What we’ve learned as a Fintech startup through the COVID-19 lockdown
It’s been almost four months (and counting) since the UK imposed a nationwide lockdown in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and fortunately Arachnys was fully prepared for the remote-first plan that was to follow. The prospect of working from home indefinitely became a normality, and as workplaces look to start returning to their offices for ‘business as usual’ in a very different guise, it’s important to see what we’ve learned as a cloud-based technology company in this trying time.
Just as we set out at the midpoint of March, employee wellbeing, regular interaction and communication was a key part of our lockdown strategy, and we continue to uphold these priorities to this day, remaining remote for now. There’s been plenty of stories about larger corporations considering an indefinite remote working situation (including Twitter as one high-profile story), and it’s certainly worth checking out Automattic’s Distributed blog to discover their tips for working efficiently as a ‘distributed company’ for the past few years.
Similarly, we’ve also been keeping track of how coronavirus has affected our industry. Our CEO David Buxton commented on the possibility of this being longer than a temporary situation, and the need for enterprises to implement new processes to boost sales as the pandemic continues. Needless to say, this widespread problem has also led us to consider how regulatory bodies including the FATF have had to deal with spikes in financial crime, as well as the compliance challenges that this mounts on banks and large financial institutions.
The COVID-19 outbreak is far from over, but we’ve been delighted to see how Arachnys, our customers and the wider business community has looked to weather an unfamiliar storm, hoping to return soon to different lives once cases experience a sharp decline. Here are a few takeaways from our team who continue to successfully implement our remote-first strategy.
The CEO’s view
Obviously I was initially concerned about productivity when we went remote-first, but that concern melted away pretty quickly when I saw how quickly the team adapted. My other big area was to really focus on mental health and keeping a regular communications cadence.
For mental health, we made sure (especially in the early days of lockdown) to encourage people to block off time and get outside. We also laid on social events and even subsidized therapy to support those who were isolated and, in some cases, far from their families.
For me as a leader, getting better at structured communication has been the really big unlock. Doing daily video messages to the team helped me clarify the company’s strategy and communicate it in a way that, in some ways, is better than being in the office.
The next big challenge is to adapt to what looks like a new normal: no explicit lockdown, but a range of tolerance for in-person meetings, travel and Zoom calls. We think this could end up being the best of all worlds, but there are more changes that are going to happen before we and similarly agile companies can reap the benefits.
The Head of HR’s view
The first few weeks of remote-first were concerned with enablement and building sufficient well-being support. Some of this was literally packaging up monitors, putting chairs in Ubers and helping to fix peoples home WiFi. Each team member was given a budget to kit out their home office, having an effective space from which to work is critical. Some useful well-being supports that have kept us together are group exercise classes, socials and access to a great psychotherapist.
The lasting legacy for me is the years of digital and workplace transformation that we have been able to squeeze into a few months. We have been able to fast track projects such as aligning on Jira workflows which have improved organisational efficiency. Due to the increased confidence in remote working, we have a real alternative to the daily commute and standing round the coffee machine as well as the exciting prospect of being able to access a global talent pool for new hires.
The VP of Operations view
It’s no surprise that some forward planning before we started lockdown made the transition significantly easier for everyone. We had no mad dashes for tech or equipment, our communication cadence was up and running, and broadly speaking work carried on as normal.
In general, employees have found increased productivity while working from home, with less distractions and more time to focus on key tasks. This is great, but offset somewhat by a loss of physical interaction between employees. Keeping a cadence of ‘socials’ can be tricky after 8-12 weeks, but critical to individuals’ wellbeing. We’ve strongly encouraged innovation which has helped with interaction, for example trialing VR for product sessions, and we will continue to do so.
We’ve seen that Arachnys can work fully remote effectively, and could do so going forward. With the world opening up, people can continue to enjoy a great work life balance, but it is up to us to ensure employees get the engagement, support and help they need to be successful in the long term.