Post-coronavirus: How companies can learn from blockchain


Tamara Haasen describes how blockchain influences the peer-to-peer structure of technology company IOHK and how all employers could apply it to the post-Covid-19 workplace.

When reports of a new virus in Wuhan emerged late last year, few would have imagined the state of lockdown much of the world now finds itself in. With more people working remotely than ever before, the pandemic has raised questions about the state of businesses and their ways of working.

Although mass home working was a daunting prospect, pioneering companies have been able to combat the potential damages to business by altering their systems of working. To become adaptable to disruption, companies can adopt a business operating system based around the core principle of blockchain: decentralisation. With talk of the lockdown permanently altering the way we work, companies that reduce reliance on a centralised system or a ‘single point of failure’ will be better able to weather the storm.

Decentralisation and transparency go hand-in-hand, and companies can increase their fairness by increasing transparency around their pay and conditions.

At IOHK, we engineer blockchain software, which allows all kinds of data to be stored in thousands, or even millions of computers around the world simultaneously, meaning it is immune to attack on any individual computer and loss of data is essentially impossible.

We work in the same way; decentralised business models mean there is no single point of failure. Truly decentralised working models go beyond mere working from home and could mean the eradication of offices, fixed hours, and even conventional business hierarchies like boards and CEOs. At a time when companies are having to adjust fast to digitally distributed workforces, there’s a lot to be learned from the way that blockchain runs a distributed financial system without a central authority.

At IOHK, we engineer blockchains, so we wanted to make sure we walked the walk when it came to decentralisation. Our company doesn’t have a central office, hours or deadlines; all our staff work remotely and to their own schedule, managing their own tasks. Everyone at IOHK is united by our goal to revolutionise finance and blockchain. Hierarchy is circular rather than centralised with remote teams working independently to set their own deadlines to achieve common goals.

Fairness and collaboration

Teams work on a peer-to-peer basis, there are no silos and everyone from software developers to media professionals collaborate. Our methods also ensure that we prioritise fairness; pay formulas, rates and promotions are decided based on transparent rules, using independent formulas and public data. Decentralisation and transparency go hand-in-hand, and companies can increase their fairness by increasing transparency around their pay and conditions.

Although our employees work remotely, we make sure that everyone feels connected across the entire company. At IOHK, we have a whole-company Slack channel that includes all employees, including our CEO. He also hosts open “Ask Me Anything” sessions on Youtube which are open to the public as well as employees.

Employees are also randomly matched using an instant messaging bot, in order to replicate ‘water cooler chat’ online and keep communication between employees strong. This is something we’ve had great success with, hosting virtual coffee mornings so that our staff can connect with team members they wouldn’t otherwise interact with. According to research by Vodafone, two in five workers rate their colleagues as the main thing they miss about the office, so virtual social activities are vital at this time, and HR departments should make facilitating them a priority.

It’s likely that the coronavirus pandemic will result in permanent changes to ways of working. These changes will mean companies have to consider root-and-branch reform of their working models. At IOHK, taking the principle of decentralisation as inspiration, we want to go even further and replace management hierarchy with a system of working based on clear expectations, data and operating roles without a rigid hierarchy, where our employees’ roles and responsibilities evolve and are dynamic rather than static. This will mean that employees have more freedom, responsibility and self-reliance which will increase employee loyalty.

Ultimately, a decentralised model of working can allow companies to build a self-sufficient, remote workforce. Such a model would render businesses more immune to major disruptions such as our current pandemic. This has certainly been the case for IOHK, where aside from travel restrictions, our day-to-day operations have continued as normal. Such a workforce may ultimately not even need a central executive board; our CEO, Charles Hoskinson’s ultimate aim is to render his own job unnecessary.

The global lockdown may mark a permanent change in the workforce and a move towards distributed, decentralised business models that go far beyond remote working. Employers should take the opportunity to build a “new normal” around decentralisation and decisions based on data rather than diktat.

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