How to Build a Globally Distributed Team (Without Breaking Any Laws)| Job van der Voort

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Remote work is here to stay, however hiring people from different countries and staying compliant is no easy feat. Job Van der Voort, CEO of HR tech company Remote, shares how he built a distributed team across 67 countries and did it without breaking any laws.

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jib van der voort remote allwork.space

Job van der Voort

CEO of Remote

Transcript

I think the highest-level advice I can give is just do it. There’s really everything that you think might be a problem or might be a challenge with building this kind of team. It quickly disappears once you get over the hurdle of the compliance stuff, and we can help with that. But once you get over that, there’s not any downsides. If you will only find that one, you find amazing talent literally anywhere in the world. Countries you’ve never heard of will have amazing talent that will is able to help you. Exactly in a way that you need for almost any kind of function. And that’s it.

Ceci Amador [00:00:53] Hello and welcome to the Future of Work podcast by Allwork.Space. I’m Ceci Amador de San Jose, and today I’m looking forward to chatting about the challenges and opportunities with truly building a globally distributed team with Job van der Voort from Remote. Job, Welcome.  

Job van der Voort [00:01:13] Thanks. Thanks for having me.  

Ceci Amador [00:01:15] Job Van der Voort started his career as a neuroscientist before leaving academia to become the VP of product at the largest distributed company in the World Gitlab. He hired talent across sixty-seven countries, so he knows about building a truly distributed team. He’s now the CEO and co-founder of Remote and HR tech startup Solving Remote Global Organization’s biggest challenges, employing anyone, anywhere, and most importantly, compliantly. 

I love what you guys do at remote because I feel that that is one of the reasons why companies have been so skeptical about embracing remote work fully and by remote work fully, I mean globally and not just in the regional or national level.  

Ceci Amador [00:02:04] I’m sure you’re very familiar with all of that. So, I want to start by asking you a little bit about your experience when you first started hiring people remotely. How was that and how did you figure out how to stay compliant in sixty-seven countries?  

Job van der Voort [00:02:17] Yeah, this is a good question. I think at first, we started the company, we figured, well, we would just hire anybody from anywhere and we will just figure things out. And would you start to do it. Maybe you hire people as contractors and that’s what we did in some countries. But then you quickly realized that one, it’s not a scalable solution, because it’s technically not compliant and two you want to be able to offer people some security, you want to be able to offer them benefits. And so, we had to just figure it out one by one. So, every time we would hire someone in a new country, we would have to figure out how do we do this? And honestly, it was just hard work. It was finding someone locally, working with some service provider. There was no there was nothing easy about it.  

Ceci Amador [00:03:08] I can imagine not especially because I’m assuming there were a lot of legal challenges. I mean, in the US, like to be compliant there are different criteria in single state and if you translate that into globally teams and just seems baffling, to be honest. So how did you manage that? What kind of tools or resources did you leverage? Did you have to hire lawyers in different countries, or did you research it all on your own? How did you go about that process?  

Job van der Voort [00:03:45] We did whatever we could. So, we looked for local lawyers. We looked for local employment offices. We try to work with some global providers of employee of record services. We started our own subsidiaries in number of countries. And really all of those things were obtained, like none of them were really, really great. It was always a poor experience, which exactly led me to do fund remote. 

Ceci: Tell me if you could think about one of the biggest probably the biggest legal challenge that you had to overcome while setting up a remote team and remote your company, what would it be? 

Job: It’s not so much liked a single challenge, it’s the fact that there’s so many countries and they are all very, very, very different. So, what is a normal employment agreement in one country? So, this this is something that most people that live and have worked in one country know what it looks like in this country that doesn’t translate at all into other countries.  

Job van der Voort [00:04:47] And it’s not just the language. It’s like the structure of what is expected, what is what constitutes a good contract, what is statutory, what does the law require. All those things are completely different country, by country. And so, it’s not so much that you can easily copy paste your learnings from one country into the other. You basically must start from scratch and completely reevaluate how do I hire someone in this country? How do I stay compliant? Like, what does that even mean to be compliant? Because in some countries it doesn’t mean very much. It means you maybe you give them an employment agreement and another employment agreement are not particularly strong in other countries. It means that you must have this long list of statutory requirements like benefits that you have to provide to be able to work as an employer in other countries.  

Job van der Voort [00:05:31] It means that months in advance you must announce the fact that you’re hiring someone and then, you know, a few weeks in advance you have one has to submit information to the tax office that, oh, this person is coming to work here. And that’s, you know, with GitLab. Of course, we were just a startup trying to hire a bunch of people and wanting to build software. It was very overwhelming. And today with Remote, what we see is that we essentially must go into a country, and we have to spend significant time to start to understand how does it work, like what is experience for both an employer as well as for an employee locally to start working? And then how can we know that that make it easier and make it scalable? But there’s not there’s not one challenge that challenges the multitude of challenges, differences between countries.  

