levels in some regions. A new survey of Australian workers identifies five workplace models being used: as it was, clubhouse, activity-based working, hub and spoke, and fully virtual. The author explores how companies might weigh this decision now that vaccines are increasingly available and restrictions are being relaxed in many countries.

In March of 2020, most companies would have seen their offices as essential to their business. But as the pandemic dragged on, leaders have been surprised to learn that people often work just as productively from home.

Now that vaccines are becoming available and social distancing restrictions are being relaxed in some regions, leaders need to decide whether to bring employees back to the office, remain at home, or use this as an opportunity to adopt a new, possibly more beneficial workplace model.

Where employees work has significant implications, not only for the design of workplaces, but for how corporations allocate capital and manage staff. Experts are divided on what is likely to happen next. Some argue that our experiment with working from home has been so successful that remote work is here to stay. Others speculate that people are starving for face-to-face interaction, and that central business districts are primed to come roaring back. Splitting the difference, another group believes that the future of work won’t be either of these two extremes, but a hybrid solution between home and the office.

We’ve already seen these dynamics play out in Australia, where companies have grappled with returning to the workplace after a largely successful effort to control the virus, providing an early indication of how businesses in other countries are likely to adjust their workplaces after the pandemic.

The Future is Already Here

To help get a clearer picture of the future of the office, I recently surveyed 1,600 Australian office workers and interviewed a number of business leaders and workplace experts in the country. Australia is an important case study; rather than waiting for the vaccine, the country has largely controlled the virus by closing its border to non-residents, limiting interstate travel, imposing stay-at-home orders, and conducting extensive contract tracing on any outbreaks.

In October 2020, as parts of the country were coming out of a strict, months-long lockdown, only 7% of employees in Melbourne, the nation’s hardest-hit city, were back at the office, according to the Property Council of Australia. By April, more than 41% had returned. In cities less affected by the pandemic, such as Perth and Adelaide, occupancy numbers are at 70%, just below pre-pandemic levels. Outbreaks still occasionally occur, prompting temporary restrictions from the government, and the border remains closed, but for the most part Australians are free to eat indoors, gather at large sports events, and return to the workplace. As people adjust to life without the threat of the pandemic, the situation provides an early indication of where people in other countries are hopefully headed.

Interestingly, companies in Australia aren’t all converging on the same workplace model. After a year of upheaval, some employers report that their employees are suffering from change fatigue and just want the comfort of a familiar office. This is part of the reason why office occupancy numbers climbed so quickly after the lockdowns ended. Others see the end of stay-at-home orders as a catalyst to try something new. The Australian software giant Atlassian recently announced that employees would only need to come into the office four times a year. In my conversations with business leaders and workplace strategists in the country, the models that they were using or considering typically fell into five categories:

  • As it was: Employees return to the office and resume a regular nine-to-five routine. The office might be a bit more hygienic and flexible, but mostly this is the centralized office as it was before the pandemic.
  • Clubhouse: A hybrid model where employees visit the office when they need to collaborate and return home to do their focused work. The office serves as a social hub — the place people go to meet, socialize, and work together.
  • Activity-based working: Employees work from an office but don’t have an assigned desk. Instead, they spend their day moving between a variety of workspaces, such as meeting rooms, phone booths, hot desks, and lounges. Prior to the pandemic, most Australian activity-based offices had approximately eight desks for every 10 people (since people often worked elsewhere in the office). After the pandemic, firms are looking to shrink this as low as five desks between 10 people, anticipating that many of their employees will be out of the office, working from home a couple of days per week.
  • Hub and spoke: Rather than traveling to a large office in the central business district, employees work from smaller satellite offices in the suburbs and neighborhoods closer to where they live. This saves them the commute to a central office while still providing the benefits of face-to-face interaction with colleagues.
  • Fully virtual: Employees work from home — or anywhere else they like — allowing companies to ditch expensive leases and build on what they started during the pandemic.

None of these workplace models are necessarily new. Even reasonably radical workplace concepts, such as virtual offices, were tried and tested long before the pandemic. Major technology companies such as Yahoo!, IBM, and HP all experimented with allowing employees to work entirely remotely prior to the pandemic. The advertising agency Chiat/Day unsuccessfully attempted to adopt activity-based working back in 1993.

