Amir Salihefendic: Ten Lessons Learned Building Doist

At the turn of the century, remote working at scale would have been impossible. Today, more and more teams are discovering the benefits and flexibility that remote working provides; and in an ever changing world, could remote working become the new normal?

Having founded Doist in 2007, Amir Salihefendic is the CEO and founder of the company behind Todoist and Twist. Born in Bosnia, he grew up in Denmark, started the business in Chile and now lives in Barcelona with his family, but has colleagues spread across 25 countries.

In this BoS Talk from Business of Software Europe 2019, Amir will discuss why he believes remote-first could represent a massive paradigm shift with widespread implications for the future of work. You will learn the ten most valuable lessons Amir has learned whilst growing and operating a fully remote company – including why trust is important, why asynchronisation is greater than synchronisation, and why retreats are worth their weight in gold – plus hear his answers to a host of great questions in his Q&A section at the end.

also available on the podcast


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Well hello everyone.
I would like to start off telling you a bit of the core lessons I have learned over the last like 10 years working in a remote environment. So actually, when I made the title of like creating like effective remote teams, I think there’s like a lot of stuff that goes into it. So, there will be like a lot of tips like random tips that I just like collected over the years.

So let’s start a bit about telling you what I do and what our company does. And also, just like our general structure. So, we are about like almost 70 people. We are spread around in more than 25 countries – many different time zones. And I think we are probably like – if you look at the amount of countries we are spread around – we are probably the biggest like remote company in that sense, like we really don’t care where people are from. And we make this work. And this year I think we will have over $20million in revenues. And I think all of these are kind of vanity metrics. The thing that matters the most is probably revenue per employees and for us it’s about 300,000. So maybe the first lesson is like don’t do vanity metrics. So, headcount is a vanity metric: I don’t care how big your company is. I think it’s much more important to look at how much revenue do you make per employee because it tells you how effective your team is. So, we are creators of two tools; One is a task manager app that I started actually in 2007. So, I’ve been at this for twelve years and I started this in my dorm room just like creating a to-do app for myself. I never actually imagined it will have grown to what it is today. So, it’s kind of just like random and then we also had Twist which is like asynchronous team communication app. It’s like slack but much better!

And actually like we started to use Slack, but we found that it didn’t really work in a remote environment especially when you have like many different time zones involved. So, these are there our tools and we’ll maybe like make some more in the future, but we are just focused on these two right now

So, every slide would kind of like tell a lesson I learned and also maybe combining it with a story. So, the great question is I think we all know that ability to hide from the world is like a superpower, like it was never actually possible before. But I also want to enter into like how I came into this remote environment. I didn’t wake up one day or read something and I thought this is an amazing idea let’s do this. The stories I started todoist out in Chile and I actually wanted to stay in Chile for six months. I stayed there for two years because I met a girl. So, my plan was kind of like to go to US and start my company there in you know the Mecca of the world which is Silicon Valley. But. I kind of never went there and then I was kind of stuck in Chile and my girlfriend (now wife) couldn’t really move because she had to finish her studies. And I kind of find like a product market fit todoist. And I needed to hire people. And in Chile at that time there was like almost nobody I could hire because I needed like very specialized development and designers and I couldn’t find him so that’s when I actually started to look globally and hire some people from Europe from Russia. And it kind of worked. And so, the first lesson is also maybe just like when you actually start to do stuff you don’t really know what you’re doing. And I didn’t know what I’m doing, and I didn’t know like what the implications were.

So this is actually our home offices around the world we have. Actually, an amazing setup that people have. And there’s also some cats and babies involved. I would say the baby photo is fake because if you ever had a baby you can really do any work just a lot of crying. But it looks cool on the slide.


Lesson two is really about trust. So, a lot of people ask me like how can I trust the people that are actually working. And I think like if you actually need to ask yourself that question you have hired the wrong persons. So that’s one thing. The second thing I also see a very bad maybe movement of tracking remote workers. There are some like companies that install like screen monitoring software on the employees to track them. And it’s actually much more common than we think. Another thing is synchronizing or work hours or requiring people to be online at specific times. I also think like this goes against like this mantra of remote work. So, for me personally like trust is the baseline of remote work and you need to hire people you can trust, and we actually started like hiring phase. If you’re in an interview and you think about like I can really trust this person then you shouldn’t hire them because you can’t really create any processes or structures that can actually enable you to do just build trust if it isn’t there in the first place.

