Mar 25, 2020 - Technology

How to run a company in self-isolation

Illustration of gloved suited hand holding a coffee cup.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Millions have embarked on an enforced work-from-home experiment, but it's a little more difficult if you're the CEO of an online messaging company — and you're in quarantine.

Why it matters: Companies that enable remote working have become virtual utilities at a moment of high demand, and they're pushing hard to remain reliable while working under the same conditions as the rest of us.

Background: Symphony was launched in 2014 with backing by some of Wall Street's biggest banks as a secure messaging platform to be used by the financial world. Today the Palo Alto-based company is valued at $1.4 billion.

Like other collaboration and communication platforms such as Slack and Zoom, Symphony's services only became more important once businesses starting sending workers home in the face of COVID-19 — especially once the markets started swooning. "In global markets, we are seeing a higher volume of activity than ever before," says Symphony's CEO David Gurle.

  • While that was good for Symphony's business, the company also has to contend with the same conditions as everyone else — though with a bit of extra warning. "When it started in January, very quickly we learned what it was to work from home and remote," says Gurle.
  • Today, Symphony employees in every country the company operates save Japan are working remotely.

That includes Gurle, who has to contend with an additional impediment: less than two weeks ago, he was exposed to an employee who had contracted COVID-19. Since then, he's been in self-isolation in southern France, though he has yet to show any symptoms himself.

  • The biggest problem, he says, is the fact that where he's had to spend his isolation lacks good bandwidth. "When I come to try to do video, I can't do a video call," he says — so he resorts to the analog technology of voice calls.
  • That's been a challenge for a number of people who even in ordinary times lack access to the kind of bandwidth needed for effective remote work, as my Axios colleague Margaret Harding McGill wrote recently.

The bottom line: As much as companies like Symphony will be playing an important role in a remote-first work future, not even Gurle knows that that will look like. "We are all doing a massive social experiment."

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