App maker Project Imagine is a case study in how to embrace remote work

App maker Project Imagine is a case study in how to embrace remote work
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You might think that a fintech company would be accustomed to the idea that in-person interactions aren’t always essential. But until the pandemic hit in 2020, Project Imagine—the London-based company behind the saving and investing app Dozens and the digital business banking platform Pi1—was all about people coming into the office.

“We were moving very quickly, building a lot of things, and we’ve always had the team feeling that benefited from being in the office previously,” says Hannah Smith, chief of staff at Project Imagine. While the company did allow its 50 employees to work remotely once a week, on Wednesdays, Smith says that the overarching belief pre-Covid was that working in person was necessary for building relationships and creative brainstorming.

The pandemic forced Project Imagine, like so many other companies, to change the way it did business. In the process, Smith says the startup transformed its views of what employees need to flourish, and made changes that led to it becoming one of Quartz’s best companies for remote workers.

Reconfiguring the work day

When Project Imagine’s employees began working from home in early March, Smith says that company leaders weren’t too worried about the operational shift. They already had digital systems in place that would allow them to make a pretty smooth transition to remote work.

More concerning were the problems that might arise for employees in going remote, given “this scary new world that people were being thrown into,” Smith says. One big way that Project Imagine decided to help employees adjust to their new realities was to reconfigure the workday, creating “bigger chunks of time in the day where people were able to make sure that working from home worked for them.”

The new remote workday barred meetings between three periods of time: Before 10am, between noon and 2pm, and after 6pm. The morning meeting ban is geared in particular toward accommodating “anybody who wanted to spend time with family in the morning or had children to look after,” Smith says. The 12-to-2 quiet period is “so that people could have lunch with whoever they were living with, or make sure they have plenty of time to go out for a walk.” And putting the kibosh on meetings after 6pm made sure that “people weren’t getting caught in the trap of just sitting on the laptop all day.”

In a small but thoughtful gesture, Project Imagine also sent out care packages to each of its employees, including face masks for them and every member of their household as well as a fancy eye massager, meant to help ward off headaches from staring at a laptop all day. “It kind of warms up and massages your temple and plays some soothing music,” Smith says.

A flexible future

Ultimately, the switch to remote work prompted leaders at Project Imagine, which was founded in 2018, to change their minds about the importance of being in the office day in and day out. “We have been able to get the same things that we would get from the office,” Smith says.

That’s why the company has decided to pursue a hybrid model, in which employees are welcome to work remotely as they like, or come into Project Imagine’s new rented office space in London on Wednesdays and Thursdays if they so choose. (“It’s completely optional,” Smith says.) The company also will hold four offsite meetups each year so that employees can talk and bond in person.

Beyond benefiting current employees, Smith says the new remote-friendly policy has given Project Imagine a much larger pool of talent to recruit from.

Ultimately, Smith says, the switch to remote work succeeded because Project Imagine followed a simple rule of thumb. “Look after your employees, and they’ll look after everything else.”