- Service: Dedicated team
- Upptec transitioned from manual to automated labor and needed more hands and smarter work methods
- Beetroot built a dedicated team of 5 data operators for Upptec in 5 months
- In 13 months, the team helped Upptec grow their product and pricing databases by 50% and 500% respectively
Upptec has built a team of six data operators together with Beetroot in the mid-sized, Ukrainian city of Poltava. Anton is a team lead responsible for the Ukrainian dedicated development team. We asked Upptec about the concerns and challenges that come with distributed teams, cultural and communication differences, as well as some of the benefits associated with the remote working environment.
Here, at Upptec, we want to be at the forefront of digitizing the home insurance evaluation process. Our working approach partially relies on a large database of product information as well as prices in an online store network. When starting out, we had about 60% of the Swedish market, but have now launched in the rest of Scandinavia and western Europe.
During our expansion phase, we were transitioning from manual to automated labor. When we looked at similar service offers from competitors, we discovered that they often had 200-300 employees working on smaller markets, while we were providing services to larger markets with only three people on our team. Thus, we needed more hands and smarter work methods. During this time, one of the Car.info (another Beetroot client) founders told us about Beetroot. They had a significant amount of previous experience with building these kinds of teams and had only good things to say about Beetroot and their current team in Ukraine. We decided to get in touch with Beetroot.
Building a team
I don’t recall having any specific expectations at the very beginning. As we were learning more about Beetroot, our expectations were growing higher. We decided to begin by hiring five people to the team in two separate rounds. It took Beetroot five months to provide us with the final line-up. Naturally, we were considering a lot more than five candidates altogether, probably closer to 20. Access to such a big pool of competent applicants was out of our reach at the time. We were involved in the interviews but, reflecting on it, we didn’t invest much effort from our side, making it a pretty “smooth ride” overall.
The language barrier has always been our main concern. Our service is fairly complicated when it comes to product specifications, and we speak zero Ukrainian or Russian. The worry was that if we had to solve a problem or explain something to people that spoke zero English, it would significantly slow down the development process. However, we were lucky to find a team with a sufficient level of English. In addition, following our second round of employing people, the training process for them was twice as fast, because we already had developers to communicate, teach and train them.
We also had concerns about the remote working process, as well as the amount of time needed for the hands-on approach. Whenever we experience a decline in productivity, we were questioning whether it was due to lack of experience and knowledge, or discipline problems. It is difficult to monitor these issues remotely.
Finally, we had a small misunderstanding regarding the role of the HRs. At first, we could not determine whether they would act as authoritative figures or work on the same level. We overcame these issues by building better, more transparent and trustful relations with our HR, Tania. We emphasized that our task was to get the job done as efficiently as possible, but we didn’t want to create an unhappy and unsafe work environment. Once Tania understood our goals and genuine compassion for our team, the relations improved significantly.
The main cultural difference between Swedish and Ukrainian employees was an underlying degree of competitiveness. In particular, Swedish employees were more competitive in comparison to their Ukrainian counterparts. At the same time, there is a stronger sense of community for Ukrainian teams, as people share the responsibility for the outcomes. While commonly it’s not a problem in any way, such an approach might be surprising to some companies.
Another trait, which is inherent to Ukrainian developers, is poor feedback culture. The developers were receiving our feedback in a defensive manner. In the beginning, we invested a lot of time mixing positive feedback with the negative one. Our team was bringing attention to the negative components requiring improvement. Eventually, the developers from Ukraine learned to perceive feedback as an opportunity for improvement.
A feedback culture requires attention and improvement in any team. While the company needs to ensure a safe working environment and positive motivation approaches, the employees need to remain focused and serious about their work. The team should feel comfortable without being lazy, while also staying productive without being scared. The balance commonly yields the best results.
The state of being relaxed and productive requires inspiration rather than coercion. It’s difficult to achieve such a result remotely, especially when assigning difficult, sometimes unpleasant, tasks. Therefore, it’s important to show up in person and interact with your team offline, rather than appearing only in the form of a text message.
Apart from periodic offline communication, we have two regular weekly meetings online. On Monday, we analyze the upcoming work tasks, as everyone shares their plans and objectives for the week. At this point, we are able to see whether someone has similar plans and offer them to cooperate. We also have a more casual meeting on Friday to discuss any news that pops up during the week and to check out if we managed to accomplish our Monday plans. The last couple of times we also decided to share some local news. Insurance is generally not an amusing topic that people would like to discuss, you know. Therefore, we thought it might be interesting to talk about things that are unrelated to Upptec, to have a laugh, to share our plans for the weekend, and to socialize in a more informal way.
Beetroot: How do you improve your team over time?
Anton: For the first six months, we were simply trying to make them independent. Now we focus on expanding their knowledge in secondary systems and letting their roles grow alongside with an improvement of their skills.
We also aim to improve cooperation within a team. First, we had five people, who learned to be autonomous, as each of them was working on a separate task. Now, we launched a practice that we call “knowledge sharing”. We give two people separate tasks, but instead of working on them independently, they accomplish each of them together. This practice is extremely useful. For example, we have one person that is very good at analyzing texts but his skills in mechanical use of shortcuts are insufficient. Thus, we found someone who has the exact opposite skill and voila – we got a team, which is much better at doing their job.
Once we decided to give our team a project and didn’t tell them how to accomplish it. That’s where we noticed some interesting developments. They were much more communicative and cooperative as a team. Our Skype chat went silent while they were solving the task altogether, and they did great at the end.
Beetroot: What would you recommend to look for when hiring a development partner?
Anton: Check their experience first: having a couple of years in their CVs is a good sign. Developed infrastructure is another important thing. For example, Beetroot always had an apartment available for us and arranged transportation when we arrived.
Beetroot: How did we help your business grow?
Anton: Thanks to Beetroot, our product database has increased by 50% in 13 months. Before cooperating with a distributed partner, it took us ten years to achieve the same results. In regards to pricing databases, they increased by 500%. Therefore, the productivity on our end has exploded and not just because of the extra hands, but because of the smarter solutions as well.
Beetroot: Would you recommend our services to other companies?
Anton: To those, who have a similar sort of business, for sure. If you have people to invest in building this cooperation for the first 6 months, it will be worth it in the long run. On the other hand, if you need everything up and running straight away, it’s better to hire locally.
Outsourcing or outstaffing is frequently viewed as an imbalanced practice and the exploitation of poor countries. Beetroot tries to change this stereotype. The company doesn’t seek teams in Kyiv only, as there are offices in smaller cities and opportunities for education at Beetroot Academy. I do think that it is essential to accept responsibility for the people you’re working with. After all, there are hundreds of developers investing their time in what can be a temporary project, so it’s important that they are not only fairly paid, but also have options for further advancement. The working atmosphere between teams generated by Beetroot feels very comfortable. It’s a nice working space.