Don’t outsource

The Lesson 3 and I learned this the hard way is basically around outsourcing. So, I started out and I didn’t know what it was what I was doing. I needed to create like mobile apps for todoist on Android and iOS and I basically found this agency in Eastern Europe that can do it cheaply. And I thought this is this is amazing. Let’s try it out. Yeah. So, I basically hired them and after a month or two it was just like that disaster. The thing that built the code like my background is computer science. So, the code they built also was just horrific. And I have just like spent you know a lot of money on doing that. So, I kind like shifted my strategy and I think also a lot of others hire remote workers as like a cheap development force or whatever and I think this is like the wrong way. So you should actually hire people that you know you want to work with that are passionate, that care about the stuff they are building, and that’s another baseline and basically after that like we have never used any outsourcing or actually like to outsource any of the stuff that we do. And this includes for instance like translations because we just want to build like a personal relationship with our people instead of just these like mercenary transactions.

No blitz scaling of people

So, another thing is like I started this as a like bootstrapped company so I couldn’t really hire people fast so I’m unsure like how many of you are. No. The blitz scaling scheme that Silicon Valley uses of just hiring a lot of people. Fast. And I couldn’t really do this because I didn’t have millions in funding to do that. And even when we actually started to have the ability to build scale we didn’t because we found out that one right fit can easily replace ten or more misfits. And a lot of companies I think are not too picky about what people they hire. And maybe this is also like if you constrain yourself to just a city, like Cambridge, then the talent you can hire isn’t that diverse. But if you’re talent pool is the whole world then you can be very picky about what people that you hire. And actually, like over the years it has become increasingly harder and harder to get into todoist because we have just like set the standards higher and higher. And I think this is like something that that I am at least proud of like we are very slow at hiring the teams hates his that. But I think it also creates very good culture. And it also helps us have a team of amazing people so even if we are if we are like 70 people, I think we are actually much more productive than that.


So, this is about a communication inside remote teams but even actually if you aren’t a remote team, I think communication is the baseline again. And there’s are two ways of communicating. And I think these are maybe computer science terms but basically have asynchronous and synchronous. Synchronous communication is a connection where you send a message and expect an answer right away: so, this could be like real time chat. Or asynchronous connection is like you send a message, but you don’t expect an answer right away. So basically, in doist. We started as like a synchronous communication culture so we use Slack and like it was a disaster because you know given that we have so many time zones I could never actually relax and or like any time of the day somebody needed my attention my real time answer. So that made it very hard to disconnect from work.

So, over the years we have actually shifted to asynchronous communication and this is actually a huge implication of the culture that we have built. So, for instance, I can spend an hour or two with my son every morning without actually missing a beat at work. And then I’m refreshed, full of energy, I could go into work and nobody has been missing me. And same thing with people that have exotic hobbies like we have Ben from Luxemburg that lives in Portugal and he likes to surf. So, he can actually go in, surf for two hours, get reenergized, and then go back to work and nobody’s missing him. Of course I think maybe you shouldn’t go fully asynchronous because you know you still need to connect with people, like for instance like Zoom calls, or just sometimes when shit is on fire you need to have real time connection with your team. But the thing is your default way of communicating should be asynchronous because most things don’t need to be done in a fast manner or right away. And I think there’s only some remote companies that that promote this, and I think maybe Basecamp, Automatic. So, it’s kind of like very niche but I’m pretty sure like a lot of companies will figure out this is actually really, really smart and the right thing to do because it gives people so much freedom.

Team retreats are worth every penny

So, another thing that we and many of other remote companies do is we do like team retreats. And even if you’re not remote company I can actually really recommend doing this because this is actually how we build connections with people.

So, we do a retreat for the whole company and we usually try to pick a special place like we have been to Iceland and Chile – just to give some examples – and then we also do like team retreats. So, every team inside a company can actually do retreats around the world and this like really really costly to do but it’s worth every penny because this is actually like how experiences are built inside a company and how people get like the human connection. And I think like if you start remote and you don’t have this then people will feel like not that connected to the whole company or to the people inside it.

