Paul Estes, Editor-in-Chief of Staffing.com and host of The Talent Economy Podcast, recently sat down with the Toptal's Vice President of Talent Operations to discuss the future of remote work and how to pair a global pool of talented freelancers with companies worldwide. The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: The current pandemic has accelerated the move to remote work. How can companies prepare for a remote future?
A: The remote environment is no longer the future of work. It’s here now. It’s part of the rise of the talent economy. Companies shouldn’t be nervous about adapting to it since best practices in the office also apply to a remote workforce.
Organizational structures don’t have to change. You trust your teams. Trust your employees whether they’re in the office or not. Set milestones, deadlines, and metrics so that you know how someone’s performing.
More importantly, companies need to embrace a global talent pool. At Toptal, we recruit in countless cities and countries around the world. That means we have a highly motivated, driven, and diverse workforce, which leads to a more successful business. Now that companies are forced to go remote, there is an opportunity to expand beyond the talent pool that exists within a 25-30-mile radius from headquarters. This is the time for companies to think about how their model can be revamped in the future.
Read Toptal’s The Suddenly Remote Playbook for insights on enabling and sustaining a fully distributed workforce.
Q: As the vice president of global talent operations, how do you handle the complexity of managing freelancers and clients in more than 100 countries?
A: Our business model at Toptal is to source, screen, and then match freelancers with clients based on their needs. Our People and Recruitment team created a network of thousands of freelancers who are ready, willing, and able to help clients on a remote basis.
Talent Operations then uses an intricate process to match a highly skilled freelancer to the precise business needs of our clients around the world. It’s inherently complex since we’re not just selling a widget to a client. Instead, we have a unique two-sided marketplace with well-funded startups and Fortune 500 companies on one side, and some of the most highly skilled talent in the world on the other side. We have to make sure they’re both happy.
We believe our success comes from a human-curated process where we get to know our talent. We understand how they work best and what their precise skills are. When a client has a need, we can pair them with three perfect candidates within 24 hours because we have already done all the upfront work.
Q: What can you tell companies that are worried about communication failures and losing face-to-face interactions?
A: From a management perspective, what you do in the office is the same in the remote environment. We still have plenty of face-to-face meetings on Zoom, but every meeting has a purpose. Every meeting has a documented agenda, and everyone has a responsibility to look at the documentation ahead of time. Meetings are often more efficient because everyone is prepared.
In many ways, the remote environment is more effective because everything is written down. Everything appears on a Slack thread or a Google Doc, so you don’t have to interpret what someone meant or try to remember an action item you missed. It’s right there in the documentation.
The fully remote environment means we also rely on more data and dashboards that are live and dynamic. That provides transparency across the board and aligns everyone across continents and time zones to understand how success is defined and what a good day looks like.
It also allows us to determine the overall health of our business, diagnose operational issues in real time, and supply us with metrics that are critical for evaluating performance.
Q: Another challenge of embracing remote work is finding a work-life balance. As a leader, how do you help team members strike a healthy balance?
A: Many people struggle to create boundaries once they start working from home. It’s a challenge. Work is always there, and your phone dings day and night with Slack notifications. Fortunately, the executive leadership team at Toptal has empathy for that struggle and champions open and honest communication as a necessary component of our success. I fully trust my team to do their work well at a time that works best for them.
I try to lead by example. I’m an open book. I let them know that I’ll be offline 2-5 PM because I’m at a Halloween parade or a school performance, for example, but I’ll be reachable after the kids go to bed. I’m upfront that I will take advantage of the flexible schedule so I can have uninterrupted time with my family from 5:30 to 9 PM every evening. The freedom to disengage from work allows me to recharge.
Everyone just needs to be transparent and proactive about setting their own boundaries. As long as you do that and hit your targets, nobody needs to know what you’re doing or where you are. In the end, it’s all about your results and your output.
Q: If we look out 18 months from now, what will have shifted at large and mid-tier companies?
A: This is a monumental, unprecedented shift for the global workforce. Companies see the tools and technology that enhance a productive remote environment are working. They will have to offer a remote and flexible program if they want to retain their talent.
The talent side will drive future changes. People will look for more flexibility as they embrace the sudden rise of remote work. As talent and teams realize that flexibility is attainable, they will reduce the number of days they are in the office. That will change the model for many companies.