A Look into the Work Culture of a Startup with no Office

Remote work is booming. Yes, it is because of a pandemic like we haven’t seen in a hundred years, but that doesn’t mean its all bad. Lets…

A Look into the Work Culture of a Startup with no Office

Remote work is booming. Lets face it, productivity increases when people work from home. Here at Blockonomics, we’ve been working remotely for a long time. We have to, considering in our workforce of 7 we represent 4 different continents. It’s a long commute from Johannesburg to Hyderabad.

As more and more companies look into longer term remote work, it is important to keep a few things in mind. For many employees, it can be a hard shift from a cubical to a home office. Although productivity will increase in the long term, there are a few things that should be kept in mind when adjusting to remote work. Let Blockonomics share what we’ve learned, and get an inside look at how we operate!

One of the most important things for a company looking into shifting to remote work is creating the right culture. This is a two way street between employee and employer. Creating the right mindset, and ensuring communication is occurring is key.

For an employer, one of the most important things is to be flexible. Remote work is a lot different from the office. As a manager, you can’t walk out of your office and call someone over when you want to go over something. Remote work often becomes decentralized. Yes, its important to collaborate when the task calls for it (and there are a variety of tools available that facilitate that, I’ll get into it in the next section), but it is important to realize that people will quickly work on their own tasks in their own way.

Therefore, giving up some of the oversight is necessary, even if worrying. Too many large corporations seem to distrust their employees, with remote working rules that stifle the benefits. One company that a friend worked at, for example, mandated employees wear the same business clothing even when working from home (which technically required a tie), and that employees stay on their computer the entire time between 0830 and 1730 (with their hour lunch), and recommended if you have children or pets at home that you think twice about working from home. Now, obviously, in practice no one followed that, not even in the office. Everybody got their work done, and the managers knew this. But the point is, the executive branch didn’t trust their employees to get their work done.

The cubical is dead at Blockonomics. It soon will be in the rest of the world.

Instead, employers have to accept workers will get the work done, even if they might not follow a 9 to 5 work schedule. At Blockonomics, schedules are all a little wacky. Since we have 5 (vastly different) different time zones to account for, essentially no one is sharing a full 8 hour work day together. There is also an understanding that our employees have lives they live. Some employees have young families, and if something comes up their baby takes precedence. That’s necessary, families should always come first, but it can also increase productivity in the long term by fostering a sense of loyalty to the company. By offering a flexible remote schedule, companies show they understand there are some things more important than work, which makes employees feel happy. Deadlines are enforced here, but when you’re working on a project is left up to the employee.

Employees also have to adopt a specific outlook. Some people like having a structured day which involves going to the office. They might feel more comfortable with a manager nearby to offer them feedback. Additionally, some people have trouble adjusting to the idea of space, the office is for work and the home is for fun. These changes to schedule can be harder for some to adjust to. It is a big change from the 9 to 5 office many people are used to.

To ensure that the adjustment goes well, for some people it might be important to maintain a routine. Get up in the morning and go through the process of getting dressed and getting ready for the work day. Have a set aside space for your office, in a room you can treat as a “work only” space. The most important thing though, is to set aside breaks, and even better, have friendly chit chats with your coworkers. Communication is important, especially ensuring you still have a strong rapport with your colleagues. At Blockonomics, we always start off our Monday meeting with friendly chitchat about politics, travel, and the apocalypse.

But after a few weeks, it becomes easier. There’s something nice about being able to work in your pajamas, it makes it much more comfortable. You quickly start learning what habits you need to be productive, but you learn to appreciate the little things down to being able to grab a drink from your fridge. It also makes errands easier, as managers start appreciating the lack of a need for 9 to 5.

But communication is still needed. Projects need input, employees need feedback. This is where the right tools come into play. Obviously digital tools are needed, for communication, like Slack or Teams, for document production, like MS Office or Google Drive, and for meetings like Zoom. But some physical tools might be needed too. If you have the budget, ensuring employees get a stipend for computer equipment is a good idea, some people need bigger screens.

For digital tools, the first thing is a communication platform. Since you can’t just walk over to the next cubical, the need for quick and easy discussion is vital. Phones are too cumbersome, aren’t conducive for quick questions or chats, and some people are shy about phones. Email is better, but people have begun putting off checking their emails. This is where tools like Slack or MS Teams come in. Questions can be answered quickly, notifications seen easily, and if its not relevant information they can be ignored. Blockonomics’ Slack is full of useful info, and we exchange messages on it often.

