In Katharine Zaleski’s letter ‘I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with’ – Fortune magazine’s most popular article of 2015 – she describes the traditional workplace as “death by a thousand cuts for mothers;” Detailing the harsh challenges women face scaling their careers once they have children.
The letter reveals the prevailing reality that office structures built around a single gender are failing more than half of the population.
“The numbers aren’t lying. The percentage of women in the workforce peaked in 1999,” Katharine says. “Women aren’t dropping out because they want to. They’re dropping out because after 10 years of trying to integrate into a culture that wasn’t built for them in the first place they feel like they can’t fit in anymore.”
Milena Berry, former CTO of Avaaz.org, was a unique case. Her experiences scaling one of the largest online activist organizations, while having and raising her three children, compelled her to create PowerToFly as a third option for women. With one billion women entering the workforce in the coming decade, and 80% becoming mothers by age 44, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, PowerToFly’s mission is to help businesses hire and retain top female talent.
We’re building PowerToFly to be a story of hope for millions of women around the world.
Since launching in August 2014, the startup has placed women in technology jobs at companies like RebelMouse, Time, and The Washington Post. Among their latest placements is PowerToFly’s new lead application architect who’s working from home in Saudi Arabia.
In today’s featured interview, Katharine and Milena introduce PowerToFly’s hiring solution, the benefits of remote work, as well as strategies and tools to streamline your transition leading a distributed team.
Hire a Qualified Developer in 15 Days
It’s no secret that finding tech talent is among the most daunting challenges founders face. Leaders often cite recruiting as one of their top three responsibilities. Specifically in startup hubs like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. A startup that’s navigating the same obstacles, PowerToFly recognizes the urgency and created a three-week sprint process to streamline recruiting for managers. The goal is to enable you to source, interview, and hire a developer within 15 working days.
Here’s how it works:
- Week 1: You work closely with a PowerToFly hiring manager to review your job profile, budget, and any additional requirements you have. They will search PowerToFly’s database of talent working in 143 countries and more than 3,576 cities to provide you with a pool of pre-screened candidates.
- Week 2: Your team interviews candidates who directly fit your profile and are eager to start working right away.
- Week 3: You evaluate your options, make a decision, and extend your offer.
The process removes friction for leaders and new hires— like hours spent sourcing and screening candidates — satisfying both parties with a fraction of the time and effort.
The Wide Spanning Benefits of Remote Work
Contrary to popular belief, remote work doesn’t imply that team members are sitting on their couches in pajamas with Netflix playing in the background. In fact, Milena cautions founders that team members working too many hours is the number one detriment of remote work.
Balance is the key to remote work.
We have all read far too many posts about ‘10 ways to elevate your productivity.’ The reality is that getting into a state of flow depends on the environment, manner, and time that you are working. Remote work is strongly rooted in discovering and encouraging individuals’ personal working styles.
Reporting to an office at 9 a.m. to sit in an isolated cubicle and work on your computer is not an indication of productivity. For many, loud office spaces require them to complete their tasks at home on their own time.
Reflecting on her experiences at PowerToFly, Katharine cites the relief of “not being forced into a schedule that zaps your energy every day.” Studies affirm that when you afford team members autonomy and responsibility they produce at a significantly higher level.
The elevated productivity influences your organization’s output as a whole making it possible to have a concerted team working 24 hours a day.
Buzzfeed, an early PowerToFly partner, operates under a hybrid set up with offices in multiple cities. They extend the capability of their onside developers with ‘remotes:’ Individuals who work from around the world. In addition to increasing gender diversity using PowerToFly, their team is culturally diverse which is a requirement for building meaningful products for a global audience.
On a tangible level, remote work removes daily stresses such as getting ready (Katharine famously did a TV interview in pajama pants) and commuting which can have a financial, mental, and physical toll on team members. It may seem trivial and like part of the job but the hours and stress add up.
Financially, startups that are particularly capital restrained can save money on fancy offices (specifically those in startup hubs like San Francisco), even fancier office snacks (It’s impossible to eat that many granola bars), furniture, and more.
Most importantly, the lifestyle benefits of working remotely are game-changing. For Milena and Katharine, both mothers of young children 10 years old and under, it’s important to spend mornings and evenings completely dedicated to their kids. The same applies to anyone’s definition of their life needs; Be it finding time to take care of an elderly parent, develop a new skill, or cook a homemade meal.
This is where it’s critical to remember: PowerToFly is not just about women. While the team is initially focused on helping women find and retain jobs in technology, the company’s future is not dictated by gender. They’ll be expanding into more verticals in the future.
Specifically highlighting millennials Milena says: “There’s a new generation – who have had smartphones since they were 10 years old – that will demand a different workplace.”
Companies that don’t adjust to a flexible, mobile way of working will lose the talent war.
The scope ranges from millennials who are eager to travel to talented individuals living outside of innovation hubs like New York and San Francisco. Take Andrea Goulet, Founder and CEO of Corgibytes, who chose to launch her business in Richmond, Virginia to raise her children where all of their four grandparents live.
