The ‘’Gig Economy’’ series sheds light on the future of work and the pros and cons of hiring freelancers and gig workers. Our guest today is Fredrik Thomassen, the co-founder and CEO of Superside, a Sam Altman and Slack-backed company that's building a new labor market for global design talent.
Fredrik, why did you introduce remote work policy at Superside?
Since we opened our doors in 2016, we have built our entire platform to support a global remote workforce. Our mission stems from the idea of providing equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of their gender, geography, race, age or ethnicity. By introducing a remote work policy, we give hundreds of designers across the world a chance to realize better income opportunities. And it’s working.
On average, we receive 50,000 applicants a year – all remote. It’s increasingly obvious that the future of work is much more remote, particularly as the new on-demand economy continues to charge up. New work platforms are powering this evolution with more autonomy for diverse segments to choose when and where they work, and because we see higher productivity and efficiencies, there is much less reliance on physical presence being an important factor.
The benefits to remote workers are numerous: globally remote teams have an opportunity to make up to 5x more money than they would, had they been hired for similar work in their region, and flexible schedules lead to predictable and more stable income so our design teams can do their best work.
Being remote-first gives us advantages at scale where we can tap into the best global talent available and extend that value onto our customers.
Remote working is still a new concept for some traditional companies that are still reluctant to adopt it. Are remote workers less loyal than in-office employees?
We’ve found that loyalty stems from creating the right company culture – one that supports fairness, inclusion, and diversity and provides equal opportunities for everyone, not just select groups or individuals.
That’s why, when we started Superside, one of our main goals was to create a more fair and transparent labor model that placed an emphasis on clear communications.
Rather than hosting physical events to drive camaraderie, which has been a hotbed for 'bro culture' mentality, we focus instead on creating a culture of trust, openness and honesty.
To achieve that, we make use of technologies and digital-first tools like Google Apps, Slack and Trello to foster real-time collaboration and help streamline communication within remote teams who need to rely on one another to get the job done.
We have a random channel on Slack that is full of fun tidbits throughout the day, some design related and some not so much. It helps our employees bond even though they’re from countries all over the world, living in different time zones.
We also insist on video chats as opposed to plain calls so people feel connected and are able to read body language as best as possible. Our leadership team sets a good example by being highly responsive to Slack messages and other forms of communication.
For instance, once a month at the company town hall, we make it a point to showcase people’s work and efforts; we celebrate successes as well as discuss company-wide challenges. We’ve learned that regular and authentic communication really helps to unify teams.
The steps that we’ve taken to ensure we have a positive work culture have led us to have a loyal workforce. That’s not to say that you can’t have equally loyal in-house employees, but you have to take care to build meaningful support systems in place that benefit everyone, including those who have physical limitations and face more difficult circumstances when traveling to and from offices.
Unifying teams is absolutely necessary to boost productivity. Are remote workers less productive than their peers working 9 to 5?
We have found that flexible work schedules have an empowering effect on our workers, which means they are much more productive than those who work a traditional 9 to 5 job in an office.
For example, some people prefer to wake up early and work while others are night owls. We give our people flexibility that allows them to do their best work. This also helps moms or dads work when they can and have time for their kids when they need to be picked up from school or taken to their dance recital.
Our global remote workforce also allows for better utilization of time zones than a traditional office-based design team. We can schedule project teams in a way that allows for always-on communications with clients and greater accountability from team members who are able to ensure that projects are delivered on time and on budget
Working in different time zones can be both an advantage and a challenge. Is it easier or harder to manage remote teams?
It’s not difficult to manage remote teams when you’ve built a system of accountability and integrated tools to help you track and measure performance. We’ve engineered a project platform with a 360-degree rating process where team members rate each other and themselves. This allows us to ensure the quality of the current assignments and understand how we can best optimize performance.
Before we entrust designers to work on projects, we’ve also created a mandatory 4-week bootcamp where they will get training on all of our standards and procedures. We also assign an account director who works closely with each team throughout the process. Through training modules like this, a fair evaluation process that rewards great work, and a project manager who is in constant communication with teams to ensure deliverables are being met, managing remote teams has been just as easy, if not easier, and much more productive than managing in-office teams.
You mentioned equality and diversity more than once. Is it easier for an all-remote company to tap into a diverse talent pool?
100%. The inclusion of more women and minorities in the workforce has become a global business imperative across all industries. And traditional hiring practices can introduce inherent biases against people because of their gender, geography, race, culture, religion, age, sexual preference, or physical attributes, such as obesity.
So we decided to automate our software – we’re able to select the best candidates without inherent human bias that is rampant when you manually select talent. In this way, we can level the playing field for women and minorities.
Because we rely on automation to select teams based on skill alone, we only select the best available talent for a job. It’s a meritocracy, not a popularity contest. We also are conscious of results-driven performance and evaluation, giving top performers the ability to make more, and ensuring that any reward system is neutral and blind in its approach.
We’ve now been able to open up job opportunities in marginalized communities around the globe. To date, we have amassed a global taskforce of more than 135 creatives from over 40 countries, spanning 6 continents. On top of that, 56% of our workforce is made up of women.
For us, building a fair, transparent online labor market within the design industry is a stepping stone towards powering the future of work in almost all verticals. By offering equal opportunities to everyone, we’ve been successful in pioneering a future of work that’s much more diverse, and benefits both workers and the clients that we service.