Stories of Impact

How we're building the best distributed team in the world

Our CEO, Tony Jamous, shares all the details.
September 10, 2021
Tony Jamous
How we're building the best distributed team in the world

It all started decades ago in the heat of the Lebanese war.

Back then, I was just a small child who knew nothing other than war and poverty, a reality that shaped my worldly views. It wasn’t until the age of 17 when I finally had the opportunity to break free of that environment and head to France to study computer science.  

That decision changed the trajectory of my life forever.

I saw there’s another reality, a reality in which limitless opportunities abound no matter one’s country of origin. A reality in which location doesn’t determine the likelihood of success of a person. A reality in which there’s equal opportunity for all.  

And to this day, these ideas are the drivers behind the massive shift that’s happening on an organization level–the shift to distributed work.

And Oyster is leading the way.

This is our story of how we’re building the best distributed team in the world.

What led to the birth of Oyster

Over a decade ago, I started my first company called Nexmo, which was an API business for building communication apps. 

Within just five years, I took it public by merging with a company on the NASDAQ called Vonage. After tripling their market cap within a couple years, I up and left.  

While it was a powerful experience, I felt that looking forward I needed to do something more inline with how I want to be. So, I took a year break to reflect on what’s important to me and what I am good at. 

I arrived at one goal: to reduce the gap between someone’s employability and where they live in the world using software. 

For the next 10 years, I wanted to dedicate my life to solving that problem.

And so was the birth of our fully distributed company, Oyster.

How a distributed model can reduce worldwide inequality

Stylized quote graphic that says, "I believe that inequality is driven partially by this concept of borders and countries, and if we remove that concept, then we massively reduce inequality."

Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.  

If companies increasingly adopt a distributed organizational style, they’ll have the power to hire talent from anywhere in the world, effectively giving opportunities to people in emerging economies to participate in the global economy. In fact, Gartner forecasts 51% of global knowledge workers will be remote by the end of 2021.

So, if companies began thinking differently about talent acquisition and chose to adopt a distributed way of hiring versus local, that opens up the opportunity for these knowledge workers who are mostly in emerging economies.  

Over time, people’s income and human capital potential grow, without having to leave their home countries. 

The end result? The cycle of inequality in the world breaks, which is a big cause of human suffering in the world. 

I believe that inequality is driven partially by this concept of borders and countries, and if we remove that concept, then we massively reduce inequality. 

Bryan Caplan argues in his book “Open Borders” that unlocking global talent mobility has the potential of growing global GDP from 50% to 150%. 

The pillars of success for Oyster’s distributed company model 

Graphic that says "The pillars of Oyster's distributed company model"

When we think about a distributed model, we’re referring to the absence of a headquarters, a model in which team members are dispersed across countries, time zones, and regions. 

At Oyster, in order to operate to the best of our abilities as a fully distributed company, our foundations are built around three areas: 

Communication

Running a successful distributed model is based on asynchronous communication and collaboration. It’s about implementing tools and following rules to make sure everyone is effective when working together.

Culture

It’s also about changing the culture from being present to delivering output. Create a results-driven culture where outcomes matter more than efforts put in to get there. This requires a higher degree of leadership and management, where we set up clear goals and expectations. It’s also about being human-centric and recognizing that remote work can be hard without being seen in person. 

Relationships

Thirdly, it’s about the relationships we build in the business. It’s harder to build in a distributed setting. So, we strive to design experiences that can shorten the time to create trust and relationships throughout the organization. 

The processes we have in place as we’re building in public

Keeping employees up to speed with company happenings is a challenge many distributed companies face, with no clear solution. 

At Oyster, we’re effectively circumventing these issues with the following:

Documentation

Every team has their own place on Notion, and they document everything they do in real-time. This ensures all members are kept in the loop no matter their time zone, country, or region. 

Heavy use of Kanban

It’s important that not only people are informed regardless of time zones, but also that they understand what they need to do and when. The Kanban system structures tasks, and team members can follow progress of other projects they’re involved in.

Objective key results (OKRs)

OKRs of the business are transparently shared across the company, and they’re updated on a weekly basis. We always know where we are on keeping our goals–company, team, and individual. 

Regular meetings

A lot of the reporting happens asynchronously between teams. We have a bi-weekly, all-hands meeting where we dedicate synchronous time for socials and deep-dive topics. 

Oyster’s goals as a mission-driven company 

Graphic that says "Oyster's goals as a mission-driven company"

Our mission is to remove the barriers to cross-border employment so companies around the world can access a bigger talent pool, and talented people around the world can access great job opportunities outside their borders.

To achieve this, we’re actively working towards:  

Becoming distributed with our platform

We need to solve the problem beyond just compliance in all aspects of the remote employee lifecycle–finding, employing, paying, upskilling, providing benefits, giving equity, etc. When you remove these barriers, you can focus on the short-term and address the current demand, and you can also build a bigger market in the future.  

Making it human-centric

Just because someone is in Morocco doesn’t mean he or she deserves lower pay, less benefits, lower equity, and an overall worse experience compared to other employees in the United States, Australia, or Sweden. We’re building an employee- and human-centric platform that’s centered around creating equality worldwide. 

Making global HR delightful

Nowadays, global HR feels like climbing Mt. Everest. Hiring someone in another country is risky, complicated, cumbersome, and confusing, to say the least. By making that experience delightful, we’re going a long way in solving problems and achieving our mission. 

How Oyster helps distributed companies achieve global talent mobility

At Oyster, because we’re a distributed team ourselves, we use our own platform to hire every employee (across 29 countries to date!). 

The Oyster platform allows us to ensure we’re compliant when it comes to making new hires, no matter the location of the employee, and we’re able to easily tap into the global talent pool. This is a superpower in terms of growth, access to talent, diversity, and lower overhead costs (lawyers, accountants, benefits providers, etc.).

Again, I believe that global talent mobility, the ability to hire anyone anywhere, has the biggest impact on global wealth growth.

Beyond that, we help companies become role models for how distributed can work. At the end of the day, companies will increasingly employ people in other countries when they realize it’s more successful than an office-centric model. 

And should they align their organizational model with the success of the remote employee? It’s an area we at Oyster focus on with best practices, knowledge sharing, and active advice to leaders who are looking at adopting a distributed model as an organization. 

3 tips for company leaders building distributed companies

Graphic that says "3 tips for company leaders building distributed companies"

When it comes to successfully building a partially or fully distributed company, I have three tips for people leaders:

Create a structure that fosters team success

You owe it to your team to develop an organizational structure that fosters team success while building trust and relationships among members. 

Develop the right culture

Also, remember the kind of culture you need to have: outcome- and human-driven. Craft the tools and rules needed to get there. Consider how your team members will collaborate across time zones effectively. Be disciplined in following these guidelines and processes.  

Be a good role model

Successful adoption of any model relies on you leading by example. When it comes to distributed, this means you, as a people leader, have to be the best remote worker in the company in order for it to work.

Join us in the Distributed Age

I believe that we’re transitioning from an office era to a knowledge work era, similar to the transition we’ve done from the factory to the office.

In 10-15 years from now, the companies that adopted the distributed model will be the winners of tomorrow.  

Why? The best talent in the world now knows they can be effective working from everywhere. They have this new degree of freedom, and no job will rob that from them.

So now, the question is: Will you join us during this transformation? Will you embrace new technology and new ways of working toward a more sustainable distributed model of work?

If you answer yes, there’s only one way forward: together.

Check out more insights you can apply to your organization to re-invent your leadership style to outperform in-office teams

About Oyster

Oyster is a distributed HR platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches or the expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll as well as great local benefits and perks.

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