Perspectives on Remote Work: Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist
Feb 21, 2022 · 8 MIN READ
It’s 2022, and companies are still struggling to make a remote-first way of thinking work for their organization. Companies are urging employees to come back to the office full-time, trying to entice their team with new office benefits, like free lunch.
Instead, now is the time for organizations across all industries to realize that a remote company is the way of the future, and it should be embraced, not fought.
We sat down with Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist, a company that creates tools that simplify and organize the workday, to explain how they make remote-first work for them and how organizations can learn how to make working remotely a successful initiative for them, too.
The beginnings of Doist
From day one, Doist has been a fully remote company. Back in 2007, Salihefendic knew that remote was a niche way to go about things but thought it was the only way to move forward.
Salihefendic shares, “When we first started, working remotely was a very niche thing. We started because, at the time, I was in Chile, and I couldn’t hire locally in Chile. There aren’t many tech people in the area.
“I started to hire globally and then suddenly, we became a fully distributed company all around the world.”
One of the best things about being a remote company that Salihefendic found was that when you search for talent, and your organization is remote, it’s easy to find the kind of people you’re looking for. Instead of flying people in and interviewing onsite, you can expand the talent pool because the talent doesn’t have to come into the office to maintain their job or excel in their role.
“Without working remotely, it would have been impossible. Or I would have needed to relocate to a place where I could hire the people I needed. And I didn’t want to do that”, Salihefendic explains.
The case to remain remote-first
Throughout 2021, we’ve seen companies try to revert to their “old” ways, before the pandemic forced companies to rethink the workplace. Salihefendic recommends taking a hard look at why companies feel like this is the next move and why it shouldn’t be necessary.
He explains, “Companies who are pushing for employees to return to the office — they’re on Zoom all day anyway. So why are they even there? Are people spending time meeting with their colleagues and brainstorming and using an office for what it would be more beneficial to use it for?”
Instead of forcing employees to return to office life, Doist allocates money they would have spent on the office to more funding. They’ve done retreats with employees to create memories and experiences to create a strong bond across the team. They spend money — but spend it differently.
Doist has also seen many benefits in recruiting and hiring from different countries, which are the primary reasons companies need to get behind being fully remote.
Salihefendic explains, “It’s a superpower to be able to hire and live and work from anywhere. It’s great for companies, but it’s also great for people. When you hire people all over the world who are earning a great salary, it can impact the local community because the wealth isn’t centralized into huge cities.”
Companies should also consider the major benefit that comes with the ability to disconnect and plan your own day as you like. When your organization works remotely, they don’t have to stick to a 9-5 schedule.
“If you have to take a few hours off, I don’t feel like I’m blocking anybody or holding up the company. Being remote truly is the ultimate freedom,” shares Salihefendic.
Challenges of being remote
Even with all of its advantages, being a remote-first company can bring its own unique set of challenges. For instance, working remotely requires a lot more discipline and office managers or founders have a fear that their employees aren’t working or they’re slacking off.
But, in reality, Salihefendic has found that the opposite is true. He explains, “People are working, but there’s the downside of the fact that they can work all the time and they don’t take time for themselves. Being remote has created a culture of always on – always connected, which is bad for mental and physical health. Maybe people don’t go out as much as they used to or do as many sports. This can be a challenge with remote work, especially with lockdowns. People are stuck with their kids or stuck at home or have been home a long time. This can severely impact mental health and lead to burnout. Personal and professional lives are more intertwined than ever.”
And while companies all over the world are claiming to recognize the signs of burnout and the consequences that come with it, it’s another to actually do something about it. At Doist, they’re embracing asynchronous first, which means they strive for more deep work instead of being on Zoom calls all day. They’re also open to issues about mental health, and employees can take days off without asking anybody.
“We trust that if people are going to take a day off, it’s because they need to,” explains Salihefendic.
For this type of mindset to work, organizations need to get on board with trust, which is a key element too successful remote companies of all shapes and sizes. Salihefendic explains further to say, “Without trust, remote won’t work, and it goes both ways. We don’t check on people. We don’t care when you work or where you work. We don’t micromanage.”
Creating a positive work culture
For some organizations, knowing how to build a culture in a remote-first company poses its own challenge. These companies should remember that it is possible to have a strong culture inside a remote-first company.
“Culture isn’t being in an office. It’s the people that you have to hire, the people you fire, and the values you have inside, the communication styles you have,” explains Salihefendic.
To make this work, consider the initiatives that Doist offers its employees. For instance, they give the team the freedom to take one month off a year to master a new skill or hobby and spend time on their own pet project.
It’s also essential to make sure the values that make up the culture aren’t just words listed on a company website but instead put into action. For Doist, one of their values is independence, which is a must-have for any remote business. “You need to have people that are self-driven and self-managed because you’re working in different time zones. People need to do their own thing and contribute in their own way. You shouldn’t rely on the office to communicate values and have a tangible culture,” shares Salihefendic.
Doist also fosters team camaraderie and collaboration by creating squads of five people who work together on a project they need to execute. Every month, they assemble new teams, so during the year, employees are always working with different people and thrown into various working problems, which makes people adaptable.
Finally, there’s the standard question surrounding virtual meetings. Does Doist encourage their team to have their Zoom cameras on or off? Salihefendic answers by saying, “We have very few Zoom meetings, but when we do, cameras are on, and people are focused. Most of our meetings are one-on-one to build rapport with people. Plus, we only have meetings with agendas, there always — needs to be a reason you’re having a meeting.”
Tips to successfully transition to remote work
“Start gradually by introducing a more asynchronous work-life balance. Abolish the standard 9-5 schedule. Find other ways to evaluate your team. Do it slowly, so it’s less of a shock. Take baby steps. Small behavior changes or start with one day working remotely. There’s no perfect model for every company.”
And, if you’re still considering some compromise that looks like a hybrid office environment, think again.
“Beware of introducing hybrid, because then you have two different worlds for your employees that may not be compatible. You then might have the worst of both — not good at office work and not good at remote-first. Suddenly everything’s a mess.”
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what is the future of your company. For this, Salihefendic recommends, “Change how you evaluate people. Micromanaging doesn’t work in a remote company. Leadership styles need to change. You don’t want to measure how many hours someone is putting in. The companies that don’t adopt or embrace a remote-first way of thinking will be extinct because they won’t be able to compete.”