Remote-First Engineering Speeds Up Innovation

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By David Blair, CTO at Andela

The Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on work has shown CTOs one thing: remote work is successful.  CTOs are reconsidering how they hire and the future of their workplace.  Zoom and Slack report that people are working more while at home, and technological giants such as DropBox, Zillow, and Apple has made the decision to continue remote work through 2021 or even permanently.  But, working remotely not only allows employees a more flexible schedule, but it also empowers hiring managers to find talent from around the globe that can increase the pace of innovation.

To do that, they must rethink their approach to become “remote first.” A remote-first team can include more global talent. More global talent offers more diverse inputs and delivers engineering talent that can be more cost-effective, allowing for additional hires. With these new facets to the team, the pace of innovation can accelerate.

Unlocking Benefits of Remote Talent

Remote work is a major consideration for how businesses will operate in the future; 66% of engineering leaders are intent on committing to it, according to Andela’s recent study. Tech hubs such as Silicon Valley, New York City, and Austin are facing talent shortages and inflated salaries.  CTOs have been struggling to hire great talent with reasonable pay.  A switch to global work would ease these problems.  There would no longer be such a scarcity of talent, especially in-demand skills like Ruby-on-Rails and mobile app development.  The increase of prospective employees would allow employers to act with a “buyer’s market” mindset, which would drive prices to be more competitive. When I went to recruit a team at my last start-up, which was a big data play with a need for seasoned talent, the best way to find that talent was offering a remote work experience that better met the engineers desire for working from home and a simpler life with no commute.


With the restrictions of an office gone, CTOs can more easily find the best global talent and the right fit for their specific needs, unhindered by commute times and personal networks. The ability to hire talent from anywhere provides room for so much improvement.  It reduces time-to-hire, delivers greater diversity, and offers a less costly labor force.

Remote first requires a global community of professionals, which is increasingly important in a worldwide economy.  Joel Spolsky, top engineering thought leader, believes it is essential to either create a network or join one that attracts new talent. It’s true, globalizing employment will require adaptations in the hiring process. Global recruiters will have to form new networks of experts from various regions.  They will have to become facile with understanding which regions specialize in different skill sets, how people from different cultures communicate, and how they are motivated.

Tapping Into Global Talent with “Remote First”

Our recent study surfaces several logistical concerns that might be holding managers back from a “remote first” approach, including language divide, problems regarding different time zones, and issues communicating when at home.  Harvard Business Review conducted a study that largely refutes any worries about communication and language.  Business around the world has operated using English as the main language for years.  And, global talent in the tech and engineering industry has been productive throughout 2020.

A new way to think about remote-first management, according to Deloitte, is the creation of an elastic workplace environment. This is propelled by both global and generational components. For example, creating new management styles that emphasize independence and self-direction.

An important area for focus, especially for CTOs, is the additional work of ensuring that remote engineers are dedicated to the company’s success. Being “remote-first” is more about culture, goals and management style than it is about Slack and Zoom. The need for adopting a remote-first style is even more important when there are engineers from other countries and time zones, and when there are outsourced engineers who need to be integrated into the team.  In order for global hiring and remote staff augmentation to be effective, engineers need new processes to get accustomed to the company’s codebase from a remote location, be motivated to improve and achieve while working from home and be encouraged to initiate new ideas when there are no more hallway chats.

Changes must come from the top-down. For example, changing the way daily standups are run to include more opinions, documenting processes for remote staff to access at odd hours, and disseminating work that allows a diverse group to prove themselves. We have moved away from in-person design reviews to recorded video sessions where people give feedback asynchronously. And, we have replaced the whiteboarding session with Miro boards and wiki’s.

This all takes time and needs to be proven worthwhile for managers to make the full mental shift. At Andela, we went from in-person shadowing as a way to onboard a new engineer to a well-structured process with great documentation that can be executed more asynchronously. It took time to build this up, but it’s working well.

In addition to an improved pace of innovation, the increased flexibility of remote-first will allow companies to be shielded from the normal market fluctuations.  Costs like that of real estate will be cut, and engineering networks will span the globe, allowing companies to save money while driving stable growth. The switch to remote work forced by Covid-19 has advanced the approaching switch to a global talent market.  As the economy starts to rebuild, companies that embrace a remote-first strategy will attract the best talent and be best positioned for global competition. Now is the time to lean in and embrace the trend before everyone has caught on.

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