While some companies dabbled with these models prior to the pandemic, most were unwilling to try them. Today there’s almost an expectation that companies will try something different. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was recently criticized for announcing his plans to bring employees back to the office largely as it was and cancel all his Zoom meetings. Most business leaders I spoke to faced an unfamiliar decision, weighing an abundance of seemingly viable workplace models that most weren’t necessarily familiar with until now.

Weighing the Options

Each model involves its own set of tradeoffs. Activity-based working saves space but involves a significant cultural transformation. The hub-and-spoke model sounds logical, except it involves dividing a workforce not by project or job function but by geographic location. And returning to the office “as it was” is a comforting notion for many, but will only feel familiar if most people return. No matter what, it seems some degree of working from home will persist, meaning fewer people in the office, more remote phone calls, and nothing being quite “as it was.”

Employees themselves are split about what they want next. For Australian office workers, the most favored workplace models were the hybrid models that gave them the flexibility to work both at home and the office (clubhouse and activity-based working). At the other end of the spectrum, entirely remote work was the least popular option with less than 20% of people surveyed currently working from home full-time in Australia.

There were also significant demographic differences in what employees favored. Women were far more likely to value the flexibility of working both at home and the office than men. Managers were more likely to want to return to the office “as it was” than individual contributors. And young people were more open to remote work than older employees. These differences point to the danger leaders face in making workplace decisions without first gathering input from a range of stakeholders inside the company.

The Answer Lies Within

Leaders weighing these potential workplace options should look to their company’s purpose and strategy, as well as their employees’ preferences and work styles. A technology company paying a premium for offices in a tech hub and selling its product online may well choose to become fully virtual. But a small design firm that uses its office both as a showroom and a place of collaboration may prefer the clubhouse model. Whatever the case, firms need to be aware that what works for one company may not work for another.

The pandemic is far from over. Even in Australia, there are still outbreaks and lockdowns, and it seems unlikely the border will reopen completely before 2022. Given all of this, it may seem like a turbulent time to be making lasting changes to the workplace. Yet firms can’t afford to hesitate, because these decisions help define their path out of the pandemic. Depending on the local Covid situation, there may be setbacks and adjustments required. But like any strategic change, the success of adopting these models rests on the leadership team’s ability to choose a path forward and communicate the vision.

If there is one lesson learned about the workplace during the pandemic, perhaps it is not that working from home was better or worse than working from an office, but that each had its merits. In the future, it seems likely that firms won’t converge on a single workplace model but will instead go in many different directions as they seek out models that are tuned to their business needs. It’s possible that we’ll look back on the pre-pandemic workplace and think it was strange that offices were largely one-size-fits-all — that the headquarters of a legal firm, a newspaper, and a technology company could all look and operate much the same.

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How to Start a Niche Foam Party Business: Kid’s Party

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Foam parties have become popular and are great fun. If you didn’t know what a foam party is, it is a party or event where participants have fun dancing amidst foam created by a machine. The machine creates bubbles of foams that envelop the place, creating a fun environment at the party. If you are a business person, then a foam party business is a great idea.

You can get a foam machine and use it to throw foam parties and make money from it – relatively affordably.

photo credit: Roaring Foam

Can you make money through foam parties?

Yes, you can make money if you have a foam machine. Parties are common, and party-goers get bored with the usual stuff. A foam party is an innovative way of partying. It allows participants to let go, dancing in joy amidst the foam. This kind of party would be popular, and you can make money by offering a different experience to participants.

Creating a niche market

When you want to make money from a business, you will find that there are many others with the same idea. You need to do something different so you can succeed. This is where finding a niche market helps. A niche market is a specific category to which you can cater. Kids Foam Party is such a niche market. While there are many businesses catering to foam parties in general, foam parties for kids is a niche idea. This is a business idea that can help you succeed and make money.

Planning your business

Now that you have found your niche, it is important to plan your business before you get started. The first thing is to be clear with what you are offering. You are offering a foam party, which is an event where there is a dance floor filled with suds. When this party is offered for kids, they will enjoy it the most. They would not only dance but play in the foam and have a great time in general.

Taking proper safety precautions like setting the depth of the foam and insisting on face coverings ensure there are no problems.

What do you need?

