Pandemic creates unique opportunity for start-ups to empower distributed teams

July 27th 2022


By Mahdi Shariff

Dramatic shifts in working patterns have created an unprecedented opportunity for start-ups to compete for talent. Companies can also drive competitive advantage by bringing workers into a nimble, tech-driven and collaborative structure.

But start-ups can only do this if they have the right data-driven collaborative tools, and a structure and culture designed specifically to get the best from both remote and office-based teams at the same time.

The recruitment opportunity

The seismic shift away from office working boosted the proportion of tech professionals working from home from 20% to 89%, according to the State of DevOps (development and operations) 2021 report. Only 8% of remote employees are willing to return full-time to workplaces after the pandemic, according to Start-ups have jumped on this chance with 63% of high-revenue growth companies embracing a model in which workers can work anywhere they are productive, according to Accenture.

With the pandemic having increased the importance of technology in most people’s lives, the demand for talent in the technology sector has risen hugely. For example, 48% of companies are recruiting for roles that require hard data skills, but 46% have struggled to fill these roles over two years, according to a 2021 UK government study.

Furthermore, the record numbers of people changing jobs - dubbed the great resignation - has caused many firms to feel an even greater pressure for the need for talent in core data and technology roles. 

While these factors have increased competition for talent globally, remote working gives start-ups an opportunity to recruit a previously inaccessible, diverse group of talented people from anywhere in the world.

Driving a team culture of collaboration and empowerment - beyond borders

But you need to be ready to turn remote working to your advantage.

Many start-ups are finding new ways to access and work with geographically scattered teams. The rapid development of collaborative technologies, including Google Workspace, Miro, Notion, and Monday; and communication channels such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Chat make this increasingly possible.

If you have remote workers in different locations, you must make information equally visible and accessible to all team members, whether remote or office-based. Failure to do this creates communication gaps; and risks isolating workers and denting productivity.

Several companies have pioneered this way of working, including leading companies from Shopify, Github to Automattic. These firms aim to turn remote working to its advantage using a range of collaborative technologies for everything from strategic planning to investment decisions, product development, project management, and HR.

They use many functions now built into collaboration tools to drive automation, efficiency, innovation, inclusiveness, and bias-free decision making. For example, Zapier uses its HR platform to assign workflows so new hires can automatically have access to information when they need it. This smooths the onboarding process and saves hundreds of hours in manual processing.

Such tools help teams of any size collaborate better and gain valuable insights through visualisation. Zapier says good writing and communication skills are fundamental to effective remote working. This is echoed by another office-free firm Automattic, whose ‘creed’ includes a commitment to ‘communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.’

Start-ups have a potential advantage in this new distributed world as many already have better collaboration tools and more streamlined, automated operations compared to larger organisations. It is critical for start-ups to maximise these efficiencies because, as you scale, operations often become a bottleneck. Operational automation helps you avoid blockages and scale faster.

The power of collaborative tools to do this will only increase as they build in more technologies such as machine learning. 

Structuring the team and managing delivery with transparency & data

An important function of these tools is their ability to gather data that helps you build communication and transparency in your teams.

This helps you take a data-driven approach to managing remote teams. For example, at Ciklum we’ve developed delivery best practices based on our experience building remote product engineering teams for leading technology companies.

Our delivery teams conduct team health checks to monitor capacity and emotional levels, and what challenges they face. This gives a much keener sense of the teams’ pulse and morale; whether their challenges are individual or team-based; and identify any issues that need further investigation, coaching or support to reduce the attrition risk.

We also establish delivery and governance best practices that include measuring teams’ confidence in delivering key project milestones, enabling us to identify problems and investigate how to improve confidence and deliver targeted coaching where necessary - even when remote.

For scaled teams, there are options to leverage approaches such as Actionable Agile to provide delivery certainty, by predicting the likelihood and confidence level of on-time completion of a large programme of work, based on Jira data from the team. This helps manage stakeholder requirements and give them insight on the impact of their requests, even in the absence of the 'water cooler' moments. 

Building conscious communications

In the remote and hybrid working world, start-ups must ensure all employees feel involved and engaged with their teams. Pre-pandemic, this happened ad hoc. Now it needs more structure.

For example, it helps to put structure around the rhythm and frequency of communication with staff, including team check-ins and informal meetings. Bring people into the office regularly, or build opportunities for all workers — remote and office-based – to have non-work conversations to boost bonding and morale. Automattic does things like flying staff to meet each other regularly; and giving them stipends to work in co-sharing spaces, so they feel less isolated, and encouraging more regular visits and rotations when you’re working with distributed teams.

If you’re running a hybrid team, avoid the common mistakes of running initiatives and communications only for a subset of the teams - whether remote or in-office. Ensure the communication channels used for key information are still retained in the digital channels, to enable transparency and accessibility for everyone, helping to avoid communication gaps across your remote teams. 

How Ciklum can help

Whilst it takes work, with the right support, you can turn remote working to your advantage, attracting the global talent you need and integrating them into nimble, effective teams ready to help accelerate your growth.

Ciklum has many years’ experience helping fast-growing companies build, manage and scale product engineering teams and implementing delivery best practices to get the most from your teams, tools and time. To discuss how your organisation can benefit, contact us today.

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