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Five key takeaways from Unlock 2021

September 23, 2021
Linzi Nield
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Scaling a business is never easy. This year, it felt next to impossible. Quality engineers are hard to come by, and the rapid shift to remote or hybrid work created a steep learning curve for many businesses. How can you build an effective growth strategy given these unique headwinds?

Last week, Terminal hosted Unlock, a summit for Engineering and HR leaders to learn how to outmaneuver common barriers to rapid growth. Companies like Slack, Everlywell, and Bluescape shared strategies for scaling fast while maintaining a healthy remote culture. CTOs and Talent Leaders from Hims & Hers, Snyk, and Tile gave tactical advice on improving candidate pipelines, increasing time-to-team, and boosting employee retention. 

Throughout the sessions, thought leaders shared strategies for scaling engineering teams and supporting remote workers, as well as key action items business leaders can enact today to set themselves up for success. Below are five themes that came through during the event.

1. Build a culture where everyone can thrive.

Business leaders need to ensure that every employee feels like an integral part of the team, especially if some employees work remotely and others work in physical offices. 

“Everybody needs to truly feel like a first-rank employee,” advised Jossie Haines, VP of Software Engineering and Head of DEI at Tile. “I want everybody, no matter where they’re located – Latin America, the U.S., Canada – to feel that their voice matters just as much as somebody sitting in headquarters.”

Fostering that sense of belonging begins on day one. “Onboarding is so critical with remote work. You have to do so much more to really help people feel like they’re a part of the company,” said Lissa Minkin, VP of People at Tile. “You have to work really hard to make people feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.”

2. Remote hiring is a powerful tool for businesses to scale quickly.

The latest data shows there are nearly one million unfilled engineering job openings in the United States. Unlock panelists agreed that for companies looking to scale, their best option is to look for talent in new markets.

If you want to build a great, differentiated team, said Andrew Dudum, Co-Founder + CEO, Hims & Hers, the only way to do so is by being remote. Otherwise, you face a local constraint on talent. In his fireside chat, Dudum explained how Hims & Hers went from a startup to an IPO valued at $1.6B in just four years and credited global hiring as key to growth.

Syed Hassan, Director of Engineering at Hims & Hers also spoke to the company’s experience, adding, “Being remote-first enabled us to go find amazing engineers across the country and in other time zones.”

3. Empower managers to support their employees however they want to work.

Businesses that want to retain their employees for the long haul will need to evolve to fit the changing preferences of their employees. According to Dawn Sharifan, VP of People at Slack, flexibility is paramount for businesses as they reach a new status quo. 

“No one has really done this before,” Sharifan said. “I recommend you play within this space and let teams and managers figure it out. And of course, make sure managers are enabled and trained up on how to lead and distribute remote teams.”

4. Make your team stronger by hiring diverse candidates.

The remote work revolution is an opportunity to overhaul workplace dynamics and create more equitable, diverse, and inclusive teams in the process. Nick Parker, CTO at Everly Health, said the adoption of remote work presents a rare opportunity to create better, diverse teams, adding, “Diverse teams create better products because it forces you to look at things from different perspectives.”

Founder of Girls in Tech and Unlock keynote speaker Adriana Gascoigne cited Harvard Business Review research that found diverse teams are able to solve problems faster than teams of cognitively similar people. “Businesses that follow the research will simply come out ahead,” she said.

5. Take an intentional approach to remote collaboration.

Building a distributed team that’s efficient and productive takes planning, forethought, and intentionality. That’s why it’s important to build a remote office with a shared vision of how collaboration will take place.

According to Dawn Sharifan, businesses that successfully build distributed teams have one thing in common: their successes are not accidental. If the team is distributed, she said, they might still get together, adding, “Get crisp on why we’re gathering.”

Jill Macri, Founding Partner at Growth by Design Talent said communication is key: “It’s about giving managers the ability to communicate and cascade information and making sure everybody has the information they need to do their jobs and feels plugged in.”

The remote work revolution is well underway

These themes are part of a larger story that has been taking shape for years: Remote work is here, and it’s here to stay. A recent survey asked workers if they would prefer working from home permanently or getting a $30,000-a-year raise and going back to the office. Two-thirds of respondents chose remote work.

And businesses need remote work as much as their employees do. The tech talent shortage is only getting worse in the United States, and companies who refuse to open themselves up to remote, global hiring will hinder their ability to scale their products and retain their employees.

Will we cling to the ways of the past, limiting our growth and insisting that employees stay at their desk chairs at headquarters? Or will we embrace the ways of the future and open ourselves up to innovation, diversity, and speed with global hiring and a remote-first mindset? The answer will play out in the decisions leaders make today.

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