When companies of all shapes and sizes scrambled to make the transition to a remote working environment in March 2020, certain companies weren’t fazed one bit.
One of these companies was Toptal: an elite network of the world’s top talent in business design and technology, enabling companies to scale their teams on demand. Toptal has been remote since the beginning, so CEO Taso Du Val was already well-prepared.
Du Val is here to share his perspective and tips for organizations struggling with finding success in a remote world.
How Toptal decided on a remote workplace
Choosing the remote life came naturally for Toptal. Du Val shares, “We’ve been remote since day one, all the way back in 2010. It was an easy decision since I was in Palo Alto, CA, and a lot of the people working with me were in different countries.”
Like many savvy companies, Toptal realized that remote work gave them access to talent across the globe rather than limiting themselves to a specific city.
Remote work challenges
When asked about remote work challenges, Du Val said, “Most of the challenges we had from 10 years ago–which were mainly around organization and communication–have been alleviated, and the processes have become more fluid.”
He shared how they’ve stayed ahead of the curve by leveraging the latest technologies for remote teams.
“For instance, we used to use Skype and tools like that, which are a bit old fashioned. Now we use Slack. We’ve built our own tools on top of Slack that have integrated with Zoom in a compelling way. Now everything is more fluid, more organized, and we’re able to flourish.”
Choosing the right tools
At Toptal, the right tools increased productivity and allowed them to create a workflow that made everyday tasks simple. New tools can make the transition to remote work more accessible for many organizations, but it’s all about choosing wisely.
“When it comes to decisions around tools, a lot rides on the organization. Many companies already have deals with Microsoft or Google, so it depends. The choice of tools will be based on the business as it currently stands. Often, the decision-making is more political than it is practical. And the decisions on which tools you use have sweeping ramifications affecting remote work. If you’re between two tools, and one has fewer features or is inferior to the other, don’t go with the lesser choice. Otherwise, you’re going to have an inferior work experience, and therefore an inferior company.”
Culture must be a top priority for remote workplaces
For many organizations that were forced to shift to remote work, it was a stress test on their corporate culture. They had to move fast to get infrastructure in place and accommodate the changing landscape. In the initial scramble, culture was the last priority for many.
Fast forward to 2022, and it’s a stress test for different reasons. Du Val explains, “Now, organizations are faced with asking questions like ‘Are we going to lose our best people? Should we continue with remote work?’ But to put it simply, everyone knows people want a remote workplace.”
So why are companies debating if they should continue remote work? According to Du Val, the answer is simple:
“Allow your employees to work remotely because it’s effective and it works. Everyone recognizes that around the world.“
He continues, “Companies who say differently should remember that they’re on the world stage, and everyone’s a jury. It’s simply an absurd statement at this point. To me, remote working is more effective and more desirable than working in an office.
I’ve also found, sometimes it’s more political than anything. Let’s say you have a CEO in their 60s and 70s who doesn’t believe this is true of remote work. And then suddenly, they find their employees want to leave the company. It’s putting more political pressure on them than business pressure. But it is starting to meld because your internal strength, of course, is representative of your business strength and the ability for any company to compete in their market.”
After over a year and a half of successful remote working, you can see that productivity has actually increased. It’s challenging to justify that your team should be in the office 5 days a week.
Building remote company culture
Just because your organization is remote doesn’t mean you have to throw corporate culture out the window. A remote workforce puts its own positive spin on the possibilities for culture.
Building culture in a remote space requires leadership to be more intentional than simply setting up a team lunch or breakroom meetup. However, remote workplaces aren’t limited by office space. Remote company culture can be built through technology and tools, along with virtual team events.
A consistent challenge that organizations face is onboarding new employees. At Toptal, a significant element of their corporate culture is their onboarding and how they introduce new employees to the company — even when they’re not physically present.
“At Toptal, we have exceptional onboarding, and I know that because we have senior folks from Microsoft, Google, and Facebook who have all said it’s the best onboarding experience they’ve ever had. We do this by capturing how the organization operates and communicating through video, almost like a learning and development process.
We make it very intentionally relative to the role at hand. Everything is tailored to the exact role with personalized onboarding programs per role,” shares Du Val.
Onboarding is not one size fits all. By tailoring the experience to specific roles, it can be much more effective.
Challenges of a hybrid workplace
A recent trend is that many organizations are trying to please their employees by offering the compromise of a hybrid working environment. While some CEOs or C-suite executives may think this is a good halfway point, hybrid offices can be a challenge too.
Du Val explains, “Hybrid work is a challenge unto itself because you have the disconnect problem. You miss the conversation when you have someone in a conference room, and you’re at home. Or, if someone is talking to others in the room, the person online can’t hear properly. In the room there may be camaraderie, but holistically there’s not.
This disconnect only exists in hybrid work, and unfortunately, there’s not a lot of great solutions to deal with this sort of problem. However, in the remote work environment, it’s much more straightforward. I think the remote work environment works exceptionally well.”
Hybrid workplaces create more opportunities for employees to be left out, while remote workplaces allow everyone to be on the same playing field as they connect digitally.
How to keep remote workers accountable
Some organizations may argue that it’s harder to keep remote workers accountable and aligned with a company’s vision, mission, and goals. But for those at Toptal, that simply isn’t the case.
“Like many companies, we have created our own version of what works. We use specific OKRs, org charts, and different elements that pertain to how we operate at an organizational level. We also have yearly and quarterly planning to review what has been done and then plan what we’re going to do for the future.
In terms of the basic tools we probably use what most companies use, though we’ve perfected it by developing software that allows each person to know who’s responsible for what within the organization, and then we tie these initiatives to goals.
Anyone joining Toptal can very clearly see how our goals are formulated, who owns what goal, how the initiatives relate to a given set of goals, who owns those, and what teams they’re running as a byproduct of owning these specific initiatives or projects, or sub-projects at hand. It all comes down to technology, and companies are investing way more in technology than they were before because COVID put the pressure on them to do so.“
The best course of action in a remote workplace is to test different systems to see what resonates with employees.
Advice for organizations considering remote work
For companies still on the fence about whether to stick with remote work in the future, Du Val makes it exceptionally simple:
Do it. That’s it. Sell your office, start working from home. And if you have any challenges, at least you can go to bed knowing that you’re saving a lot of money on real estate expenses.
Remote work is the future. There’s no doubt about that. That is the truth, and the talent themselves will speak for that. They will leave their companies if a company makes them go into an office. It is as simple as that.
Du Val goes on to state, “Over the next ten years, companies that don’t go remote will disappear and be replaced. New companies will compete by having the most competent people all work from home, and the other companies won’t attract them anymore.”
Is your company planning to embrace remote work or head back to the office? Let us know in the comments below.