The tech company Satalia uses artificial intelligence to make companies more efficient. The office also acts a bit like a laboratory. One with some of the cleverest lab rats out there.
Daniel Hulme founded Satalia, a company that solves problems using algorithms – eight years ago after finishing a PhD in Computer Science at UCL. It was only after five or so years that the company really gathered momentum, as the concept of AI became more mainstream.
'We were very early in terms of our technology and our offering so for many years we kept ourselves alive through consultancy,' says Dan. 'It's only really now that people have started to get very excited about data science and machine learning and AI and so that's why the company has started to grow quite rapidly over the last three years.'
Artificial intelligence is the development of computer systems that perform tasks requiring human intelligence - this could include speech recognition, visual perception, decision-making and language translation. It shows how far we've come in accepting AI as part of everyday life that we now no longer automatically consider speech recognition and visual perception as purely 'human' qualities.
Satalia uses AI to help businesses solve problems: be that working with the Ministry of Defence, one of the top four management consultancy firms or helping a well known furniture brand optimise their delivery service by working out both the best route and whether accepting a cup of tea after assembling someone's sofa increases the chance of a good customer experience.
The team, which is now made up of about 70 scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and academics, is also working on a delivery solution which will be free for small businesses to use “to optimise their deliveries, minimise their carbon emissions and provide the best service to their customers.”
A lot of things going on, you might think. And it gets even more complicated: the Satalia team don't have any KPIs, there are no managers, and all company information is accessible - even pay is transparent. The flat structure allows Satalia to be more flexible, 'like a swarm of birds.'
So why, to be frank, is it not all a big mess? The company is extremely clear on its purpose. It has been set up with a 'North star', Daniel explained as part of the panel at the Workspace Business Insight Dinner on the future of business collaboration and what is this guiding principle? They want to 'enable everyone to do the work they love'.
COO Avida Hancock looks after organisational design and culture and has been instrumental in keeping hierarchy flat but momentum moving. She's influenced by the work of Dan Pink, New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the business book Drive. Pink thinks that three things motivate people at work: autonomy, mastery and purpose. To run a successful business, first you need to fulfil your team's need to feel in charge of their work and destiny; then to make sure that they can develop their skills; and finally ensure they feel that what they are doing is important and meaningful. Avida would add a fourth pillar - the importance of what she terms 'attachment' and thinks that the way people form relationships “is influenced by their early life experiences and plays a significant part in behaviours, attitudes, and outcomes in the workplace.”
They are developing an organisational network analysis tool to help with this; it will collect and curate employees' data trail to understand how well people are connected to each other. It will allow them to build up a better picture of the informal network that exists in the office, working out who goes to who for a range of reasons such as advice, feedback, motivation and emotional support and ensuring that decision-making is distributed, faster, and more agile.
We are trying to completely rethink how to create a new operating system for a company that maximises their input, impact, innovation and happiness,”
Daniel says. They don’t even need to come into the office. At the WBI Dinner, one customer, Chris Stanley of the sustainability company Anthesis, asked whether offices even need to exist. “No body has to come to the office if they don’t want but people want to come to an office. They want to meet, and have that tactile experience and spend time with each other.
As Avida explains, their approach to salary expectations goes to the heart of their thinking:
“For pay, we use a peer-to-peer system. People request their own salaries, and those salaries are evaluated and voted on by other people in the organisation - pay is completely transparent. Ultimately it goes to a vote. You have to decide who is qualified to make this decision about somebody else and there are various factors which are taken into account into weighing that person's vote: the nature of the relationship, how well are you placed in the organisation to understand the whole organisation and the impact of this person's work. It's a similar concept to the concept Google use in their page rankings. They work out which other pages are most relevant to it based on others that are connected to it.”
Our systems and structure lend themselves to technology companies and they'll be the first ones that will be interested in using those systems.”
The initial misgiving might be that this type of company structure is not scalable. But they are both quick to point out that they're now working on scaling these processes for a team of 300, which is where they see Satalia in a couple of years' time. And that's just the beginning. Avida aims to disrupt how companies in Silicon Valley, Roundabout and Savannah operate: “Our systems and structure lend themselves to technology companies and they'll be the first ones that will be interested in using those systems.” And Daniel has even bigger plans. He wants “to translate those processes outside our organisation that might one day run a city, a country or even a planet.”
But at the Workspace Business Insight Dinner, Daniel made that sound a little less daunting. If New and Growing Companies want to adapt their organisation for the future, he had some simple advice:
“The idea of architecting for the future scares me a little because we can’t predict the future very well. My policy would be to create an environment that can be easily changed, that’s agile and adaptable.”
Workspace Business Insight Breakfasts and Dinners are organised in collaboration with Knowledge Peers. They are designed to be an interesting mix of ‘live’ case studies of senior directors from New and Growing Companies (NGCs) who have encountered a relevant challenge, together with Q&A with industry experts. Directors, founders and other senior leaders from customers across Workspace’s portfolio are invited to attend these complimentary events.
Follow @workspacegroup and @knowledgepeers on Twitter for up-to-date information.
This event was held at Westbourne Studios - for more information, or to book a viewing click here.