Last year, a series of conversations between my manager at ByteDance and I kindled my interest in the idea of building trust and access to Africa’s best and brightest talent. At the time, it was very unclear what this would be. I was working at ByteDance as one of three Africans in the 10,000-person HQ in Beijing building the Africa market entry strategy for its flagship product TikTok. We were looking to hire technology talent to support our efforts remotely, but we struggled with the supply pool fragmentation.
Intrigued, my cofounders Duke (who’s also my brother) & Valentine and I spent the following months working together to understand the market and tailwinds. We found out that many early-stage companies across the world struggle to meet their software engineering need because they have to compete against the big four for the best talent. Increasingly, these companies are going outside their wheelhouse, looking to untapped talent pockets to meet their need. This presented a unique opportunity for us. Africa is currently one of the very few markets in the world where engineering talent supply outstrips demand. Our demographic and lower barriers to entry uniquely position the market as a future hub for the world’s talent.
However, for many companies that do not have the cultural context and established brand name, hiring from the continent is still a technical problem in and of itself. This is where Africave comes in.
Africave builds distributed teams and provides organizations with access to Africa’s elite software engineering talent. We focus our efforts on early-stage companies, mostly in Seed — Series A stages, helping them expand their footprint to where the talent is. Upon a mutual decision to engage, Africave sets up onboarding with employment and confidentiality agreements, end-to-end infra needs, and HR services including direct company payroll and performance management. In addition, Africave provides continuous communication training and local mentorship for its engineers to guarantee engagement success.
Our industry is one that is definitely very competitive, with remarkable players like Andela, Gebeya, Moringa school, etc who have gone ahead of us, laid the foundation for this work and drawn global attention to the talent quality in Africa. This has shown the world what’s possible. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done with scaling the talent ecosystem on the continent. This is very crucial to our growth and the overall progress of not just the tech industry but, I dare say, every other industry.
Our vision is to push Africa beyond trailing the rest of the world, to a haven of influence, innovation, and excellence. “Show up in excellence, even when no one is looking” is a popular company refrain.
Our public beta is up at https://africave.co. We are delighted to have the support of many partners including SAP, our advisers Libby Moore (Oprah Winfrey’s former Chief of Staff), Hemant Ramachandra, Spencer Ton, Elaine Wanderer, Milo Tong, Liia & Sumant Ramachandra, Josh Zoffer, Somto Dimobi, and all early members of our team.
It goes without saying, that managing a remote engineering team is largely different from managing an on-site engineering team due to the unique variables remote work brings to the fray. The widespread belief that managing onsite engineering teams is easier is only premised on the fact that with onsite teams our fears can be easily verified and workers can be closely monitored.
The uniqueness of remote work and the fact that managing remote engineering teams requires novel techniques and readjustments might be a turn off for many companies, however, the fact is remote work is totally worth the hassle.
Why remote work then?
Apart from the fact that it is the logical revolution of digital knowledge, the truth is everyone is already working remotely to varying degrees, whether it is attending to work emails in the coffee place, traveling for conferences or making work calls from home we all do some work activity away from our offices. Remote work is dynamic and enables the optimization of daily life. When done right it can enhance productivity, provide more inclusion, and general happiness. Beyond the previously stated benefits companies can access wider talent pools, increase diversity which is important to ensure that services have larger reaches and lastly it gives international talent, international careers.
Knowing the difficulties and challenges managing remote engineering teams poses, the conversation has to progress to the various techniques that can be utilized to ensure effective management of remote engineering teams. The techniques are broad and try to take into cognizance the various goals different companies have, some companies are goal-oriented and want people who can work under limited supervision and bring optimum results, others want to entrench the company culture on remote teams and as much as possible give them the same experience onsite teams have. The three techniques below speak to companies who might want to maximize remote team experience;
Culture: One popular thought about managing remote engineering teams, posits a total shift in company culture when a remote team comes on board. It is considered vital that all members of the company are exposed to the same experience. By assuming everyone is remote when one remote worker comes on board, there can be a progressive shift in how remote work is perceived, and this can increase productivity. A way to expose all staffers to the same experience involves, for example, asking onsite teammates to join meetings from their own workstations, instead of crowding in conference rooms, this makes the few remote workers not to feel like they are outliers but are effectively part of the company in the same way and it doesn’t unnecessarily put them on the spotlight during those meetings.
2. Information: It is important that everything is in writing, as much as possible. Managing remote engineering teams effectively requires effective communication and in line with giving remote teams the same experience as onsite teams, it is vital that they are privy to important information or at least those onsite team members have access to. The way to ensure a community is to ensure there is no information asymmetry, this shows the much-needed trust that can make remote teams deliver the goods.
The second angle is more tailored to companies who utilize the services of freelancers and care little about integration and more about goals. Companies that are goal and productivity-oriented can understandably find it difficult trusting remote teams except they deploy spycams and espionage micromanagement which is almost impossible and that is why the most essential thing is TRUST. It is hard to glean out the motivation levels of people from sporadic video calls since people can always put up a show for 1 hour or more and that is why the following are important
3. Hiring: It is crucial to hire doers and people you can trust, people who are goal-oriented, and can move as fast as products evolve. Truthfully, hiring remote workers can be difficult. That is why it is clever to outsource hiring to companies who have large pools of software engineering talent like Africave, the company can dig into its pool and find the best quality workers who are tailored for specific companies and projects. Since hiring right can be tedious and cost demanding it saves costs to outsource the process to companies who carry out the vetting process for free and have to stake their reputations on developers, the chances of failure are slim. Understanding Trust; Trust is non-binary, it is not always the case that you trust or you don’t, it’s often the case that you trust people with one thing more than you trust with others. Trust is also dynamic and can be earned and lost at different moments. That is why trust has to be systemized through the following mediums;
Explicit and transparent communication
Understanding cultural differences
Making it a duty to meet people face to face as much as possible, (through team retreats, project kick-offs, etc)
People are fast and capable unless they’re obstructed, while supervision and management can be great the reality is it can lessen productivity, and some experts in the field suggest a “Single-player mode” approach and to crystallize this one has time imagine what it’s like playing single-player mode on Nintendo and having to wait for (3) hours to be told by a supervisor if you’ve done well. The game optimizes user enjoyment by systematizing the process and setting clear goals. To effectively manage remote engineering teams, the “single player” can be highly effective especially for freelancers. It is important to set clear and unambiguous goals, which can enable self-evaluation, rely on systematized processes independent of the control of physical management, automate feedback, and allow remote engineering teams to find paths themselves.
When the right processes are in place, it obviates the need for an infinite amount of trust. Trust doesn’t have to be applied directly but can apply indirectly to systems and processes put in place to effectively manage remote engineering teams, so if it is hard trusting people, flexible systems of accountability can be trusted, which can still ensure optimal performance and input from remote engineering teams.