So, this is us actually in Chile and we have like created a doist logo on the beach. Which is pretty cool. And for me, personally like these retreats, cannot make up for not seeing people around the year because when we see people it’s kind of magic an incredible experience.

So, this is actually not really anything about remote but it’s just like company strategy and also like the long term view on things. Basically, there’s no exit strategy. My plan is kind of like die doing this. So that’s how committed I am. And if you actually have that kind of commitment you make like very different choices like what kind of culture do you promote, what kind of working style to promote, what kind of work to expect, and what is actually the baseline. Anything like a lot of founders and companies don’t really build their companies for a long term. And that’s why you maybe fail at some point.

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Mental and physical health

Very little related to like the long term view is basically more focus on like mental and physical health. And this I think is especially critical in a remote environment. Remote isn’t only about pina coladas and surfing on a beach, there’s also like a dark side to it and it’s a basic isolation. People can build very bad habits of just not seeing other people. You can become very isolated from the world by doing this. And I think it’s very important that we see this and also try to tackle it. And I think also like we don’t really know all of the implications of remote work yet because it’s such a like new concept because like throughout our history we have always been working with other people and you can see the body language and stuff like that and just interact with people. And right now, we are missing that element. So, I’m actually unsure what kind of things we’ll have but I think that we need to kind of accept that it’s an issue, and we have already seen it at doist that people do have a problem with this. And if you actually do any kind of service loneliness/ isolation are like that top problems of remote work and maybe work in general.

So, what can we actually do to solve some of these? We introduced a very nice vacation policy so people can actually take 40 days per year off and it’s mandatory. So, it’s not unlimited vacation you actually need to take your vacations and then we also have different perks. So, for instance like we pay people coworking spaces so they can actually go out of the house and interact with other people and then have kind of have an office environment. And actually, I work from a coworking space in Barcelona. And it’s kind of amazing because it’s kind of like have this office environment and you have like work friends and stuff like that. And the thing is basically also like paying people for instance to take yoga classes or gyms or things that can actually increase their health and mental well-being. I think we’ll probably invest a lot more into this because I think this probably the biggest roadblock of remote work.

Extreme transparency

Another thing that is also happening in the remote space is kind of like the companies are extremely transparent and I’m actually unsure if we are copying each other or if it’s just a required need, because you really like share the same office or have lunches together so you kind of like need to be much more transparent with a lot more people. One of my friends is Joel from Buffer, and they actually are maybe transparent on a whole other level: they share salaries and actually not only internally but also the public. So, you can actually go in and see what anybody inside the team is making which is a bit insane. But we have actually talked a lot about doing this but people think it’s like dropping a nuclear bomb inside the organization which maybe it is but like if you’re starting out maybe it’s actually a good thing to do, transparent salaries because why not?!

I think the like we are at the stage where we can’t really do that easily. I think it would really create like a ton of problems but inside this we are also like very very transparent so for instance we don’t really have like private channels like I think we have like two or three but everything else kind of public and anybody can join in and see for instance like what is the leadership team talking about what are our issues like nothing is hidden and especially if you combine this with that most of the communication is written. This means that anybody can come in the company and be informed. So, I think this actually is like a very new way of actually communicating inside companies. Yeah but I’m unsure about the salary part. We’ll get to it.

The age of remote work

So, the last lesson is really a lesson about implications and also that you don’t really know when you start something you don’t really know what it will actually venture into. And I have been working in the remote space for like over 10 years, and I think actually this will change the world and it will change it for the better. I know it’s like a lofty statement to make but the reason why I believe this is if we actually look at all the other ages that we had: for instance the hunter gatherer age or like the information age, you had to get like a good job you had to be close to it. So, for instance like the hunter gatherers had to be close to the animals to hunt them. And in the information age you had to be close to like these big cities to get office jobs in these huge corporations, and remote first age is kind of the first stage where you can get an amazing job regardless of where you live. And this has huge huge implications to the whole world. And if we also combine this with the ability to learn anything online, then I think what we basically create equal opportunities to everybody inside the world. And in doing so we have also already seen this because we have people that live in remote areas of the world that are amazing talent and that actually earn maybe like 20x of what the average person does. So, like imagine if you have somebody that inside your family, it can change local communities and I’m pretty sure we will see a lot more as like remote work grows. The thing is like there’s very very few actual remote first companies in the world, I hope we will get more of them, but if this scales to like you know hundreds of thousands of companies. I think we can have a global impact. So, you know maybe this is like a very like distorted view, but I am quite optimistic about this. So that’s just random lessons from the remote working world. And if you have any other questions you are very welcome to tweet me or write an email. I think we have probably half an hour of questions so I’m looking forward for that.

