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Blessing Ijoma, Hourspent: “The era when firewalls and virus checkers were enough is long gone”


In the age of remote work, it takes more than regular scans and audits to ensure the company data is secure.

While the sudden arrival of the pandemic forced organizations to work remotely, protecting the network against outsider attacks has become only one of the threats organizations must be on high alert for. As more people started working from home, it didn't take long for communication and management issues to arise. Nowadays, when most of the workforce is scattered all over the world, quality collaboration and project management systems are crucial.

Our guest today is Blessing Ijoma, the CEO of Hourspent – a company on a mission to make the modern workplace more collaborative, productive, and most importantly, chaos-free.

How did the idea of Hourspent come to life? What would you consider to be your greatest achievements throughout the years?

When I was a freelance talent, I had a vast client base and freelancing colleagues working with me. Keeping track of our work progress was chaotic. My clients, freelancers, in-house teams, and documents were on many platforms. It stalled our productivity level and our turnaround time. Paying my teams, freelancers working with me, and chasing up payments from my clients wasn’t an easy thing to do either.

The more tools we worked with, the more complex getting work done was for us. Sometimes, things slip through. At first, we thought the restrictions we encountered on freelance marketplaces were the problem. We had to build a freelance platform using the same model other freelance platforms are using. We realized that wasn’t solving any of our problems, it worsened it.

We had to pivot Hourspent. First, we replaced the bidding feature with our project match feature. We invested more in our collaboration, file storage, and communication solutions. Things started getting clearer as we improved on these four areas. COVID19 hits, we started adding more value to them for large remote teams.

My greatest achievement is not Hourspent. It is the people behind Hourspent. Looking back, we could not have made it this far without each other. The investments we made in each other were worth it. We make mistakes, laugh, and celebrate together. Those memories are epic.

Can you introduce us to what you do? What are the main problems you help solve?

Hourspent is a collection of productivity software and a freelance talent platform that help people get work done without chaos. Efficient work is possible when all the needed information and people involved can be seen at a glance. This helps anyone make a better-informed decision on the next step to take. Having your documents, teams, clients, freelance talents everywhere cripples work, and most importantly, it makes prioritizing work difficult.

Hourspent is like a blank canvas for work regardless of time and place. This means that you can use Hourspent to add and collaborate with your teams and clients, manage projects, access relevant information and resources for each of your projects. If you need freelance talent to work with, just create a public project, and Hourspent will match it with the top five available talents based on your project criteria. You can then make a choice or request more matches. Hourspent thus makes it easier to manage projects, work with your teams, clients, and find the right people to work with when needed.

In what ways can companies benefit from hiring freelancers?

Hiring freelancers has several benefits. Diverse freelance talents can help businesses unlock their potential by solving complex problems, getting more work done in less time, etc. Freelance workers are not employees. Therefore, companies are not responsible for their health insurance, retirement benefits, and much more. When one enlists the services of a freelancer, FICA tax withholding and other "employee chores" are no longer a burden. However, taxes vary across US states and other countries.

Experienced freelance talents require little or no supervision. It is likely that they have performed many other similar projects and know better ways to approach yours. For freelancers, building business relationships is everything as it helps them have repeated contracts awarded to them. Because they need positive reviews from their previous clients to keep attracting new clients, they need to turn in high-quality for that to happen. This uniquely motivates freelancers to deliver beyond their client’s expectations. Such unique motivation does not drive employees. Hence, why some employees' quality of work is not consistent.

When you want to hire an employee, she must be within your region, be willing to relocate within your region, or you will need the services of another company as her employer of records which attracts hefty fees. None of that is required when hiring freelance talents.

How do you think the pandemic has affected the hiring landscape?

The pandemic took everyone by surprise. A lot of small businesses ditched the traditional hiring model and hired freelancers. Some HR and businesses hired freelancers to replace their employees that tested positive to COVID 19. While the long-term effects are still unclear, one thing is clear. It made businesses and HR see freelance talents from a different perspective.

Over the years, some freelance marketplaces made employers see freelance talents as cheap labor with a bidding system and competing aura. Driving talents to compete ruthlessly for work made the freelance talent economy favorable for scammers to breed. Hence, why Hourspent has a vetting system.