Ceci Amador [00:06:19] I can imagine. And then I’m assuming there are issues such as double taxation and stuff like that those companies and employees need to figure out. How have you do you know if there are countries that have kind of like agreement between one another? So, and I think Germany had this, but I’m not entirely sure; if you’re a German citizen and you’re working for an American company or vice versa. You can I don’t know if you can choose where to pay taxes, but there are some agreements in place so that they’re not paying taxes in the US and in Germany. Have you seen a lot of that in other areas as well or?  

Job van der Voort [00:06:58] Yeah, we see these kinds of problems all the time. Right. I think one of the beautiful things about remote work is, is that, you know, you can work from anywhere and many people choose to work from a different country than where they have citizenship.  

Job van der Voort [00:07:11] Unfortunately, the reality is that can be really, complex. And so you see in the tax issues, if it’s an immigration issues, there are many tax treaties between countries. So, within Europe, of course, you can work from anywhere if you’re a European citizen. The United States has tax treaties with almost all European countries and most other countries in the world to a degree, at least. But that said, like that is like a one-by-one thing that you have to figure out like and we remote as a company, we don’t even solve this specific point. Right. Like we make sure we pay taxes properly for you. But if you have a very specific tax situation, you also have to, like, look for a local help and look for an expert in tax treaties and whatever else.  

Ceci Amador [00:07:55] And beyond taxes. There are other challenges that companies that want to go fully remote have to embrace and fix. I’m thinking about digital nomads and you mentioned immigration issues. And if a remote company wants to hire a digital nomad, can remote help with that, or is that something that they’re going to have to figure on their own as they move from country to country or region to region?  

Job van der Voort [00:08:23] No, we can help with almost any kind of situation. Right. Like the way we set up the company is that we can help employers as well as employee stay compliant and so and then take care of payroll benefits, et cetera. And so, the first thing we do when we start working with someone is we’re going to figure out, like, how can we employ you for this employer? How can we make sure that this happens? And part of that is verifying can you work from location you’ll be working from if that location changes? We’ll have to reevaluate this unless it’s for a particular short of time.  

Job van der Voort [00:08:56] But one of the things we know, for example, is that there’s like thirty-five countries that have Nomad visas or remote working visa. So those make our life a lot easier as well, as you know, of everybody there. But yeah, this is the exact kind of situation we see very often is that someone is working it for any period, long or short, from in a different country of which they have citizenship. And we will have to deal with because if we don’t deal with it, the employer has no Tools to figure this out. It is really, complex and those are not like I can’t even tell you like, oh yeah, if you’re a nomad, just do this because there’s no such an answer, because it depends on whether you have citizenship. Do you live anywhere for six months in the year? Do you stay for long periods of time in particular places? And all of that determines how this kind of situation can resolve itself.  

Ceci Amador [00:09:49] And you just mentioned job benefits and I’m not sure if this is the case. But so, I know that the benefits that an employer is required by law to offer in Europe differ greatly from those in the United States and Canada, in Latin America. How have you seen companies that employ like fully globally distributed teams deal with benefits packages so that I mean, they’re fair for all their employees, regardless of where they are?  

Job van der Voort [00:10:17] Yeah, I think there’s a few sides to this. First, as an employer, you must be statutory. You must meet the statutory requirements. Right. So those will be different country by country. And so, what you do is just offer those independent of what you do across the world is not a good idea to offer these everywhere, because that doesn’t make any sense, like some of them are very locally specific or they are, you know, whatever is statutory one country is significantly different from another country.  

Job van der Voort [00:10:45] So what we’re starting to see is that most employers go along with recommendations that we give, like this is what a good employer would offer in this country, not spent too much time thinking about, like, what is fair or what is what should you do in the end? Would you want to do is you want to make sure that people feel like they’re being well rewarded for their work and that they have an employer that supports them. And if the benefits locally, relatively are good, then I think that is the one interesting thing that we see more and more is employers offering additional benefits like stipends for particular services or goods that people might want to buy or other things that the employer wants to offer. Maybe a program around mental health, easy access to therapists. Those kinds of things are easy to do online, and they don’t really require you to be in a particular country.  

Ceci Amador [00:11:33] You mentioned Job that there are some very specific benefits or packages that employers have to give to remain compliant and statutory in some areas. What’s the I don’t want to say craziest, but the most unexpected benefit that you’ve seen in a country an employer has to provide to employees.  

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    Job van der Voort [00:11:53] The statutory ones are boring. So, I think, you know, you see a lot of countries, things like trainings that are required. You see things like paying bar parts for meals, for example, but they are quite boring. I think the interesting ones are like the ones that are culturally like normal, but otherwise very weird. So, I live in the Netherlands, which is a country full of bicycles, and there is an employer program to contribute towards a bicycle. So, it’s essentially your employer in running payroll, puts aside a little bit of money for you to buy your bicycle and I think partially subsidized by the by the government.  

