How to grow and keep your remote team happy

For most companies, 2020 was a year of tumultuous shifts and colossal disruption. For Deel, it was a year of speeding up and doubling down on their already successful model. Deel disrupted the global hiring, compliance, and payroll processes long before 2020, and when their chance came to grow and shine… well, they did!

We spoke with Deel’s Head of Content Marketing, Anja Simic, about what 2020 looked like for Deel, their company culture, and the talent implications of the shift to remote and hybrid work.

Staying afloat during the pandemic

Anja, can you give us a bit of insight into what 2020 was like for Deel and how you managed to simultaneously grow and keep your team afloat in a tough year?

Deel was founded in 2019, so before the pandemic. We envisioned a worldwide workforce that isn’t limited by boundaries, and we wanted to allow companies to hire anyone anywhere, compliantly.

In 2020, the interest in remote work escalated quickly, as many companies were forced to shift their business models and consider opening their doors to foreign talent. We were prepared for this significant change, and now we’re proud to support over 2,000 companies.

We’ve always been obsessed with giving our customers the best product experience, which I think is precisely what led us to where we are right now. Internally, 2020 didn’t disrupt us that much, as we are a remote-first company. However, we were mindful that working remotely during the pandemic isn’t the same as working remotely in general, so we tried to be there and support each other.

Deel is famously an all-remote, distributed team. How many countries does your team span now, and how do you navigate engagement and employee experience in a team like that?

Deel-makers are now located in over 30 countries! It’s fascinating to be a part of such a diverse team, as each of us brings so much “flavor” into it. I think a good employee experience starts with the recruiting process. You need to communicate what kind of company you are right from the start. It ensures the attraction of the right people who fit into this (culture) puzzle you pieced together.

Our unique backgrounds and experiences shape the culture in ways that wouldn’t be possible with a local team. Of course, any global team faces a few challenges when it comes to bridging the physical distance. Now, things are tougher as we still cannot meet each other in person. To combat that, we intentionally design activities to foster collaboration and engagement within the team. Since we grew rapidly in the past year (from 20 to 150), we had to go back to the drawing board and think about engaging the team.

As a result, we introduced a few activities, such as weekly team calls with a culture segment where team members host a short presentation about their culture, country, holidays, etc. After that, we host “fun time,” a 30 min non-work hangout where we play games and take a break. Lastly, we are using Donut, which randomly pairs up two people for a call every week. I might be biased, but those are one of my highlights of the week.

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Deel's company culture

What is Deel’s company culture based on? What values are critical in the company, and how is that reflected in the day-to-day work?

Deel’s company culture is based on the people that are a part of it. Culture is not something that you design and implement, but you need to be mindful and proactive about it. Everything you do (and don’t do) shapes it in long-lasting and (very) impactful ways. Some of the core values that we have as a team are:

  • People first: We strive to build products that empower people to work together no matter where they are.
  • Care: We aspire to be generous and thoughtful in every interaction with each other and our customers.
  • High Standards: We aim for excellence in everything we do and always go the extra mile.

Internally, we aim to be transparent in everything we do. We are pushing ourselves to do as much as we can, and we enable people to be awesome and respect the awesomeness of others. We even coined the phrase Deel speed which paints the picture of how fast we aim to grow.

Shift to remote and hybrid work

Based on your experience and Deel’s growth in the past year, how do you see the shift to remote and hybrid work globally? Do you have any interesting insights to share?

It’s tough to anticipate any definite change, to be honest. I genuinely believe that many companies will realize the benefits of remote working and aspire to implement it, at least to an extent.

One of the challenges for bigger companies is change management. Their processes are slow, and change doesn’t happen overnight, as they tend to be quite risk-averse. We see big players like Shopify, Facebook, and Amazon introducing remote work policies, but it seems the change is still exclusive to SaaS and tech industries.

I am a firm believer that almost any work can be done outside of the physical office, but if you’ll allow me to be metaphysical for a second, I think we need to deconstruct the meaning of “space.” When we say space, we immediately think of an office, one address that defines the workspace. If we redefine it and say that space is somewhere we meet to work, it changes the narrative.

Hybrid work would most likely be the more popular model, which is an excellent step towards a more flexible work environment. After all, we are social beings, so combining physical presence with digitalization will most probably be the best fit.

How do you see the talent implications of the new work landscape? Do you think companies will have trouble retaining employees without flexible work, better benefits, and a focus on work-life balance?

What I think will happen is the shift from the collective mindset towards the individual. In the past, the talent marketplace was company-centric, and workers would fight their way to get a job. Now, we see the centricity shifting to the individual, the worker. The tables have turned, and companies are now competing to attract and retain the best talent.

Perks such as ping pong tables and office yoga classes have been replaced with flexibility, compensation packages that go beyond competitive salaries, and opportunities to grow and make a change. That’s the future I see happening, and remote or hybrid working will only be the vehicle for such change.

How does Deel tie into that?

Deel wants to uncomplicate the global hiring and payroll process. Many companies realize the potential of hiring foreign talent but shy away from embracing it because they don’t understand the legal implications. On the other hand, the ones that do, don’t have the resources to make it happen because understanding the local labor laws, compliance, and then paying out people manually takes time and significant financial investments.

What we do is offer a one-stop-shop that enables companies to hire, onboard, and pay their workers seamlessly, either as contractors or employees, anywhere in the world. On top of that, we want to level out the playing field for contractors and offer perks and benefits to make their experience on par with their employee counterparts.

Community support

What are some other companies & startups you think are doing incredible things and want to give a shout-out?

The fact that this is quite hard for me to answer makes me hopeful for the future. There are so many movers and shakers out there. To me, any value-based company that wants to enable people to do great things deserves a shoutout. Workplaceless, for example, want to empower people to think beyond the physical space, and they produce great learning resources.

The Org, another great company, bringing company transparency to another level through public org charts. Gable has to be on the list, of course. I think what you are doing is disrupting the notion of a workspace as is, something that’s very dear to my heart, as I already mentioned. Again, there are so many companies and individuals who are MVPs, and I feel incredibly honored to share the space with them.

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Andrea Rajic