By early 2020, the idea of working remotely had been gaining acceptance in companies around the world, though it was still a small minority of the workforce.
Then came COVID-19.
Almost overnight, people found themselves commuting to the living room rather than their normal office building. This macro change forced them to adapt to no longer working in the same building as their coworkers.
COVID-19 turned Darren Buckner's world upside-down too, but in a different way.
Darren, a self-taught developer, is the co-founder and CEO of Workfrom. Workfrom was initially focused on providing a searchable, crowd-sourced database of good places across various cities for remote employees to work, such as coffee shops, libraries, coworking spaces, and other locales. It was a much-needed service for the growing remote worker community to connect them to various locations where they can be productive.
The initial response to COVID-19 closed down many of those locations, and Workfrom's usage and revenue plummeted as the remote-work crowd stayed home.
Darren knew he needed to act, but didn't panic. He had two assets on his side: a team of fellow developers and an engaged community of users.
In surveying his team, the community, and trusted mentors, Darren learned that one of the things the Workfrom community missed was the feeling of togetherness found at in-person locales. Workfrom was in a unique position to create a video-powered experience that could bring the best of the physical world to the remote-working paradigm in a “virtual café” experience
Darren and his team knew that video would be a major component of the virtual café experience, but they didn't want to be another Zoom meeting, nor did they want to build the video infrastructure from the ground up. Darren goes on to note, “We were building a platform intended for people to create — we wanted to give them the tools to create, and then get out of the way.”
While the team had a solid vision of what they wanted to do with video, audio, music, and chat to make a truly engaging virtual work environment, they needed a tool to prototype with.
They initially looked at solutions including Jitsi and Twilio. However, both had shortcomings:
Darren and his team heard about Daily through Workfrom's participation in Techstars, the startup accelerator. As soon as they started tinkering with Daily's video SDKs, they knew it was the right solution for them given the numerous advantages right out of the box:
Darren notes, “Daily understood what we were trying to do, and just wanted to help, which is exactly what we needed [them] to do at the time: remove friction so our team could go build.”
Daily brought all three of the major factors that the Workfrom team cared about:
Workfrom introduced their virtual café service in the summer of 2022, and the user feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The “always on” environment of the virtual café is a welcome departure from the typical Zoom meeting, which has a more rigid specific start and stop time. Now users can easily collaborate, share, and be present and more connected with one another (something that wouldn't have been possible with a tool like Zoom).
Workfrom's users love the small-scale “video bubbles” of their teammates, a custom UI enabled by Daily's video SDKs. With the addition of customizable backgrounds and “ambient” audio, users feel a much greater sense of space even while physically in their home offices.
What has been most rewarding is the engagement they have seen from their key audiences so far. To date, over 7,000 virtual cafés have been created with some of the most engaged customers being women-led communities (especially those empowering and supporting other women), creative teams, business meeting spaces, and online coworking businesses and communities.
The cafés are now fully customizable and smart, allowing people to toggle in and out of work modes, save notes inside a space, stream YouTube videos or play Spotify inside spaces, and even stream a mobile phone's camera into the background, to take fellow room attendees “anywhere”!
Looking further out, Darren is excited to continue to make the video experience more responsive, including being able to better share their virtual spaces with one another. “The future for us is how we give folks the ability to customize multiple spaces, including bringing scenery, music, video, and chat to the room — Daily is integral to this.”
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