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Not only have we had a nasty virus pandemic for two years, but there’s also been a social well-being pandemic. We have medicines for the former. Now there’s a platform that can help fix the latter.

Redwood City, California-based startup Wisq, which describes itself as the first platform designed for the social connection needs of employees, came out of a yearlong stealth period today and announced that it closed $20 million in Series A funding led by Norwest Venture Partners.

Wisq is similar in operation and appearance to business-only internal networks such as Slack, Teams or Asana, but it stands apart because it provides a different, much more personal environment for team members at a company.

“Slack, Asana, Teams and others are all great tools for collaborating at work,” CEO Jim Barnett told VentureBeat. “So we don’t need any more connections around work. But we found from talking to people (many of whom had been away from the office for months or more) who said: ‘We’re starved for those sort of nonwork moments at work.’ Those water-cooler conversations for people to say ‘How was your weekend?’ ‘Did you binge anything fun on Netflix?’ ‘How are the kids?’ ‘What were they for Halloween?’ ‘What’s your vacation like?’ ‘I missed you!’ 

“So we thought, you know, what if we could create a platform that was dedicated to those non-work things? It would allow people to connect around non-work. And that’s what we’ve created.”

Workplace connections lacking post-pandemic 

Studies show that building close relationships with colleagues and having a strong sense of belonging at work are among the most important drivers of employee engagement and can be solutions to overcoming feelings of disconnection and isolation. As we have moved to more digital work collaboration and remote and hybrid work environments, the workplace has fundamentally changed and profoundly impacted its people and culture. 

“The workplace is never going to be the same again,” Barnett said.

Some research notes:

  • According to Pew Research, 65% of workers who rarely or never teleworked before the pandemic say they feel less connected to co-workers now.
  • The cost of this employee disconnection to U.S. companies is $406 billion. Cigna research revealed that lonely employees have a higher risk of turnover, lower productivity, more missed days at work and lower quality of work. 
  • Generation Z workers, who have grown up accustomed to digital social interactions, are twice as likely than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to look for a new job within a year if they don’t feel connected or like their workplace culture, a Bankrate survey revealed. 
  • Employees who feel a high level of belonging are less likely to leave their job, will perform better in their job, take fewer sick days and give higher employer promoter scores, according to BetterUp.

How Wisq works

Unlike traditional work productivity and engagement tools or consumer social media platforms, Wisq has created a platform that fosters social well-being at work and supports the basic needs of employees, such as connection, belonging and community. 

Featuring smart profiles, intuitive sharing, community building and audio lounges for informal hangouts, Wisq helps organizations build positive work cultures, Barnett said. The artificial intelligence (AI) discovery platform facilitates connections and fuels authentic engagement for employees, creating a supportive environment across hallways and continents, he said. 

There are various work and social entry points into the Wisq platform. Early beta customers whose employees are engaging with Wisq, Barnett said, are seeing benefits in four key areas:

  • Belonging: Cultivating a sense of belonging by allowing employees to connect, share and build relationships.
  • Onboarding: Quickly instilling a sense of community and belonging during the new hire onboarding process. 
  • Growth: Consistently building, maintaining and growing employee relationships to foster social connections, develop friendships and improve team dynamics. 
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Enabling the formation of communities around shared interests, values, identities and backgrounds while providing the support and resources needed.

Social connections, feelings of belonging

“It is incumbent that business leaders enable authentic social moments as an essential part of the workday,” Barnett said. “It’s time for them to adopt new technology, new behavior patterns and new business culture values that align with today’s workforce. We designed Wisq to be the platform that makes all of this possible, to provide a space for life at work.”

The Series A funding included participation from True Ventures and Shasta Ventures. Following a seed round that closed in May 2021, Wisq has raised more than $40 million.

“Remote team members are now a massive part of the workforce and they crave – more than ever – human connection and a sense of belonging at work,” Jon Callaghan, co-founder of True Ventures, said in a media advisory. 

“As Generation Z enters the workforce, they come with expectations of making digital connections in all aspects of their lives, even day-to-day on the job, whether they’re working remotely or in the office,” Jason Pressman, managing director at Shasta Ventures, said in a media advisory. “Providing a platform like Wisq is no longer a ‘nice-to-have.’ It’s a ‘must-have’ benefit for the future of work in a competitive market where companies are seeking unique ways to attract and retain the next generation of employees.”Wisq said that companies interested in beta participation can sign up here.

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