Sachin Bhagwata is interim vice president of enterprise sales at Toptal, the world’s largest fully distributed company. Paul Estes, editor-in-chief of Staffing.com and host of Toptal’s The Talent Economy Podcast, recently sat down with Bhagwata to discuss insights from Toptal’s Suddenly Remote Playbook. The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: The current crisis has ushered in unprecedented change. What are you hearing from clients who suddenly find themselves with a distributed workforce?
A: Right now, our clients are asking for advice. They see that we operate remotely, successfully, so they’re asking how this works at scale.
Our clients are open to remote work. They see that this works. They’re able to create teams from a global talent pool. With that paradigm shift, companies will be more open-minded moving forward.
Q: You made the leap from an office to Toptal. What were some of the challenges you faced transitioning to a remote environment?
A: An entrepreneur friend introduced me to Toptal. In my previous company, I tried to help him build an app, but a few months later, he came to me and said he went with Toptal. It was done in a quarter of the time and at one-tenth the cost of what we proposed. That intrigued me. After I joined, I was still in disbelief how well this model works. Not only is it working but it’s also much more productive than I ever imagined.
I faced three challenges when I joined. The first was adapting to the collaboration mechanisms of Slack and Zoom after spending my entire career in an office. The second was understanding the entire ecosystem and how it operates at scale. Fortunately, there’s a comprehensive onboarding process that introduced me to the various segments of Toptal. The third challenge was to convince the client that this model works and to educate them on the value and the quality of service.
Q: Now that you’re managing a remote team, you don’t have the watercooler chats where many ideas are shared. How do you build trust with your team and capture those moments?
A: Collaboration and communication are so effective that nothing is lost. I mean, it is exactly like being in an office and having physical proximity to my colleagues.
The trust issue is built through the efficacy of our people, our process, and our technology. We leverage our tools to evaluate, contribute, and collaborate in an ongoing fashion. We have very clearly defined goals and expectations for a particular role, a particular team, or a particular function. That allows everyone to see what the targets are and the time frame.
From a people perspective, the leadership team takes those goals and breaks them down into specific actionable objectives for individuals. Then, we trust our people to get their work done in whatever blocks of time suit them best.
Q: When people work from home, they don’t have the physical boundary that separates work time from home time. How do you suggest remote workers balance their time?
A: Fortunately, we have the technology tools that we talked about so you can be very open in communicating your availability—when you will be on break and what your working hours will look like as you block times for specific tasks. You have the freedom and flexibility to start as early or as late as you want. You can create your own work schedule and say, “this is when work stops.” As long as you reach your goals and communicate with full openness and transparency, everybody will respect your personal time and your workflow.
Q: When you look out to 2021, what will have fundamentally changed in the way Fortune 500 companies operate?
A: I think more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies will consider a remote workforce as a plausible option in the next 18 months. They will want to engage with talent providers and create an ecosystem that will support this paradigm. The Fortune 500 operating structure will want to be equipped and prepared for unforeseen situations similar to what we’re experiencing now. Their ability to react and adapt quickly will be a top priority for the next couple of years.
As remote work becomes the new normal, Toptal has created a dedicated space to offer insights and tips. On our Rise of Remote pages, you’ll find The Suddenly Remote Playbook, articles, podcasts, and live streaming videos with experts in the world of remote work. Visit and subscribe to stay connected.