Thank you.


Mark Littlewood: Amir, thank you. A really great way to start the day. One of the things that I noticed when I get all the decks coming in, is that both of the speakers on the first day had black backgrounds and white text as their talks and did these short talks that then walked into Q&As. And I think the other thing I’ve noticed about remote working talks is they’ve all been pretty short and to the point. And then there’s a big Q&A session afterwards. I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence, but I remember Wade Foster last year when he was talking about Zapier. He does his thing, gets the points across, and then everybody has questions. So, I’m looking forward to a pretty active Q &A we’re going to start with two Marks or one there and then there.

Audience Member: So very interesting thank you. I was curious if you had the opportunity of bringing all of your team members and their families and working in one office sort of environment instead of remote working would you do it?

Amir: I wouldn’t.

And the reason is, the office environment I don’t really think it’s like the future of work and it’s kind of an outdated way of working because like we don’t really need office spaces to do our work we can work from anywhere. If you do a tech or even if you do any kind of modern information work yeah. And I think also for some people and also for me I have actually tried to work from an office environment in Portal and actually gets very stressed because, for me, I need to have the ability to deeply work and not be interrupted – because that’s where I actually excel. Having an office where people can come in all the time. It’s very very stressful for me and it creates like anxiety as well. So yeah, I wouldn’t do it.

Mark Littlewood: I know plenty of open offices that wherever one is working completely remotely from each other and they’re all in the same company but that’s another story.

Audience Member:  I love your idea of having an exit strategy which isn’t an exit strategy though I do hope you don’t die on the job. Personally, I’ve only ever had one good idea and I intend to stick to that as long as it works. What I did wonder was whether that actually that obviously gives you a certain liberation and freedom because you’re not planning the next gig. So, I wondered what your views were on. Do you have a long term plan or is it very much a journey that you’re going to just see where it goes?

Amir: Yeah that’s a great question. I mean honestly, it’s very hard to actually predict what I’m going to do or what we are going to do. But I think like our strategy is basically not to sell or become puppets of somebody else because you know I have like worked all my life to actually create like freedom for myself and for the company. And then losing that would not really be a great option.

And I also think like I think maybe like David from basecamp has a great post on this it’s like you should work on your best idea if you aren’t doing that then like why not. So, for me like todoist and twist are my best ideas I don’t have like anything else. And probably if I sold this, I would you know maybe a few years later start something similar and that’s like ‘why have I worked so much for this. If I’m just going back and starting this again?’.

Audience member: thank you for that. We’ve tried remote work and in hindsight you see some very obvious mistakes you’ve made about why it hasn’t worked. I’m curious to hear more about how you found the right people and how you onboard them?

Amir: So, I think like finding the right people and onboarding them is actually the biggest challenge. So, like I don’t think there’s like any formula or any process that you can do is just in different stages. You need to do different strategies so in the beginning you actually need to be like proactive and search people for yourself. So basically you need to for instance going on github or like you know Reddit Python if you need a developer or even like dribble for designers or whatever like you need and such people that you think actually could join you. As you scale it becomes easier because then people come to you and then you can like filter them. Yeah. But in the beginning, I think it’s just like a struggle like you need to do active effort to find the right people, and then onboarding is like a whole other topic. So, what we usually do right now is we fly people into a mentor. And then they kind of mentored by a person. And then that goes on for a week and then afterwards they have like three months mentorship of a person. So basically, they have like a mentor inside a company that can handhold them into the whole culture how we work and stuff like that. So those are some ideas. I think there’s like plenty of photos that you could do. Hey.

