In the current circumstances defined by a financial crisis, biting inflation and a fraught job market, it is no surprise that it is a major struggle for Baltic start-ups to even try to keep pace with the average metrics of their European Union and US counterparts. The two principal challenges hampering Baltic start-ups in their pursuit of faster growth are the shortage of highly qualified employees and inadequate funding. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the opportunities provided by remote work. The question of how to create global teams and develop the right culture within a business while working remotely is also being asked by TechChill, the biggest technology and start-up event in the Baltics, which has invited representatives of rapidly-growing companies that operate remotely including Deel, Kilo Health and MeetFrank to the conversation Why Baltic start-ups should #GoRemote?
Remote hiring is becoming increasingly popular in the Baltic region. For example, in 2022 in Estonia, the number of employees hired remotely rose by 213%, while Latvian businesses are also increasingly seeking to hire employees remotely as they strive to find qualified specialists in other countries. Remote work provides Baltic start-ups with a ready stream of talent with various skills, the chance to expand into new markets, along with more financially accessible personnel and the opportunity to save through now spending resources on maintaining expensive physical workplaces. At the same time, remote work also entails challenges: how to preserve consistent business values when employees are based in different countries and time zones, and live in different cultures with different customs and appreciation of values?
Hospitality within a company is just as important as in a hotel
Ilona Bernotaite is the Chief People Officer of the fast growing Lithuanian start-up Kilo Health with experience accrued through collaborations with over 20 international companies in Europe, Asia and South America. She compares building a business to establishing a hotel, where both hospitality and the overall atmosphere are equally vital. “Building a business culture means building a strong community where every employee is welcome. Although the company's success is undoubtedly a positive influence, the company also has to deliberately invest in people and occasionally take risks. I've got experience of both a start-up and a regular business, and I am inclined to say that in start-ups, the boundaries between work and private life are slightly blurred. There invariably comes a time when looking after colleagues becomes the main task. In a start-up, people feel so deeply involved that they tend to devote free time to work instead of their private life and thus accomplish more. This concern for one other and engagement is particularly important in remote work conditions. Kilo Health has seven offices across Europe. Does the culture vary in these offices? Yes and no. They are like-minded folks with common values, but one has to remember that they have different origins and cultural experiences,” explains Bernotaite.
A company's culture is determined by the attitude of its management
Liina Laas, Head of Expansion for Central and Eastern Europe for the global HR company Deel stresses that in the last three years, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have experienced tough times, and right now many businesses around the world are laying off a large number of employees, which provides start-ups with new opportunities to hire outstanding talents.
“It is crystal clear that remote work is here to stay, because top quality talents have no desire to return to the office full-time. In order to recruit and keep the very best personnel, an employer must be flexible. Flexibility is massive advantage. We also see this at Deel: we hire the best - where they live doesn't matter to us. This has helped us to become the fastest growing SaaS (software as a service) business ever,” says Liina Laas.
Four years ago, Deel had 100 employees, it now employs 2,500. “Of course, we're talking about a totally different culture, interaction and communication options, but that's why it's vital for the company's management to firmly believe in the company's values. You should hire people who cherish these values. You should hire happy people who are excited by what they do. Only then can you go the extra mile to achieve your goals. Culture – the code of behaviour, business style and interaction with customers – is the principal driving force behind productivity. It holds the business together, regardless of its size, helps you to manage risks and guarantee process transparency,” explains Liina Laas.
A balance has to be found between work and happiness
According to Kaarel Holm, Co-founder and CEO of the headhunting business MeetFrank, a start-up is like a kid that depends on the engagement and presence of its founder. If employees are not in the office, the company head has to put a lot more energy into building a united team and shared values.
“In my business, 90% of work is done remotely, I'm actually the only person in the office. This is no problem, because the fact that people are physically present in the office is no guarantee that they will work more productively or even work at all. Remote work compels you to work and think more efficiently. However, the switch to full-time remote work often entails more work and less fun interacting with colleagues, because we just don't meet them. Just as we take care to instil the element of joy into our interactions with a child, businesses should also think about how they can generate some additional fun. This can be a little forced - like visiting a distant relative. In private life, friendships evolve naturally, but in remote work it is harder, but definitely worth it,” says Holm.
Meanwhile, Liina Laas reiterates that this is the perfect time to put technology to good use, for example, by devoting time every week to an online conversation with randomly chosen colleagues or allocating half an hour a week to talking to someone who has just started working for the company. It is no less important for employees to know who to approach when confronted with problems. When people have a shared appreciation of values, cultural differences and different experiences are more likely to help solve problems as opposed to creating them. When everything is as it should be within a business, the company's culture will thrive by itself.
If remote work gives you the chance to work for the world's top companies without requiring you to leave your family, home and country, all that remains is to select a business whose stated values match your own.