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June 20, 2022

CT tech startup aims to improve engagement, collaboration among hybrid, remote workers

HBJ PHOTO | SKYLER FRAZER Vivek Nigam is the CEO and founder of Connecticut tech startup BeRemote.
Click below to see more information about the company.
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As hybrid and remote work prove to be mainstays for many companies coming out of the pandemic, one Connecticut startup is hoping to change and improve the way workplaces manage their off-site employees, in order to improve innovation, team participation and retention.

Vivek Nigam, CEO and founder of BeRemote, said he wants his company to “level the social playing field” by engaging employees that might keep quiet in social settings. His company offers a suite of programs designed to increase worker engagement and reduce time spent in live meetings.

Nigam began working on the idea in 2019, before launching in 2020, ironically during a time when more companies began shifting to remote work because of COVID-19. In the pandemic’s wake, he began to shift his focus on what BeRemote is now, essentially a technology company aimed at supporting businesses that are increasingly less reliant on an office and zip code.

“People started feeling really disconnected and people started leaving their jobs,” Nigam said. “Retention became an issue … so we started honing our tools around making sure people (particularly remote workers) have a voice, contribute and feel like a team.”

Developing an idea

Nigam is not new to tech startups — more than 20 years ago he started LocalEyes, an online database that worked like Yellow Pages for the web. He sold the company to AOL in 2001 with the idea of pursuing another new venture, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed the startup landscape.

Nigam moved his family back to Connecticut — he grew up in Southington — and began a career in the insurance industry, where he worked at Travelers Cos. and most recently as chief architect for claims at The Hartford. Working at those large corporations is where the seeds of BeRemote began, he said.

“One thing I kept noticing is that there was an opportunity to manage teams better,” Nigam said. “There were always people on the team who I thought were super talented, super intelligent, and really could contribute but they were quiet. I wanted to find a way to get them to speak up.”

Nigam, who earned an MBA from UConn, said BeRemote was founded to help increase participation on teams in the workplace, while also reducing the amount of time spent in live meetings. BeRemote’s main product, ReTeam, lets a project lead or manager digitally work with all of their employees.

Using the “team video” feature, a meeting host can record an intro outlining the discussion topic; team members can then record their own responses. The full video doesn’t publish until everyone has participated.

“It encourages participation because the task doesn’t get completed until you’ve contributed to your team — it really does a lot of team building inherently by taking that approach,” Nigam said.

ReTeam recently launched a team video feature that aims to help companies reduce the amount of time spent in meetings.

For example, take a staff update meeting. Rather than 20 people sharing their thoughts on a topic during a single meeting, participants can video record their updates in ReTeam. The videos can then be watched individually at any time, allowing employees to bypass a longer meeting. This tool can be integrated into existing programs like Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom.

“Now instead of a 30-minute meeting, you’ve done a six-minute meeting and you can just listen to the updates that you need to,” Nigam said.

Nigam said many companies have a meeting-first culture, which BeRemote is trying to show isn’t necessary. For companies in different time zones and countries, asynchronous meetings could be helpful.

Employees can also do more casual check-ins to share how they’re feeling. Virtual “watercooler” and “icebreaker” spaces let employees meet and congregate like they would in a usual office.

“Over time, what we’ve found is people will be honest, and now you can avert a serious situation by doing a check-in. Like, hey, wait a minute, that’s not the response I expected. Let me do a follow up,” Nigam said.

Sarah Louden is the vice president of human resources for American Solutions for Business, a distributor of print, promotional products, office supplies, e-commerce and marketing services. Her organization engaged in a pilot with BeRemote because of the way the app integrates with American Solutions’ primary communication tool, Microsoft Teams. She said her company is still working in a hybrid model, with employees working some days in the office and some remotely, so maintaining a “personal touch is key.”

“BeRemote’s video integration into chatting as well as check-ins creates different kinds of engagement touchpoints with employees,” Louden said. “While remote work has many benefits, it does also have its challenges with employees feeling isolated. The BeRemote pilot is helping us understand who may be feeling more isolated and needing more support so we can customize our leadership approach for employees as needed.”

Nigam said companies like Louden’s, and Tolland research and advisory firm Nerac, which also uses ReTeam’s Microsoft Teams plugin, are good examples of the ideal customer base. He said any company that was “thrust” into a hybrid or remote workplace because of the pandemic could utilize BeRemote’s services.

What's next?

Nigam said BeRemote has a team of four full-time employees and about 10 contractors for sales and technology development. He said he hopes to continue to scale the business and hire more people as it takes on new customers.

BeRemote makes money by bulk licensing its product to companies. Nigam has majority ownership of the startup, though he took on some angel investors and has added to the executive suite. He said the company plans to do a seed round of financing followed by a Series A round, but before then he wants to increase revenue.

Nigam said he could see a corporate technology company like Microsoft or Zoom, or human resource agencies interested in acquiring BeRemote, but an acquisition isn’t on his mind now.

“If that day comes, we’ll assess it, but for now I’d like to make an impact and get some people to really speak up,” Nigam said.

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