The pandemic has put hundreds of thousands of businesses out of action, saw others fold and decimated great swathes of the economy.
But, crypto thrived in this distributed environment. As the world clamped down and everyone was forced to decentralize, the crypto world shone.
Perhaps crypto, born of a crisis, is most at home in one. Working from home is where we all have spent most of this crisis.
Gaurang Tovekar is the CEO and co-founder at Indorse, a blockchain-powered enterprise SaaS platform. He says the company was perfectly placed to ride out the upheaval as the entire team has never been in the same physical location since the company’s inception.
“Although the pandemic accelerated remote work and the adoption of decentralization in the workforce globally on an unprecedented scale, it was already a norm within the crypto industry well before the pandemic struck.”
He points out that although the company once had offices in Singapore and London, he’d already swapped them out for hot desks in co-working spaces before the pandemic.
“That way, those of us who want to meet up once or twice a week and bond socially can still do so in the office while working from home the majority of the time.
“We have adapted our work styles and got used to this new normal in the last year and a half. I am sure that we as a company will not lease swanky office spaces any time soon, but rather provide better flexibility and other perks that make working from home more pleasurable for our team,” he concludes.
7) I'm (in)famous for playing League of Legends while on phone calls.
I'll also try to avoid restarting my RAM if possible.
One side advantage of the bean bags: if I sleep in the office, my mind stays in work mode, and I don't have to reload everything the next day. pic.twitter.com/AKlQm7wneI
— SBF (@SBF_FTX) February 4, 2021
Office as a luxury?
Stefan Rust, the former CEO of Bitcoin.com and now CEO and co-founder of Sonic Capital, is taking a different approach to remote working. He’s just signed a lease on a “swanky office” in Hong Kong – but at a substantial discount. He intends to use this real estate luxury as a perk to benefit his mostly remote workforce.
“I plan on creating large open plan spaces with sofas, TVs, screens and hot desks. I want people to be able to come in and relax, enjoy time with their co-workers, conduct meetings or just chill. The new office has to be a place where people want to come — it’s about choice,” explains Rust.
So, perhaps as pandemic restrictions wind back, an office will be seen as a luxury perk for tech and crypto companies, a central clubhouse that people use how and when they want.
Ramadan Ameen, CFO for privacy startup Panther Protocol, reflects that his international team was put in place during the pandemic in Jan. 2021. Not only has his team never all been in the one location, but the majority of the twenty staff also have never met each other in person. For Ameen, a team meetup and bonding session are significantly ahead of company offices, for now.
“The co-founders have met, but the team is spread out across North and South America, Asia and Europe. We are looking forward to a team meetup in the fall, depending on Covid restrictions. Right now, our choices are limited, so we are still deciding among a few central locations.”
For the Unique.network, a next-generation NFT chain for Polkadot and Kusama ecosystems, the lockdown was very positive. CEO Alex Mitrovic says his dispersed team put their collective heads down and just worked on the project. They entered a major Hackathon on Kusama to “build a blockchain” back in January 2020 and won. That set them up for earning more Web 3.0 Foundation grants before being accepted into the accelerator program run by Jamie Burke, CEO of Outlier Ventures, at the start of this year.
“Having an internationally dispersed team is normal for me, lockdown just made it tighter,” he says. “People, often limited to restricted locations, wanted to connect and so we made it work.
“The fact that, as lockdown proceeded, we re-entered a bull run didn’t hurt at all.”
One thing that unites remote workers in crypto is their passion and commitment to the industry Mitrovich says.
“To work remotely often requires a degree of self-motivation and discipline. These are the very hallmarks of people in this space. And everyone gets the decentralized approach — it is part of the territory.”
Mitrovich says that remote work also offers a world of options for skilled workers in the blockchain sector.
“People have more choices,” he says. “If they don’t like someone or something, they can leave and move on. They might be restricted in geography but not in choices. I like to quote Jamie when he says Outliers operates a ‘no jerk policy’ which cracks me up but which is also very cool.
“I see my team blossoming in this lockdown. They are more honest about what they can and cannot do. And it’s my role as CEO to support them. No more top-down management, it’s all about consensus.”
The etiquette of Zoom
Mitrovich feels that since the entire world first went into lockdown, people have been looking for ways to connect. Moreover, it had the feeling of democratizing the new workplace — the home — since few were still working out of boardrooms and offices.
“It didn’t matter where you were, everyone was reduced to a zoom screen,” he says.
Interestingly, he says fewer people are late for meetings anymore.
“I’ve done 1000s of video calls and everyone turns up on time – it’s like a mark of respect. No one has to travel of course and so it’s easier to be punctual,” he says.
Cultural differences in approaches to video calls have become apparent as Mitrovich raises funds and speaks with investors across Asia.
“I have never asked but Asian people tend to keep their videos off, whereas Western people leave theirs on. Maybe it’s because accessing videos from China for example requires a VPN or maybe it’s a question of poor connections.”
