Talent Cloud makes long distance relationships work

I walk into a dark, ambient room that gives me the vibe of a Spotify office. This is where Gray O’Byrne, product owner and lead app developer for Talent Cloud told me his office was. I sit down in a trendy, white swivel chair that’s actually quite comfortable and admire the setup of the unique space around me while I wait. Someone from the team quietly gets up from their spot and turns on a light for me—they’ve noticed a foreign presence in the room—one they considered may not be accustomed to working in darkness.    

Gray rushes in shortly after. Talent Cloud—an experimental platform to improve how the Government of Canada (GC) hires people—evidently keeps him quite busy. “It’s someone’s first impression of working in the government,” Gray emphasizes. As a young professional working in the GC, I couldn’t agree more.

“It’s about letting candidates show us why they are qualified, rather than us being prescriptive about what makes them qualified.”

The Talent Cloud objective

Two things Talent Cloud is trying to improve right off the bat: time to staff, and quality of hires. Gray explains, “it’s about letting candidates show us why they are qualified, rather than us being prescriptive about what makes them qualified.” He recounts an instance where he had the opportunity to be a part of the actual hiring process on the platform. He heard from candidates that in their previous experiences with traditional government job postings, believed they didn’t meet the requirements to apply. But an opening for senior UX design on Talent Cloud drew them in—and they ended up being the top picks for the position—proving that they were, in fact, qualified from the start.

The Talent Cloud team works directly with HR advisors and hiring managers to learn about the hiring process, and from there they try to find ways to improve those processes. The tool is being built in conjunction with policy, so that anyone who is using it can do so comfortably, knowing that they are operating within the bounds.

The beauty of the Talent Cloud team is that they are literally interested in every aspect of the hiring process. It’s just a matter of identifying what can be improved, creating a plan, and then tackling it.

Shortening the distance in long distance

Talent Cloud encourages hiring remotely by making ‘remote work allowed’ the default option for the job postings on the platform, and they practice what they preach. The team itself is unique because they do not limit their hiring parameters by physical distance. The multidisciplinary team works from several cities across Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax. “The fact that they can do the work they want to do from where they want to do it is absolutely essential for having this team” Gray says, and he reiterates that diversity is a strong suit, “we brought together a crew of unlikely people who, as a result, stand up well in any context.”

So, how does a remote team ensure that their team dynamic is not compromised? Gray speaks of his own personal experience of having worked from home for about a year and a half prior to joining government: “I hated it. I needed the stimulus. So now I constantly think about how to change that for my team.”

“With a remote team, you have to consciously make space for conversations that would typically happen organically in the office.”

Gray holds meetings where everyone calls in from their desk, including those who are physically in the office. To him, this levels the playing field, and eliminates the notion of ‘us vs. them’. The team also has non-work related FTW (“for the win, or Friday time waste,” Gray chuckles) chats for 30 minutes every Friday to replace the missing ‘watercooler talk’. Gray acknowledges that with a remote team, you have to consciously make space for conversations that would typically happen organically in the office.

“These people may be out of sight, but they are top of mind for me.”

“These people may be out of sight, but they are top of mind for me,” Gray tells me, but he doesn’t deny that there are challenges. Keeping remote employees in the minds of people who don’t work with them daily is where the difficulties lie. One of the tactics the team has adopted is creating a “remote worker” in the room during workshops and meetings. This is someone who is physically in the room, but metaphorically separated by invisible walls as they call in and experience the meeting as a remote employee, serving as a reminder to the facilitator to acknowledge those who are on the line. An excellent way to monitor the remote experience and address problems in real-time, should they arise.

Since the start of Talent Cloud two years ago, managing a group across the country continues to excite Gray, “engaging people who are not in the room has become my passion,” he tells me.

Before I leave the office, Gray recruits me for user testing, “that’s the risk that comes with walking through those doors” he laughs, “but…you’d get a cookie for it.” Gray swiftly picks up a label maker and labels a giant oatmeal chocolate chip cookie: “RESERVED FOR…” followed by my name. “You’ll have to come back and get it,” he says with a cheeky grin. I admire the strategic move of using food to hold me accountable for my promise to partake in user testing.

Needless to say, I’m now scheduled for a session next week.

What the team has to say about their dynamic:

“We are committed to constant effective improvements, sensitive to our setting, and we make great use of hybrid communications, all with a fun sense of humour.” –David Mason, Montreal

“We care about getting tangible things done, and we care about each other.” –Tristan O’Rourke, Toronto

“The remote collaborative tools for developers are so good now that I often use them even with developers in the same room as me. Working on a remote team allows me to work with amazing people all over the country.” –Xander Miller, Ottawa

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