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Distributed Workforce

Distributed Workforce: Building Culture through Blockchain and Other Emerging Tech

  • 05 June 2020
  • Labs Leadership Culture

As colleagues increasingly connect remotely from across the globe, there is a growing need for culture to support engagement and employee morale digitally. In the current environment, that's even more true, with everyone literally working from “remote offices of one.”

Omar Shanti, Kin + Carta Americas Labs Lead & Vicky Menazzi Head of Employee Experience of our Kin+Carta Buenos Aires Office will discuss and demonstrate how existing and emerging technologies can be used to bring remote teams together.

The team demonstrates the KinCoin platform, a blockchain-based technology and application for enabling distributed culture and expression of gratitude and appreciation throughout our global connective.

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Speakers

Omar Shanti, Labs Lead, Blockchain & Technical Consultant, Kin + Carta
Vicki Manazzi, Head of Employee Experience, Kin + Carta Buenos Aires

Culture Matters

Omar:

Why are we here? You all likely come from different industries and varying backgrounds, but are drawn in by a similar conviction. Simply put, culture matters. The ways in which people in a workplace interact with one another goes a long way in shaping the success of a company. As Vicki will masterfully illustrate, workplace culture has crucial effects on employee satisfaction, retention, and talent acquisition. Each of these in turn affects the quality of work, and then ultimately the satisfaction of any company's customers. But for how important it is, it's awfully difficult to manage. It's one thing to have an image of an ideal culture rooted perhaps in a set of core values or principles, but it's another entirely for it to be adopted across the workplace. The traditions and practices that companies set up to instill this culture must be strong enough to withstand any number of changes and challenges along the way. Many of us have seen how cultures are brought under strain by either rapid contraction or expansion, but today, each and every one of us are feeling the strain due to something more relevant. Specifically the intense changes brought on by the Coronavirus.

As companies increasingly look to adapt to remote work arrangements with distributed teams, the traditional organizational model of companies is radically changing. Now more than ever, companies must find ways to scale their culture and their traditions to achieve the same level of quality and satisfaction with a new decentralized workforce. Here at K+C, we've experienced this first hand quite a few times, actually. So today we'll talk about that. We'll go over our journey to create a culture of gratitude, which has gone over the years from literally giving each other golden stickers to sending each other KinCoin which is our blockchain based peer to peer rewards and recognition platform. As a little taste of what's to come, KinCoin has already amassed over 22,000 transactions in the year since its launch. And when you consider that each transaction is a moment of bonding, of forming connections, and digital kudos, then you can see the value incrementally add up.

Vicki will walk us through a case study of how one of our marquee projects, which utilizes remote Extreme Programming, was able to use KinCoin to forge connections across continents and across teams. Blockchain is one of those technologies notorious and whose fame precedes it. It's a polarizing technology with a whole bunch of misconceptions surrounding it, as well as some hype which, oftentimes can be worse. So for those who are acquainted with cryptocurrency, and for those who created with token economies, or for those who don't know much about it, a brief level set might be helpful.

The Basics of Blockchain Technology

(00:03:54.07)

Omar:
So what is blockchain? Really, here's an overview in five minutes. In 2007, an anonymous hacker called Satoshi Nakamoto published a white paper that did something that had never been done before. It solved the double spend problem, and in so doing laid up the specifications for peer to peer digital currency unlike any other. But what's the double spend problem? Well, it's simple. Assume Alice raises cows, and Bob raises chickens. Both are expecting later this season. They meet one day in a market and we'd like to plan a trade, each promising future animal for the others. But Alice can't be sure that Bob hasn't already promised his future animals to someone else. And neither can Bob for that matter, simply, and neither is able to trust the other and without trust they can’t transact. This is typically solved by having a neutral third party, Charlie, serve as the intermediary. Charlie will carry a record of all transactions and therefore can establish trust between the two. In technical jargon, he provides a single source of truth, which is both convenient and efficient, but he also provides a single point of failure. If Charlie loses his book, or if he accepts a bribe, and people no longer trust him, then the entire system which underpins transactions collapses, like a house of cards.

