One of the things that differentiates a team that’s working remotely out of necessity versus a team that’s working remotely intentionally is having people who are focused on making remote work as easy and rewarding as possible for the company’s employees.
At Oyster, our Remote team is in charge of ensuring everyone is productive and happy. At its core, our job is to fulfill Oyster’s commitment of one day being the best distributed team in the world. So really, that boils down to the operational things that need to be done to empower Oyster employees to work autonomously and ensure everyone has the visibility they need to work productively in an asynchronous fashion. This means ensuring data is in the right places, knowledge is accessible, and having project management tools and processes in place.
In addition to the operational elements associated with being a high-functioning distributed team, employee experience is also front of mind for the Remote team. There are a lot of great things about being a distributed team. However, there are also a lot of not-so-great things, such as potential loneliness leading to isolation and overwork leading to burnout. Optimizing for the great things and minimizing or mitigating for the challenges is the aim of the game.
At Oyster, our goal is to make it easier for companies to be distributed and hire people around the world. And if we don’t do that well ourselves, we’d look rather silly. So investing in our remote team is a huge priority for us. Because of that, we thought it might be valuable to give you a peek at how we’re structuring our team, why we’re focusing on these roles, and what our hiring process looks like.
Building out this area of the company happened gradually—as the company grew, the responsibilities related to this job function became greater and it became clearer what would be necessary for hiring. I would first like to note that this is truly something that we’re making up as we go—there's no playbook for what a Remote Operations team looks like. We're seeing gaps and problem and scoping roles to address them as best as possible. However, mistakes are common and we're course-correcting as we go.
I joined Oyster through the acquisition of my consulting company, Delocate, and brought a few folks with me who became the foundation of our Remote team. We had a couple of people who were stronger on the operational side of things, so they naturally fit into those roles.
We also knew how important employee experience was, which is why a Remote Experience Manager was an early hire on our team. We also recognized the opportunity for building out a training program and Oyster Academy, so having someone to spearhead that initiative was an important early hire for us too.
Since then, the person leading our training initiatives has moved in a more product-focused role, and the scope of the position itself has grown a lot since its inception, so we’ve recently hired a new leader on the team to oversee Oyster Academy as well two direct reports: a learning designer and someone who will be building out the architecture of our training program.
At the time of writing this article, we roles we have on our Remote team are:
This is my role. I sit in a unique place between Operations and People operations. It’s my responsibility to develop standards and best practices for how we work, ensure our employee experience is a good one, and that people feel supported in a distributed setup. (I wrote more about what I do in an earlier installment of this series, What is a Head of Remote?)
This role is focused on the employee experience of working in a distributed organization. In other words, understanding how our ways of working make us feel. This role and the Remote Operations Manager mentioned below are two sides of the same coin. They work with each other to iterate and innovate on how we work and how that affects the employee experience to boost productivity and happiness together. This role also focuses on facilitating team and cross-team bonding, ensuring employees are taking care of themselves, and ensuring they have a good working environment.
This role is focused on the operational elements necessary for us to be able to scale as a distributed organization. This spans a large number of responsibilities, including owning our knowledge management strategy to ensure documentation sits at the heart of everything that we do, creating remote-first standard operating procedures, progressing our project management capabilities so our work is well-planned and transparent, as well as developing frameworks that allow us to collaborate and communicate asynchronously across time zones.
This role has three key areas of responsibility. One is to implement the planning and delivery of courses in Oyster’s Academy. Two is to maintain the quality and consistency of instruction. Three is to ensure that participants receive the highest quality of support to resolve course and service-related inquiries. A typical day for a Course Coordinator includes creating content for courses, monitoring and updating the learning platform, scheduling regular meetings with colleagues for collaboration, providing resources to support the learning process, and supporting enrolled participants along the way. This role works hand-in-hand with the Learning Designer to ensure a smooth learning experience for all participants.
This role has a single primary function: to be endlessly curious about, and understand the needs of, our user base. In the case of Oyster Academy, our user base are people who want to be part of a distributed workforce, or people who need resources for leading their distributed workplaces effectively. Some of the things you’ll find a Learning Designer do are interviewing or spending time with their target customers, asking lots of open-ended questions to learn about the world of their target customers, being unattached to the learnings and findings so as to truly understand the unique challenges in the space, and aggregating soft data to find commonalities across target customers. The information collected from this role allows for calibration of existing offerings as well as invention of new coursework/resources for the target audience. Ultimately, this role collects the information needed to guide the design of new learning content.
This team has quickly become crucial to our day-to-day operations as a business. The core areas where our Remote team plays the biggest role are:
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced when hiring for this team is that these aren’t standard roles—it’s not like hiring an engineer or a salesperson where the scope and responsibilities are relatively clear cut. In a lot of ways, you could say that we’re making these up as we go along. The responsibilities for this kind of job are new to define, and the type of person that is best to fit these roles is something to learn as we go along too.
Because of that, it definitely has taken longer to interview. So we’re taking the time to be more thoughtful with the questions that we ask and the profiles that we’re evaluating relative to what we think the skills are that are needed for these roles.
While some of these roles may exist at other companies under different names, a lot of them are brand new. So we’re finding success in meeting with folks who have education backgrounds—either traditional or online—as well as people who have people operations, operations, and product backgrounds. A lot of those skill sets lend themselves really well to this area of work, especially when it comes to thinking processes and communication—particularly written communication.
Luckily for us, this new way of working is a very hot topic right now, so we’re blessed to have lots of applicants. We have done a little bit of outreach, but there’s been a lot of great quality candidates applying through our job boards.
When it comes to candidates that we don’t decide to move forward with, I’ve started sending out video rejections rather than just an email. It takes five minutes to write down some notes and record a Loom video—and it makes a huge difference on the candidate experience.
If your company doesn’t have a Remote team, the functions we mentioned in this blog post would likely fall to the Operations team or People team. However, if you leave your People Ops team to pick up these responsibilities, you'll likely find they've got things covered on the employee experience side of things, but are lacking on the processes and systems side, or vice versa. Although it's a work in progress, at Oyster, we're building a team and training them to have a unique set of skills to fill this gap for the modern distributed workforce.
I will note that I do think that when it comes to remote operations, it’s best to have one singular owner who works with different stakeholders, rather than taking a “committee” approach. There are many cross-functional goals companies want to achieve and they commonly have a singular owner that pulls other stakeholders together. Similar to wanting to build the best product, you’d hire a Product team instead of leaving Engineering, Design, Marketing, Legal, Finance, and everyone else or you risk fragmented sub-optimal outcomes.
As for what our team will look like in six months, a year, or even two years, I’d like us to be more ahead of the curve in terms of having a solid foundation set so that even if we continue to scale, the ways that we work stay solid. We're scoping out what this looks like right now, but the first need is for a director-level hire to focus on the operational side of things. This will allow me the time to think more strategically about what needs to be addressed as a distributed company.
We'll also likely be hiring more employee experience-focused people. When we hired our Remote Experience Manager, we were a company of 70 people, and now we're coming up on 250. We need more coverage in this area. On the Operations side of things, we'll more than likely hire project management specialists and technical writing/documentation specialists. Finally, we're lucky now that we have a much more developed People team that we can lean on generally for resources too, with multiple People Ops generalists and coordinators.
If you’re starting to build out a Remote Operations function at your own organization, but could only start with one hire, from my experience, I'd recommend starting with an operations-focused role that has the ability to have one eye on culture and how their work affects this. The operational elements such as project management and communications frameworks impact employee experience, less so the other way round. So if you can get the systems and processes in place, employee experience can take care of itself in the beginning.
Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving global workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.
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