An established leader in online multi-asset trading services and currency data, OANDA enjoys a global reach, servicing retail traders and FinTech clients around the world from multiple offices located in cities and countries spread across five continents.
Building a truly global company such as OANDA means bridging the problems associated with working across multiple time zones and diverse cultures. For OANDA, the solution was to develop a strong company culture committed to collaboration, innovation and most importantly, a company-wide focus on providing a best-in-class experience to its clients.
The pandemic and subsequent need for employees to work from home could easily have amplified the challenges of a global workforce, separating people by both country and city. However, despite this, the firm has chosen to focus on the benefits they have gained from the new reality, rather than worry about the challenges.
Few understand this better than Angel Cifuentes and Gabriel Teng, who lead two of OANDA’s dedicated Client Experience (CX) teams. Based in Toronto and Singapore, respectively, Angel and Gabriel have first-hand experience of the challenges created by a remote workforce and coordinating two dispersed teams. However, they believe OANDA’s commitment to flexibility and diversity – supported by its robust communication strategy – has made their successful partnership easy, even amid the pandemic.
Angel and Gabriel recently sat down with Aneta Wojnar, Senior Recruitment Marketing Specialist at OANDA’s newly-opened Eastern-European hub in Krakow, Poland, to discuss OANDA’s global culture and its unique approach to a remote workforce.
Global Teams and Global Understanding
Building a global team necessitates bridging the inevitable cultural divides that occur when bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and locations. These divides can translate into conflicting approaches to customer service and even in attitudes toward work itself. For a global company like OANDA, it’s critical that everyone meets the same high standards, particularly when it comes to customer service.
Also at play, however, is the philosophy driving OANDA’s global approach that these differences produce the diversity of thought that drives innovation and creativity. Angel and Gabriel believe it’s all about finding a balance.
To accomplish this balance, Gabriel and Angel have been involved in developing and implementing a quality index that measures performance against a standard set of KPIs and other data. The index enables the team to measure the quality of customer interactions, for example, and has helped ensure the client experience remains a core focus.
The idea is to ensure everyone works to the same standards, regardless of whether they are working at home or their geographical location. “It’s the only way to be fair to everyone,” Angel explains. “We have to ensure that here in Toronto, we’re on the same page as Singapore without harming the existing local culture.”
A Strong Company Culture
Like national culture, company culture is a living and breathing reality just as critical to its health. As such, OANDA takes a proactive approach to its corporate culture, recognising that people are the key to its success while maintaining a company-wide focus on customer experience.
That shared goal is supported in every one of OANDA’s locations by a commitment to fostering innovation, collaboration, creativity and inclusivity through the variety of experiences, voices and ideas that only a global workforce spread across five continents can provide. And the key to putting it all together, and maintaining that commitment to its employees and customers, Angel and Gabriel believe, is communication.
When it comes to working from home, people all over the world complain they are feeling a sense of isolation, caused in large by a lack of communication. Not so at OANDA, smiles Angel, who has been with the company for more than seven years. “It’s been great. We’re working together much more than in previous years, despite a 13-hour time difference between Singapore and Toronto. We’re in constant communication, whether it’s through Slack or Google hangouts. We also regularly jump on late-night calls together, taking turns on who stays up.”
Gabriel has been with the company for almost seven years now and agrees, pointing out that he and Angel spend more time together now than they ever have – albeit online. During their time together, they routinely share ideas and work on joint projects, such as the firm’s new remote customer-service training program.
Training a Remote Workforce
This training program highlights yet another successful collaboration between the Singapore and Toronto teams, demonstrating how the company enables development despite a 13-hour time difference. Its core purpose is to keep existing employees abreast of company developments while ensuring new hires undergo the same onboarding experience as if they were physically in the office. The meeting to introduce the team to a new hire may look a little different online, but it’s still a critical element of the onboarding process, says Gabriel.
He also feels it’s essential to find exciting and engaging ways to immerse new employees in the company culture, which is accomplished through various means at OANDA. For example, the firm recently launched a Pingboard that everyone can access to see “who’s who” and “who does what” in each geography. For Gabriel and Angel, this tool helps reduce the time it takes for new employees to feel part of the team, saying it acts as a virtual cheat sheet for both networking and problem-solving.
