Workplace

​​How Spotify, Shopify and other remote-first companies are winning the talent war

Companies that have gone permanently remote are seeing a surge in applications, prompting them to double down on their hiring practices.

A man talks to someone over video chat

How are remote-first companies keeping up with all those applications?

Photo: insta_photos/Getty Images

When Dropbox went remote in October 2020, the company expected its workforce to become more geographically distributed.

What it didn’t expect was that the number of workers applying to work at Dropbox would explode. But over a year after the announcement, the pace at which the company fills positions sped up and it found talent in hundreds of new locations, according to Alastair Simpson, VP of Design. Since late 2020, Dropbox has approved over 200 relocations for current workers, received three times more applicants per open role and found new talent in places like Portland, Chicago, Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina.

Other companies that have gone remote-first have seen similar results: Applications are surging, and companies are finding candidates all over the world. But it’s a lot to keep up with all of those applications, and tech leaders said they’ve had to grow their talent acquisition teams. The move has been worth it: They've identified new areas that are home to good talent.

“It really has been a game-changer for us that we are able to unlock these talent markets,” Lindsey Goring, a global talent acquisition leader at Spotify, told Protocol. “We’re less than a year into this program, and so we’re really going to see the growth more and more.”

Hiring is booming for remote companies

In interviews with Quora, Upwork, Spotify, Shopify and Dropbox, every company said it has seen an increase in applications since becoming remote-first.

Spotify’s Goring said the company is currently in “hyper-growth,” meaning it has had a bigger qualified pool of candidates since it implemented a policy allowing employees to work from anywhere in February 2021. One month after launching the program, Goring said Spotify saw a 32% increase in applications, and traffic to its career site and LinkedIn pages surged. “It was pretty immediate, which was great to see,” she said.

Shopify is noticing more applications, too. Cathy Polinsky, Shopify’s VP of Engineering, said the company received nearly 100,000 job applications in 2020, although it doesn’t currently have application numbers for 2021. Shopify has also nearly doubled its talent acquisition team since shifting to primarily remote work in May 2020, she told Protocol.

Anthony Rotoli, Quora’s VP of People Operations and Talent, said the company has seen a rise in applications from around the world and outside the Bay Area since it went remote-first last year. Quora now has workers from all time zones and is hiring in all 50 U.S. states, Rotoli said.

New ‘talent hubs’ are emerging

Remote-first companies said they’re starting to home in on certain areas of the world and find more talent there, dubbing those locations “talent hubs.”

Quora’s Rotoli said keeping up with a surge in applications was initially overwhelming, but the company has begun establishing areas of Ireland, Canada and India where it sees potential to hire more people. Rotoli said the company creates a referral network, either through existing employees, external agencies or advisers, that can help Quora expand in a certain region.

“As we consider an applicant's location, we want to see that there is opportunity to hire more people in that same location over time,” Rotoli told Protocol. “Sometimes that might not be the case, but it still could make sense for us to hire a single person in a location if they are bringing some specialized, really difficult-to-find skills to the table.”

There’s also a tax benefit for hiring workers in the same location. In the U.S., companies need to navigate varying tax and payroll issues to be able to hire out-of-state. Companies also need to weigh labor and employment laws related to topics like sick leave in each state.

Upwork has expanded its reach to additional areas of the U.S., such as Texas and Chicago, and it’s looking to build out its sales team in other locations, Chief People Officer Zoë Harte told Protocol. “The great advantage of this is that we don’t have to go out and find 15 people in this metro area. We can say, ‘Here’s the very, very best communications person that we found’ … and they may be in completely different places, and that’s OK too.”

Although hiring more top-notch candidates in places where companies have already found talent is helpful, Shopify’s Polinsky said the company doesn’t necessarily think in terms of talent hubs because good candidates can be found in places where no one else at Shopify works. “We have employees in Arizona and Maryland and Waterloo and Berlin and Singapore,” she said. “It does tend to be [that] when you get a couple people in an area, you are connected to their network, but we aren’t necessarily going into a specific city.”

The interview process just got easier

Remote-first companies said even though they need to keep up with more applications, the hiring process itself has gotten easier and faster. Most companies Protocol spoke to said they’ve also increased the size of their talent acquisition teams to stay on top of applications.

Upwork’s Harte said that because the company’s benefits and perks no longer differ between remote and in-person employees, candidates can get a fuller picture of what’s provided when they join. The company gives workers a $1,000 stipend to set up their at-home office with a monitor, chair and other needs, and employees get a co-working stipend if they’d rather work outside the home: both perks that potential hires are told about when they interview as a means of highlighting Upwork’s priorities and culture.

“Culture is not self-evident in the way you visit an office,” Harte said. “We wanted to make sure that we created opportunities to demonstrate that [culture] in our interviewing process.”

At Dropbox, moving to remote-first has allowed the company to consider candidates outside the traditional tech worker. The company is looking at people from nonlinear career paths ranging from writers to teachers to artists, Simpson said.

Still, it’s hard to get a full idea of a company’s culture over virtual interviews. Although Spotify is shifting toward being primarily remote, it still gives applicants a taste of its Swedish roots by organizing "fikas," or Swedish coffee breaks, so applicants can have a more casual conversation. “It’s really important that folks know we’re distributed but connected,” Goring said.

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