Shortlist

Managing distributed teams

Distributed Teams: Eight Ideas to Help Them Thrive

2246 1090 Paul Breloff

We believe that talent is global and the strongest teams are borderless. The digital-first jobs of tomorrow — engineers, data scientists, digital marketers and content creators — can be done by anyone, anywhere as distributed teams,  as long as they have the right skills, a computer, and wifi access.

The rise of global freelance marketplaces like Upwork, Fiverr, and Toptal is a bellwether, but so is the increasing number of firms that choose to be distributed from the start, with teammates scattered across living rooms, coffee shops, and WeWorks, and connected through Slack, Zoom, and WhatsApp. Some investors have gone as far to proclaim that distributed teams are the “new cloud for startups.”

The concept of a global distributed team is deeply ingrained in our Shortlist DNA. We launched in two markets (India and Kenya) nearly simultaneously, and today have three offices across two countries, along with consultants and board members in New York City, Washington DC, San Francisco and Mauritius (not to mention clients in 12+ countries).

We certainly still believe in the power and the magic of working (mostly) alongside our teammates. Special things can happen when brainstorms are done in person with a whiteboard, when data can be explained while pointing at the same screen, and when relationships can be formed over regular coffee or lunch meetings rather than just messaging platforms.

But with 80+ Shortlisters in across our Nairobi, Mumbai, and Hyderabad offices, we’ve become thoughtful and creative about how best to build a #OneTeam culture and generally get stuff done efficiently and to our high standards. So what are some of the things that have worked for us in operating through distributed teams?

1. Create spaces for chatter and personality

Because we can’t count on the spontaneous collisions of a single shared space to deepen connections, we have had to create these opportunities digitally. We have a series of WhatsApp groups keyed to different logical divisions (by geography, function) where there’s a steady flow of welcomes, birthday wishes, photos of social events, GIFs, and more. It’s the modern day company-wide water cooler.

Shortlist team

We also have a weekly Zoom call among the senior leadership, which is less a space for substantive discussions and  decisions, and more space to just chat and catch up. Each person has a lightly structured few minutes to share travel plans, a mood check, points of nervousness and points of celebration, which usually involves a lot of venting, movie references, and vacation longing. It’s the one time when no one cares if you take the call from the back of an Uber.

2. Institute a global social operating system

As we’ve built and tweaked our social operating system (i.e., the processes and tools in place to ensure an efficient flow of information and decision-making), we’ve done so at a global and local level. It’s helpful when everyone is on the same page about how we structure functional team check-ins, send calendar invites, and join video chats – especially when they’re happening remotely!

We have quarterly Town Halls where we attempt an (often fraught) global video-conference, with all the offices beaming in (below are all three distributed teams tuned in to our most recent Town Hall). The meeting features updates on important stuff, but also introductions to new folks, celebrations of promotions, and cross-office “high fives,” where the Kenya team gives shout outs to members of the India team and vice versa. It’s a valuable chance to express recognition of great work to team members who you won’t have a chance to thank in person.

3. Invest in “unnecessary” travel for distributed teams

We accept that part of the cost of multiple offices is increased travel bills. We make sure to budget for frequent flights between Hyderabad, Bombay and Nairobi – for the senior functional heads, of course, but also for more junior managers on the team.

These visits serve a critical culture transmission-and-smoothing tool, as teams learn from the visitor (who is usually extra motivated to go out for some local food, drinks and adventures) and the visitor brings back lessons and perspective to their home office. Below are snapshots from Product Manager Austen and Talent Advisor Mehndi’s visits to the Mumbai and Nairobi offices.

4. Commit to annual retreats

While this can sometimes feel like a scary line item in a startup budget, I highly recommend committing to gather parts or all of your distributed teams together in one place on a regular basis. Our leadership team meets for a retreat at least once a year (here we are during an epic brainstorming session) and we make sure to find a place that feels suitably adventurous: the hills of Lonavla outside Mumbai; a house on the shore of Lake Naivasha outside Nairobi.

It’s an incredible opportunity to push strategy forward but also go deep as teammates and as whole people, and have a little fun as well. We also recently invested in an “All-India” retreat bringing together the Mumbai and Hyderabad offices at one resort for a couple days of programming, a “gala” evening of team appreciation, and a surprisingly competitive cricket match.

5. Don’t cheap out on phones, speakers and internet

This should probably be #1! We’ve cycled through so many different pieces of technology in hopes of finding the Holy Grail of cross-border communication. Would that Pied Piper’s video calling were real!

The best answer we’ve come to (and we’re not being paid to say this): the Jabra 510, a steal at $110. We have a few Jabras and it takes us from our standard sequence of “Hello?… Can you hear us?… What?… Switching wifi to data… Seems there’s a delay… There’s an echo… Let me try you back…” (you know you’ve been there!) to a welcome sense of “We’re in the room together” crispness and clarity. Even better is when we get video working: we’ve had a lot more luck with Zoom than Google Hangouts or Skype but we’re still hunting for The Answer!

