Much of the work that has taken place in the cryptocurrency and fintech industries has taken place remotely for quite some time–even before the coronavirus began to spread around the globe. However, the coronavirus has kicked the world of remote and online work into higher gear: suddenly, companies in every sector are being forced to move large portions of their operations
However, because of fintech’s pre-existing predilection for online work, many companies in the crypto and fintech industries have reported that the shifts to being more or less completely online has been without major interruption.
Indeed, Sukhi Jutla, chief operating officer of blockchain-based gold jewelry platform MarketOrders, told Finance Magnates that “most companies working in this space [are] already accustomed to working with digital technologies and working in the ‘new way’, which means less time at a physical location and desk.”
“Instead, they’re taking full advantage of working ‘digitally’, which means making use of digital technologies that allow business to be conducted using video conferencing, email, online chat and online tools and software to run your projects and tasks.”
For example, Adrian Przelozny, chief executive of Australia-based cryptocurrency exchange Independent Reserve, told Finance Magnates that because many of the exchange’s team members were already working primarily online, “the transition to telecommuting has been rather seamless.”
“The team has been using tools like Zoom and Slack for a while, so there was no major change in communication,” he said, adding that “some employees have taken their work computers and monitors home” to make the transition easier.
Remote work could lead to a temporary slump in productivity
Indeed, making the transition to working online as easy as possible is crucial for success during this time. Of course, making operational changes in a company is bound to result in some interruptions to business as usual–interruptions that could, unfortunately, interfere with customer experience.
Beyond that, however, some economists have warned that the global shift to remote working could contribute to a larger-scale economic slump. Indeed, Nicholas Bloom, an economist who is a well-known advocate for working from home, has warned that a lack of suitable workspaces in the homes of employees who usually work in offices could contribute to a global slump in productivity.
“We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days,” said Bloom, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), to Stanford’s news outlet. “This will create a productivity disaster for firms.”
Bloom said that in-person collaboration is particularly necessary for creativity and innovation: in the past, Bloom’s research has shown that in-person meetings are not only essential for keeping staff motivated and focused, but also for developing new ideas. Therefore, Bloom has previously advocated for a work-from-home strategy that includes the choice to go into the office, and perhaps occasional obligatory meetups.
Because of the lack of in-person options brought about by the coronavirus, however, Bloom said that he “fear[s] this collapse in office face time will lead to a slump in innovation.”
“The new ideas we are losing today could show up as fewer new products in 2021 and beyond, lowering long-run growth.”
However, Richard Red, a contributor in research and strategy at Decred, a cryptocurrency network firm that has always been completely remote, told Finance Magnates that the productivity slump may be only temporary.
“Be patient,” he said. “These are the early days in adapting to this new global environment. Working remotely from home will not be the same as working from a shared office–particularly if you have children at home with you.”
“Our experience with Decred is that people get used to it pretty quickly, and for those of us who are already only doing remote work, we have found ways to get what we need from it.”
I have managed a fully-remote team for 3.5 year. THIS IS DIFFERENT. Do not expect a team transitioning to remote-work to be fully effective right now. Kids are home, parents need extra care, infra is limited.
— Jacob (@0x604) March 31, 2020
MarcGrens, co-founder & chief executive of cash-to-Bitcoin provider DigitalMint, also told Finance Magnates that “patience is key.”
“When you have 3-4 meetings scheduled in one day, there’s bound to be an issue with someone’s internet connection or conferencing app. When something goes wrong, we have to remind ourselves that we’re all in the same boat.”
Maintaining morale and team spirit in times of social isolation
But while small children, pets, and faulty wifi connections may be throwing wrenches into company productivity, companies are faced with perhaps an even more important and more unprecedented challenge: workers are facing new levels of isolation–both because of separation from their coworkers, but also from society at large.
Therefore, in order to abate the effects of the productivity slump that may be imminent, working to build and maintain company morale and a sense of teamwork and connection among employees is crucial as
Therefore, companies are increasingly taking extra measures to support employees’ mental and emotional health.
For example, although digital communication “cannot substitute live communication”, Vadim Anchugov, chief operating officer of Luxembourg-based cryptocurrency trading platform VNX Exchange, said that each day, “we have video conference calls where all team members can discuss some interesting news, share their personal stories and lifehacks on what to do while you are staying home.”