The white paper for the first time ever devised a way to maintain the single source of truth, but decoupling it from the single point of failure. It did this by laying out three rules. The first, rather than only one person having a copy of the record, many people can as well.In fact, anyone who wants to can have a copy of the record. Second, rather than only updating your own record book, you come together with all of the other record holders and agree collectively on what the current state of the world should be, and modify your books at the same time. And thirdly, rather than maintain the record book in pencil you must do so in pen. Now, this is a metaphor. But ultimately what this translates to is the centralization of the ledger consensus underpinning every transaction and immutability meaning that you cannot go back in the past and modify existing transactions.

Okay, that makes sense. But how does this translate the technology? And I mean, what is a blockchain anyway? Before we make that leap, first think of each transaction recorded in the book, as held in a container with a couple of special properties. First, in addition to holding a transaction, each container also holds a pointer to the container that preceded it, if you can imagine that. But this isn't just any pointer. It's a pointer unique to the contents of the former block. Just as a fingerprint is unique to one's DNA. And since each block's contents hold the former block's pointer, each pointer is thus determined by all of the contents that preceded it. You can think of it the same way that once ancestors’ DNAs are encoded in each set of DNA that follows after them. In this way, we chronologically link these special containers, which are actually called blocks, and first create a chain of blocks, hence the term blockchain. For many, this is still a complicated step to make and rightfully so. That's why two years ago for 2018, we built a way for our attendees to learn about blockchain by visualizing it, and even physically interacting with it. Let's take a look.

Blockchain in Action
 

(00:07:38.07)

Omar:
For some brief context. attendees were given badges embedded with RFID tags. And as they walked around the venue in which forward was held, their locations were read by scanners and sent up to our nodes in the cloud, which are the record book holders of the previous example. The nodes then agree on the state of affairs as I'd mentioned prior, and update their books collectively. In doing so they add a new block to the blockchain. So what is this visualization that we're seeing? Each circular garden here represents a block, with each flower stamp being a transaction and each petal a validator, who is able to assert that this transaction fits with this state of the world and was appended onto the record books. But notice here that the transaction isn't a two person exchange of value as in the typical sense of the word, I transact with the grocer or store owner, but it's like the database sense of the word which is a change to the state of the world. The data encoded is not simply a transfer value, but rather the experience one was near to. Unless you see that, for example, Austin Wyant was at registration or Carl Hampson was at mower plus and so on so forth. This is also included in the color of the stamp. Notice how the transactions collapse to create a unique fingerprint of the block, which is then passed on creating the immutable chain. So when these three golden conditions of decentralization, consensus and immutability are met, one solves the double spend problem and achieves a blockchain.

The first use of this technology was cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin ripple, but the second generation quickly emerged that saw that actually the underlying architecture and three pillars of blockchain could be used for much more than just currency. And they began handling many other forms of digital assets. Let's highlight just a few of them. The pseudonymity and the permanency that blockchain provides makes it appealing to store medical records. INLAGS is doing this in Brazil, and the B3i coalition is doing this with insurance claims. The traceability that blockchain provides is being used to create digital twins To track electric vehicle parts as Volvo is doing or diamonds as every ledger is. In both cases, this is done to ensure sustainable sourcing. And then lastly, it's just one of three cases to highlight. The collective maintenance of data makes it highly appealing to supply chain management. Walmart and Merce have each championed blockchain with tremendous success in this space. They're both able to cut down massive costs and inefficiencies associated with working with siloed databases and lack of interoperability with data across the supply chain. So there's a quick blockchain primer. Now back to culture.

At the time, we were still using Sources and we had an internal Monopoly money called Solstice Bucks. The idea is pretty straightforward. David is crushing it on his client project. Because of him, his team is moving at a much quicker pace and they're in fact going ahead of schedule. His supervisor gets a paper Monopoly money from office management and gives it to him. David's ecstatic, he now has enough money to go to the swag store and buy what he has been waiting for for four weeks. So David is rewarded and continues the good work and feels seen, validated, and acknowledged by his team for years. This is how we recognize one another. But then we grew and we grew some more. And teams began to commute to client sites more and more and offices spread across the world. And the physical handoffs, the timelines, the ease of management, they all became growing pain points to the point where this system was under threat. We had to adapt, but we wanted to think outside the box as well. So we turned to blockchain and the technology we use to prove business vaulted forward, and we directed it inwards to drive cultural value internally. Our solution was KinCoin.