It is obvious that you need a foam machine if you plan to run foam parties. A foam machine is not too expensive. However, you need not buy one immediately. Since you are starting off with a new business, you can get a foam machine for rent. This is a cheaper option allowing you to rent a machine and use it whenever you need it. This will allow you to do a pilot run of your party business.

If the response is good and you start getting many events, then you can consider buying your own foam machine. This would work out better for you.

Kid having fun in foam
photo credit: Roaring Foam

Planning and executing foam parties for kids

With these basic concepts in mind, it is time you start planning your parties. Since you have chosen the niche of foam parties for kids, you need to explore different options. You can have foam parties to celebrate birthdays. There can even be parties for no reason but just to allow kids to have fun. Explore different themes for foam parties and plan the events.

Here are a few considerations to keep in mind while planning and executing foam parties for kids:

  • You need to find a venue to host the foam party. The ideal location is outdoors, so the foam does not create a mess inside. When the weather does not permit, you need to find indoor venues with a fairly big hall to organize the event.
  • Apart from the machine, you need the foam solution to create foam. You need to have sufficient foam machine solution to last the entire party.
  • Safety is a very important issue in foam parties. This is all the more important when you are dealing with kids. You need to have a clear plan for ensuring safety in your foam party. Communicate the plan with your clients so they are assured of the safety arrangements.
  • If you are doing the party indoors, you need a tarp to cover the floor and walls. It is important to cover up all the electric and other outlets to avoid them being damaged.
  • Placing plastic furniture is better since it won’t get damaged due to bubbles.
  • Safety arrangements for the kids are very important. Wearing shoes is a must. You can insist on goggles or face coverings to prevent allergies from the suds. You need to take adequate precautions to prevent kids from skidding and falling during the party. There is always a risk of accidents at a foam party, and you need to do everything to prevent it.
  • Preferably, get a waiver from guests to protect against liabilities.

With all this planning, you are now ready to execute foam parties and make neat profits from them.

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What open source-based startups can learn from Confluent’s success story

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It’s common these days to launch an enterprise startup based on an open source project, often where one the founders was deeply involved in creating it. The beauty of this approach is that if the project begins to gain traction, you have the top of the sales funnel ready and waiting with potential customers when you move to commercialize your business.

In the past, this often meant providing help desk-style services for companies who appreciated what the open source software could do but wanted to have the so-called “throat to choke” if something went wrong. Another way that these companies have made money has been creating an on-prem version with certain enterprise features, particularly around scale or security, the kind of thing that large operations need as table stakes before using a particular product. Today, customers typically can install on-prem or in their cloud of choice.

“A key aspect of these kinds of technology-developer data products is they have to have a combination of bottom-up adoption and top-down SaaS, and you actually have to get both of those things working well to succeed.” Jay Kreps

In recent years, the model has shifted to building a SaaS product, where the startup builds a solution that handles all the back-end management and creates something that most companies can adopt without all of the fuss associated with installing yourself or trying to figure out how to use the raw open source.

One company that has flirted with these monetization approaches is Confluent, the streaming data company built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project. The founding team had helped build Kafka inside LinkedIn to move massive amounts of user data in real time. They open sourced the tool in 2011, and CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps helped launch the company in 2014.

It’s worth noting that Confluent raised $450 million as a private company with a final private valuation in April of $4.5 billion before going public in June. Today, it has a market cap of over $22 billion, not bad for less than six months as a public company.

Last month at TC Sessions: SaaS, I spoke to Kreps about how he built his open source business and the steps he took along the way to monetize his ideas. There’s certainly a lot of takeaways for open source-based startups launching today.

Going upmarket

Kreps said that when they launched the company in 2014, there were a bunch of enterprise-size companies already using the open source product, and they needed to figure out how to take the interest they had been seeing in Kafka and convert that into something that the fledgling startup could begin to make money on.

“There have been different paths for different companies in this space, and I think it’s actually very dependent on the type of product [as to] what makes sense. For us, one of the things we understood early on was that we would have to be wherever our customers had data,” Kreps said.

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5 Hobbies That Make Money and How To Get Started

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Money-making hobbies range from walking dogs to blogging to creating and selling homemade goods.

Read about these profitable hobbies, as well as what you can expect to make.