When it comes to PowerToFly, she cites being blown away not by the gender but the quality of the talent and the responsiveness of the team helping Corgibytes build an intentionally distributed company. Today, their team spans from Richmond to Seattle, South America, and more.
The overarching value is that remote work removes locational barriers enabling you to recruit the best talent no matter where they are.
Make Communication Your Holy Grail
While successfully managing and leveraging the skill sets of any team is predicated on strong communication it’s particularly important for distributed companies. As they manage a team of 58 individuals (95% who are women) across four continents and 15 countries, Katharine and Milena share the strategies and tools they use to organize, lead, and motivate a remote team.
To start, the founders urge leaders to be “hyper aware about communication.” Your goal is to create a structure of regular communication maintained through standing meetings – such as regular check-ins, debriefs, and one-on-one’s – which you likely already have in place.
PowerToFly has standing meetings – such as their weekly Motivation Mondays and the Operations team call on Wednesdays – to maintain constant communication and a stable schedule for their team.
Once you establish these meetings, don’t miss or reschedule them. The key is to create a communication plan and stick to it. While time and travel often pose challenges for senior leaders, working remotely enables you to commit to your standing meetings no matter where you are. Milena and Katharine regularly conduct meetings on the go. They recently led PowerToFly’s board meeting from the Austin airport where they performed a live demo for their Board of Directors.
The ability to quickly provide feedback via shared documents should never replace a conversation thoughtfully debriefing a project. Set aside routine review times in your schedule to discuss current projects, brainstorm new ideas, and determine which you can implement to best optimize your team’s workflow.
Conducting remote meetings doesn’t imply quickly discussing your weekly objectives, assigning tasks, and moving on to your next call. Team building remains an important concern for founders leading distributed companies and should be approached the same way as if you were working in an office. One-on-One’s are a good example and are especially important when managing a remote team. Utilizing platforms like Skype and Google Hangouts is an efficient way to have a face-to-face conversation with your team members where you can focus on their personal goals, challenges, and needs. Milena suggests implementing regular debriefs and culture development into your process as early as possible.
If you are adapting your current meeting schedule to accommodate remote team members, you likely don’t need to make many changes. When time zones permit, make it a habit to call in your remote team at the start of a meeting. Based in New York, Milena and Katharine conduct meetings with their global team members in the mornings and connect with their West Coast team in the afternoons. This is critical to cultivating an inclusive culture.
Face to face interactions and quality time spent together as a team will always be a crucial driver to developing your culture. Milena suggests planning one or two in-person events every year to constantly nurture the human connection.
Maximize Speed with Realtime Feedback
According to Katharine, we have a common misconception that physically seeing a person indicates whether or not they’re working. The team member you’re looking at from afar, nodding at his or her computer with headphones on, may actually be scrolling through GIFs rather than writing a company blog post.
Remote management resolves this by creating a direct gateway to review individuals’ progress through shared documents where team members can collaborate and provide immediate feedback.
Remote work removes the stigma of reviewing work in real-time.
In addition to maximizing your output, constant communication and concerted efforts stimulate camaraderie and culture.
In PowerToFly’s recent e-book, which you can download below, they detail the following tools to help streamline remote operations. You can find descriptions of how to best use these tools, as well as unique strategies from partners such as Heart and parse.ly, on pages 31 – 35.
- Decrease scheduling efforts and optimize your time management with Rescue Time, Toggl, x.ai, and Assistant.io.
- Streamline file sharing with Google Documents and DropBox.
- Manage your workflow with Asana, Basecamp, iDoneThis, JIRA, and Github.
- Plan and visually manage projects using Stormboard, Trello, mural.ly, and Feedly.
- Provide honest and transparent feedback through 15Five and TINYPulse.
- Save your inbox by using Slack and Yammer for internal communication.
Taking Action: How to Start Embracing Remote Work
As you reflect on the values of remote work, the key takeaway is the opportunity to hire talented team members from around the world, and empower them to work in an environment that stimulates creativity and productivity.
If you’re reading this while looking out at your crowded office, keep in mind that distributing your workforce to a hybrid model doesn’t dictate eliminating everything you’ve built and starting from scratch. In fact, remote management is likely more similar to your current management style than it is different.
The first step is integrating the small changes mentioned above – such as adding a virtual audience to your meetings – to start growing a diverse, global team. As with all company processes, the way you introduce it is completely based on your organization and the methods that work for your team. Identify the projects or departments where it makes the most sense to introduce remote team members and start building your hybrid. When you do, keep these three tenets in mind:
- Be hyper aware about how and when you communicate. Set a plan and stick to it.
- Maintain a regular meeting schedule, virtually and in-person, to develop strong relationships. When time permits, always include your remote team members in onsite meetings.
- Encourage and monitor a healthy work-life balance.
Below, are additional PowerToFly resources to help you navigate the shift.
Free E-book Download: How to Build Tech Teams that Include and Retain Top Women
The PowerToFly blog which features stories about their members.
The PowerToFly Advocate Program which you can learn more about and sign up for here.