Podcasts

Recruitee Radio | The impact of remote work on developers

Recruitee Radio · TA Innovators Radio x OfferZen: The impact of remote working on developers

(Listen on Spotify and Apple)

2020 has truly shaken up workplace dynamics. Today, workers aren’t tied to office location constraints, and creativity and productivity aren’t tied to working a set number of hours in a single place. This is especially true for developers. 

In this podcast, we sat down with Stephen van der Heijden, the VP of Growth at OfferZen, to discuss its 2020 Developers Remote Work report.

We closely examine the power of distributed teams and online collaboration, why it’s here to stay, and what this means for developers.   

We also discuss key findings from OfferZen’s report, including: 

  • How developers feel about remote working and how it impacts their decision to accept a job offer
  • What companies need to do to adapt and build thriving tech teams in the ”new normal”
  • How companies can optimize their setup/tools and resources when it comes to remote work for developers
  • A look at some training programs, tools, resources, or plans that can help support developers and the remote working setup

Don’t forget to check out our Industry report uncovering the status of remote hiring from the perspective of active recruiters, executives, managers, and HR professionals!

Other resources you may find useful:

Full podcast transcript

Sim Samra (00:01):
Welcome to the Talent Acquisition Innovators Radio, the podcast for talent acquisition aficionados, HR lovers, and recruitment professionals out there looking to get inspired and challenge traditional approaches to hiring. Here, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of the recruitment process, engaging fresh talent, managing tough internal hiring dilemmas, and of course, the future of talent acquisition.

I’m your host, Sim Samra, from Recruitee. I’ll be quizzing the experts, asking the burning questions, and of course, bringing you great guests each episode. By the end of every episode, we’ll offer a few hypotheticals, and of course, tips to take back to your team and workplace.

Sim Samra (00:44):
Welcome to our podcast. Today, I’m joined by Stephen Van Der Heijden, the VP of growth at OfferZen. Welcome, Stephen. Would you give our listeners a quick introduction to yourself and OfferZen?

Stephen Van Der Heijden (00:58):
Cool. Thanks, Sim. Thanks for having me. OfferZen is a tech talent marketplace. So essentially, we help software developers get jobs at really cool companies. We’re originally from South Africa, so we’re about five years old as a company. We recently launched in Europe, starting with Amsterdam. We try and take a slightly different approach to finding tech talent. Our approach has always been a community-first approach.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (01:26):
We were founded by two software makers & software developers, and we’ve been in the devs recruitment-like talent marketplace from the beginning. Our mission is around connecting people and creating community, first and foremost.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (02:04):
And we’ve found that creates a very solid community for us to talk to. And from that, we find a lot of people looking for jobs through us, and that has really has worked for us for quite a long time. That brings us to where we are today. Just launched in Amsterdam and starting afresh with a whole new community where no one knows us, with a whole rack of new challenges. Learning a lot, having some early wins. Obviously, it’s quite difficult in the current market scenario, but we’re forging on, and we’re enjoying meeting all the people that we are as we launch in Amsterdam.

Sim Samra (02:39):
Great stuff. So today, we’ll be discussing a little bit about your report that you launched earlier this year. The 2020 developers remote work report basically examined how developers feel about working from home. So let’s dive in. According to your report, up to 91% of developers are more likely to choose a job with remote working benefits. But was this already implemented at your company prior to the pandemic?

Stephen Van Der Heijden (03:09):
As a company, OfferZen was not remote initially, but on our platform, we saw quite a wide spectrum of companies that were remote, semi-remote, and had all kinds of setups. And we saw that as the pandemic unfolded, a lot of people had to make almost emergency remote plans, including ourselves as OfferZen. We saw that quite interestingly; companies adopted those at different rates. So some people would make it very quick and very explicit that they were moving to remote and others dragged their heels and adopted to things a bit more slowly.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (03:48):
But even last year, we did a State of the Developer Nation in South Africa, which is, as I said, where we’re from. We did a survey of about 3,600 developers. And other than salary, flexi-hours and remote work were the two most sought after benefits.