The Value of Unique Cryptocurrency

(00:12:00.01)

Omar:
KinCoin is a blockchain-based peer to peer rewards and recognition platform that extends what we've just seen in Solstice books in myriad other directions. The idea was to ingrain recognition into our daily lives by making it a fluid, frictionless, fun, and even social experience. By adopting blockchain, we've made it extendible. This means that our sister companies and clients can join and even build their own Apps, thus creating a rewards token ecosystem. Or just join into our existing system and exchange coin with one another. Let's take a look at how it works. Users download progressive Web App on their device, and then they log in using Google single sign on. There's no registration required. On first login a behind the scenes job generates them a profile and a wallet which is all they need to interact with the chain. Once a user is in, they'll see a list of the most recent transactions. As you can see, each has a message which varies from genuine appreciation. To jokes, to Happy Birthday, and so on. Even if one isn't sending coins, it's nice to open it up and see what's going on. Then notice the two coin bounces. Gold is the amount that someone has received from their peers. This is what can be used to buy swag. Silver is their daily allowance to givet to their peers. Smart contract determines this amount behind the scenes acting like an automated central bank. Gift givers trigger the gift flow. And here I'm giving David Ansen some coin. He’s the current tech lead on KinCoin, and he's doing a great job. So to meaningfully recognize his hard work, I'm in fact going to give him two of my personally earned gold coins as well as a heartfelt message. Once the transaction succeeds, I get a notification in email and the lead receives a Slack message. Just like that the transaction is there for all to see.

What is Culture?

(00:14:03.06)

Vicki:
Thank you, Omar. Thank you, everyone for joining us today. My name is Vicki Manazzi and I'm the head of employee experience of our Buenos Aires, Argentina office. I've been lucky enough to be a part of this organization for the past close to five years now, having witnessed and being a part of myself to many of the cultural changes that we've been through. So to kick us off today, I think the first question that I would like to ask the group is, what is it that comes to your mind when you're asked to define culture? I actually had to look that up. And the first definition that popped up in Google was that a culture is the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. But the most meaningful question is, how do you actually achieve the collective portion of culture when you have distributed workforce?

If I had to define organizational culture, I would say that it is the values, the mission, the purpose of our organization, through the action of people. Culture is not something that you can place in a box but is actually created through employee experience. We breathe out of the bar culture every single day. And it's actually a key driver of employee satisfaction, engagement and performance. The benefits of a positive block culture are just endless. But the other question is, how does this actually affect your business? What does it mean to your business? Gallup’s recent studies show that organizations actually have much stronger performance and higher engagement when they actually treat employees as the stakeholders of their own future and their company's future. Engaged employees are not just looking to go to work. They're looking to do fantastic work. Highly engaged business units show up to a 41% reduction in absenteeism, a 17% increase in productivity, but it doesn't really just stop there. They also show a 10% increase in customer ratings and 20% increase in sales.

When digging together, those behaviors of highly engaged business units can result up to 21% greater profitability to your business at the end of the day. Statistics are just speaking for themselves. Promoting positive coworker relationships has to be considered a must when creating a new business strategy, especially now, taking into consideration the fact that we're moving to a different world after COVID. When there's a lot of uncertainty, there's one thing that we know. Listen, leaders, we'll be required to actually build completely different ecosystems for people interaction. Where physical space was once the liaison, digital playground NOW must emerge and going a little bit back in time, just thinking about when everyone's heart surgeon general office was open. This was probably close to the end of 2014. We actually faced an urgent need to redefine our culture. We're at the time getting our steps into becoming a multinational firm. But this meant so much more than that. We were actually required to replicate and multiply what our headquarters in Chicago had done more than successfully. We were required to build a culture that resulted in amazing products built by amazing people. How were we supposed to do that? And what we ended up realizing is that we had to create a space. We had to create spaces for people to share.