6. Enshrine and preserve the important stuff at a global level…

We’ve had to be even more deliberate and intentional about defining our global values, culture and identity, given the fact that we can’t count on it to simply “emerge” from the great people we have sitting around the same table. We spent significant time on our core values (read how we did it here and here), and we make sure to highlight these values and recognize the importance of company-wide culture and ways of working together at every chance we get.

Last year our co-founder Matt started an internal  “values podcast” in which he interviewed folks on the team about their personal stories and journeys to Shortlist, including a deep dive on the person’s favorite value and what it means to them. It’s been amazing to draw out the different dimensions and texture of our values that are important, deepening the words beyond just posters on the wall.

7. …but let local be local

At the same time, not everything can be global. We have such vibrant teams and offices in our two markets, and there is plenty of space for local innovations: from our Holi parties to games of Kahoot to First Friday team brainstorms to “Biggest Loser” fitness challenges to “Wellness Wednesday” self-care breaks (check out that chair yoga!) to the once-famous “Meditation Room” to the Snack Wars to the After-Hours Ping Pong Tournaments to the chai breaks to the Throwback Thursdays (game of “guess who” with childhood pictures) to Friday Jam Sessions (with guitars and beers), each office has found unique rhythms and rituals and inside jokes to keep things fun and human.

8. Cherish the diversity 

One of the best parts of building global distributed teams is that there are so many differences across the group, and so many opportunities to learn from each other. Beyond national diversity, we’re proud that 75% of our senior leadership and 65% of our global team is female. We celebrate a range of Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian holidays, we sample foods from all over India and Kenya, we learn from the dramatically different life experiences of folks who have grown up in all sorts of different circumstances, went to all sorts of different schools, come from all sorts of different prior jobs.

Managing distributed teams

This is magical and fun and one of the most enriching parts of my job, so while building that global team, don’t forget to embrace and enjoy the differences!

To be clear, we haven’t figured it out and we’re always looking to make improvements, learn, grow. We’d love to hear how others do it out there. If you’re on a team that’s distributed across multiple locations or has multiple offices, how do you make it work? Any tricks, tactics or tools you can share? Let us know; this is only going to become more common and more pressing for all of us to figure out!

gender-neutral hiring process

Moving towards a gender-neutral hiring process

7952 5304 Mridvika Raisinghani
Image: Shutterstock

New Harvard findings show our technology-based approach is levelling the playing field for female job seekers in India.

One of the main reasons we started Shortlist was to help eliminate the biases that so many job seekers face during their application process. This is especially true for female candidates, who continue to encounter bias and discrimination—sometimes due to reasons that are unconscious to hiring managers. So how do you introduce objectivity into such a human endeavor to create a gender-neutral hiring process?

Imagine all the different steps involved in the screening process alone. Each one has historically been tilted in favour of male applicants: from the user interface that candidates experience (usually developed by male designers), to the wording used in application questions (full of male-gendered language like “ninja”), to opportunities for candidates to self-report their strengths (men consistently overstate these relative to women) to the signals employers are given by recruitment teams (usually leading with the name, not the assessment results).

One of the founding principles behind Shortlist is to move away from the archaic CV-driven recruitment process to a world where candidates are given the opportunity to demonstrate their competencies and fit for a role. We believe that technology isn’t a panacea to eliminate all bias in recruitment, but when used correctly, can be a powerful tool for helping create a gender-neutral hiring process that supports trained human resource teams to produce significantly more objective and ultimately better-performing hiring outcomes.

New independent and peer-reviewed research, published in partnership with Shell Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development, provides fresh evidence that we’re on the right track in our goal to eliminate gender bias in the recruitment process.

As part of their Masters in Public Administration programme at Harvard, Rachel Levenson and Layla O’Kane spent weeks analysing the Shortlist hiring process in India to help understand how a technology-based approach to hiring, underpinned by competency-based assessments, would affect the gender breakdown of the candidates we submit to clients for interviewing and hiring. Levenson and O’Kane statistically analysed key metrics in our candidate database, reviewed our screening logic, and spoke to our recruitment teams, clients, and jobseekers. They also analysed the broader Indian job market to establish a baseline around gender inclusion to help place conclusions about Shortlist’s model in context.

We didn’t know what they would find.

The paper that resulted from this work, “Gender Inclusion in Hiring in India,” has validated that Shortlist’s approach provides a gender-neutral hiring process for candidates. What does this mean? Among several other key conclusions, the researchers found no signs of gender bias in the evaluative stages of the hiring process. Once women complete their application, they are equally likely as men to be shortlisted for the job.

The authors also developed other key insights about gender in the recruitment process, including the reality that women are more likely to apply to jobs for which they meet all the minimum selection criteria as compared to male applicants. This insight points to the drawbacks of employers including a laundry list of “nice to haves” masquerading as “requirements” in their job description. We’d encourage you to read the full paper, or at least the Policy Brief.

At Shortlist, we’re proud that over 70% of our leadership team and 65% of our overall employee base is female. While many of our clients use Shortlist specifically to help diversify their teams, we know that we still have a long way to go.

For instance, we need better data to point to the performance of female candidates to prove to skeptical hiring managers what we already know from seemingly endless anecdotal evidence and decades of combined experience in management and recruitment: that on-the-job performance is a function of competency, intelligence and attitude, not gender.

