Any business venture is fraught with difficulties. Starting one in the midst of a global pandemic is an entirely different ballgame. Rami Essaid, a serial entrepreneur, didn’t let that stop him from launching Finmark last June, but it did force him to change his strategy.
Essaid, who said he “believed very strongly” in the value of having coworkers in the same office at his previous two companies, knew right away that this wasn’t going to be an option at his new financial modeling firm.
“That changed my mindset from day one. It allowed me to hire people I wouldn’t have necessarily hired before because they’re, you know, in Utah or somewhere that we would never have an office,” he said. Finmark is now a remote-only business, with 33 employees spread across the US, England, and Pakistan.
The pandemic has thrown corporate America’s operations into disarray, particularly big tech firms that were among the first to close their physical offices and send employees home. However, it is also transforming the younger, smaller businesses that aspire to become tech behemoths in their own right, altering the way they grow and innovate, with implications for the industry’s future.
Iconic tech companies usually have a similar origin story: a couple of co-founders get together in their dorm room or their parents’ garage, start working on an idea, hire employees as the company grows, move into a larger, more perks-filled office space, and eventually expand into multiple offices across multiple cities, countries, and continents.
However, thanks to the pandemic, that process is beginning to take on a new shape. Several recent surveys, including ones by employee research firm TINYPulse and Gallup, show that tech workers are more likely than those in other industries to avoid going back to work.
For new businesses like Finmark, moving away from the office can open up new possibilities, such as lower real estate costs and a larger pool of locations from which to hire. However, depending on where they fall on the partial to fully remote work spectrum, having a distributed workforce can complicate the process of developing a product and establishing a company culture. More Zoom calls and Slack groups may be replacing all-night coding sessions and team hackathons over pizza and beer.
“The earlier in the company, the more creative you need to be, the more problem solving you’re doing,” said Alexander Kvamme, CEO of employee management software startup Pathlight. “And getting people in the same room to hash out problems, there’s no substitute.”