From the outset, Own has had a clear global vision, so it made sense to build an international team of employees. However, we knew that finding a sustainable way to manage a widely spread workforce would not always be straightforward.
In order to create a culture that spans multiple countries and develop a scalable model for growth, we needed to think carefully about Own’s operational set-up. Here, our COO, Florian Batliner-Staber, shares his experiences of building a sustainable international workforce – and how we’ve tackled critical challenges along the way.
Sowing the seeds of success
“The first decision we made when launching Own was that we wanted to build an in-house development team,” Florian explains. “Freelance contractors think in the short-term; how can they solve the immediate project, regardless of how it affects coding further down the line. We wanted a team that could bring a longer-term technical perspective.”
Florian, along with fellow founder and Own CTO, Ermin Dzinic, looked at recruitment options for developers and focussed their target initially on Sarajevo. It was a logical start point given Ermin’s Bosnian roots, and the area offered further benefits; a good education system, strong technical talent and a cost-effective workforce, to name a few.
The multilingual culture also meant that while developers were all speaking the same language and nothing could get lost in translation, they also had the skills to communicate with colleagues in other countries as the company grew.
While the genesis of Own’s technical set-up was clear, the rest of our business model was developed much more fluidly. The legislation for launching STOs was best in Liechtenstein, but co-founder and CEO, Sascha Ragtschaa, was based in the UK at that time, while Florian was located in Munich.
As it transpired, Own’s initial bases were formulated by the team’s early hires, many of whom were industry experts that Florian, Sascha and Ermin had worked with previously. The recruitment of Iain Robertson as Head of Business Development kick-started a Bristol hub in the UK, for example, and when Sascha relocated to Munich it made sense for Own to create another office in Germany.
Taking team commitment in-house
Although small groups of employees worked in the same location, having multiple satellite offices across Europe meant Own needed a clear communication strategy to nurture strong international staff relationships.
Continuity was key to achieving this, which is why Own decided to focus on hiring permanent staff across all areas of the business – not just in our development team. After experimenting with some agency support, the team found communication was much easier if each member of the team operated in-house.
“Every member of our business is representing Own, which means they show a high level of commitment,” Florian says. “Everyone wants to understand, learn and engage with each other, and create work today that will help us further down the line.”
Even with the team driven to succeed, we needed to find a way to work together cohesively while being based in different locations. As explained in our blog post on building a company culture, we didn’t want to introduce a strict structure like the corporate world, but Own’s founders realised that some formality was needed to keep everyone on the same page.
This is where the ‘company huddle’ – an open Skype discussion for the whole business – came from. Initially weekly, the team now logs on once a fortnight to update other departments on their key focuses. Sometimes teams will have a lot to share, other times nothing at all; there is no set agenda. The only thing that stays the same is an informal Q&A session, where employees have the chance to ask whatever they want.
“We wanted the huddle to be a personal event, but not time-consuming,” Florian qualifies. “If teams have nothing worth sharing with other departments then they don’t have to speak.”
This is complemented by a monthly face-to-face meeting involving all the senior management team, where wider strategic and business development decisions are discussed. “It’s crucial we sit down together without the distraction of screens and emails,” admits Florian. “It also helps build chemistry – there’s always a great team atmosphere.”
Flexing to fit the work/life balance
One benefit of operating an international workforce is that multiple time zones remove the pressure to run a strict working schedule. Own positively encourages employees to work when they are productive or when input is needed, without feeling like Monday-Friday is the only option all the time.
“It’s important to us to strike the balance between structure and freedom, so people can get the work/life balance they want,” adds Florian. “They might need to tackle an urgent job one Saturday, but in return they can take Monday off.”
Strong communication is necessary to enable this approach, as it’s harder to understand when team members are available if they aren’t sitting at the same desk. However, Own has a very active Slack channel, and the team is very good at managing expectations as to when they are available and how long it will take to turn something around.
Achieving growth our Own way
Today, Own has two central offices in Munich and Sarajevo, plus smaller hubs across Europe. The core development team operate a traditional, side-by-side set-up, whereas our sales and marketing department have a more remote working model, especially when travelling for work. It is this ‘best of both worlds’ approach that enables us to have an international footprint, attract the right talent, and innovate at speed.
“Our goals are no different from any other company – we want to create a strong team ethos, with everyone working together towards the same shared goals,” concludes Florian. “We are just willing to think outside the box when necessary to achieve these ambitions.”
Come and work for Own! Take a look at our recruitment page for a list of positions currently available.