When the COVID pandemic hit, HR managers had to rethink their hiring strategy. Many adopted a hiring model whereby freelancers work with their in-house teams together. At least, we are seeing that happen on Hourspent, and it is not just for a one-off gig known as one of the reasons people hire freelancers. We could see freelancers working with top teams for more than one year now satisfactorily, and contracts renewed weekly, monthly, and every six months.

What are the most common issues organizations run into when managing a team based all over the world?

Despite the advantages remote teams enjoy, they run into a few roadblocks. Several factors represent these roadblocks — cultural/language barriers, communication, etc. The most common is managing projects. When teams spread out across multiple locations or when some team members are in the office and some remote, managers find it more difficult to keep track of individual tasks. Large teams tackling complex projects face this common issue the most, but simple project management software can help them mitigate this as they assign tasks and keep track of individual work progress.

When teams spread across different time zones, how they work at the same time in their peak hours becomes a problem. For example, when a team is in the same time zone, they can interact with documents, items, projects, and each other without time being a limitation. When some are six hours ahead of others, their closing time may likely be other members' peak working hours. This may make it more difficult for them to unplug after work.

In your opinion, what cybersecurity measures are essential for global teams?

Many team members see cybersecurity differently from the companies they're working for. For companies, it's about the people making up their cybersecurity teams. For teams, it's about the careful deployment of cybersecurity software and processes. If companies get the people right, they will put the software and process in place, but many companies don't have a cybersecurity team leaving team managers and members to improvise.

One cybersecurity measure to adopt starts from our mindset. Cybersecurity did not exist until computers and networking protocols came into existence. Hence, some see cybersecurity as a problem associated with technology. However, it is a human problem that needs human intelligence, and deploying software and processes is just a fraction of it. After all, cybersecurity attacks are initiated by humans.

Most cybersecurity systems and software come with their manufacturers' default configurations which may not meet the team's needs. Human efforts are needed to make purchase decisions, deploy, and integrate them in ways that suit them. This critical measure — having the right people to make purchase decisions, deploy, and integrate them is key.

Cybersecurity is evolving, teams should be aware of the latest cybersecurity attacks, threats, and solutions. The era when firewalls and virus checkers were enough is long gone. Cyberattackers are growing more sophisticated in camouflaging their incursions hence why teams should be aware of them and implement their solutions.

Recently, maintaining creativity has been a serious struggle for some organizations. How can companies foster creativity and innovation when the majority of employees are working remotely?

Remote work naturally improves creativity. No long commutes and physical meetings. Need a nap? Here's your room. Time to work? Next is your office space — all in your home. Need a change of scenery? Take a walk around your neighborhood. These improve employees' creativity as they have quiet time to think and process things.

Therefore, organizations whose teams work remotely are already fostering creativity and innovation. But, the quiet time to think and process things may translate to loneliness and difficulty getting away from work after closing hours. Trying to pull them back into the office may impede creativity. Allowing them to work remotely for too long may affect their mental health and impede creativity too. To foster creativity and innovation, adopt a hybrid work model.

The hybrid work model allows employees to work remotely for some weeks and in the office for some other weeks. It has proven to be our antidote for isolation and difficulty getting away from work after the close of work.

What do you think the average workplace is going to look like in the next few years?

Perks like work-life balance, flexible work arrangements, and remote work options will become a common practice in the workplace. Reduced work hours will become the new company's way of attracting talents to the workplace.

As artificial intelligence becomes indispensable, most companies building hyper-connected, virtualization, and other work tools will leverage it to compete.

Most physical office space will "go green" with a stress-free inspired environment and built-in technology to promote health and wellness at work. Augmented reality and virtual reality will certainly trend within the workplace. Companies won't hesitate to use them to enhance projects they're working on, meetings, and receive updates in real-time.

Would you like to share what’s next for Hourspent?

We are integrating 50 third-party software into Hourspent within the year. With that in place, you can access your favorite third-party software your team needs to work from start to finish right in Hourspent.


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