Our Slack Channel is our communication hub — we discuss work and crack jokes, which makes for a good atmosphere.

These platforms also allows easy sharing of documents, which brings up the second necessary tool — document processors. When working remotely, there still needs to be collaboration. Sure, you can email a word doc back and forth, but that’s long, annoying, and inefficient. Find something that allows multiple people to edit at once (and to leave comments) is needed. Google Drive is what Blockonomics uses, to great effect. Any document we put out, we’ve collaborated on it using Drive. If we are doing design for our website, we use balsamiq to easily create designs, and then show them to everyone else. Its a great tool to make sure we are all on the same page with website design (pun intended).

Although meetings are a pain in the neck, and most offices schedule way too many, they still are necessary. This is especially true when working remotely, there needs to be some kind of check in mechanism to ensure everyone’s tasks are being completed. MS Teams offers a two in one with meetings and chats, but Zoom is the favorite by many, including us here at Blockonomics. Those backgrounds make it all the more fun. We use our meetings to discuss what’s coming up in the next week, and what needs to be worked on.

Fun with Zoom

To organize that, we use Trello. That’s the final competent of the digital tools — the organizer. Because some employees might have issues with their new found independence, offer a road map is vitally important. It ensures everyone stays on task, and offers a reminder on what needs to get finished. It also offers managers a chance to feel better about checking in on their employees, its easy to see how everyone is progressing and helps zero in on trouble areas where work might be slowing down.

Our Trello keeps us organized and makes sure we stay on target, which is important in a remote workforce

If you’ve got the budget, physical tools might be needed too. ensuring employees are comfortable results in a big boost to productivity. This might include getting monitors so people can see better, new keyboards and mice which fit the hand more comfortably, or headphones if you’re really annoyed with that echo on Zoom. Especially if you’re transitioning from a physical office, its something to keep in mind.

Finally, payment is the important tool. With a diverse workforce, sending that paycheck can always be a problem. Bank transfers cost money, as do exchanging currencies. How do we solve that? Well Blockonomics does it by practicing what we preach — our paychecks are in Bitcoin. By using the Blockonomics invoice tool, we can easily get our pay in Bitcoin every month. This saves the company money, by limiting fees involved, it allows the hiring of a wide diversity of employees, and it means our income is instantly placed in an investment!

Instead of a pay stub, we use the Blockonomics Invoice tool!

This all comes into the benefits of working from home. For the employee it means increased comfort and satisfaction. For the employer it means increased productivity and money saved. All this makes remote work a great way to go.

Employees will enjoy the new found freedom, the joy of having their favorite snacks at their fingertips, and the ability to deal with errands much easier. I’m sitting in my pajamas, eating a bowl of Chanachur, and when I need a break I can lie down on the couch but still remain connected to Blockonomics. If I need to go to the grocery store, I can. If I have an appointment, I can go. At Blockonomics, the remote culture means we understand lives come first, but the work still gets finished. Not only that, but it means my travel lifestyle doesn’t have to suffer. Airport lounges make for great spaces to crank out another blog post.

Yumm Chanachur! (excuse the mess)

For employers, the benefits are numerous. It saves costs, there’s no worries about renting office space, paying to heat and cool and provide electricity, and there’s no need to buy pizza for the team. These lack of costs mean companies on a shoestring budget can afford to implement new ad campaigns, or hire another developer.

And hiring is another benefit. Now instead of stuck to one geographical area, the world is your oyster. As I mentioned at the start, the Blockonomics team hails from 4 different continents. Although the CEO is in India, he has hired people in Finland and Canada, the US and South Africa. This allows for talent to be discovered much easier, with no need to worry about enticing them to move locations. This means getting exactly the right people for the job, there’s no limit to where a person can work from (as long as there’s internet access).

Another benefit of a wide geographical range of employees, they can attend all kinds of conferences! Here’s some of our staff at the Prague Wordpress Conference 2018

And a happier workforce, resulting form the newfound freedom, means a more productive workforce. Just as a 4 day week means more productivity, allowing workers to work when they work best means they’ll get a better job done quicker. Even if it means letting the reins loosen a bit.

We all have to change how we view work. The cubical is dead, the 9 to 5 will be dead soon after. Business have to adapt to these changing times, and so do workers. Remote work is here to stay, and it will result in increased productivity and a happier workforce. That’s good for everyone, businesses, managers, and employees. We just have to get used to it, just like we have here at Blockonomics.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like some tacos.