“Making remote work work”
by Anny Löw, Giant Swarm
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Anna, I live in Cologne and Ihave worked in tech startups for the past 8 years. I worked as Head of People Operations at Giant Swarm. I’m a trained and certified systemic coach and mediator. My focus is on international recruiting, remote work, agile leadership, organizational and personnel development. I am also the co-founder of MTL, a peer coaching program for Startup Leaders.
In simple terms, what does Giant Swarm do?
We have become a leader in modern software infrastructures enabling businesses to run cloud native projects on-demand and at scale across private data-centres and public clouds. That’s the official explanation. If I had to explain it to my grandmother, I’d say that Giant Swarm builds a software that helps IT departments of large companies to run their applications easily and in a more modern way.
What are your main responsibilities at Giant Swarm?
My job is to take care of people. Currently, my work is distributed over three columns: I support Giant Swarm on how to build a company from scratch, we are an agile, fully remote, internationally distributed and highly transparent company with a high amount of self-organization. I am 100% behind all these concepts but obviously, it would be a lie if you were to just implement these concepts and everything runs like clockwork, It is about humans working together. In addition to that, I support teams and team members on an individual basis. Last but not the least, I take care of the hiring process and put a lot of thoughts into who we need and when to create a successful team that shares certain values.
Giant Swarm works mainly remote. Why did you choose to work that way?
That’s an easy one. The best talents with the skills we are looking for are just not located in beautiful Cologne. In addition to that, why force humans to commute or even move housing just because of a job?
How do you manage and communicate in a remote team? How do you deal with cultural differences and conflict?
We communicate a lot. We do tons of video conferences, using Slack and other collaboration tools. For the watercooler effect, we have a coffee-hangout open, have lunch together in front of the screen on Fridays and meet each other as an entire team two times a year for a week.
Furthermore we meet each other in conferences from our ecosystem which are important for us as company to be present. Currently, we are all located across Europe and are in a similar filter bubble, so cultural differences are not essential. But of course, people have different realities. At Giant Swarm, appreciation is something we foster and expect from everybody, we accept that everyone is different. The fact that we are aware of differences helps a lot in dealing with conflicts. Furthermore, the team is super experienced in feedback elements like peer feedback and retrospectives.
What would you advise other startups that want to try remote work?
Going remote needs to be a strategic decision. For us it is super important that we are a fully remote company and not having a headquarter where ‘things’ happen. All workflows and communication structures are created to be remote. Otherwise, you have the danger of creating first and second class employees. Founders who want to go remote should be aware that trust is essential to be successful in this environment.
Furthermore, you have to have the legal stuff ready, and ask for professional help here. Time zone is another issue. You need to decide if ‘worldwide’ is an option.
A lot of people struggle to understand what Giant Swarm does. How do you find the experts you are looking for?
Giant Swarm is a Developer Led company. So, especially in the beginning we only hired people with technical background. They all understood what we are doing. For the non-technical hires, we now have specially designed workshops and we invest a lot in onboarding so that nobody is afraid of a complex product. Cross functional work is very important for us.
Please describe your recruiting process. Why did you choose to do it that way?
When we get an interesting application, we send out a bunch of questions to the candidate which he/she answers in written form. These questions are connected to the concrete job, but should also make the person think about what he/she really wants in the future. After that we do a soft skill interview – biography behavioural based – and people who pass will undergo a 2nd interview where the focus is knowledge and the concrete job. If after that everybody is still happy, we give the candidate a task, which he or she prepares at home. We give feedback upfront – we don’t want to blame people and the candidate presents the task in front of the entire team. This is on one hand a good remote experience – you present and 26 people who have joined the hangout – and on the other hand, give the candidate a chance to meet the team and vice versa. When the candidate has presented, we sit together as a team and with the help of a certain rating score we make the hiring decision together.
We know that this is a process where both sides – candidate and team – has to invest a lot of time. But we truly believe that taking the time internally for the hiring process pays off in the end.
Many business founders struggle to find technical co founders or engineering talent. What is your advice to them?
That’s a tough one. I think some founders don’t put enough thought into the jobs they create. The well known terms “autonomy, mastery, and purpose” should not be buzzwords but an actual reality. In addition to that, founders should not hesitate to talk to engineers about the working conditions (besides money) they prefer and would like to have implemented.
Cologne is for Startups…
… a great place to be located. But nobody should be forced to live here for a company’s success.