Apparently it's international dog day. pic.twitter.com/stzxvnMcH7
— CZ 🔶 Binance (@cz_binance) August 26, 2021
Other leaders have actually developed policies on the video on and off question, believing it’s a way for employees to bond and maintain normal social interactions. Marie Tatibouet, CMO at the crypto exchange Gate.io is quite forceful on this point:
“In a company as big as ours, interdepartmental synergy could be a challenge if you are not going to the office and seeing each other every day,” she says. “To mitigate this, we use online workspaces such as Notion so that everyone knows what everyone else is working on.
“We also have a weekly meeting which is half official and half casual, with mandatory ‘Video on.’ This way everyone knows what the team members look like and can interact with each other and share interesting stories from the market and their daily lives.”
Crypto means juggling different jobs. It is not nine to five, the roles are fluid and people are expected to run with different tasks as demand dictates. There is rarely a single, static job description. Crypto plus remote offers flexibility, especially where families are involved.
Khalid Howladar is head credit & Sukuk advisery at R.J. Fleming & Co, a private bank where he specializes in Islamic Finance. Based in Dubai, he also chairs the board of a startup DeFi protocol and says he has enjoyed working remotely.
“My wife and I are lucky in that our children are so young that homeschooling is not a challenge, but I have enjoyed immensely the extra time I can spend with the kids,” he says. “At the office, I wouldn’t be good at taking breaks but now I take 15 to 30 minutes in the day to hang out.”
He also recognizes that as he moves into crypto, he will need to wear many hats. Remote working suits this new juggling act for work.
“Also, as someone who tends to work late, I can put my son to bed and get back to work. For my wife having someone around at home for those 10/15 mins you might need to do something or take a break — is invaluable.”
Retraining laid-off workers
Swathes of less well-paid workers lost their jobs as businesses went under during lockdowns. Retraining for the crypto and blockchain sector may provide them with a way to get back on their feet, especially if they live in an expensive part of the world. After all, the sector has booming demands for skilled personnel, with blockchain job vacancies doubling in recent months. The fact that they can usually work from anywhere opens up a world of employment possibilities.
Educator and executive director of The Blockchain Academy Ryan Williams works with universities and corporates to provide quality blockchain training and accreditation. He has found a home for his skilled courses in Hawaii.
“Hawaii is a beautiful spot but it’s also very expensive to live there. And with the lockdown, the hospitality sector has been slammed. Crypto is one method to get past this issue and indeed provide some long-term employment certainty and income equality.”
The Hawaii government had been looking for ways to upskill the local population and set up the Hawaiian Technology Development Corporation or the HTDC. They contacted The Blockchain Academy and agreed to partner with them to provide foundation courses in blockchain.
The DAO – or Decentralized Autonomous Organization
A Decentralized Autonomous Organization, or a DAO, is another opportunity that can be seized by anyone, anywhere with the requisite skills. A DAO is when a globally distributed community of contributors owns the overarching entity as a cooperative venture with no central leadership. Anyone with a better idea for how to achieve something can join and propose it as a solution, which can supercharge innovation. Decisions get made from the bottom-up (at least in theory), governed by a community and organized around a specific set of rules enforced on a blockchain. Popularized by blockchain DAOs in DeFi, decisions are made via proposals that the group votes on during a specified period.
Williams is quietly optimistic about the possibilities, and if DAOs fulfill their promises.
“Remote may mean we need to learn to be empathetic on purpose, but the inbuilt consensus mechanisms from a DAO means firstly, people have a vested interest in the organization and secondly, they have a say in the culture. It’s not from the top down.”
— Michael Saylor⚡️ (@michael_saylor) May 15, 2021
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a crypto enthusiast, totally agrees.
“The benefits from a DAO are trickle up. Trickle down does not reflect how a DAO operates and that’s the point. Participants get to control what happens and what doesn’t happen,” he says. “The tokenomics are clearly stated so everyone knows who benefits, how and why. If run successfully, with appropriate tokenomics, the benefit can accrue from the bottom up. Everyone who works there can be given tokens so they can participate in the DAO.
“Any business that is community driven would benefit the most from being a DAO. It could be a company that offers healthcare services, it could be a local savings and loan. The value comes from the fact that the business can benefit from integration of the community.”
Rust is also experimenting with a DAO as part of his sustainable crypto investing business in Hong Kong.
“I have set up a number of entities and registered them as businesses in different jurisdictions, depending on their requirements. However, one business division, Sonto, will be a pure DAO. It will not be incorporated in any jurisdiction but will operate as a truly decentralized entity.”
This decentralized thinking will extend to all the remote employees in terms of remuneration.
“If half the employees are remote and decentralized, then I am not best placed to see how they are performing. In each case, the allocations will come from team leads — not a centralized authority. That makes much more sense to me,” adds Rust.
However, while a fan, Cuban is less than optimistic of the granted success of DAOs, especially the early ones.
“I also want to make the point that I think many of the early DAOs could fail,” he says, stating the lack of experience and possible unequal distribution of participation as reasons.
“Some holders are very involved and often try to work to the exclusion of others. The politics of participation in DAOs will also come into play. The dynamics of how people cooperate will be challenging, again, until there is a history of what works and what doesn’t work for new entrants to learn from,” he concludes.