If you’ve visited any high-tech office spaces lately, there’s a decent chance you’ve run into Envoy.
The Bay Area startup has more than 13,000 locations using its software, with Slack, Hulu, and Mazda among its customers. It allows guests to check in on tablet kiosks and notifies employees when visitors arrive. Envoy has also expanded to delivery management: It alerts employees when packages show up and lets administrators keep track of pickups.
Now, Envoy is looking beyond the lobby and moving deeper into the office. With a new product called Rooms, workers can reserve conference rooms through a new mobile app or integrations with Slack and Microsoft Teams. Envoy is also releasing an analytics dashboard for administrators to see how their offices are running, and it’s testing an API to expand the ways in which Envoy’s products can be used.
Envoy founder and CEO Larry Gadea has been saying for years that the company’s goal is to become an operating system of sorts for offices. These new announcements are the key building blocks, but there’s more to come.
“All the thousands of paper cuts that people have on a daily basis, we’re trying to remove as many of those as we can ourselves,” he says. “And then once we feel like we’ve built the right rails for everything, then we’re going to open up our platform.”
The all-in-one office app
Booking a conference room may be one of the most mundane necessities of work, but it can be a major time sink. While beta testing the new Rooms feature, Envoy found that workers book about half of all conference rooms the moment they need them, while roughly a fifth of advance bookings wind up empty. The result is that workers can waste a lot of time scrambling for space, even if an office really has all the meeting rooms it needs.
Larry Gadea, Envoy
We’re building a world where the workplace can be a lot less gut-driven.”
Envoy’s Rooms feature sounds like a pleasant alternative. With a new mobile app, workers will be able to locate and book open rooms nearby. Companies can also mount an iPad outside each room to display its status, and Envoy’s software will automatically open up booked rooms that aren’t in use.
Still, Envoy is coming late to the conference room problem, and its solution doesn’t seem transformative compared to others such as Robin, Teem, Roomzilla, and Skedda. But while those offerings have a single focus on conference rooms, Envoy’s main hook is consolidation with its other services. If an IT manager is already using Envoy for guest check-ins and deliveries, adding conference room tools could reduce costs and complexity. The same could also be true for workers, who already have plenty of apps to deal with on their phones.
“I have, like, 200 different apps that I’m managing right now. Any chance I get to remove some and unify into one, I’m always going to go for it,” says Will Oh, the IT operations manager for the real estate investing platform PeerStreet, which has been beta testing Envoy’s Rooms product.
Even if Envoy’s room-booking feature is useful, it might be most important as a precursor to the company launching a broader platform for office management.
Gadea has never kept this idea secret. It comes up every time the company raises money—$15 million in 2015, another $43 million in 2018—but now, Envoy is taking bigger steps toward its goal with analytics and developer tools.
Through the analytics dashboard, Gadea hopes offices will get a better sense of how much space they really need. An office that’s routinely filling up conference rooms might want to expand, for instance, while one that’s leaving them empty could downsize or repurpose the space. Those kinds of insights will likely grow as Envoy builds out even more office management tools. (One idea that Envoy is trying out in its own office: Hot desking, in which workers give up a permanent desk and instead float around. One can imagine Envoy’s software helping workers find open space.)
“We’re building a world where the workplace can be a lot less gut-driven,” Gadea says. “Envoy will be able to tell people, ‘We are going to save you a thousand square feet a month through not needing another floor.'”
The data that Envoy users generate could also feed into the company’s API, which in turn could open up new uses for the product. A company might use the API to hand out auto-expiring Wi-Fi logins for guests, or to provide digital keys to certain parts of the building for contractors. With Deliveries, a company might want to automatically notify workers about incoming packages when they’re passing by the mailroom. Automation for things such as air-conditioning and lighting could follow. While it’s still early days for these kinds of ideas, at least Envoy now has the mechanisms to build them out.
“The future of the workplace will be one that’s super proactive,” Gadea says. “It’ll know what you want to do . . . and then you can just really focus on the creative work that you’re there for. You won’t have to spend all this time doing all this mundane, laborious stuff.”
If there’s a downside to Envoy’s office operating system ambitions, it’s the potential to invade users’ privacy in the workplace. The company’s sign-in system has already taken some criticism for creating digital databases of office visitors (including their photos in many cases), and while the system is arguably more secure than paper sign-in sheets that anyone can peruse, it also makes storing that information easier over the long term.
As it moves further into the office with an app for workers, the risk is that Envoy will become a new tracking mechanism for employees themselves. Gadea says Envoy’s current software doesn’t allow companies to monitor employees’ whereabouts, but he acknowledges that it would be possible to create location-aware services using Envoy’s API.
“At the end of the day, what matters most is that people feel like it’s their choice, and that they get tremendous benefit from it,” Gadea says. “If people aren’t getting tremendous benefit from it, that data shouldn’t be collected.”
Envoy seems to be aware of the potential concerns. After I interviewed Gadea, a spokesperson reached out to say that Envoy worked with several customers while building its product road map and that those customers explicitly said they did not want the ability to track their employees.
“If it does do that, I would specifically block that,” says PeerStreet’s Will Oh.
As of now, Envoy’s operating system metaphor doesn’t have much direct competition. There are standalone solutions for some of the products Gadea wants to offer but few attempts at tying them into a single platform. Envoy’s closest competitor is probably Comfy, whose office management features include climate control, analytics, and conference rooms. But even its offerings lack the visitor check-in and deliveries around which Envoy is building its business.
Andrew Chen, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and one of Envoy’s investors, says the lack of all-encompassing competitors is both a challenge and an opportunity.
“If you and I were like, ‘Let’s build a new phone,’ we kind of know what features a phone is supposed to have,” Chen says. “If you have 13,000 business customers, and you’re the leader in a category and have defined the category, you really have to work with customers and the ecosystem to figure out what are the next features you need to build, as opposed to just going off a checklist.”