— Lindy Ledohowski 👩🏻💻🇨🇦 (@DoctorLindy) March 31, 2020
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Additionally, Sukhi Jutla said that at MarketOrders, “we are holding regular team check-in calls to make sure everyone is well.”
“We use WhatsApp to send daily updates to check in on staff–not just on the tasks to be done, but checking in to make sure they are well emotionally and mentally as this shows you care and will help the team to feel safer, secure and in turn able to perform better at their jobs.”
There has also been a trend in holding online social events for employees. For example, “others are hosting ‘virtual drinks’ on a Friday evening,” or “holding company-wide quiz[zes] at the end of the week to bring everyone together.”
Other companies are holding watch parties: “[companies] can also designate an afternoon off where [employees] watch something together online Netflix” and chat about what they are watching at the same time on WhatsApp or Skype.
“Companies could do the same with a virtual book club–pick a book, and every Friday afternoon, everyone can take some time off to read together and then discuss the main points the following Monday morning,” Jutla added. “Other companies are even paying for the Netflix subscriptions for their staff.”
Using online tools effectively
Virtual happy hours and book clubs aside, however, adding a little bit of face-to-face connection into business-as-usual is also important.
For example, Marc Grens said that “since the shift to remote, DigitalMint has employed two tactics to ensure that we stay connected.”
“First, we conduct all meetings over video chat rather than a phone call or conference line,” Grens explained.
“Previously, if a team member was working from home or on the road, a phone would suffice. Now, with the entire team scattered, we rely on video chat to host meetings of all sizes. When using video chat, there are fewer interruptions when someone is speaking, and team members are empowered to contribute because you can see who is talking (and listening).”
Efficiently organizing digital communication channels
Decred’s Richard Red added that making efficient use of the tools at hand is also important.
“For organizations that are new to chat software like Matrix, Slack or Discord, it is worth paying attention to the scope and size of rooms (or channels), and ensuring that in productive channels the discussion stays on topic so that people can work efficiently,” Red said.
Keeping work and play seperate is also important in these digital channels of communication. “For community spirit, it is worth having a set of other channels which are more discussion-oriented, ranging from discussion of work-adjacent topics to more general interest or humorous content,” he said.
Additionally, “it is important to have moderators and a shared understanding of what kind of content is appropriate for chat channels, because they are lacking the many soft social cues we use to modulate our behavior in the in-person context–making it more difficult to gauge the tone of other participants.”
Clear written communication is a sign that you have clarity of thought — making it easier to rally your team around a common goal.
(Written communication skills are a key 21st century skill. As is emotional intelligence, but I digress.) 3/5
— Yolanda Lau (@yolandafan) March 31, 2020
Red also said that it’s important to make sure that upper-level management has a place in these digital communication channels: “ensure key decision-makers and management have a presence,” he said.
“[…] The absence of key decision-makers from the platform always limited its utility, and made it a kind of back-channel for sub-teams. When there’s no upper echelon of management to remain aloof from the chats, it can feel very much like a digital version of a more usual office environment.”
Red also pointed out that well-developed communication platforms can be used to change in-person meetups to virtual” events.
“In addition to this decentralized online working environment, many contributors organize or attend meetups in their local areas, and socialize with other community members in person,” Red said. “This aspect of the project has obviously been hit by the pandemic and is paused, and so it is here where more adaptation is taking place, with many of the local meetups moving to virtual alternatives instead.”
Will increased levels of remote work remain after quarantines end?
The fact that so many of these operations may be moving towards being placed online could also point to a future in which remote work becomes increasingly common.
“There is no doubt that the world we’ll return to will have fundamentally shifted,” Sukhi Jutla commented. “This also means the jobs that we have will have changed, and the businesses that fail or survive will also reflect the changing landscape.”
Indeed, “those who can adapt to digital online processes will have a stronger chance of survival and it is these companies who would have successfully adapted to remote working.”
There, Jutla believes that “we will see remote working becoming a much more normal and accepted way of working, especially since social distancing may be required for a much longer period of time even when the immediate threat of the virus is no longer there. We will see more businesses prioritizing online presence and sales channels in an effort to future proof themselves and their businesses.”
Has your company switched to remote work? What have your experiences been like? Let us know in the comments below.