Audience Member: I’m interested in point six. It’s kind of a tactical thing in many ways but the team retreats they’re rare. I guess to do similar though the one chance to get everybody together. What’s that. What’s your ideal mix. What makes the perfect retreat that keeps it productive fun and manages the balance right? How do you how do you go about organizing those?

Amir: That’s a good question. So basically, we actually don’t try to work a lot on these retreats so we have like some bookshops where people could just go hang and talk and then we have a few talks. So, I am in retreat I do I talk like that’s about maybe like the “vision of the company”. So, and then we just spend it on like experiences and also there’s like a lot of drinking involved. I wouldn’t recommend the drinking, but I mean people just socialize and that’s the most important part because like we don’t spend that much time with people. So that’s where we use our energy on and not that much like you know like working all the time and stuff like that.

Mark Littlewood: You go to Chile and Iceland you go to hot countries.

Audience Member: I totally agree with what you’re saying about the benefits of how working we have almost 100 staff across two companies working from home. There’s a big part UK house prices mean that for more junior roles many people don’t have homes where they have a study, a quiet room, whatever. And also, when we wanted to start taking on trainees so we ended up getting offices actually have several offices in regions precisely so we could try and bring on trainees, have individuals work with other individuals just to learn apprentices that sort of thing. And I was wondering how you manage; I understand for experienced talented well-paid talent that problem may not apply but whether you find any other solutions for more junior people and training people?

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Amir: That is a great question and honestly, we are very very bad at onboarding juniors. We actually don’t hire any juniors and also like we tried to hire people that already has some remote work experience.

So I would actually not be the right person to try to give you tips on this because we have tried it in the beginning but the thing is like it’s so hard to actually teach people especially in a remote environment and hopefully like we can actually get resources later on to invest in this and figure out like proper ways to do this. But right now, it’s just much easier for us to just hire experienced people instead like focusing on like bringing people up. I know it’s not a great thing but it’s kind of a choice we have done okay.

Audience member: When you speak a little bit about to the how do you handle employee employer or employment regulations in multiple countries or are they all just contractors?

Amir: great question. I mean it’s kind of like a very messy thing right now and I hope that will improve in the future but right now most of the people are independent contractors we treat them like as full time employees but if you look at the law they’re independent contractors. I think there are some companies right now that kind of make it easier to do this. We can actually hire people be a proxy. So basically you have a proxy company like the UK that hires people and then gives them benefits and stuff like that but it’s a very early market and I’m sure what is going to happen here but honestly like as we grow like we need to improve this and we’ll probably focus on this maybe during this year or next year.

Audience Member: Is curious since you have people living in places with different cost of living. Are they all in the same sort of salary scale or do you do you just pay for cost of living where people are?

Amir: That’s a great question.

Mark Littlewood: It’s a smart audience.

Amir: The thing is like there’s many ways to do to tackle this and view this. So, basically, we have a salary formula. Something I didn’t mention, we don’t really negotiate salaries so our salaries like we have a formula, and everybody gets based on this formula and that you know like also resolves the gender issues. But also, like location issues. And in our salary formula location is like 30%, affects 30% of the salary. In some other companies like Basecamp for instance or buffer the actual location doesn’t really affect that much. So, I think like basecamp is basically be like a top percentile of like San Francisco salary. So, it’s like very very high. Regardless of where you live. And I’m pretty sure like as. The remote space is heating up we’ll actually move towards global salary. So even right now like we like for some people we are being like ridiculous salaries based on their local range, but we do that because we think like that’s the future. Like you know these like local salaries they won’t really exist for a long time.

Audience member: So, the biggest problem that we’ve not managed to solve for our remote teams is finding a replacement for having people in a room around a whiteboard solving problems that we genuinely don’t know what the solution is. Hopefully, somebody in the room is working on a teleportation device so we can just drop in and drop out again. But I’m interested, I mean we use tools and it gets us some way there. But I’m interested to know if you’ve solved that problem of that sort of creative spark of all we could do it like this?