The researchers themselves highlighted several gender-related questions worthy of additional research, including how to attract and hire women who are seeking to re-enter the workforce after family leave. We also need to examine the organisations that have created a gender-diverse workforce across seniority levels and the practices they used to achieve this. We also need better data and examples that point to how we can reduce bias in the recruitment process for other minorities, such as LGBT or disabled candidates, both of which face discrimination when applying in many markets.

This research has pointed to ways in which we can meaningfully foster a gender-neutral hiring process during recruitment. At Shortlist, we’re actively working to further improve our process, including helping to diversify the workforce of sectors like energy that have traditionally been dominated by men. We’ll be highlighting examples of employer best practices and using data to connect the dots between recruitment practices and on-the-job performance.

Send us your ideas and watch this space as we continue our journey to level the playing field for jobseekers.

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Shortlister Spotlight: Meet Mehndi Shivdasani, Talent Advisor, Executive Search

600 589 Shortlist

At Shortlist, we love building our team almost as much as we love building yours!

We have some pretty amazing people across our three offices who have a real passion for what they do and for the Shortlist mission.

The Mehndi Project

The next chapter of our Shortlister Spotlights features Mehndi Shivdasani, a talent advisor for our executive search team based out of Mumbai. Besides channeling her inner Sherlock to hire high-potential talent for senior positions, Mehndi runs a blog on sustainable living called Conscious Chokri. Our environmentally-aware Shortlister shared some quirky anecdotes about her journey through life and more!

Tell us about your life at Shortlist

I am a Talent Advisor in the executive search team. We help our clients (social enterprises, non-profit, SMEs and start-ups amongst others) recruit leading talent for senior-level leadership positions within their organisations. Last year we helped 14 different organisations across India and Kenya hire some tremendous leadership talent across different jobs ranging from CEOs to VPs of various departments, a feat I’m very proud of 🙂

How has your current role impacted you?

Playing adviser to board members and senior leaders of so many diverse and high-impact organisations is a rare opportunity. It’s given me insight into how different organisations are set up, how they identify priorities and develop strategies, services, and products. Directly interacting with high-achieving entrepreneurs and picking up a thing or two from them on how to operate efficiently and be resilient and focused is helping to shape me into a better working professional.

I’m also slowly building up a strong network within the social impact space that I hope to leverage going forward in my career 😉

Team Shortlist India

I’ve also made some fantastic friends! Interacting and working with an ambitious, efficient and warm team like ours inspires me to strive for better every single day.

What is your professional background and what made you join Shortlist?

I have a few years of experience in recruitment and talent management, and also hold a Masters in Social Entrepreneurship from Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, Australia.

I started looking out for my next job opportunity towards the end of 2017 and envisioned joining a social enterprise or a non-profit. I heard about Shortlist through my then-acquaintance, now close friend and fellow Shortlister, Pranay Merchant. I was looking to take on a role that would enable me to create some form of social impact, push me to pick up some new skills while building on my existing skills and areas of interest such as building high-value relationships with people.

What’s your professional superpower?

Over-communicating with people! I find that most of us are almost always distracted with so many things — emails, texts, calls etc. — so over-communicating my thoughts and ideas helps to make sure my communication is clear and consistent.

I’m also a master listener so if you need to vent about something, I’m your person!

What’s your favourite Shortlist memory?

I’ll always cherish the time I spent in Kenya with our team and meeting clients there. Also, almost every Pulse Check and team gathering is memorable in its own way.

Mehndi with Team Shortlist Kenya

What are three words you would use to describe Team Shortlist?

Fun! Supportive! Determined!

What’s your favourite Shortlist value and why?

I LOVE all of our values as they all hit home. If I have to pick one, I’d say that One Team is my favourite value. I admire how everyone on the team is always rooting for each other across offices and countries. We love sharing the credit for all of our wins, big and small, and don’t shy away from giving each other feedback. All of these reasons combined make me proud about being a Shortlister.

‘Conscious Chokri’ is one with nature!

Why is the Shortlist mission important to you?

Being able to offer organisations a platform to find the right people to join their teams and scale their work is immense! In a world where we’re trying to automate almost everything in life, our effort to blend the use of technology with a human touch to unlock professional potential is super relevant!

Anything else you want the world to know about you, Shortlist, our team?

Working at Shortlist is rewarding on so many levels! I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with.

So Conscious Chokri, tell us about your life outside of Shortlist

I run a blog on low-waste living called Conscious ChokriUsing this blog, I’m trying to create awareness about the global waste crisis and encourage people to reduce the amount of waste they generate by making long-term yet convenient changes to their lives. I also deliver workshops for school and college students on this topic. I try to spend some of my time volunteering at beach cleanups and urban farms in the city as well.

And then there’s spending time with family and friends while gorging on some yummy food and cocktails 🙂

As you know, we like to give “high-fives” to recognize when our team members do something awesome. Now is your chance to make a public high five to a fellow Shortlister:

A BIG high-five to every single member of the team!

If you would like help building your team, let us help you. Shortlist offers a wide range of recruitment solutions that help companies build great teams.