And we started doing so. We had “lunch and learns” where people shared their favorite food. We talked about national holidays, we started building social activities. We started sharing lab projects. Sharing became just a natural thing for us. It just became organic to the organization and it became our very own version of a cultural big bank. This big bank had one very meaningful result: we ended up with the best of each world. And you'll see as I speak, some pictures that just represent that change in our new world where there were a lot of costumes that were shared. Halloween is not typically celebrated in Argentina, although everybody knows about Halloween, it is not really our thing. Halloween actually became our favorite time of the year. And our office actually won the Best Costume Contest for two years in a row. We started celebrating the Fourth of July, people started eating in front of us in our Chicago and New York offices. We started finding those spaces for interaction to happen. You can even see one of our UX principles from Chicago providing a lesson on North American history.

What is Culture?

(00:14:03.06)

Vicki:
Thank you, Omar. Thank you, everyone for joining us today. My name is Vicki Manazzi and I'm the head of employee experience of our Buenos Aires, Argentina office. I've been lucky enough to be a part of this organization for the past close to five years now, having witnessed and being a part of myself to many of the cultural changes that we've been through. So to kick us off today, I think the first question that I would like to ask the group is, what is it that comes to your mind when you're asked to define culture? I actually had to look that up. And the first definition that popped up in Google was that a culture is the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. But the most meaningful question is, how do you actually achieve the collective portion of culture when you have distributed workforce?

If I had to define organizational culture, I would say that it is the values, the mission, the purpose of our organization, through the action of people. Culture is not something that you can place in a box but is actually created through employee experience. We breathe out of the bar culture every single day. And it's actually a key driver of employee satisfaction, engagement and performance. The benefits of a positive block culture are just endless. But the other question is, how does this actually affect your business? What does it mean to your business? Gallup’s recent studies show that organizations actually have much stronger performance and higher engagement when they actually treat employees as the stakeholders of their own future and their company's future. Engaged employees are not just looking to go to work. They're looking to do fantastic work. Highly engaged business units show up to a 41% reduction in absenteeism, a 17% increase in productivity, but it doesn't really just stop there. They also show a 10% increase in customer ratings and 20% increase in sales.

When digging together, those behaviors of highly engaged business units can result up to 21% greater profitability to your business at the end of the day. Statistics are just speaking for themselves. Promoting positive coworker relationships has to be considered a must when creating a new business strategy, especially now, taking into consideration the fact that we're moving to a different world after COVID. When there's a lot of uncertainty, there's one thing that we know. Listen, leaders, we'll be required to actually build completely different ecosystems for people interaction. Where physical space was once the liaison, digital playground NOW must emerge and going a little bit back in time, just thinking about when everyone's heart surgeon general office was open. This was probably close to the end of 2014. We actually faced an urgent need to redefine our culture. We're at the time getting our steps into becoming a multinational firm. But this meant so much more than that. We were actually required to replicate and multiply what our headquarters in Chicago had done more than successfully. We were required to build a culture that resulted in amazing products built by amazing people. How were we supposed to do that? And what we ended up realizing is that we had to create a space. We had to create spaces for people to share.

And we started doing so. We had “lunch and learns” where people shared their favorite food. We talked about national holidays, we started building social activities. We started sharing lab projects. Sharing became just a natural thing for us. It just became organic to the organization and it became our very own version of a cultural big bank. This big bank had one very meaningful result: we ended up with the best of each world. And you'll see as I speak, some pictures that just represent that change in our new world where there were a lot of costumes that were shared. Halloween is not typically celebrated in Argentina, although everybody knows about Halloween, it is not really our thing. Halloween actually became our favorite time of the year. And our office actually won the Best Costume Contest for two years in a row. We started celebrating the Fourth of July, people started eating in front of us in our Chicago and New York offices. We started finding those spaces for interaction to happen. You can even see one of our UX principles from Chicago providing a lesson on North American history.

