Afraid Remote Work May Slow Productivity? Think Again, Say These Chicago Tech Leaders.

December 7, 2020
MoLo
MoLo Solutions

Before March 2020, most businesses — including tech companies, surprisingly — were hesitant to adopt remote work, fearing it would hinder employee productivity or ruin company culture. Everything to do with work — including office layouts and even snacks — was arranged around meeting in person. 

But COVID-19 forced tech leaders to face their fears and oversee transitions to entirely remote workforces. Nine months later, those same leaders are considering permanently embracing remote work in some form, after learning the mettle their employees are made of and the success they can achieve thanks to flexibility. Built In Chicago spoke with three tech leaders who shared how being forced to work remotely turned them from doubters to advocates. 

“It’s not about where they are, it’s about who they are,” said MoLo Solutions CEO Andrew Silver of his employees’ resilience. “I’m looking forward to the day we can safely be together again in the office, but if people find that they’re more productive or happier working from home full-time, I’m comfortable with that.”

Braviant Holdings CEO Stephanie Klein said she is looking forward to “a hybrid approach that merges the best of both worlds,” after seeing how much more productive and engaged employees are. 

Klein said there would be flexibility to work from home or even anywhere in the world on an extended basis, but in-person would be designated for “idea generation and celebrations (because let’s be honest, a virtual happy hour is never quite as fun as the real thing).”

Meanwhile, however SPINS LLC chooses to work after the pandemic, Senior Vice President of Retail Dawn Valandingham hopes not to forget the lessons learned this year. 

“This year has proven that creativity and flexibility are essential to our business,” she said. “Hopefully, we never have a disruption of this magnitude again, but preserving this sense of innovation and collaboration will strengthen us for whatever the future looks like.

 

Digital lending platform Braviant Holdings is in the business of using tech like machine learning to reduce barriers to credit for underbanked consumers. So once the six-year-old fintech company had to go fully remote, CEO Stephanie Klein said its Chicago-based team of technologists, data scientists and fintech veterans found new tech-enabled ways to collaborate. As a result, Braviant saw some of its biggest achievements this year, including the launch of its first fintech-bank partnership.

 

Its exciting to see that we can still think big and move fast even when we arent all together in the office.”

 

What’s a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

Prior to COVID-19, we believed face-to-face interactions — whether planned whiteboarding sessions or spontaneous hallway conversations — were critical to brainstorming big ideas and problem-solving. We had always enabled the team to work from home as needed, but it was hard to imagine that we could replicate the same level of cross-functional results and productivity working remotely on a full-time basis. As it turns out, COVID-19 forced us to experiment with new ways of working, and it’s exciting to see that we can still think big and move fast even when we aren’t all together in the office. 

 

How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

As we’ve transitioned to a fully remote workforce, we’ve discovered new ways to stay productive and collaborate virtually. In fact, we achieved some of our biggest wins while working remotely, including the launch of our first fintech-bank partnership. 

The remote experience will have a profound impact on the future of our business. While we still believe there’s nothing quite like interacting in person to build culture and camaraderie, we’ve come to appreciate how increased flexibility leads to happier employees who continue to be productive, effective and engaged. 

Once the time is right, we envision a hybrid approach that merges the best of both worlds: in-person idea generation and celebrations (because let’s be honest, a virtual happy hour is never quite as fun as the real thing), plus flexibility to work from home a couple of days a week or even work from anywhere in the world on an extended basis. 

While 2020 may be a year that many of us want to put in our rearview mirrors, we’re grateful for the unexpected experiment and to learn that a new approach to work-life balance for employees will pay dividends for years to come.

 

Third-party logistics provider MoLo Solutions has only been around since 2017, so CEO Andrew Silver was worried the young company might not survive going fully remote in the fast-paced freight brokerage industry that requires so much collaboration and teamwork. But Silver was pleased to find that he had made good hiring decisions and equipped his employees with the tools to succeed in any environment. 

In fact, he said that business has more than doubled since March, despite challenging market conditions and COVID-19. And just this month, MoLo Solutions announced a partnership with another Chicago-based company, Mastery Logistics Systems, to launch a cloud-based SaaS transportation management system.

