Why And How To Build Remote Global Development Teams

November 11, 2022

Technology leaders long assumed that physical proximity is critical to innovation and outsourcing is for grunt work. Safeguard CTO Duri Chitayat, says hiring developers everywhere will give you surprising results. With the right strategy, borderless development teams excel.

Article originally published in Spiceworks.com

Discover how companies can end talent shortages with a borderless development organization

Technology leaders long assumed that physical proximity is critical to innovation and outsourcing is for grunt work. Safeguard CTO Duri Chitayat, says hiring developers everywhere will give you surprising results. With the right strategy, borderless development teams excel.

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have hired software engineers in Nigeria, Albania, Brazil, and Hong Kong to work on the same team. The technology industry has long believed that face-to-face collaboration is critical to innovation. Offshoring tends to be for cost-savings and grunt work.

However, finding the best talent within 50 miles of the office isn’t easy, and building a high-performing team starts with finding great people. I’ve been tasked with building innovation labs for large enterprises in multiple countries, and in the past, I have felt like I was fighting (and sometimes losing) the “war for talent.” At one point, I helped lead an effort to nearshore 500 jobs to Edinburgh, Scotland. But, no matter what we’d pay or how hard we tried, we couldn’t find enough of the best talent to meet our goal.

COVID-19 made the problem worse. In late 2021, technology executives told Gartner that the talent shortage was the most significant barrier to adopting emerging technologies – citing it more as a barrier than implementation costs or security risk concerns. Korn Ferry estimated that by 2030, the global labor shortage in technology, media, and telecommunications would reach 4.3 million people at $449.70 billion in unrealized output.

When I arrived at Safeguard Global in May 2021, I planned to nearshore our innovation center. But then I reconsidered. The pandemic had normalized remote work. I already had a team of 40 spread across the US, UK, Romania, Moldova, and India. Plus, our company specializes in hiring talent and paying people globally. It was the perfect time to try something different.

I told our recruiting team that we were going to hire the best talent anywhere, period. We developed a strategy to do that and gauged the impact by tracking DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) metrics. A year and a half later, we increased headcount by 375%, with 150 employees working from 16 countries. We have also increased monthly product releases by 20x and have an 84% faster time to market.

Honestly, these results surprised me. Hiring and retaining people should have been harder during the time of the “Great Resignation.” Collaboration across time zones and language barriers should have created friction. Slack and Zoom should have made it more difficult for teams to develop processes, cultures, and relationships.

In retrospect, what worked in this case and why? What strategies are worth borrowing? Here are three to consider:

1. Hire like a Michelin Star restaurant

If you’re staffing a fast-food restaurant and need bodies, what do you do? Gather as many applications as possible and filter people out until every shift is filled. But if you’re staffing a Michelin Star Restaurant, you hand-pick talent without worrying about the cost. You personally reach out to chefs and staff from the top down because the best will attract the best.

At Safeguard Global, we tried the Michelin approach to hiring. We first used a talent analytics engine to identify global markets with a surplus of rare technical talent— like Albania, Nigeria, Brazil, Turkey and France. We paid extra attention to our principal and senior engineers, examining their work on GitHub ahead of the initial calls when possible. I reached out personally to say that I wanted them on our team and made a pitch for joining Safeguard Global.

I believe that experts appreciate it when you take the time to research them. Plus, speaking with a technology leader who understands and admires your work demonstrates the importance the organization places on the role. That first interaction is critical. You cannot delegate the first impression. While the Michelin approach might not seem scalable, it doesn’t need to be. We handpicked leaders, hypothesizing that they would bring on other talented people, and they did.

2. Look for culture add, not a culture fit

Usually, hiring managers favor candidates who “fit” a particular mold. We all have unconscious biases that prioritize people that look, sound, and act as we do. If you’re going to hire a global remote-first team, you need to look for and celebrate differences. You must break the muscle memory of looking for culture fit and instead look for culture add. What unique experiences does this person bring to the team? What uncommon ideas? What interesting hobbies or sports do they have outside work?

One thing we learned was that even language barriers could be a plus. One of our teams is led by a Kazakhstan-born, Poland-raised engineer based in the UK with teammates from Hong Kong, Brazil, Albania, and Nigeria. Because of the diverse mix of cultures and first languages, members of this team are slow to assume. When a team member communicates something that isn’t understood, someone always asks, “What do you mean?” On a culturally uniform team, members leave assumptions unexamined.

My hypothesis is that diverse, globally distributed teams question assumptions because they don’t share many. They’re naturally resistant to group think.

3. Autonomy with camaraderie

When you hire the best people, irrespective of location, you face competition. The MANA companies, formerly known as FANGS (Meta, Amazon, Netflix, and Alphabet), can outcompete many companies on salary and benefits—unless they double down on banishing remote work. When people are talented enough to work anywhere, how do you get them to choose your company?

We offered competitive salaries, but perhaps most importantly, we offered a degree of autonomy that few, if any, employers would match. We call it “Work in Any Way,” and the gist is giving talented people a problem to solve and trusting them to figure out everything else. Our teams decide which technology and applications to use, down to the laptop we ship them. People choose where to live and work, whether from home, an office, or a coworking space. Teams choose what days and hours to work, when and how long to vacation, and how often to meet. If they want Fridays off, that’s fine.

We anticipated that fully remote teams might struggle to build camaraderie. So, we ask team leads to make weekly one-on-ones sacred and to ensure that everyone has a teammate they consider a true friend—someone they can count on inside and outside of work. That requires some matchmaking and nudging on the part of team leads. To foster those friendships, we’re planning offsites, which are easier to budget for when you’re not leasing office space on prime real estate.

A Solution to Talent Shortages

Based on our experiment at Safeguard Global, it’s clear that hiring the best wherever they are is a solution to talent shortages. Companies that only hire locally or domestically will be at a disadvantage. Those that force software engineers and developers back to the office will dry up their talent pool.

This distributed team has worked better than I anticipated. It blew up my assumptions about the importance of physical proximity to innovation. Second to compensation, autonomy seems to be the most important value proposition for them. Employers that offer people the freedom to work where, when, and how they choose will attract the best.


Case Study - How a flexible, people-centric approach gives Safeguard Global a hiring advantage

Article originally published in Spiceworks.com

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