Three remote work insights from building an app from the ground up

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Xavier Anguera wears many hats at ELSA, a company creating the world’s leading AI app for English language training. The company’s Speech Scientist, Co-founder, and CTO chatted with Andela at Web Summit about remote work trials and triumphs.

Clearly identify your challenges

The ELSA team was distributed from day one. Xavier and his co-founder live on two different continents, and the team has grown to include people distributed worldwide, with four main poles in the US, Portugal, India, and Vietnam. The timezone difference compounded by remote working makes synchronization and communication extra effortful. Xavier stresses the importance of ensuring everything is written down clearly and thoroughly, whether it be in an email or a complex document. This practice helps the entire team stay on the same page regardless of geography or time of day.

“The second big challenge is getting to know the people,” he tells us. It was three years before Xavier met some of his colleagues in person, and there are others he still has yet to meet. He appreciates connecting with people in “3-D” but knows there’s a certain amount of having to “make do” when you can only connect with your teammates over a screen.

Take a big picture approach to global recruitment

With a long history of remote work, Xavier has an insightful and holistic outlook on global hiring: “A global approach to hiring means that you have a much bigger pool of talent. That’s what everybody’s saying, right? In reality, with our type of technology, we cannot work with just anybody.” He underscores that companies have needs for specific skills, in their case, people who have long specialized in speech. “If you open up to the whole world, it’s much easier to find people.”

Xavier also wants people to consider the challenges of hiring globally from a legal point of view. Still, he acknowledges that being able to reach out to people all over the world is “already a big, big advantage.”

Always be open to possibilities

Xavier and his co-founder met at a tech conference and then decided to work together after exchanging emails. She was in San Francisco, and he was in Portugal. Soon after, they entered an acceleration program in the Bay Area, which provided them a crash course in working together—and living together; he slept on the floor of her SF apartment for three weeks.

His takeaway from this experience? Adapt to everything: “She’s Vietnamese and I’m Spanish. You have to adapt—you’re adapting to the person, you’re adapting to a new company, and it’s great. I wish I could do that with every single person I bring to the company. Having this option to work remotely and hire remotely is a totally new paradigm for the economy and ourselves because we don’t get bound to places in which we decide to live.”

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