Amir: That’s a great question and I think right now the two chains are improving on a very fast rate. So, like for programming you have pair programming we could basically have two people of more working together. And like you have like a collaborative space. You have the same thing for design. And you probably also have the same thing for like product design – I’m actually unsure about it but I’m pretty sure that some tools that does this. So, I’m pretty sure like we will get better tools as we go along. This said, for me personally, I don’t really think like great innovations are done by talking or like you know like just like brainstorming I believe like you actually need to do like deep work and isolated work and think of something for a long time and then presented and like somebody needs to think again and then present that. So that’s actually how we collaborate. We don’t do chitchat like all of our connections are deep communication and thoughtful communication. So, I think it’s also like probably maybe different ways of working in different styles of working. But our styles got more deep thoughts than just these shallow brainstorming ideas.

Audience member: Thank you. My question is about trust. It’s great to have employees you can trust but especially at the beginning how do you get people to trust you or your company and that you will pay at the end of the month?

Amir: Yeah that’s a great question. I’m actually unsure how you get people to trust you. I think it’s maybe just be that. Always treat people well, I think like Derek’s principal being a mensch that’s maybe like using the mensch better. And if you’re just consistent with that eventually people will begin to trust you. Maybe also like just, I mean for instance like one of our policies and I know that some other companies have this as well is basic like every new employee gets like a credit card and they can actually use that freely. And we don’t like required you know like somebody to get like approval and stuff like that. You can just go in and buy stuff. From it because we trust that you’re like an adult and you can actually make like adult choices so you would not go like and spend it on booze or whatever.

Audience Member: thank you. How do you measure and report on people’s ongoing performance? And how do you manage instances of underperformance?

Amir: Yeah. That could be a talk in itself.

Mark Littlewood: Every question just ratchets it up right.

Amir: So honestly, I’m unsure how good we are at this yet. But I think something that we do is we value is output of work – something Dame Shirley pioneered 50 years ago. But it’s basic like you know valued output and not like you know if people come on time, or like you know how many lines of code they have written, or what else like vanity metric we can look at. So that’s the first thing.

The second thing regarding feedback is we really try to encourage radical candour inside a company. So, actually on a retreat we had Patty McCord present and I’m not sure if you know Patty McCord has written a book called Powerful. Which is about like the Netflix Culture. And she also created the Netflix Culture deck. And they’re like she also like just encourage people to not just speak their mind. Of course, this is easier said than done. I still don’t think we actually are very good at radical feedback. But I think that’s something you can do as a leader it’s kind of like encourage this and also like you know lead by example. I give people hard feedback.

Audience Member: I’m curious how do you manage differences in work environment for example we have a remote team and there are differences in their internet speed or an outage and they happen to be in Mexico we’ve had earthquakes affect it, there’s also children, they support their families. How do you manage it or even measure kind of along that same line code output? Because I found it very difficult to measure that and how do you manage it?

Amir: So, I mean the thing is we actually give people perks. So, like one of the other perks is like internet access so you can like buy the best internet that you can get and that’s like one of them. And then coworking space another one so they can actually sort of resolve these like family issues that you might have like maybe your home is just a chaos and you need to go out and work from somewhere. So those are two things; regarding reviewing, I think it’s a huge red flag if you can’t value or review and figure out what is good work and what isn’t. For instance, like if you have a designer there’s a manager, this designer needs to figure out like what is good design and what is bad. And what is actually acceptable and what isn’t. And the same with coding or anything else that you have with marketing or support. So, I think there’s a lot of subjectivity involved. But everything that we do is kind of very subjective.

Audience member: We’re also a remote company for past 13 years now but much smaller. So a bit on the retreat thing and a technical problem then you can do two kind of retreats: like a technical retreat where only the guys, only the programmers – we are all guys (badly) – need only the programmers go for example and also on hard problems you can do specifically a small gathering if they needed. To meet and crack the hard problem and what I want to ask, a slightly softer question.
Now on your remote first age thing that was very interesting because my first thought was what do you do with the tools you use. Because you still need computers smartphones and all that sort of stuff. Someone still needs data centres and so forth. So someone still needs to make the hard bit before we can remote work but do you then envision robotic factories but even the factory workers are remote you know and then all delivery drivers also now like drone pilots would just work from home?

Amir: Yeah.

I think there’s two ways this can go it can either be very good or very bad. And I hope is going to be very good. But I mean I think there’s huge changes that would happen and you know the whole automation could either go very good or very bad. I hope it’s very good. And I hope actually that we can educate others around the world and bring them up front and give them amazing opportunities because I think that’s the only way we can actually move the world forward.

