How to build a remote culture with a conscience

Co-founder of Think.iT, Joscha Raue, didn’t meet his Co-founder and CTO, Amal Abid, in person until 8 months in. In this guest blogpost by Joscha, he shares how team Think.iT built a unique, successful and remote-friendly culture.

 think.IT, Tunis, Tunesia

 think.IT, Tunis, Tunesia

By 2020…

… the tech sectors in the US and EU will have a combined 1.5 million open technical roles — without the local talent available to take their teams to the next level.

This is the Future of Work: building teams with the right talent at the right time, no matter where they happen to be located. So, I challenge you: Want to test your team’s culture? Try working remotely for awhile! Here are some things to keep in mind to set your team up for success.

1. Build a (meta)physical culture

The strongest organizational cultures rely upon personal trust and proactive communication — not whether or not you and your coworkers are fighting for the same last cup of coffee, in the same kitchen. The dirty secret of remote work: who you hire to work remotely is just as important as the mindset that you cultivate in your main office.

Here are a few things that we do at my startup, Think.iT, to set the right foundation for a remote-friendly culture:

  • Don’t put the burden on your remote coworkers to participate: include a video conference for every single meeting. If that’s not your default, you might forget to include a remote team member, and that’s when information gets lost. Make it as easy as possible for everyone to participate, no matter where they are. And when hiccups inevitably happen, embrace it: it’s valuable to build resilience to the quirks of working, no matter where you are!

  • Build empathy for what your remote team experiences with a weekly Work From Home policy. Encourage your employees to pick a random day each week to work from outside your physical office, and share reflections back with their team. How does it feel to video conference a mile in their shoes? What are the gaps, and what are their ideas to make it better?

  • Start the relationship off in person. We invest in our engineers’ relationships with our company partners from Day 1 by flying them to HQ for 1-2 weeks. The dividends are worth it: your remote team member will feel happier and more connected to your team, and you’ll gain a more committed, hard-working, and intellectually engaged contributor! Plus, it’s much easier to navigate stressful conversations down the road when you have a few hilarious in-person memories to fall back on together.

2. Invest in the right tools

 The Think.iT team

The Think.iT team

Yes, you should decrease your addiction to email — and invest in a team collaboration and chat app like Slack. It’s a no-brainer for any team, whether you have remote team members or not. So, what else do you need for a healthy remote work culture? Here are a few things to think about when you’re building the right tools and habits for your far-flung coworkers:

  • A wifi back-up plan. I had to rethink my preconceptions last year when I realized our our Tunisian work hub has better wifi than our office in Berlin. Broadband isn’t everything — your building router might be crowded, especially if there are multiple companies battling for the same juice in your workspace. Invest in hard-wired Ethernet cables for fast, secure, and stable connections that can handle your video meetings when the wifi takes a lunch break.

  • Face-to-face video chats. Millennials hate talking on the phone, but we love video chats. Audio meetings just don’t cut it — body language and nonverbal cues matter when you’re building trust and context in new working relationships. Make sure to use a solution like appear.in that works for multiple people at once, whether they’re lounging on their desktop or plugging in breathlessly from their phone while on the treadmill.

  • A project management solution you’ll actually use. Get into the rhythm of using a user-friendly app to make it easier to tag-team on group efforts and track accountability for individual tasks. We use the highly-customizable Trello, Kanban-style—including company-wide boards and unique “circles” for each team. You just might find that you’re more organized working physically removed from the distractions of your team, beloved as they may be.

  • Over-document everything. Maintaining a single source of truth is critical to keep track of decision-making context, especially when you’re distributed across multiple time zones. You can use Google Docs, or try something more bespoke like Coda that keeps your docs and spreadsheet data in one place.

3. Take a data-driven approach to hiring

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Fun fact

My startup is one year old. But it took 8 months before I even met my co-founder and CTO Amal Abid in person. By the time we met in Tunis, I already knew her quirks and her communication style. But most importantly, I already trusted her.

Talent doesn’t stop at certain borders, or carry certain passports. In fact, it’s pretty evenly distributed around the world! By 2020, the tech sectors in the US and EU will have a combined 1.5 million open technical roles — without the local talent available to take their teams to the next level. And don’t even get me started on the rapid speed at which new technologies will make everything I think I know irrelevant every couple of years.

So, how do you prepare for jobs that don’t even exist yet? It’s critical to prepare for the Future of Work by learning how to hire based upon someone’s future potential — and eliminating bias by avoiding subjective (and outdated) CVs. Whether you’re trying to wrangle your next developer locally (good luck!) or giving remote talent a try, I recommend assessing candidates based upon two main factors: problem-solving skills, and the ability to learn new things quickly.

At Think.iT, we identify and hire the top 5 percent of technical talent in North Africa by looking for natural problem-solvers and lifelong learners—all without relying upon traditional CVs. First, we invite engineers to answer 70 questions to assess their natural inclinations across dimensions like problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills. Then, we use our proprietary coding challenges to automate the technical assessment process without personal bias. The engineers with the highest combination of these two objective scores are invited for personal interviews.

Beyond technical know-how, someone’s ability to thrive in ambiguity and be a proactive communicator are the strongest indicators of their performance as an engineer integrated remotely with your team. Remote or not, your best engineers aren’t afraid to ask questions: they’re changemakers.

What are your strategies for hiring remote talent? Let us know in the comments!


Joscha Raue is a co-founder of appear.in partner Think.iT, a tech talent collective that recruits and accelerates North Africa’s future technology leaders — before integrating them as full-time distributed team members in innovative startups around the world. He is passionate about harnessing the power of technology to distribute equal opportunity and unleash human potential at scale.