In April this year, San Francisco-based global employment platform Oyster announced a $150 million Series C round, at a valuation north of $1 billion.
Oyster, which makes it easy for companies to hire talent anywhere in the world by dealing with compliance, benefits, and all the local policies that might otherwise make for HR headaches, has grown unbelievably quickly since its founding in January 2020. Since then, it raised two rounds of funding last year before becoming a unicorn with recent funding -- in less than two years of its existence.
In an interaction with People Matters, Oyster’s CEO and co-founder Tony Jamous talks about the HR tech startup's journey to becoming a unicorn, the rise of remote talent hiring, the barriers to and benefits of hiring remote talent in the post-pandemic world, and strategies and processes that organisations should put in place when hiring this talent pool.
Here are some excerpts.
How did the idea to launch Oyster come? What were the initial challenges and opportunities?
After graduating, I founded Nexmo, a cloud communications platform that made it easier for software developers to add essential communications capabilities on a global scale. While Nexmo was successful, I was shocked by the complexities and costs required to employ people in other countries.
As I thought about the next business I wanted to start, I knew that I needed to tap into the global talent market in order to move fast and hire great people anywhere, but I did not want to go through the painful, expensive, and slow cross-border employment process again.
I envisioned an organisation that could establish itself in many markets from day one to gain a competitive advantage through speed and cost.
In searching for a solution, it became clear that old-world rules and regulations of HR, payroll, and benefits remained an obstacle for modern organisations looking to grow. On the other hand, talented people in developing countries dream of opportunities that are stimulating and pay well, but are only to be found in developed countries.
And the companies in developed countries, that would be open to hiring someone great in another country, need to go through a massive admin/HR/payroll obstacle to make it happen. So, they don’t hire them. I realised the opportunity for social impact from unlocking cross-border hiring for people outside the established economic hubs would be massive.
Oyster solves these problems. We help companies hire, pay, and care for global employees by providing infrastructure that empowers organisations to create work environments where global talents can thrive, while delivering exceptional team member experiences across the full employee lifecycle.
How has the ecosystem changed since you started? What has been the role of Covid-19 pandemic?
When my co-founder Jack Mardack and I first launched Oyster in January 2020, we thought it would take us five years to convince leaders that a global workforce is a better workforce.
The pandemic accelerated leaders’ willingness to imagine and work toward a world where proximity is not the biggest factor when deciding who and how to hire.
This past March, Oyster released its 2022 Employee Expectations Report. The report found that 44% of respondents said remote working was one of their top three factors when it came to their ideal company, 59% of respondents expect the ability to work from anywhere from their employer, and 81% of respondents said remote working had become more important since the pandemic.
Increased flexibility and greater autonomy will continue to be the preferences among employees who are re-evaluating their priorities when it comes to their careers.
What are the benefits of remote employment in the post-pandemic world?
When you remove the barriers of location and proximity bias, you can begin to address the inherent inequalities of hiring and employment. You can curb brain drain, invest in global talent and communities, and narrow the gap between access and opportunity.
Top talent is increasingly gravitating toward the best-distributed companies. Evidence shows that allowing people to work where and how they want leads to better outcomes.
Collaboration is heightened, not dampened, by asynchronous processes, people know what works for them, not management, and HR leaders today are being asked to make decisions around recruiting and retention that are vital to business success.
Recruitment strategies today are based on a local focus, looking for talent from nearby universities and employers rather than considering the entire globe for talent. It is, however, in employers’ interest to broaden their scope for talent. This means tapping into new networks, finding new channels to promote vacancies and source candidates, and improving accessibility of roles.
Employers must also eliminate biases from their recruitment processes. This is not just beneficial for society and job applicants; it is a well-documented phenomenon that minority status indicators on applications reduce the likelihood of success in a recruitment process. There is comprehensive data now that more diverse and inclusive companies perform better than less diverse and less inclusive organisations.
What strategies/processes should organisations put in place when hiring remote talent?
To ensure distributed employees can achieve success, there are three key factors to keep in mind:
- Set clear expectations and proactively build trust. Have an easy way for employees to self-identify their top priorities for the week and make commitments for clear deliverables.
- Use a weekly feedback loop to create transparency and trust. Implement synchronous 1:1s on a regular cadence to support your employees. Consider answering questions like “What communication tool works best for giving feedback?”, “How can I give you more ownership on the project you are working on?”, or “How often do you want to check-in with each other throughout the week?”
- Develop strategies around asynchronous communication, and documentation to empower your team. Non-work events should be intentional and focused on meaningful relationship building.
To avoid both extremes of isolation and Zoom fatigue, consider the following:
- Create clear expectations around disconnecting and balance. Explain how employees can self-report standard working hours or flexible availability. Set behavioural norms for response times on various types of communication.
- Create team-building with specific goals, such as skill-shares, Pomodoro sessions, or employee interest groups.
- Increase virtual visibility of the leadership team in the form of weekly Zoom All-Hands, regular Slack updates, or open “Office Hours.”
Develop a strategy around documentation, an essential method for creating an easy-to-navigate and central spot for company, team, or project knowledge that allows remote teams to function autonomously.
Create a comprehensive policy to ensure your team has all the necessary tools to do their job and understand the security guidelines. Have clear guidelines around passwords, two-factor authentication, and VPN usage, use secure, cloud-based storage for documentation, and consider benefits such as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot and booster to ensure connectivity, and a home-office stipend to purchase upgraded laptops, desks, chairs, and monitors.
With more businesses adopting a remote-first philosophy, with time together in the office reserved for important collaboration, what all elements of work will be at risk?
People operations have been leading the charge of reimagining the workplace for the better. We’re empowering people operations to build people-first organisations by hiring, paying, and caring for distributed teams with one platform.
It stems from our evolving relationship with work. Work is an extension of our identities now. Flexibility and benefits are more important than shallow perks like pizza and ping pong. Work needs to resonate with who I am. And it’s up to the HR practitioner to create that.
All of this is more challenging at a distributed company. It can be difficult to gauge the team without taking proactive steps in gathering employee feedback through engagement surveys, leading by example through setting healthy working hours at the executive level and celebrating the interests of team members outside of their working lives.
Additionally, it can, at times, be tempting to rely on old office-based habits such as jumping into impromptu meetings to quickly work through an issue. But this is not always an inclusive or sustainable practice at a distributed company. Therefore, having the discipline and commitment to instill best practices at an executive level is vitally important when leading a remote-first company.
How would you describe your journey to becoming a unicorn in less than two years of launching?
For the last two years, I and the rest of the Oyster team have been committed to our mission of creating a more equal world through global and distributed hiring and I am immensely proud of what we’ve accomplished.
With a total raise of $227 million to date and a $1 plus billion valuation, we have proven that distributed work is better for business, people, and the planet. We’re one of just a few B-Corporations to achieve the unicorn milestone.
We’ve built an incredible and diverse team that spans 60 countries and is composed of almost 60% women.
Our continued momentum speaks to the overall power of the distributed work movement. Oyster customers can recruit job seekers in over 180 countries and they use our platform to pay more than $25 million to talent in emerging economies each year.
What excites you for the future?
There used to be a belief that, if you were a mission-driven company, you might deliver less return to investors. But this perception is changing.
In my experience, rallying around a common social mission improves internal morale, unlocks productivity gains, and creates an environment where people are excited and hopeful about the work they are doing.
I am excited to continue making work, work for humans. People want more than just money for their careers, they also want to find purpose.