New York Crypto Companies Move to ‘Work From Home’ in Face of Rising COVID-19 Threat

Kadena CEO Will Martino had already been considering abandoning his blockchain development company’s Brooklyn HQ before coronavirus came to New York City. The fast-spreading virus, however, recently convinced him the office had to go. On Feb. 21, he told his team to begin working from home.

The New York Metropolitan area’s surging coronavirus count is forcing more of the region’s cryptocurrency and blockchain companies to prepare for an unsavory reality: Their offices may close without warning and their employees may need to begin working remotely. CDC officials say “social distancing” can slow the spread of the virus, also known as COVID-19, which the World Health Organization classified as a global “pandemic” on Wednesday.

As of press time, more than 170 residents of New York state had tested positive for coronavirus, the majority clustered in the now-quarantined New Rochelle suburb just north of New York City. New Jersey has also begun reporting an uptick in confirmed cases.

But the 8.6 million-person financial hub, too, is beginning to find signs that a wider outbreak may be coming, with instances of community transmission popping up across the five boroughs. On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio recommended that commuters begin considering working from home.

Against this backdrop, local companies are beginning to implement their new or existing pandemic playbooks.

Kadena acted quickly, in part because it had been mulling a remote model for some time, Martino said. After completing R&D on its Layer 1 solution for scaling public blockchains, which Martino said necessitated a physical office, the 15-person team began to consider decentralization.

“Coronavirus made the choice pretty easy,” Martino said. The company now uses web tools like Slack and video conferencing in place of in-person interactions.

Fast-moving situation

Most firms surveyed by CoinDesk on Tuesday have not yet enforced mandatory work from home policies. Their actions have been more suggestive than declarative, leaving employees with the option to work remotely if they want but not requiring that they do so.

The Winklevoss twins’ Gemini exchange has asked at-risk employees to begin working remotely, as well as anyone with concerns about their health and safety. Communications Chief Carolyn Vadino said the firm trialed its continuity plan in December.

Blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis sends its employees home each night with their laptops and chargers in tow and is imploring that they “elbow bump or wave” in place of the traditional – but germ-spreading – handshake. None are allowed to travel; anyone feeling sick is urged to stay home. Communications Director Maddie Kennedy began encouraging employees to work from home on Tuesday morning.

Decentralized web startup Blockstack began “encouraging” its employees to work remotely on Monday, said the company’s HR lead Tom Gerrity. And Tagomi, a cryptocurrency prime broker, is now doing the same, according to Ryan Smith, a manager there. 

CoinDesk’s New York office closed its doors on Tuesday, days after instituting an optional work-from-home policy. A reported COVID-19 case on a different floor of CoinDesk’s office building prompted the company to mandate remote work.

For now, the subtle shifts in work location are aiming to get ahead of what is still a relatively miniscule coronavirus caseload in New York City. By allowing their employees the option to stay home these firms say they’re letting at-risk populations be that much safer.

Different approaches

Outside New York, companies and entities are taking different approaches. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shuttered one floor of its Washington, D.C., headquarters and instituted optional work-from-home for the rest of the building after an employee presented some of the signs of COVID-19.

Likewise, San Francisco-based Coinbase began moving to remote work, following on a contingency plan first shared by CEO Brian Armstrong last month. 

“Effective Monday, 9 March, Coinbase will move to our tier 1 posture, including optional – but suggested – work from home for all employees globally,” the exchange said in its most recent public statement.

Google is asking all North American employees to work from home as well.

Martino, of now-decentralized Kadena, thinks that coronavirus could have more far-reaching implications on the way Americans work. 

“I really do feel that coronavirus is going to start to normalize a work-from-home orientation for American businesses,” Martino said. 

When this pandemic blows over in “one to two years,” he said, more firms will have abandoned their offices outright.

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