 

Whats a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

Prior to going remote in mid-March 2020, I had some reservations about working from home. Our line of work is predicated on collaboration and teamwork, and the fast-paced energy of a brokerage is such an important part of what we do. I wasn’t sure that could translate to a remote environment. Our business is young — we’re still establishing who we are, and I didn’t want that culture to get lost if people worked from home.

 

How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

Now that I’ve seen what our team can accomplish remotely, my opinion on remote work has changed. Our business has more than doubled since March, despite challenging market conditions and COVID-19. 

 

If you hire the right people and give them the right tools, they can succeed in any environment.”

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about our people this year, it’s that their resilience is second to none. No matter the obstacle, they have continued to show up every day and execute, and it’s proven to me that if you hire the right people and give them the right tools, they can succeed in any environment. It’s not about where they are, it’s about who they are.

I’m looking forward to the day we can safely be together again in the office, but if people find that they’re more productive or happier working from home full time, I’m comfortable with that.

 

Dawn Valandingham
Senior Vice President, Retail

Much of Dawn Valandingham’s work as senior vice president of retail for SPINS LLC, a provider of consumer insights for the natural and organic products industry, involves frequent communication and meetings with both her colleagues and external partners. So she was skeptical about whether a fully remote workforce could replicate meaningful in-person connections. But Valandingham was inspired by the creative approaches her co-workers took to make a remote situation “work for us, not against us,” she said. She learned to adapt her own leadership style and now hopes nobody forgets the lessons learned this year — even after returning to the office. 

 

Whats a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

Before SPINS and most of the country began working remotely, I knew it worked well on a case-by-case basis, but I wasn’t certain that an entirely remote workforce could produce the same results. Because so much of what I do involves internal, cross-team collaboration and external meetings with retail partners, I always felt that having a central, physical location to gather for regular check-ins and meetings was critical for both onsite and remote workers.

 

How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

I am surrounded by people who are determined to stay on course and work together to reach our goals, figuring out how to make a completely remote situation work for us, not against us. I have learned how to adapt my leadership style to the moment. Since in-person meetings are completely off the table for the foreseeable future, I make sure to still have meaningful conversations and one-on-one time with my team members outside of large group meetings. 

 

Hopefully, we never have a disruption of this magnitude again, but preserving this sense of innovation and collaboration will strengthen us for whatever the future looks like.”

 

We’re all eager to have the convenience of an in-person workplace again, but I don’t want us to go back to old habits and forget the lessons we’ve learned this year. We need to keep checking in on each other and be open to new ways to approach problems. This year has proven that creativity and flexibility are essential to our business. Hopefully, we never have a disruption of this magnitude again, but preserving this sense of innovation and collaboration will strengthen us for whatever the future looks like.

 

Jobs from companies in this blog43 open jobs
All Jobs
Finance
Data + Analytics
Dev + Engineer
HR + Recruiting
Internships
Legal
Marketing
Operations
Product
Project Mgmt
Sales
HR + Recruiting
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
HR + Recruiting
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
HR + Recruiting
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Internships
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Finance
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Sales
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
Sales
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Sales
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
SPINS LLC
Remote
Product
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
Sales
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Internships
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Marketing
new
Braviant Holdings
Chicago
Sales
new
SPINS LLC
Remote
Developer
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
Sales
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
Developer
new
SPINS LLC
Remote
Data + Analytics
new
Braviant Holdings
Chicago
Sales
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Product
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
Sales
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
Sales
new
Braviant Holdings
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
SPINS LLC
Remote
Data + Analytics
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Operations
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Sales
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Finance
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
Finance
new
Braviant Holdings
Chicago
Product
new
SPINS LLC
Remote
Developer
new
Braviant Holdings
Chicago
Operations
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago
Sales
new
SPINS LLC
Chicago
Operations
new
MoLo Solutions
Chicago

Chicago startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Offices in Chicago Tech
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Perks at Chicago Tech Companies
LOCAL GUIDE
Women in Chicago Tech