To Remote And Beyond!

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I’ve thought a lot about writing on remote work in Supermercato24.
I know that this topic has already been extensively discussed, examined and studied; I honestly think that it should not be considered and described every time as the new thing, but unfortunately it seems that there are a lot of concerns and fears (some of them are actually reasonable) around it that sometimes prevent it to be supported and implemented.

Supermercato24 is an Italian scale-up born in late 2014, we have just overcome the 100 employees threshold and our technical team (25 people at the time of writing) is fully remote; if we’re specifically considering the Italian startup ecosystem, I can say that we were among the first to believe in this work philosophy.

Behind the word remote there are many related aspects and the theme is certainly wide and complex; hence we’re going to split it into a series of blog posts, making it easier to dive deep into its different faces.

As always, it all started with a problem to solve: Supermercato24 was growing fast, we needed developers for building our own products: how could I quickly hire talented software engineers to let Supermercato24 evolve and scale?
Back in 2015 I was quite stubborn and ambitious (I probably still am, but for different reasons), and I truly believed that I could hire a lot of developers and build a big tech team in Verona, the lovely little city in the north of Italy where Supermercato24 was born.
Obviously, it didn’t work: after a couple of weeks, with very little interesting profiles received in the mailbox, I realized that my idea was a failure.

Moreover, some months later, when we were always struggling to find new hires, something – potentially bad – happened: one of our developers, for personal reasons, decided to leave Verona and go back to his family.
Unfortunately, there was no possibility to change his decision: suddenly, we were losing a friend and a great colleague, someone who contributed in building one of our products and who was really super expert and actual owner of it.
After long internal discussions, we decided that it didn’t make any sense to end the relationship, while it was certainly a better idea to try and see if continuing it, entirely remotely, would have ever worked.
Well, long story short, it did! (and this is how we started to open other remote positions (-:)

Switching from having in-house to remote-allowed job position was very quick (just flagging a checkbox in our ATS) and the outcome was astonishing: I was receiving 6 resumes per day rather than a couple per week (+2100%) and six out of seven (~85%) were from people living outside of Italy.

Now I was facing another problem: how could we build a scalable, objective and efficient recruitment process when dealing with something that sometimes can be non-objective at all (CVs screening and people soft skill evaluation)?
Well, as you can guess, it is difficult, but I will talk about it in one of the next articles.

Since then, I’ve never regretted this choice! Hiring remote developers was the perfect solution to our problem and thanks to this approach we were able to almost double the team year over year, increasing the skills and the expertise necessary for our growth.

I won’t fool you, building a remote team is not a marriage made in heaven: it is hard and difficult, and it is absolutely mandatory that everyone in the company truly believe in it and support it, otherwise it’s like having two different communities, and you can imagine how inefficient and stressful it can be.
This is, I believe, one of the most important thing to keep in mind and the best advice that I would give to someone who is trying to build a remote team: remote people should not feel themselves remote, that is of course easier said than done.
There are some easy and low-effort actions that can help a lot: be sure to have an efficient network connection (and switch on the camera!), avoid oral documentation in favor of (english) written one, if one participant in a meeting is remote, everyone should join as if they were remote.

At the same time, remote work is not meant for everyone: there are people that prefer to live the office life and there are other people that believe they can work remotely, while actually they can’t; in this case, when hiring someone, if you see that a developer has already worked remotely it is certainly a good sign.
However, in addition to the specific tech skills that vary from one job to another, there are three characteristics that we found essential for every good remote developer candidate:

  • high seniority, in terms of hard skills and domain expertise: this is because you probably don’t have all the time in the world to teach to or even coach them;
  • high sense of ownership, because they will be assigned to tasks or maybe entire product even if they don’t have any physical contact with the customers; unfortunately, this skill cannot be taught and you have to understand, investigating through past experience, if the candidates have it;
  • great communication clearance: the best candidate is clear, concise and avoids redundancy; this is very important since most of the communication you have will be written and asynchronous.

Going remote was our solution to the problem of quickly scaling our tech team: if you relax (or even remove at all) the geographical constraints from your open job positions the pool of talents that you can attract is way bigger; it’s not rocket science, it’s simple math.
The advantages that you get when working with people from different countries
and cultures go far beyond the simple job vacancy completeness: you get a more dynamic, open and rich environment and this is something that help your organization reach higher satisfaction, innovation and even proudness; in other words, it triggers a virtuous circle in which everyone can get some benefit!

Author: @marcorisi (CTO)

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