Much like many global functions at OANDA, the CX team also hosts its own Slack channel that brings the teams closer and facilitates ongoing communication. “Slack makes it so easy to have a quick chat or send a short message,” says Angel. “We also use it to make quick calls or share screens to provide a visual. It’s the office equivalent of a daily meeting and cubicle chats combined.”
Like Gabriel, Angel also leverages the Pingboard, providing an exact list of team responsibilities and details of the many initiatives OANDA has launched to help engage new hires with the company culture. In place of the traditional tour of a physical office, both team leads provide a virtual tour of the company org and the team’s numerous Slack channels, for example.
Making these personal connections is also critical to ensuring that Gabriel and Angel’s teams remain in synch even though they’re 15,000km apart. They host weekly team video check-ins where they discuss projects and ensure everyone is on board. “In Singapore, we also have Friday social chats with one another and find out how everyone’s coping. Sometimes we order food from the budget and play games,” Gabriel laughs.
It’s been more of a challenge in Toronto where there is a much larger age gap among existing staff. “Many people are parents or have other commitments, which means they can’t always attend,” Angel explains.
However, Angel has found a solution to make these online events less formal. “Some activities are organised by team members at the last minute. Not everyone can make it, and that’s ok,” he contends. “But I expect to see more organised online team events once everyone has adjusted to the fact that we’re going to be in this environment for some time to come.” For now, though, the approach is to be flexible – to reach out and show you care, but also to recognise that everyone’s lifestyle and commitments are different. And yes, that’s ok.
A Flexible Approach
Few would argue that the pandemic has amplified the need for flexibility when it comes to remote teams. “Right now, there’s no other choice, but to be honest I believe flexibility is a global best practice at any time,” laughs Angel. He recommends that leaders try to be as flexible as possible but understand when certain colleagues simply can’t turn up. “We work as part of a global team that operates 24-hours a day, five days a week, so being flexible in terms of availability and meeting times, for example, really matters.” Gabriel concurs, “That said, we are also mindful that even if we’re ok with having a call after office hours, others might not be comfortable with that choice. Again, this is where open communication counts.”
“We can’t and don’t expect everyone to accommodate our schedules,” Angel agrees. However, their joint flexibility works very well for them, and the two men have even become friends. Angel has been to Singapore, and the pair even travelled together to Manila, albeit for work. And while they focus on Slack for work conversations, they also catch up on WhatsApp after work.
Personal communication is also essential to each team at OANDA, providing an informal way to recognise individual contributions. “Providing personal feedback and positive recognition plays a critical role in employee engagement,” Gabriel explains. “This is more challenging now we work remotely. When we were all in the same office, I could take people out for a coffee and a quick chat to highlight the positive impact they have made on the team.” While this is no longer possible, both leaders take the time to call or text staff members regularly. “There’s no coffee, but the call and the thank you still matter,” laughs Angel.
Gabriel adds that transparency is also critical, and that is also fostered through open communication. So is trust. “Trust your team,” he says. “We may not see each other face-to-face each day, but I do trust everyone will continue to deliver without compromising on quality.” As such, check-ins are still part of the routine, not to question whether someone is working, rather simply to be present.
A Successful Remote Workforce
Remote working is not new to OANDA, and many of the company’s teams were already working online long before the pandemic. The infrastructure was already in place, and a global company culture well established, allowing for a quick, successful pivot to completely remote work when it became necessary.
The company’s real success though lies in its commitment to its people, which is evidenced in how Angel and Gabriel manage their teams and their partnership. Their long tenures with the firm, enthusiasm for their work, and trust in their teams are further proof that OANDA’s unique approach to global remote work is, in fact, working.
Angel Cifuentes. Client Experience Manager. A passionate professional with more than 7 years of experience working in customer service roles, spanning from Telecommunications to Consumer Staples. 6 years’ experience trading securities in the U.S and Canadian markets, he has acquired a great understanding about what makes a client experience exceptional in the Fintech industry. He studied Business Management in the city of Toronto, Canada’s financial centre.
Gabriel Teng. Client Experience Manager. Responsible for the overall productivity and service quality of the Singapore CX team has more than 9 years of experience in the financial services industry spanning across sales and client experience. Gabriel is very passionate about the markets and – as he says – a pretty good trader proud of being a part of fintech industry. This fast-paced environment is one that allows plenty of room for growth.