The thing is, unfortunately, I’m not really seeing this. I don’t like maybe it’s also just like how the current tech is kind of evolved. It’s basic like slot machines and people are actually addicted to like doing stupid sh*t instead of just like learning stuff and improving their lives and improving themselves. So yeah there’s also a cultural thing. Yeah. So I mean in India it’s just like a side point here is like we get like so many are so few like job location from Africa is basically a continent that’s lost and we don’t really know like how can we actually change this. And the reason is probably that, I think, you need to probably start like at the baby level and improve that. And then go upwards and right now, yeah, it’s very hard to get higher for some regions even if we actually have the ability to do so.

Audience Member: Do you ever have any challenges and how do you solve them with different communication styles. So I did some people in team get overwhelmed by the sheer volume that people write asynchronously and then maybe like comment arguments coming out that way?

Amir: I mean, yeah, again a very hard problem and I think in communication you can either over communicate or under communicate. And you need to find a balancing act. Honestly, I don’t really think we have found it yet. So, in doist, we actually do or communicate a lot of times and loop too many people in. So, it’s a problem. But I think it’s awesome we can solve. Yeah. So right now, it’s maybe just like being aware of that and you know making people aware of that and then tackling it that way that at least like that’s our current plan of how we solve that.

Audience Member: Yeah. Over here we also say we work together. So we have the same remote team I was wondering I thought it was interesting you talked about the asynchronous communication but you also talked about general health and the overall depression and things that can happen with remote teams and I find that interesting; I think the two things are sort of the opposite of each other not having synchronous communication but then also seeing a depression and challenges in health and I wondered how often you’re actually having face time or face to face meetings or video meetings or when is everybody actually talking because it seems to me that total trust and the lack of communication synchronicity could lead to that the health challenges you described?

Amir: That’s a great question. So basically, like we do maybe like 70 or 80% asynchronously and then like the rest is basically synchronous concussion like mostly meetings.

And, honestly, I think the way that we can solve the mental issues is that people need to separate work and life. So, if people don’t really create you know like environments for themselves to actually socialize and like go out and do stuff then they would be depressed regardless if they do Zoom calls or not. So, I don’t really think that the meeting aspect is that strong a thing. I think in a work environment you also go to lunches, you go to drinks with friends, and these are the things that actually maybe people miss and not really like you know like real time chat or like Zoom calls.

Audience Member: How do you address potential issues with related to potential information theft or loss considering the fact that your workforce is spread in so many places around the world? I assume the source code just as well. We only have about 10% of our guys working remotely and still are a bit worried about what might happen when information might be lost either intentionally or accidentally.

Amir: So, I’m not sure what do you mean by information by source code

Audience member: For instance, for source code for instance. I mean if somebody working remotely might, I don’t know have an issue with a computer security and they have that information taken by somebody else. And you wouldn’t have track of it.

Amir: Yeah, I mean I’ve never experienced this issue, so I think like you have a get tools that you use to do backups.

Audience member: Stolen

Amir: Stolen? Okay. Sorry. I mean, honestly, we are probably very bad at this. So, I wouldn’t be the person… we don’t really do the things…

If you think about your value, it’s probably not in the source code or design. It’s probably you know an effect of everything that’s involved. So even if somebody like steals the source code of todoist, like yeah, so what? It’s not a big deal because that’s not really the whole value. Of course, we have something like super private proprietary like algorithms and stuff like that then maybe you need to focus more on the security aspects of that. But I think you will have the same issue in an office environment. So, I don’t think remote work makes it very different.

Audience member: So, I know you mentioned earlier that you tend to hire experienced sort of more senior employees and people who already have experience with remote work. What I was wondering is about when it comes to communication challenges part of those are communication styles of people who are more verbose or people who are quite terse or whatever but part of it is also cultural differences and if you’re a remote first organization you’ve got some very varied cultural differences around people maybe who are very conflict diverse or very not conflict averse or who struggle with authority structures and all that kind of stuff. So I was wondering if you offer your employees or you have any resources or coaching or things that are to help them make sense of those relative cultural differences and sort of those communicate those kind of personal patterns and how those worked to kind of resolve those which are easier to do face to face because you can actually see the emotional responses to people or if again you’re relying heavily on people just being experienced and being experienced with remote work specifically to kind of self-manage that. What are your experiences with that?

