This is a case study with Renée Erlandsson, Project Manager at Pixel – a fast-growing SEO agency in Stockholm, Sweden. Beetroot has built a dedicated tech team together with Pixel in Poltava, Ukraine.
Our company specializes in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and we help clients with both on- and off-page SEO. When talking about on-page, we mean any actions modifying your website: curating content, building landing pages, creating product categories and writing titles and meta descriptions. Our Beetroot team is primarily responsible for building WordPress websites that contribute to off-page SEO, actions that don’t take place on your actual site. The ambition is to develop the functionality on these sites so that their high quality comes through well enough to differentiate us from our competitors.
In the very beginning, we were a small company but grew quickly. At some point, we realized that we needed someone who’d focus solely on WordPress development. We’ve always liked experimenting with different business approaches and building a remote team was something we wanted to try out.
We decided to look at having a development team in Ukraine, firstly because Beetroot had been recommended to us by a partner, and secondly because of the country’s known availability of qualified WordPress developers. We needed specialists who would make the process easier and more cost-efficient for us. At the end of the day, that’s exactly what Beetroot helped us with, and we kicked it off with a team of two people in Poltava, a mid-sized city in central Ukraine.
From the very beginning, things went much smoother than we anticipated. We’ve always had an open dialogue, and our Poltava team have worked pretty much independently from the start and are a great complement to our in-house team. Whenever they have specialized knowledge in something that might not be as familiar to us, they take the time to explain everything.
A sense of ownership, directness, and proactivity
It’s always fascinating to work with people from other countries and explore their unique cultures. What can be said about Ukrainian developers is that they are friendly, genuine and prestigeless; they’re generally eager to help with a wide range of inquiries. We were also surprised that they, right from the start, were honest and direct. They quickly developed a sense of ownership of the project and tend to voice their concerns or opinions up front. Once you get used to this non-Scandinavian straightforwardness, the whole process becomes much simpler. We’ve come to see our team as a proactive team; they’re not afraid to come with suggestions for improvements.
One thing to keep in mind when working with a distributed team is that you can’t easily have quick face-to-face meetings. But having multiple communication channels really helps alleviate this. Slack is a good tool but we’re also having weekly video meetings. You can’t always convey the nuances on Slack, so it’s easier to create this internal team feeling with video calls.
There are also other aspects that you might have to think about, that wouldn’t be an issue with an in-house or Swedish team. For example, both our team in Ukraine and I forgot about the time difference when booking our first video call, so they called me one hour before I expected our meeting to take place.
Communication in English works fine, both written and spoken. The English level is a bit different from in Sweden, but it’s constantly improving since our everyday conversations are in English. Also, Beetroot offers free English courses and we have noticed that our developers seem more confident each day. This is yet another reason to have regular video calls with the team. It’s a tool to help them practice.
The importance of HR
Apart from the team of developers, Beetroot provides us with a dedicated HR person who takes care of our team in Ukraine. Our HR, Tatiana, sits right next to the team and is therefore able to take the temperature on a daily basis. More than that, she conducts performance reviews together with us every six months as well as giving feedback and small tips on how to make our cooperation more efficient. It’s very helpful to have her on the team since she deals with all those tiny things that are crucial for them to feel like a part of Pixel, even though we’re not located in the same office.
Tips for others who want to build a distributed team
- Be open-minded: In order to make things work, it’s necessary to be open-minded. I think this is important for in-house teams too because we’re all different and, as coworkers, we need to accept other people’s unique traits. When you’re building a team abroad, you’ll also have to deal with broader, cultural differences. So be prepared to acknowledge the fact that doing things differently doesn’t mean doing things incorrectly.
- Consider the experience level: I think it’s important to carefully consider the experience level your new developers should have. What level do you need? For us, hiring junior and mid-level developers was the right thing to do, as many of our tasks are on that level of complexity. If we hired senior developers, on the one hand, they would get up to speed very quickly, but on the other hand, they might get bored just as quickly and leave the team, something that would do more harm than good in the long run. This is an often overlooked factor. By having less experienced team members we ensure higher engagement and a lower turnover rate. We want our team to develop themselves and we constantly make an effort to give them new and challenging tasks. So, make sure that you recruit team members who have the appropriate technical level and experience.
- Have clear expectations: It’s good to set clear expectations for the working process. We didn’t have any previous experience in working with Ukrainian developers, but one of our business partners had, so we had an idea of what it would be like. At the end of the day, the team exceeded our expectations. They needed a shorter onboarding period than anticipated and showed high efficiency from the very beginning. So apart from setting your expectations straight, you should also be open to the distributed team surprising you in a good way.
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