Bringing lots of people together into shared spaces was not a great business to be in when Covid struck. Despite strong growth since launching as a co-working space in 2018, it was clear that Columbus, Ohio-based Hopewell would need to pivot to survive.

In March of 2020, the company was operating as a place for entrepreneurs and freelancers to work, but also as office space for large corporations to offer to their team members. A partnership with a high-end office furniture distributor also allowed Hopewell to serve as "a living showroom." Annual revenue reached $225,000 in 2019, and co-founders Emily Kaplan and Brian Zuercher were looking to grow their team and expand to Kentucky.  

But even before the pandemic got going, it was clear that the corporate clients utilizing their space had a deeper need. Using Hopewell's space was "filling a gap" with corporate clients, Kaplan remembers, but the co-founders foresaw an opportunity to "solve an even bigger problem than the space problem," which was the need to improve the overall work experience for corporate employees. Did employees and teams for their customers want more flexibility with their schedules, access to alternative working environments, or the opportunity to meet people from other firms housed in a shared space? All or some of those things? And how much?

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What Hopewell found was a desire on the part of corporations "to understand the work experience at their company."

That was a need that ramped up just as Covid emptied out their co-working space: "No one knew what the future of work experience was going to look like," Kaplan says. She and Zuercher had already begun researching the opportunity to provide an assessment tool for companies that wanted to know how best to serve their teams.

As the pandemic hit, they pivoted hard into building a platform that could provide a survey to employees assessing the work experience at a given company and a dashboard of results. By April 2020, their minimum viable product was ready, and they were preparing to rebrand under the name Align

The tool asks employees to respond to 10 minutes of questions, the answers to which enable Align to "analyze the good, bad, and ugly of the current work experience." It delivers insights to its customers about what employees need more or less of, what they spend their time working on, and what environments and other circumstances help them do their best work. In addition to the initial delivery, add-on consultations are made available.

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Conveniently, Align already had a way to get its tool to market. The corporate furniture dealer Kaplan and Zuercher were partnered with also needed a way to help customers understand their work experience needs, and was getting questions along those lines. So where Hopewell had been a sales channel of sorts for corporate furniture dealers prior to the pandemic, in the company's new model, the existing enterprise relationships of those furniture dealers became a sales channel for Align.

While corporations were figuring out how to get employees back to the office--and which office, and when, and more--"we were the tool to help gather facts and data," Kaplan recalls.

In 2021, the company generated $650,000 in revenue, nearly triple that of 2019, before the pandemic and the pivot to a platform. Its customers included the public utility NiSource, the national accounting firm BKD, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Today, those customers can learn what employees think about their current work experience, and also what kinds of changes could be meaningful to support their teams, according to Kaplan. "That may be something as hard as a policy, or it may be as soft as the time of day people like to get their work done," she says.

Align is now meeting with newly created "future of work committees," which combine leadership in IT, real estate, HR, and operations to chart out a post-pandemic future. These groups from across an organization "don't have a common language," Kaplan says, and that's part of where Align's longer engagements come in. Now that the company has grown substantially, with help from its furniture partners, Align is turning its attention to direct sales. The new strategy can still be traced back to the original proposition that Hopewell was founded on: seeing customers coming through the door and wondering what they were looking for.