    Job van der Voort [00:12:28] So you get a subsidy, and you can then after a while buy a nice bicycle like a few thousand US dollar equivalent bicycle. That’s cool. I think it is very, very much the one I think about very often.  

    Ceci Amador [00:12:42] That makes sense. I know several people who have been in the Netherlands and have had and almost run-in experience with several bikes. But, back to hiring a remote team. Culture wise, especially for companies that have hired people across very different cultures. These are these types of issues must come across fully distributed team. So how can companies. What are some tips in your experience, managing a remote team that companies can implement to ensure that their culture doesn’t suffer and that it’s a strong workplace culture, regardless of cultural differences from different areas around the world?  

    Job van der Voort [00:13:31] Yeah, I don’t think it is particularly hard to solve it, but you must be very intentional about it. And I think the first and most important thing is that whatever you’re doing, it must come from leadership, and they must lead by example and make it very clear that we have a particular culture, and we do things to make sure to maintain it. And a good way to do this is to say, well, we have these values, and we want people to align with those values. And we regularly go back to those values. For example, we have several values, the first one being kindness. So, if we feel like people are not being kind, that is a reason to say, well, you know, you’re not aligning with the culture. And we expect some sort of change then that inversely, like if someone is exceptionally kind, that that’s a really good sign.  

    Job van der Voort [00:14:15] So we celebrate that. We say, you know, you’ve been kind in there for you mensches. And so, if you create a company culture and you do this by example, by regularly reinforcing this and really not just having it written down somewhere, I never looked at it, but really built your company culture around this, then it becomes much easier to align the rest of the organization around it and also to make sure that you hire people that fit that. And if people don’t fit that, that there’s a clear expectation that like what is the kind of behavior that we expect? Right. So, if you have a company culture that says, well, you know, we are kind to each other, a situation like the one you in that that that that doesn’t match. That does not be kind to someone that’s, you know, treating someone as an equal, that would be completely unacceptable. You would not allow that to happen in the workplace. So, I think that’s where it starts. And but I don’t think is unique to remold cultures. I just think in office cultures we were somewhat used to for office culture and. Yeah, like in a remote culture, you know, maybe this is it’s a good time to make a big change in this.  

    Ceci Amador [00:15:23] Yeah, but I’m assuming language also plays a big part of this. We recently had a conversation with our team where we use a lot in Latin culture like girls and golf, but it sounds a little bit not nice in English. So, we must be very intentional not to not to do that. Even though it’s culturally in Latin America, it’s not seen as bad, but it could be globally distributed team. But enough about the challenges. I feel like I’m going to scare companies from having a fully distributed team. What are some of the opportunities and some of the benefits that you’ve experienced firsthand of hiring a global team?  

    Job van der Voort [00:16:07] I mean, it’s such an obvious thing is the moment you switch from just hiring new people in your neighborhood that are probably all the same, they live in the same place. So, they have the same kind of values. They have a similar kind of history, most likely. Right. Like they are the average person is the person you’re going to hire, the average person around your neighborhood. So, if you switch to hiring from anywhere, you get a vastly more diverse city with all the advantages that come with that in terms of, you know, more diverse finking, more diverse decision making, much more innovation. And in fact, that is really nice to be with people that are different from you. I think it’s nice to be with people of different from you. And of course, also the talent pool is like a factor million larger.  

    Ceci Amador [00:16:51] Yeah. I agree with you on the diversity, and I think it’s super important and it’s a very valuable thing that remote work can provide. I feel like the best solutions often come from people who think differently and approach problems and opportunities from a different perspective. So, I think that’s completely invaluable for a company. And I’m glad to see that there’s been a very big push towards diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. And another benefit that I would like to add to hiring a really distributed remote team is that you can also hire people that would normally be out of the workforce. So, mothers with disabilities that they have trouble going to and from just being able to work remotely, that that’s a great thing.  

    Ceci Amador [00:17:37] It’s like a million times better. So, part of the issues with hiring remote teams is that it’s very hard to figure out if you’re being compliant or not in different countries. Are there any governments or countries that you have seen that are taking really good steps and strides in ensuring that it’s easier for companies to hire remote talent for the implementing or thinking about passing certain policies or laws that would facilitate it for companies all over to hire team people remotely.  

