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Say Hi to Remote-First Dev Teams — Now Hiring in Finland and Germany

Otto Vehviläinen May 7, 2021 7:34:21 AM

Smartly.io is now offering fully remote work in its Product Development team, welcoming remote employees from anywhere in Finland and Germany. We are diversifying our approach from being co-located to a combination of remote-first and onsite teams to allow more flexibility for Smartlies and unlock further growth for our team. Opening ourselves up for remote work has also allowed us to start hiring in Berlin, where we plan to expand our foothold.

Breaking old patterns to embrace new opportunities

Until early last year, our product development was entirely centralized in Helsinki. A co-located team has its advantages: communication is easy, everyone knows one another, and a shared workspace allows for serendipity. However, being co-located has its limitations, too. While we actively relocated skilled engineers, product managers, and product designers from abroad, it’s fair to say that we were missing out on other brilliant talents who couldn’t move home to join us.

Smartly.io continues to grow fast, and it would be challenging to keep expanding our Product Development team by only hiring in and to Helsinki. Welcoming remote Smartlies allows us to broaden our hiring horizons and grow even faster.

As the pandemic showed us that remote work is not only possible but preferred by many Smartlies, we decided to change our approach. A number of our product development teams turned into remote-first teams, and we opened new vacancies for fully remote employees. We currently have three remote-first teams and we are hiring remote employees in Finland and Germany, where we have business entities.

In our remote-first teams, inclusion is the basic principle

As we venture into a hybrid world, we know we walk a fine line. When some Smartlies work at the office and others work remotely, it’s easy to develop an unequal setting where remote employees find themselves at a disadvantage compared to their onsite colleagues.

We are committed to avoiding this culture of first and second-class citizens by optimizing our team’s culture for inclusion. Our remote-first development teams design all their work and communication practices and look at each interaction through a remote lens. The aim is to ensure information symmetry and a level playing field for all team members, so both product development and information flow smoothly and no one feels left out.

In a co-located development team, all team members work onsite, and the team sits together at the office. Developers in these teams are, of course, welcome to take remote days, but the teams’ ways of working are optimized for working in the same physical location. A Smartlie can sit at our Helsinki or Berlin office and work in a remote-first team, as long as they fully adjust to the remote ways of working.

All in all, embracing a hybrid setup means that as a wider Product Development organization, we need to have a remote-first mindset. The leaders need to make sure all communication and overarching processes and practices work for both types of teams. Incidentally, as we scale the team, many things that make us successful in the remote world make us more successful in just being a bigger organization, like ensuring easy and equal access to information and adopting more asynchronous communication habits.

We already have some of the means to make remote work work

The fact that Smartly.io is has team members from 62 nationalities in 16 cities has helped us to adapt to the remote reality. Everyone speaks English by default, and we are used to maneuvering around time zone differences and are old hands at communicating smartly in Slack and Google Meet.

There are also cultural factors at play. Since the beginning, Smartlies have been trusted with a lot of freedom and responsibility. Strong self-leadership has also been a key characteristic for anyone working in our team. Before the pandemic confined us to our homes, Smartlies have also had a fair amount of flexibility to choose where and when they work best. For fully remote employees, that flexibility will be even greater, which we hope will allow us to bring on people whose life circumstances would otherwise prevent them from joining us.

When it comes to Product Development specifics, we believe in highly autonomous teams that own their product domain end-to-end and have as few flow-breaking and hassle-inducing dependencies to other teams as possible. At the same time, as we have 20 development teams collaborating on one software product, not all interconnectedness can or should be avoided.

Where there is overlap, we have tried to make coordination and communication as smooth as possible. For example, we aim to produce clean, easily understandable code that requires little documentation. We have an affinity for types, which makes our code more robust, readable, and maintainable. We publish API definitions of our internal services using OpenAPI and have built libraries to generate server and client implementations using that as a source of truth.

Growing the team with remote employees requires a robust process for hiring and onboarding new employees remotely. Luckily, we have had a lot of practice during the pandemic. After translating our rather intense recruitment and onboarding processes into the remote world, we have continued to iterate and improve them throughout the past year, optimizing for a personalized, enjoyable experience and quick ramp-up for the new Smartlies.

Based on our experience so far, the most difficult things to translate to the remote-first world are building trust, psychological safety, and team spirit without in-person socializing and collaborative planning around complex topics like cross-team planning. We are learn all the time and try to support teams through these challenges by supporting remote team days and adopting new technology that empowers remote teamwork.

The past year has taught us many lessons on how remote work is best organized, and we have drawn on those learnings to form our current approach to building remote-first teams. While we are confident that we now know enough to embrace remote work also after the pandemic, we know hybrid organizations are a whole new beast. So we stay humble to learn on the go and iterate when some of us return to offices, and some stay remote.


Take a look at our open positions in remote-first teams:

Learn more about our Product Development team: smartly.io/careers/engineering

Author
Otto Vehviläinen

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