The search for remote work has increased by 490% since the beginning of the pandemic. This means more companies, including big tech ones, have had to move their operations online.
Remote work comes with its own advantages including a reduction in overhead costs with this Stanford report stating that companies can save between $2,000 to $11,000 per employee when they switch to remote work.
It also expands a company’s reach and allows them to employ global talent, as well as expand to other regions and markets. In 2021, there were a number of product/market expansions on the continent that were fueled by raises and eased by remote work options. This includes Zuri Health’s expansion into Senegal, MarketForce’s entry into Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and Ethiopia, and even Mono’s expansion into Ghana.
Remote work, however, comes with its own disadvantages including decreased work/life balance, decreased employee visibility, a lack of team synergy, all of which can lead to harmful or stoic work culture.
So, how can founders, managers, and team leads build remote teams with healthy and sustainable cultures? How can companies manage distributed teams during their growth phase?
Ire Aderinokun, COO and VP, Engineering, at Helicarrier has a few answers. In the eighth episode of TechCabal’s Building From Ground Up, Aderinokun speaks to TechCabal’s Managing Editor Koromone Koroye and shares how she’s helping Helicarrier manage its remote team.
Founded in 2017 by Timi Ajiboye, Tomiwa Lasebikan and Ire Aderinokun, Helicarrier was originally Bitkoin Africa, a website for peer-to-peer (P2P) Bitcoin trading. Upon getting into Y Combinator in 2018, Bitkoin Africa morphed into BuyCoins with a number of product offerings including crypto trading. Last year, the trio created Helicarrier as the parent company to house all its products including BuyCoins, Sendcash, Sendcash Pay, and more.
While the team started with just 5 members, it quickly grew to 10 in its first year. Now, 5 years after launch, Helicarrier boasts of over 50 employees across 4 countries, all of whom are fully remote. So how does Aderinokun, whose office handles operations and staffing, manage her distributed team?
Using tools to build trust
For Aderinokun who studied psychology but ended up a software engineer, one of the most important ways Helicarrier has managed its remote team is by using no-code tools everyone can easily learn.
“We rely a lot on the tools we use. Basecamp is our primary project management tool, and it allows us to keep track of what everyone is doing. But it also allows us to build trust,” Aderinokun said.
Helicarrier operates an asynchronous work structure. A synchronous work mode means that everyone is working simultaneously, and tasks or comments are responded to in real-time and without delay. It’s the method employed by most companies globally. An asynchronous work structure, on the other hand, does not require all hands to work at the same time. This structure allows employees to maximise productivity by working when it best suits them, within reason of course.
“Having an asynchronous work structure only really works when you have trust in the team, and enabling our team with tools has helped us do just that.”
For a distributed remote team like Helicarrier’s, asynchronous work also helps to address the difference in time zones. While most of Aderinokun’s team is based in Lagos, Nigeria, a few are based in Ghana, Kenya, and even the UK.
“We do have a working day, 10 AM to 5 PM and any team meetings we have are usually within this period. But we’re not particular about when people get things done. If someone wants to do 4 hours of work in the middle of the night, that’s fine with us. As long as you’re achieving the set goals, you can work on your own time.”
According to Aderinokun, Helicarrier also tries to be sensitive toward its employees’ needs. The company pays its employees dollar stable coins and also pays for daily lunches and internet subscriptions.
“For our Nigerian-based staff, this helps keep them above water with the increasing inflation rate. It also helps the team understand our vision and value. We’re a crypto company, paying our employees in crypto.”
Small teams mean tighter bonds
Paying salaries in crypto is not the only unconventional thing Helicarrier does.
Upon hiring new team members, the company offers a one-month paid trial period that helps both employer and employee see if there’s a culture fit. “With this method, they can see how we work and stay if they’re comfortable. We’ll also get to measure their skills up,” Aderinokun said.
On building and maintaining company culture, Aderinokun states that most of the team members have direct relationships with 2 of the 3 co-founders.
“Even as we grow, one of the ways we install the company culture is by building direct relationships. So, everyone on the team works directly under one of the 3 co-founders. But we’ve created a system where all team members can have a relationship with another co-founder they don’t work under.”
Because Helicarrier is still a small team of 50, its solution is feasible. As more team members get hired, though, Aderinokun believes that the team will have to find a sustainable method.