Bringing a distributed workforce to the table

Photo by Manny Pantoja

Tablevibe started out as a side-project from two Googlers in 2020 with the aim of helping restaurants capture customer feedback in exchange for loyalty incentives. As Jeroen Rutten, CEO of Tablevibe recalls, “the idea first took shape when I was in a restaurant in Singapore, and I noticed the owner giving out physical feedback forms for customers to fill in. After a bit of thought, I realised that there was a better way to collect customer information and ensure a steady stream of feedback.

“The feedback system could be moved online, where customers could access the feedback forms by scanning a QR code and even receive incentives, such as dining discounts or free drinks, if they filled in the form.”

Working together with Co-founder & Chief Business Officer Mathieu Sneep, Rutten saw the solution rapidly gain popularity and transform from a side project into a successful entity in its own right. “As the demand for online food delivery continues to surge, “ said Rutten, “we realised that many restaurants depend on delivery applications for revenue, especially during the pandemic, but struggle with high commissions and limited customer data. This was when Tablevibe stepped in to address the market gap by providing a solution for restaurants to take online orders directly from customers.”

Despite being a startup, the Tablevibe team maintains a dispersed workforce with its members based in different parts of the world. This set up, for many years only achievable by larger companies with more resources, is now made more accessible by global employment platforms, such as Remote, which has facilitated Tablevibe’s adoption of this model.

SMEhorizon speaks with Jeroen Rutten, CEO of Tablevibe, on his company’s use of a distributed workforce, and the challenges and rewards it has brought along the way. Meanwhile, Job van der Voort, Remote’s CEO, discusses why distributed workforces are the future of work, even as we emerge from the pandemic, and how SMEs can leverage them to their advantage.

Distributed workforces during and after the pandemic

Tablevibe’s distributed workforce was, as with many other companies, a pandemic driven situation. While the company was taking off and its founders were preparing to go full time, the pandemic meant that working together would not be possible. “During that period, I decided to make the move back to Europe, and the rest of the team had their own plans to relocate to different countries as well,” said Rutten. “In order to keep the business running, we had to adopt an arrangement where we all worked from different bases around the world.”

However, rather than seeing this as purely an obstacle to be overcome, the team quickly saw the silver lining. “While this was challenging at first, we quickly realised that a dispersed model like this also had its unique benefits, such as allowing us to hire the best developers and salespeople from different markets, and not being limited to just one country’s talent pool,” shares Rutten.

These advantages are being recognised by companies more broadly. Says Van der Voort, “The shift to distributed teams is a permanent one. Companies and their HR teams are seeing that adopting a distributed remote workforce model is becoming a necessity more than an option, to stay competitive in global markets and to recruit the best available talent for open roles.”

Singaporean companies are part of the trend. “The 2023 IDC InfoBrief found that in the three years since the global remote work revolution began, Singaporean companies have increasingly looked towards a model of permanently distributed teams spread across multiple locations,” Van der Voort continues.

“The shift has been driven by a need to address major talent gaps in the workforce and improve profitability in the current macroeconomic climate.

Noting that Singapore ranked second among the four surveyed countries in the Asia Pacific region and companies in Singapore hired 20-30% of remote Full Time Employees or contractors, Van der Voort concludes that “Ultimately, companies need to be receptive to this shift and recognize the increasing demand from both current and prospective employees for enhanced flexibility. Those that fail to proactively adapt to this evolving landscape may find themselves at a disadvantage compared to their more agile counterparts.”

Going further while keeping together

Rutten shares that Tablevibe’s collaboration with Remote began when they were looking for ways to bypass hiring and labour requirements in different countries, while also helping the company understand the different laws and compliance processes that we needed to be aware of.”

These challenges are often faced by smaller companies looking to expand. Van der Voort shares that “because international hiring requires setting up offices or subsidiaries in different countries, which can be costly and time-consuming, as well as the cost, infrastructure and expertise to navigate complex legal and tax regulations in different countries.

“Beyond these basics, SMEs often generally lack the resources to be able to provide benefits and understand the culture and work practices in each country so that employees will feel that they are part of a community without compromising company culture.”

Global employment platforms have, in the last few years, stepped in to enable cost-effective global hiring. “SMEs can rely on the platforms’ expertise to handle payroll, tax compliance, employment contracts, and other administrative responsibilities, allowing them to focus on their core business operations,” continues Van der Voort.

“This means smaller companies can overcome the resource and expertise limitations they may face when expanding their workforce globally. It allows them to compete on a level playing field with larger companies, enabling access to top talent and fostering growth opportunities in an increasingly interconnected world.

For Tablevibe, the specialist help provided in streamlining onboarding processes, managing tax claims, and navigating the complexities of global hiring and employee management, helped the team focus solely on expanding the businesses, while reducing operational costs and uncertainties when hiring employees overseas. “As we continued our journey of helping restaurants capture customer feedback, optimise delivery costs, and create their own database, we began expanding our team,” says Rutten.

“We grew from 3 to 8 people, adding mostly developers at first.  In the second half of 2022, we scaled our ordering solution and expanded our sales team in both the Philippines and in Australia. Today, we have grown to a team that is 14 people strong.”

Bringing the potential to companies of all sizes

Working with a speclist partner enabled by technology, Tablevibe was able to pivot its offerings during the pandemic, allowing it to weather both the challenging period and take advantage of opportunities to propel its growth. For other companies considering these model, Van der Voort recommends paying attentionn to data security.

“Companies that operate from physical office spaces often benefit from centralized security systems that safeguard data transmission. However, establishing a similar level of security becomes more complex with a distributed workforce. Consequently, companies must prioritize fortifying their network and security infrastructure by enhancing access provisioning, server management, and authentication protocols before adopting a distributed workforce model.

“Companies can also prioritize using Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings which are kept up to date and enable anyone to log in securely, regardless of their geographical differences.”

Reflecting on Tablevibe’s own journey, Rutten advises companies to first do a thorough assessment of the potential challenges and risks associated with establishing a distributed remote workforce.

“It’s important to ensure that your existing team culture and collaboration pillars are strong and can be maintained when expanding the team internationally,” he explains. “Once you’re certain the benefits of having a remote workforce outweighs the challenges, I highly recommend outsourcing the legal requirements of hiring employees in different markets to a third-party organisation that has experience in global HR administration and legal compliance.

“Otherwise, the time and funds required to open and operate offices in various international locations would most likely prove to be too draining for SMEs to handle, given that they are already operating with limited resources.”