Reflections on 'The Age of Connected Work'

We're living in The Age of Connected Work.

Wait, what?

We’re a pandemic-surviving generation so we have naturally become less connected with co-workers, right? In some ways yes. In others, we are (and need to be) even more connected.

Remote growth

I work in a seed-stage startup with ~20 employees spread across the country. I live in California and have coworkers in New York, Utah, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest in a remote-first company. I believe this trend will persist.

A Gallup report from October last year (Remote Work Persisting and Trending Permanent) highlighted that 45% of full-time US employees worked from home either fully (25%) or partially (20%) in September, with an estimated 25% of all professional jobs in North America being remote by the end of 2022 as forecasted by career job site the Ladders and featured in Forbes.

If recent ARR milestones of high growth companies is an accurate proxy, the top two companies: Cart.com (eCommerce as a service) and Deel (remote hiring) show the strong bias toward companies engaging customers online as the eCommerce trend continues, and hiring remote talent globally - another data point that this trend is here to stay.

Figure 1: Top ARR Growth Curves, Source: Original Screenshot from CapIQ Graphic

How to thrive with Connected Work

We need Connected Work since we’re seeing the undeniable shift to working remotely and living virtually (or at least shopping for goods and services online). We can no longer rely on traditional in-person work environments or face-to-face communication in a physical office to facilitate connectedness so we are turning to the technological tools of our trade to accomplish our collaboration and data sharing digitally.

But how to do it well?

OpenView's recent report on the Age of Connected Work laid out some principles:

Figure 2: Summary Infographic by OpenView Partners in the Report

Reflecting on these Principles, new Principles 4 and 6 stand out in underscoring how even a Product Led Growth (PLG) pioneer like OpenView is thinking about how innovative PLG companies need to adopt their approach in the Era of Ecosystems (as referenced in Harvard Business Review, June 2019)

New PLG Principle 4: Build for Openness

Per the report,

API-first companies embody this principle fully. In a real sense, openness is their product. Whether it’s Contentful (digital content), Twilio (communications), Auth0 (identity), Plaid (financial services), project44 (shipping and logistics), Deliverect (restaurants) or Checkr (background checks).

Anecdotally, I agree with this. I am using Plaid when I use Venmo for peer-to-peer payments, and Robinhood for transferring funds for investments. My company uses Twilio as part of our phone communications. And I have worked with Checkr as a technology partner in the past. They were clearly agnostic and positioned themselves first and foremost as an API platform, and chose to work with all HR Technology partners that needed to connect with them to access background check data for mutual customers.

Practically, the more your company is a System of Record—whether you are a store of customer data (a Customer Relationship Management/CRM platform like Salesforce) or background check data (like Checkr)—you enhance your value and connectedness as a platform by maintaining and continually improving your open API. If your company is a point solution, then buyers and customers will consider how well integrated you are with the rest of their technology stack for them to derive maximum value in using your solution.

New PLG Principle 6: Build Community as a Competitive Advantage

The report focuses on user or developer communities and the importance of building that before and during the launch of a product to build awareness and excitement to drive early adoption.

In parallel, we are seeing a clear emergence of functional communities that support their members with networking, ongoing education or mentorship, dedicated Slack channels for topical discussion - since everyone looks to the peers they respect for referrals and advice even when buying tech solutions and software.

This isn’t even an exhaustive list - there’s Pavilion for Sales and Revenue executives and professionals, the Peak Community for Marketers, Pulse (by Gainsight) for Customer Success, and hey!, even Partnership Leaderships for Partnerships pros. Customers are first and foremost individuals so successful PLG companies will need to be an active part of the functional communities they sell to in order to educate first before engaging in selling conversations.

When we broaden the definition of Community to include thought leaders and even analysts/futurists , Jay McBain’s reference to “community watering holes” resonates.

Successful companies will need to not only leverage their PLG motions, but also figure out how to influence the influencers since B2B software buyers are no longer buying in a straightforward manner, and the path to purchase may be a less direct track that is a combination of factors that influence the user decision maker.

Conclusion / Role for Partnership Leaders

PLG is already a mainstream framework for CEOs/Founders building new startups and sustaining innovation leaders. Now we layer in considerations around macro trends like remote work/hiring talent remotely and eCommerce potentially influencing how we as consumers live and buy virtually. There becomes a greater, pressing need for companies to intentionally build openness into their product, and define their approach to engaging communities early on.

Partnerships professionals are well poised to play a major role on both these fronts.

First, by being an active conduit of intel and insights to the Product team informed by firsthand partner feedback.

Secondarily, Partnerships must partner with Marketing to co-develop a proactive Community engagement strategy as part of the company’s growth plans. Both of these cross-functional motions help sharpen the company’s roadmap focus, while extending its reach and influence in the market.

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