Strategies for Leading a Fully Distributed Team: Q&A with Toptal CEO Taso Du Val
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Taso Du Val is the CEO of Toptal, the world’s largest fully distributed company. Paul Estes, editor-in-chief of Staffing.com and host of The Talent Economy Podcast, sat down with Du Val to discuss Toptal’s recently published “The Suddenly Remote Playbook.” The playbook is a guide for building and sustaining an enterprise-grade remote work environment and includes several podcasts, giving readers direct insight into the perspectives of senior leaders. The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Tell me about what Toptal is doing to help companies transition to remote work in response to the global health crisis.
A: We’ve created The Suddenly Remote Playbook on how to build and sustain a remote environment that is highly performant, secure, organized, and fluid.
We’ve spent a decade becoming the world’s largest fully distributed company, and the playbook offers a behind-the-scenes look at how we did it. We interviewed the Toptal leadership team, who have deep experience running their functions remotely. Each of these functions has its own chapter, including human resources, culture, productivity, security, and tools.
Read The Suddenly Remote Playbook.
Q: What major challenges do you see for companies right now?
A: The technology infrastructure is paramount for success. An array of tools, including tools for communication, productivity, and human resources, need to be integrated correctly for companies to have a good remote work experience. Companies whose models have been set up for in-office environments and then suddenly have had to transform their company to remote will see challenges.
Q: As a leader of a large remote organization, how do you create a sense of community and trust?
A: It’s a transition. Leaders have to trust their people. If you’re time-tracking employees or taking screenshots of what they're doing—unless it's for security purposes or regulatory compliance—that simply means you don't trust them. We don't track anyone's time at Toptal.
Speaking to the current situation, I see a lot of people stating on Twitter and other forums, “I don't see my colleagues, therefore, I don't know if they're working.” That's just a symptom of the fact that you don't trust your colleagues. Actions and examples cultivate trust. It's not about whether I can see an employee or not. While handshakes and in-person meetings are visceral experiences that people often correlate to trust, they’re not actually what builds trust in the long term and they’re sure as heck not what sustains it.
Instead, trust should be part of the culture. Managers demonstrate that they trust the other person in an everyday working environment. They trust them with their decision-making capabilities, with outcomes, with their attention to detail, and their ability to quality control. If an individual joins Toptal and they prove themselves, they become very autonomous within the organization.
Q: What advice do you have for managers working remotely for the first time?
A: First, I would say managing a remote environment is fundamentally no different than managing an in-person environment. I’ve had Fortune 200 CEOs sit next to me as I've worked and say, “Wow, this is exactly what I do every single day. It's just all happening virtually.”
We recognize that more traditional companies perceive this as challenging because they've been conducting business a certain way for a long time. We're humans, and habits are hard to change. Once you do, the work experience is similar to an office environment. You delegate people, check their work, conduct meetings, and ensure outcomes are the highest quality possible, delivered as quickly as possible. That's what all businesses are really driving toward within their respective industries. Toptal is no different.
Q: What do you tell people that are experiencing isolation from remote working?
A: There is a point where most remote workers feel isolated, including myself. When you're working remotely, you need to balance your work and personal life. You shouldn't be inside all day. Take walks. Make sure you have some social interaction so you're not just in front of a computer all day long
Isolation can be difficult. However, it far outweighs commuting to an office and spending money on gas or the train. You waste time both ways. I'd rather be at my home every single day working.
We have something unique at Toptal, which is a manager of wellness. We give guidance to our employees and contractors globally as to how they can stay motivated, excited, and avoid burnout.
Q: What will the new normal look like for Fortune 200 companies 18 months from now?
A: First, the companies that thrive in the remote environment today will win in the future. Companies will support flexibility so that employees can turn on their laptops every day and have a fluid work experience.
Second, companies that can remove their capital expenditures—all the hard assets related to the company, including offices—will drastically increase their operating margin in many instances and be more performant.
Third, companies will be able to attract talent globally. That's a huge draw. We embrace a global talent pool that allows us to win without borders. It doesn't matter where an employee lives. It's purely merit-driven.
Fourth, companies that embrace remote work are simply more environmentally friendly.
For all of these reasons, it's astonishing to me that everyone hasn't moved more quickly to this remote working environment.
As remote work becomes the new normal, Staffing.com has created a dedicated space to offer insights and tips. On our Rise of Remote pages, you’ll find The Suddenly Remote Playbook, articles, podcasts, and live streaming videos with experts in the world of remote work. Visit and subscribe to stay connected.