So from a talent side and a kind of developer community side, those things have always been wanted. And the thing that happened as the pandemic unfolded is people got a taste of that. And I think we can discuss that a little bit more. And now it’s become a part of our reality now. We’ve become distributed now as OfferZen. We are remote. And we see a lot of our companies, both in South Africa and Amsterdam, going the same way.

Sim Samra (04:31):
This year, I think it’s definitely shaken up the kind of benefits packages that people really want to see implemented in the workplace. But when it comes to attracting developers, what other perks and benefits should companies consider when looking to hire?

Stephen Van Der Heijden (04:49):
It’s things about learning. It’s growth opportunities. Those kinds of benefits and things that people will look for in a job. I think what has changed now, and we’ve seen it in your report as well, is that people want optionality. So it’s very difficult for us to say that a certain benefit is kind of the next best thing to money or remote work or whatever the kind of thing is.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (05:26):
I see our current reality in the talent space because it’s almost kind of like workplace personalization. So it’s not necessarily about giving any person a certain benefit because that ranges from person to person. So I think what really does enable companies to compete for talent, and what people actually want is choice and autonomy. So it’s a bit of a nonsense answer because it’s everything all in one.

I really do believe after the research that we’ve done within the remote report, the conversations that we’ve been having, that this is where we’re headed in that in order to compete. You can’t just have remote or office, medical aid, or childcare benefits. It’s about starting to increase the personalization that you offer as a company to your employees.

Sim Samra (06:13):
That’s a nice way to put it, workplace personalization. Yeah. That’s the first time I’ve heard that term.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (06:19):
I wrote it down on my iPad while prepping for this podcast. I’m not sure if it’s a legitimate term, just as a caveat.

Sim Samra (06:28):
So are you remote hiring at the moment?

Stephen Van Der Heijden (06:31):
Yes, we are. And it’s difficult. And I think you have to now. So I was just looking at MessageBird, and they’ve just raised series C. It’s $200 million. It’s a lot of money. And they’ve also just released, saying, “Look, we have a work from anywhere policy,” and we have this great saying that they have, ‘life happens.’ So they’ve got this totally respectful policy. They’re hiring remotely. These are the companies of the future that you’re competing against for talent.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (07:00):
So I think if you’re not hiring remotely right now, you’re probably in trouble. And if you’re not planning to hire remotely at some point in the future, you will not be able to compete for that set of talent. So we are.

We have some learnings, and we are making mistakes, but we are seeing an increasing trend of the companies on our platform that are also now hiring remotely. Whether that’s permanent, it’s too early to say, but we definitely see the trend.

Sim Samra (07:32):
Would you be able to share some of your learnings when hiring remotely for developers?

Stephen Van Der Heijden (07:38):
In our report, there are many links to useful things and are kind of tips and tricks. But I think that the main takeaway for me from the things that I’ve read that have been created by our teams and my personal experience is starting to become disciplined about being explicit about who you are and what your processes are. So as we’ve become more remote, it’s all about making it very clear who you are as a company.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (08:10):
In the talent world, we call it employer branding but making it very clear and easy for a person to understand who you are, understand your mission, the benefits, and how you approach things. And through that, you give that person increased autonomy and give them the increased opportunity to make the right decision of whether you’re the right fit for them.

I suppose it goes both ways. Both the candidate and the company need to become increasingly explicit about who they are and what they want. And I think the old one-hour interview format where you’ve got a kind of top grading methodology or whatever the interviewing methodology you use, I think that needs to be revisited quite seriously in light of this. We need more information to decide because we’re doing it remotely.

Sim Samra (09:00):
Yeah, you’re right. The situation has changed. I know employer branding is a huge focus for companies at the moment. It’s not like how it used to be where a candidate comes in, and you can show them the office. You have to get creative with how you showcase your workplace culture, make sure that teams are aligned and communicating, and represent that to the world.

I just wanted to discuss a little bit about some of the findings that came across in your report because it mentioned that distributed teams and coworking spaces might become the future of work. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that would look like to implement?

Stephen Van Der Heijden (09:46):
I mean, this is something that within the management team at OfferZen we’ve explored and grappled with quite a lot. Because of this drive for autonomy, you’ve got to start looking at giving people a choice.

