COVID-19: Decentralization the norm as workplaces adjust to new normal

2020 will forever be remembered as the year of COVID-19, but there is no telling what the long-lasting effects of the pandemic will be on the global economy. Around the world, countries have been forced to shut down their local economies, with people having to shelter in place in order to observe the social distancing measures needed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The immediate result of these measures has varied from country to country, but a common trend has been many companies and businesses having to fundamentally change their regular ways of operating.

Those lucky enough to stay in business have had to accommodate their employees working from home, with many offices shuttered in order to stem the tide of the virus’s spread. This “new normal” has been in effect for many months now, and businesses and individuals may well be coming to terms with the status quo.

According to multinational consultancy firm PwC’s most recent “CEO Panel Survey,” top executives around the world plan to make their companies more digital and develop more flexible and employee-orientated work practices that aid those working remotely. Of these, health and technology companies are reportedly most likely to prioritize virtual business models.

It seems as though the COVID-19 pandemic has been a strange catalyst for a decentralized way of working for a wide variety of industries. The power of technology has certainly made this transition easier, and teams are able to operate and communicate effectively, even through novel means. The cryptocurrency and blockchain space has long been a proponent of decentralization, but nevertheless, the industry has also felt the effects of the ongoing pandemic.

Here’s how some of the biggest companies and players in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space have had to adapt to new ways of working.

The “new normal”

Cryptocurrency exchanges traditionally operate in one specific country or region, but a few of the biggest platforms have turned into global players, with offices and users situated across the globe. Binance has established itself as the biggest cryptocurrency exchange by volume, coming hand-in-hand with a continual push to roll out exchange support in different countries.

The exchange’s founder, Changpeng Zhao, told Cointelegraph that the business has been operating as an international, decentralized team for over three years already. Remote working is an essential part of the Binance culture, according to CZ, with more than 1,300 employees across 50 countries working from flexible locations across time zones.

Having a flexible working environment already established means that the exchange has not had to retool its ways of working as much as other organizations. But as CZ explained, that doesn’t mean that COVID-19 hasn’t affected its preferred ways of working:

“There is one impact, before COVID, our teams are nomadic. We travel a lot and team members have random in person encounters at conferences etc. COVID has limited those interactions. These do have some negative impact on especially the new members on the team. But so far, we are coping with it.”

Given that Binance has not had to overhaul its work environments and processes, there hasn’t been a lot of disruption to the organization. However, the changes are noticeable, so things may take a few months to return to normal. CZ said the business is making use of digital tools to collaborate with team members, clients and the crypto community:

“We, of course, do not have the ability to see each other face-to-face or connect with our local communities at events, but we see this as temporary. In the interim, we are making an effort to turn on our webcams and jump on video calls and host webinars.”

BitPay, the American Bitcoin (BTC) payment service provider, made the decision to move to a permanent work-from-home policy in September, following feedback from its employees. The company has over 80 staff members across its three global offices in Atlanta, Amsterdam and

Buenos Aires. BitPay’s chief marketing officer, Bill Zielke, told Cointelegraph that prior to the pandemic, up until February, its staff was working in a normal office environment. He added:

“In the beginning we put a plan in place and there were a few processes that we had to revise and work with our employees to make sure they had what they needed to be successful working from home. Daily stand up meetings, increased communications and virtual all hands meetings were among some of the new ways of going about company life.”

Ciara Sun, vice president of Singapore-based cryptocurrency exchange Huobi, also weighed in on the current working climate in the wake of COVID-19 and its effect on the global economy. Sun told Cointelegraph that all of Huobi’s staff members have been working remotely since February, and the transition was straightforward. Nevertheless, there were some sticking points:

“One of the biggest challenges our team faces during the COVID-19 pandemic is the lack of face-to-face interaction, not just internally but also with our partners, community members, and other stakeholders. Even with everyone working remotely, team collaboration remains a top priority and a central part of our work culture. To make the transition easier, we established a process for regular check-ins and virtual meetings.”

In order to stay abreast of industry developments and the cryptocurrency community, Sun says that Huobi has been attending relevant virtual conferences as well as hosting online events for various product launches. Huobi University has also offered online courses to its users and the wider community.

Work-life balance

Whether organizations have been fundamentally challenged to change their ways of working or had already adopted agile working environments, their employees will have experienced various levels of change to their personal and working lives.

Having to work from home has positive and negative effects on individuals’ lives. Some may find it harder to step away from work, given that there is no “divide” between the two when working from home. Others may benefit from more time spent with family and on leisure activities.

The overarching sentiment from the various organizations is that this “new normal” is giving people a better work-life balance. Zielke believes that there will be some permanent changes to the way companies and people work from here on out. With the tools available for people to do their jobs remotely, Zielke also suggested that their lives may well benefit from the new reality.

Binance’s CZ believes that many companies around the world will gradually adapt to and adopt some level of remote working and that people will naturally gravitate to it on a permanent basis: “There will be many people who prefer to continue to work from home. They will embrace the ability to spend more time with the family while doing work at more flexible hours like late nights, etc.”

Living up to a decentralized ideology

There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has expedited a move to decentralized ways of working across most industries around the world. For the cryptocurrency space, this serves as a real-world reflection of the decentralized values underpinning Bitcoin and blockchain technology.

CZ believes that his company has already embraced a decentralized way of working that reflects the industry and the customers it serves: “There are many parallels. Most blockchain and crypto companies operate remotely and in a decentralized manner. Most teams have remote members across the globe. Our business is unique because it’s a 24/7 market.”

Zielke also conceded that the new norm reflects the decentralized principles underpinning the technological power of the cryptocurrency and blockchain space: “That is a good way of thinking about it. As a team, we are all passionate about the future of blockchain and cryptocurrency — so we are living our work.”

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