Community in Distributed Teams

(00:19:08.08)

Vicki:
We actually realized that every digital space that we share was a blank canvas to be in the story of collaboration. And we definitely tried to make the best out of it. However, in the past three years, we started experiencing a very different growth. It was not just hiring new talent across our different locations. We were bringing new talent in in Chicago, New York and in Buenos Aires, but this growth that we experienced was not just bringing new talent into our door. It was also simultaneously maturing our delivery methodologies Our teams were no longer working just under one roof. We had distributed teams working in different countries, different time zones, speaking different languages, but we actually had to add one extra ingredient to the recipe. We started doing distributed programming. Extreme Programming requires a tremendous amount of focus from especially our engineers. It's actually very detail oriented. And this type of methodology actually provided less space for informal interaction to happen between the different team members that were required to work and collaborate together. There was only one imperative for us we had to change again. We were organically required to schedule our recognition ceremonies to reflect the evolution that we're experiencing everywhere else. Our rituals actually had to move to the digital workspace. It was a requirement that it had to happen for us.

In our most recent engagement survey, we actually launched it in March 2020, was very consistent with the results that we got in the previous version of it in September 2018. We were able to identify that one of the top drivers for our promoters across all of our locations was actually the desire and the mental bargain, to doing quality work. There's a report from Gartner I'm not mistaken, that is from 2018. That is called peer feedback. It boosts employee performance. Where the final conclusion says that employee performance actually improves when organizations foster a culture of peer feedback and capture how employees are valuable to each other's work. KinCoin was a key platform to develop and to strengthen our already distributed culture that has added one additional ingredient programming. In fact, when we started there was a big concern to see how people would interact with each other. What we didn't realize at the time is that programming DNA, it's all about collaboration. It's having two engineers programming simultaneously, being the epitome of adding value to someone else's work.

And although we knew that Extreme Programming provided less of a green field for social interaction to happen, it was a perfect example of what peer to peer cooperation can actually accomplish in an organization. As you can see here, we have Leonardo R. and Michel C. He was sharing a little bit of collaboration and a little bit of recognition. Leo is thanking Michael who is in our US office for being the most experienced AWS guy in the whole connector. Why do we say culture? Because probably, and I'm assuming that most of you don't know, that “couple” in Spanish actually means that you' re talking, you're referring to someone that is highly estimated due to their technical knowledge. It's actually someone who's highly regarded and highly respected. Nikolas was grateful to her mentor. It's actually being grateful to Andy, for the help with some personal finances, learnings that she was able to acquire. So the space that actually came, created for social interaction was a big differentiator to one of our biggest programs, which was Gordon Food Services. GFS was one of the first teams that actually experienced programming hand in hand. And this was actually a team that was distributed between the US when Osiris and we even had some other team members in different locations like California, that we are part of the program as well. We utilized Bitcoin with this particular team, providing the possibility to overcome this sense of cultural separation, and to strengthen the deliberate methodology.

The ability to add exponential value or recognition, on particular collaboration with a total of 22,635 company wide transactions, closed 38% gain from TFS team members and 21%, almost 22% 21.4 of those transactions were between GFS team members across the different locations, Argentina to the US and vice versa. So with the level of usage coming from GFS team members being high representing close to 40% of the total number of sub transactions, and I'm talking about a little bit over 8,500 transactions, just come from one team. To realize that in a world without KinCoin, it would have been so much more difficult for this team to be able to share and collaborate the way they did thanks to the tool. Interaction just happened. And they ended up being one of the best examples of how KinCoin helped us leverage our culture.

And this particular slide shows some very meaningful words of appreciation between DFS team members across the different locations, the different time zones under different countries. And this gets me to think that our work towards building a stronger global footprint continues. In a world where physical distance will become less and less relevant, we'll need to navigate and face cultural construction. We're exposed to an engagement with those units. Personal qualities of culture such as beliefs, to these values, such as a shared mission, will be key to learn once again, what's coming to each other, and to build from that moment forward. This being said, I literally can't wait to see how KinCoin will help us make that happen.

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