If you look at what Microsoft has been doing lately, their Chief People Officer says it nicely. She says, “We will offer as much flexibility as possible to support individual work styles.” So again, that’s this kind of workplace personalization type thing that it’s not just me writing it on an iPad. This is the stuff that Microsoft and some of the world’s biggest employers are doing and thinking about.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (10:23):
I would almost dare to use the word inclusion, giving people options. So the way we’re thinking about it is giving people the options within our satellites, Amsterdam and Cape Town, to come into an office should they need to. So it becomes very kind of congruent with coworking. So you’re in and out, you’re moving. So some of the same principles of space apply. So we see that as a very exciting opportunity, so much so that our office is also a developer coworking space in Amsterdam.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (11:08):
So every week, we run days where we build stuff. At the moment, we’re building self-watering plants with Arduinos with a bunch of developers. And we also offer that space to them as a third space where they can come in and out and work depending on the day’s COVID rules and the company policy. But we believe very much in providing space as one of the elements that allow people to have a choice in how they become productive.

It’s clear that developers all want to be productive, but depending on your situation, that requires different things. In the results, we see that for a lot of people, remote, that’s great. But for other people with a four-year-old and a two-year-old like I have, I need a space to be productive.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (11:52):
So giving people that choice is important. What really becomes difficult is if you kind of half do it, and it’s not just a choice, but some people need to be around a city center, and other people don’t. That becomes quite confusing. So I think that what we’re going to see kind of leaders of businesses is very decisive action one way or another, and very clearly saying, “Look, we have become remote-first companies,” like MessageBird & Microsoft.

Sim Samra (12:24):
We all have our own set of circumstances. And having space is a requirement for some people to be able to be productive fully. Sometimes, the remote work setup just doesn’t work for certain people, and being in an office space or a coworking space is what helps them unleash their creativity.

Sim Samra (13:01):
So I think that’s a good way to move forward with the future of work, but let’s see how it unfolds as we head into 2021. Back to your report, 45% of your respondents said that collaboration with their teams was neither bad nor great in a remote working setup. I just wanted to get your thoughts on how this could be improved upon and what OfferZen is doing to empower developers to communicate better within their teams.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (13:31):
This is a really interesting one. One of the things we saw as we released the report to our companies is that everybody says they want it, but when it’s time to get work done, then everyone kind of backtracks. It’s very early on, and it’s very evident that management is the first to say, “Look, let’s just all go back to the office.” And I think you made the point earlier, which is that this requires an insane amount of work.

Our entire way of working just got absolutely shifted. There’s no real playbook. There are a couple of companies that have been doing this for a long time. But trying to find a remote work consultant that’s been building a multinational remote working business for the last five years is pretty difficult. There are not many of them. So this is new territory.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (14:18):
The really difficult thing comes down to effort. These things take effort, and these things take a kind of management buy-in. So I’ve been pushing quite hard internally to get someone to just focus on this problem because this is a whole new space. I really like the ‘life happens to us’ motto. I mentioned my kids earlier. In the prequel to the podcast, I even said, “Listen, if they come in, we’re going to have to do a retake,” but this is the reality now. We’ve had to accept this.

So I think one of the big up-and-coming skills that a company will need to have is to be able to collaborate asynchronously. So there are tools like Miro and those kinds of things where we can do what we used to do in a digital world.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (15:04):
But I think the companies that will really win are those companies that are getting asynchronous collaboration, right. Being able to run a kickoff meeting without having a synchronous meeting and being able to kind of plan campaigns or move through product roadmaps in an asynchronous way, guided by not necessarily set synchronous processes, but principles and codes of conduct.

What really excites me about the software development community is they’ve been doing this for a very long time. The open-source community has been working across many time zones in a very disciplined way to create value and stuff together in a collaborative, remote way. So as a developer community, we’ve been doing this for a long time, which gives us another unfair advantage for the future, I think.

Sim Samra (15:54):
Okay. Another finding from your report that I found quite interesting was that almost 40% of survey respondents said they felt their direct manager’s interactions had improved under a remote working setup. But for those tech hiring managers who are struggling with this, how can they ensure they set clear expectations and check-in points with developers?