Amir: that’s a good question. I mean honestly like onboarding and like getting people into a culture and teaching them the ways I think it’s a huge problem. And I’m sure if you have like nailed it 100% right now. So, basically, our current strategy is having this mentor and mentor and teach them the ways. And we also have like a lot of onboarding documents we can actually read about how we work, how we communicate, what’s actually important for us. So also like the core values like one of our core values is communication. So, people need to be very good at communicating. They also need to know when to write like a huge post and when to write a short message. Yeah but I think it’s a very hard problem. I think probably communication is probably one of the hardest challenges of remote work.

Audience member: how is your organizational structure. I’ve seen that there are various approaches in this direction especially in remote work where you need probably more than normally to have some people accountable or responsible for getting some sort of things done or for coordinating. So, could you provide more detail on that?

Amir: We actually don’t really have any pure managers. So, like one of the things we hire for is independence so that people can actually do work on their own and they are kind of their own manager. And if you look at some other companies like they will do the same thing remote companies because that’s a very very important requirement in a remote setting, I think.

So that’s one thing. And then how we structure, you can read a lot about this and there’s like many different ways of doing it. And I don’t think there’s like a best way. So, what I would recommend just like maybe try to think like from first principles and figure out like what is the best structure for you. That’s what we have done. Because if you read like you know Apple does it this way, Google does it this way, and then like you know maybe Buffer does it this way, automatic does it this way and then like suddenly you’re like very confused and you really know what is actually the best way to do stuff.

Audience member: So, I was just curious if you guys use agile for your development and if you do or even if you don’t, I guess how do you manage a synchronous planning reviews, retros and all that.

Amir: So actually, like we let our all the teams do whatever they want. So, what are some of the teams to do like you scrub and agile. And I think it’s possible to do it and I think you can even do it in a remote an asynchronous environment. You just need to adapt to that. Yeah. So that’s it. I don’t know actually much about how the specific teams to do it. I hope we can maybe do a blog post at some point about this.

Audience member: So, I’m just really interested in. It basically seems like you’ve taken the sort of normal extrovert bias paradigm of the work world and flipped it on its head and created a beautiful world for introverts. But, have you had any people join who weren’t comfortable in that environment and how did you manage that?

Mark Littlewood: He actually can’t hear them. No matter how loudly they shout; they’re in another country.

Amir: I mean we do have some extroverts but actually the truth is like most people that work in these environments they’re introverts. So, myself like I don’t really enjoy being around a lot of people. But the thing is I think even this can work for extroverted people but it’s probably a much harder adoption for them. And then they kind of maybe need to go into like a coworking space be there in a loud environment with all people. And that’s kind of like they need to like shape they’re external environment. And then internally they can just like work as is. But I think it’s a very interesting topic and. Like our retreats are kind of probably also very special because like we have like a lot of wonderful and also weird people from all around the world.

Mark Littlewood: Fantastic. I would call Q&A to close and going to round this out with an A and Q So what would you like to ask the people here? I would love to know who here is a remote worker?

Amir: That’s a lot of people.

Mark Littlewood: Who here is a remote worker in a remote only company? That’s interesting.

Amir: So maybe my end Q would be like “What is your exit strategy?”.

Mark Littlewood: Yeah, my exit strategy from my company is to come and work for your company, presumably your hiring? Ladies and gentlemen, Amir! Thank you so much!

Amir Salihefendić
Amir Salihefendić

Amir Salihefendic

Amir is the CEO and founder of remote-first company Doist, the company behind Todoist, and Twist.

Born in Bosnia, he grew up in Denmark, started the business in South America and now lives in Barcelona, Spain and Santiago, Chile. Doist was founded in 2007, has received $0 of outside investment, employs over 120 people in 30 different countries.

He believes a product stands a better chance of resonating with a global workforce when people around the world create it. For him, working remotely is the way of the future. He does not know what the next decade will bring, but it won’t include selling out or getting acquired. Amir doesn’t have an exit strategy – he has a mission to help shape the future of work for decades to come

More from Amir

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