An interview with Inmoo Hwang, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, ADDX on the challenges of finding the perfect balance between working from home and the office, and the ability for startups to experiment more with their working models.
Many of us have taken the view that for many companies, especially startups, that are moving quickly and solving new problems every day, it is very difficult to replicate the speed, efficiency, and richness of the office experience.
This holds true for Asia's largest private market exchange, ADDX. Backed by Singapore Exchange (SGX), the financial technology company has raised a total of US$120mn in funding since its inception.
At the same time, however, the company recognises that the world has changed, and things can’t go back to a pre-pandemic state. What many of us will eventually land on, including ADDX, is primarily working from the office but with a great deal of flexibility for teams and supervisors to allow for alternative arrangements
On this compelling topic, HRO's Aditi Sharma Kalra catches up with Inmoo Hwang, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, ADDX on the challenges of finding this perfect balance, and the ability for startups to experiment more with their working models.
Q Why is ADDX a strong proponent of returning to the office?
ADDX is a fintech startup. We are building an entirely new business: a private market exchange that democratises access for individual investors to previously out-of-reach assets like hedge funds and private equity. The idea of such an exchange would have appeared impossible just four or five years ago, but it is now feasible thanks to blockchain and smart contract technology.
Because we are at the forefront of a major transformation in the capital markets, we constantly find ourselves having to solve highly complex problems. We also have to move quickly in order to solve these problems at scale so that we build a viable business. The clock is ticking, as it often is for many startups.
Having team members physically in the office many days a week, therefore, becomes important for startups because it means problems can be resolved as and when they arise. We can then move onwards and upwards rapidly as a business, to stay ahead of the game. Another reason it is vital to be physically in the office is that it helps us build a strong team culture.
That said, we recognise that there is a new reality in this pandemic and post-pandemic era, and it may no longer be possible to return to the past. We are currently still operating on a hybrid model, with team members coming to the office at least three days a week, but we do observe many coming more frequently than what is minimally required.
At some point, we are likely to explore an increase in the minimum number of days in the office to more than three days. But we will always maintain the flexibility for team members to discuss with their leads whether the specific needs of that individual and that team might call for a different arrangement.
Q What are some challenges - in terms of employee sentiment and preferences - that you are likely to come up against in bringing this view forth, and how are you tackling that?
We find the reception among employees towards our overall approach to be positive. They understand the rationale for coming back to the office physically. In fact, many choose to come physically for four or five days, of their own accord. As a general rule, one tends to find a higher level of motivation within a startup, because there is a sense of mission and excitement that comes from being able to effect positive and significant change in the world.
What’s important is that we maintain a high degree of flexibility. We have given team leads the autonomy to work out individual arrangements that suit their team members.
If you have to care for someone in your household, for example, or if the nature of your work function requires less cross-team communication, then you are empowered to explore a different model.
Q For startups that are moving quickly and solving new problems every day, it is very difficult to replicate the speed, efficiency, and richness of the office experience. Talk us through the benefits that the 'in office' experience brings to you.
Let me give you a few examples.
Supposing a client has urgent questions on a deal that is currently up for approval and being discussed at their board level. These might be quick-fire queries related to regulations, technology or commercial aspects of the deal. In a work-from-office scenario, it is much easier to convene a 10-minute cross-team discussion at someone’s table, whereas if you needed to set up a meeting over Zoom, the earliest available slot that works for everyone’s calendar might be two days from now – which would be too late.
Other examples of benefits include the ability to bounce random ideas off the teammate sitting next to you. Also, you can read tone and micro-expressions at physical meetings that actually convey a great deal of information.
With that information, team members understand one another better and the outcome might be less wasted work, less of a need for explicit coordination, and perhaps fewer meetings.
Then there is serendipity. You might be working on an issue that another team also happens to be tackling, but from another angle and for different reasons. Being in the office means you overhear conversations at the coffee machine or on the way to lunch. That means you can pool resources and resolve that particular issue more effectively.
Q Does being a startup allow you to experiment more in the talent space, in taking bold decisions that bigger companies may not allow?
It does, and that’s the beauty of startups. There isn’t a legacy system in place that forces you to do things a certain way. There isn’t a longstanding policy or structure that we are constricted by. You get to define everything anew and afresh for yourself, not just in the area of talent, but across all areas.
In our search for talent, we look beyond educational and professional qualifications, keeping an eye out for relevant personal skills and experiences, resilience and character, respect for the team and those around you, an entrepreneurial spirit, as well as an ability to solve problems in both conventional and unconventional ways.
If we think you’re the right person, even if you don’t fit a certain mold, we could still move forward with your candidacy – whereas a large organisation might be more risk-averse.
Q How closely do you - as COO - work with the rest of the leadership team in rolling out talent-related initiatives, and what are some that are closest to your heart?
I work closely with our founder, our CEO, and our HR team to attract high-quality talent as well as retain that talent. ADDX is built on a high-performance, yet relational culture. Our staff feel motivated to contribute because they and the larger team are making a difference, while at the same time, they feel socially connected to fellow team members. Having employees back in the office helps to significantly move the needle on this. Face-to-face interactions leave less room for misunderstandings and allow for stronger bonds to be forged and for work to be done more efficiently.
Like many startups, employee share options are one way we encourage good performers and senior members of the team to take ownership of both the short-term and long-term success of the company. Since our inception in 2017, the value of employee share options has increased exponentially.
Q It takes a dream, a team, and a whole lot of work - what's next for ADDX in maintaining its teamwork and collaborative spirit?
Over the past year, we have more than doubled our headcount from 49 to over 100, and we have plans to expand further still. So far, our employee engagement efforts have shown positive results in terms of company morale. For example, individual teams have a monthly budget for bonding sessions and they are free to decide how they want to spend it. This comes in addition to company-wide, cross-department bonding events that happen twice a year.
But ultimately, we find that nothing drives the team to collaborate better than our mission.
By democratising the private markets, we are creating unprecedented access to the means of wealth creation. It isn’t fair that the private markets have hitherto been the exclusive reserve of pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and billionaires. ADDX is changing that. Allowing individuals into the private markets helps them build stronger, more resilient portfolios. This leads to better financial security and the freedom to plan your retirement and pursue your passions. It redistributes wealth from institutions to individuals, while at the same time directing capital to the most efficient projects, which generates economic growth and jobs.
When we hire, this is the mission we communicate to candidates. There is a high level of buy-in from them, which we maintain through company-wide town halls to update them on how their individual work contributes to the larger mission.
Image / Provided (featuring Inmoo Hwang, Co-Founder and COO, ADDX)