    Job van der Voort [00:18:13] High level? No. Governments was really, really slowly having the one. The one exception to this is like the nomad visas. But what we see is that people that actually live as digital nomads, as a tiny minority in the total workforce or even a remote workforce. So that helps a little bit. But very, very, very little beyond that, basically not even like very basic things that you would think we would have solved by now, like, for example, getting stock options in a startup that is very normal in the United States. That’s not normal anywhere else. And, if you look at the tax policies of almost any other country, is that they basically discourage you to even accept this, because the taxes that you’re going to have to pay over something that you cannot actually turn into money until maybe your company exits. They just make it so that it’s why would you even think this? So, we’ve seen some changes there, like in France, they’ve changed some policies. But in general, no, no, there’s not been anything to make it much easier. And there’s a part here, which is you it’s easy to understand, which is companies, the countries they create policies that protect workers that in some cases protect employers.  

    Job van der Voort [00:19:34] And they don’t necessarily want to change those policies, or they don’t necessarily have reasons to say, well, we’re going to do the same thing. The Nella’s doesn’t have a reason to say, well, we’re going to do the same thing Germany has, because circumstances of those countries can be very, very different. So that is understandable. But, yeah, it’s hard right now. Like, the reason remote exists at all is because it’s so incredibly hard to do this in the first place. And as for now, there’s not really a relief to make it easier,  

    Ceci Amador [00:20:01] I think. And I think the important takeaway here, though, however, despite the challenges and everything, is that it is possible to hire a globally distributed team and remain compliant in all the countries. So, I think that’s a really important takeaway because I feel that it could be easy to get overwhelmed. Like you mentioned, you must start from scratch every time you hire someone from a new country. And I think that software and platforms like remote, I think they’re great because they’re going to make it easier and encourage more companies to do this. And speaking about remote, I want to again, congratulations on the recent funding round that you guys closed.  

    Job van der Voort [00:20:43] Thanks  

    Ceci Amador [00:20:44] For those of you who didn’t catch the news, remote raised one hundred and fifty million dollars that are one-billion-dollar valuation. So, I want to ask, what are you guys going to use the funding for? What are some of the opportunities that you see for remote to improve on their products or services? Or is there any specific sound that you can share about remote future?  

    Job van der Voort [00:21:07] You know, today we’re active in about 50 countries, as far as I know, there’s about one hundred and ninety-five countries in the world and we want to be everywhere.  

    Job van der Voort [00:21:15] Right. We want to make it so that independent of where you are, you’re able to not just get a job, but like get a good job and make more money that you could otherwise do locally, for example. And so, yeah, we want to go everywhere. And so, we spend a lot of money to get to these 50 countries that we spent a significant amount of money to expand further. And that expansion includes just the hard work. That includes setting up in each one of these countries, but also building the team required to support all these countries. So that’s a lot.  

    Ceci Amador [00:21:49] That’s the plan. I like it. I really, really like it. We’re almost running out of time here before we head off. What are some tips or actionable steps that you can share with companies hoping to make the switch to a fully globally distributed team?  

    Job van der Voort [00:22:08] I think. My, my I think the highest-level advice I can give is just do it. There’s really everything that you think might be a problem or might be a challenge with building this kind of team. It quickly disappears once you get over the hurdle of the compliance stuff, and we can help with that. But once you get over that, there’s not any downsides. If you will only find that one, you find amazing talent literally anywhere in the world. Countries you’ve never heard of will have amazing talent that will is able to help you. Exactly in a way that you need for almost any kind of function. And that’s it, that’s it, and that’s basically it, you should just do that, I think if you’re worried about one thing, I would say, you know, hire people that are somewhat close in time zone.  

    Job van der Voort [00:22:55] So plus four plus minus four hours, plus minus six hours maybe to start with. And then as you expand your team, you can expand the range of time those that you support. It’s always good to start small so that there’s still some overlap between the teams that you don’t have to feel like, well, when I’m working the person far away sleeping and vice versa, you don’t you don’t really want to be in that situation, at least not in the beginning. And as your team gets bigger, you can expand the time. So, but then a lot of ways there’s very little downsides, almost zero. I would say it’s nice to work with a team from people all over the world and you get to learn a lot.  

    Ceci Amador [00:23:28] I think I think that’s amazing, and I agree completely, our company is fully remote, distributed all over the place. And while it’s like you said, sometimes it’s challenging with the time zones, especially if there’s like I mean, I want to schedule a meeting with someone that was like 17 hours ahead of me. And then someone was like, even if you were like 18, depending on the season. And it’s challenging, but I agree that it’s totally worth it. So, if anyone out there is thinking about it like Jobs said, just go out there and do it.  

    Ceci Amador [00:24:04] So thank you job again for taking the time to chat with us today. I don’t know if there’s anything else you’d like to add or maybe you want to share with people how they can contact you or reach out or find out more about remote.  

    Job van der Voort [00:24:15] Yeah, remote dot com. Very easy. I’ll be there. Everything will be there.  

    Ceci Amador [00:24:21] Amazing. So, thank you everyone again for tuning into the future of our podcast by Allwork.Space. Have a good one. 

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