1. Driving

Enjoy cruising around town? Give others a ride and make money by becoming an Uber or Lyft driver. Uber drivers make an estimated $5 to $20 an hour, and Lyft drivers earn about $5 to $25 an hour, according to SideHusl.com, a review site for money-making platforms. Note that earnings depend in part on when, where and how often you drive.

To become an Uber or Lyft driver, you must be the minimum age to drive in your area. You must also meet specific requirements related to your driver’s license, insurance and vehicle. Learn about these exact requirements in our guide to becoming an Uber or Lyft driver.

If you enjoy driving but don’t want people in your car, look into becoming a full-service Instacart shopper, which involves shopping for and delivering groceries. Uber Eats and Amazon Flex also offer opportunities to deliver food and other products to homes. Each of these gigs has its own set of requirements, though, so do your research before signing up.

2. Caring for dogs

If your favorite hobbies involve belly rubs, smooches and long walks in the neighborhood, try Wag or Rover. These apps enable you to walk, dog-sit or board pups overnight for money.

Rover and Wag work in similar ways. They both require you to be at least 18 years old, pass a background check and meet other requirements. For both, you create a profile, set your own rates, and use the app to choose which gigs to take. (See our Rover vs. Wag comparison for more specific sign-up and payment information, as well as how the apps vary in the services they allow.)

On both apps, the amount you earn depends on what you charge, how much you receive in tips, and which types of services you provide. As you would guess, boarding typically pays more than walking a dog, for example. But both companies take a bite from your earnings. Rover charges a 20% service fee per booking, and Wag takes 40%.

3. Blogging

If you have a blog that gets decent traffic, try making money from it. Blogging for money can take a few forms. One way is to host ads on your blog through a service like Google AdSense, which is free. Here’s the gist, according to Google: If your website is approved, then you choose where on it you would like ads to appear. Then advertisers bid to place ads where you designated, with the winner’s ads appearing in that spot. (People make money on YouTube through the same service.)

You earn some money when a reader clicks on one of these ads — but determining exactly how much you’ll make is tricky. Explore our guide to Google AdSense to learn more about it.

You could also try writing sponsored content, meaning companies pay you to write about their products. Or, become an affiliate through the Amazon Associates program. That involves linking to an Amazon product from your content and earning a commission when one of your readers clicks through and buys that item. Learn more about how to make money on Amazon through your blog.

4. Posting to social media

Love posting to social media and building a following? On Instagram and TikTok, many users earn money through sponsored photos and videos. Say you regularly post about your at-home exercise regimen. You may agree to post about a retailer’s resistance bands or sweatpants in exchange for cash or free products. (Sponsorships and affiliate marketing are also ways to make money from podcasts, in case that’s one of your hobbies.)

Sponsors may reach out to you to set up this kind of arrangement; you could contact them; or, in some cases, you may consider working through a third-party agency.

The type of content you post, as well as your number of followers and their engagement, will likely impact sponsorship opportunities. Learn more about how to make money on Instagram or on TikTok.

5. Selling your wares

There’s a marketplace for just about everything. So if you’re skilled in a hobby, consider trying to profit from it. For example, if you create jewelry or have an eye for thrifting quality clothes, try selling those items at a local flea market or yard sale, or on a neighborhood website such as Nextdoor or Facebook Marketplace.

Or look into an online market that could attract a wider range of buyers. Consider Etsy for crafts or Poshmark if you want to sell clothes online.

These websites charge fees that will cut into your profits. This guide to selling stuff online will help you think through the math and determine if your hobby can become a viable business.

What to consider before making money from your hobbies

Before taking any of the routes listed above, keep in mind that this work will likely affect your taxes. See our guide to self-employment taxes, which includes expenses you can deduct, and how to avoid penalties.

And as you aim to profit from your hobbies, consider whether you will continue to enjoy them through this new business lens. Let’s say knitting helps you relax. Will it continue to do so if you’re pricing, promoting and shipping your homemade wares through an online marketplace? And that blogging hobby: Will writing still be fun or cathartic if you’re occasionally throwing in a sponsored post?

It may be hard to answer these questions until you give the money-making approach a shot. But it’s worth reflecting on the potential trade-offs as you think about turning your hobby into a job.

Money management made easy

NerdWallet tracks your income, bills, and shows you ways to save more.

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