Stephen Van Der Heijden (16:16):
Again, it’s down to concerted effort, an intentional setting of cadences, and those kinds of things. What we’ve seen and in the conversations that we’ve had with managers, it’s about not trying to do the old thing in a new way, I think, again.

So it’s just re-looking at your calendar, your cadences, your observances, and looking at that the way you interact with the team and make sure that you understand why you had those meetings. So your one-on-one meetings, your stand-ups, those kinds of things, and making sure that you redesign and/or explicitly re-include all of the things you used to do.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (16:57):
I’ve found that process of rethinking things the most useful personally. And the people that I’ve spoken to that are doing well here have rethought it. One team member was doing really well, and kind of an old Mad Men type of celebration would take the guy out for a steak lunch and a glass of red wine. You can’t do that anymore, so you have to find another way of showing your appreciation and tapping the person on the back and saying, “Look, we really value you.”

So I think it’s about understanding what has actually happened and that we can’t just keep doing the old things in a different way, in a kind of square peg/round hole way. We should think about why we do the things we need to do, how we need to add value to our team members and then re-imagine them. And often do that with our team members, saying, “Look, how can this work for you in the new space and our new reality?”

Sim Samra (17:54):
Especially in this year where everything’s changed so dramatically for all companies and employees, just even doing a weekly check-in on your employees is just so important to find out how people are actually getting on in their workweek.

It’s just having a bit of empathy this year and just making sure that the lines of communication are open, that you feel trusted to be able to approach your manager for things and vice versa. It’s been a lesson for everyone. And I think it’s a nice thing when you feel entrusted by your company with your tasks and your productivity, and that’s also reciprocated.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (18:46):
I think one of the exciting things around that, as you say, is this inclusion and the understanding that now your work life is just your life. It is work plus life. And all of us have seen it, right? You’ve seen the kid or the pet or whatever the story is, or the person’s Zoom… or in the background of the Zoom, you start to get this glimpse into people’s lives.

One of the things we try and do is we contribute to a team Google Photos album. We post some of our personal weekend pics or things we did that week because we found that if people have a larger or increased amount of empathy for what’s happening in the person’s personal life, that can also help just from an understanding perspective and understanding why someone’s a bit slow to respond or whatever those things are. So I totally agree with you on that, Sim.

Sim Samra (19:34):
We’re almost out of time, so I’m going to put one more question to you. Looking to the future, does OfferZen have any training programs, tools, or resources in place to continue supporting developers and the remote working setup?

Stephen Van Der Heijden (19:48):
In the tech marketplace, we have a vested interest in software companies becoming successful at building great teams, so acquiring, maintaining, and retaining talent is important. It is basically our mission at this point to some extent. That’s the reason we created the remote report. A lot of companies are saying, “Look, what else is happening? Who else is doing what?” And looking for increased benchmarking. So in South Africa, where we have a very big marketplace relative to the actual marketplace, and we have quite authoritative data, our future plans are to continue to work with our community.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (20:29):
We believe that we don’t have the value; the community has the value. So work with the people within our community, find the most useful resources, whether that be from surveys, data, podcasts, blogs, whatever the story might be, and continue to surface that for the other community members.

We’re the custodians of the future now. You can see all companies look at the stock market. Software companies are the future. So how do we enable companies to compete for talent? How do we enable talent to understand and navigate the new world of remote interviewing, remote working, managing work/life balance? That’s basically what my whole team does 24/7.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (21:15):
So if you are interested in that, come check OfferZen out. Check out the blog, listen to the podcast. And if we’re messing it up, please give us some feedback. Contact deets are on the site.

Sim Samra (21:25):
Good stuff. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me today.

Stephen Van Der Heijden (21:29):
Perfect. Thanks so much, Sim. It was great.

Sim Samra (21:31):
Thanks again for joining us on the Talent Acquisition Innovators Radio. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And of course, if you did, feel free to share it on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you’re most active. And if you’d like to be updated on when our next podcast is going to be released, you can sign up at blog.recruitee.com/podcast. See you in the next one.

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