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How to Grow a Successful Remote-First Mindset in Your Company

Host Jon Penland, 

Companies working remotely don’t just become successful at it overnight. If you made the switch from in-person to remote work in the pandemic, you’ll know that a switch in mindset, skills, technology, expectations, and boundaries are needed to keep everyone happy and productive. The Remote Company, which owns products like MailerLite, Partnero, MyZenTeam, and ycode, are remote work experts. For the past 8 years, they’ve navigated the challenges and benefits of remote work and established a company that’s focused on providing employees the freedom to live their best lives.

Duration

46 minutes

Guest

Host

Episode Summary

Remote work may have been a niche in the past, but it’s certainly the standard now. And more and more companies are going fully remote.

However, you can’t expect to create a fully operational remote culture overnight. Remote is a mindset, and until you try it out, you won’t know if it’s the right choice for you.

In this episode of the Reverse Engineered podcast, our host Jon Penland welcomes Ilma Tiki, the Co-Founder and CEO of The Remote Company. They get into the importance of living and breathing your company’s core values, how to communicate with purpose, and solving some of the challenges with running a remote business.

Key Insights:

  • Live your values. If you have a mission statement that you want your company to live by, make sure your employees understand it and that they practice your core values in their day-to-day tasks. Ilma and Jon discuss why employers need to go beyond written values and focus more on reinforcing them instead. “We don’t just have the values within the values, we’ve also written behavior — what we do and what we don’t do — to make it as easy as possible to understand. And I think publishing these values is helpful in hiring because it is much easier for people who are coming and choosing if they want to apply to us to make a choice. [They can] see who we are and how we behave and understand if we’re really a fit for them.”
  • Communication is the foundation of a healthy work environment. One of The Remote Company’s core values is clear and effective communication. Ilma says that communication is the foundation of all human relationships, particularly in remote companies. She talks about the importance of ensuring everyone’s on the same page. “Especially if you’re not only remote but also in different time zones, it means that quite often you have asynchronous communication. You don’t want to make assumptions and you don’t want to guess, so you have to be as clear as possible about what you do and how you do it.”
  • Remote is a mindset; you won’t know if it’s right for you until you try it. As the name suggests, The Remote Company is a fully remote company with employees working around the globe. Ilma talks about the decision to go fully remote, the challenges that come along the way, and why remote is a mindset. “I think remote is like a mindset. It’s just not something that you think you can do. It’s much better to try and see if you can do it. And it’s not for everyone. It used to be quite challenging because not so many people used to work remotely. Right now, we have a much bigger choice because, in the last few years, people have tried to do it, and now they know that they can do it, and that it’s good for them.”

Today’s Guest: Ilma Tiki, Co-Founder and CEO of The Remote Company

Ilma started her career in the banking sector and then switched to contemporary art. She credits her ability to come up with creative solutions with her past work experience.

Episode Highlights

If What You Want Doesn’t Exist, Build It Yourself

“We built all of these products because we just couldn’t find any other alternative, and we did search for it. We had already done market research, and we even paid for some products, but there were some features that were just not there for us.”

Communicate With Purpose

“Another thing that we do, especially with managers, is that we ask them to write descriptions called, ‘How to work with me?’ And I think it’s a great way to onboard people because we have to understand that we are all different personalities and that the way we communicate is different as well. Being global means that you are diverse, and you are all very different.”

Slack doesn’t have to be a distraction if you learn to use it to your benefit

“You have to organize it. This is why we have so many channels, and we ask people to star only the channels that are work-related so that you would get notifications about the things that really matter. Then if you’re writing that you’re focused [on something], it means that you won’t be getting any notifications. We are really specific about how you have to organize Slack because if everything is in #general, you are getting nonstop notifications, and that’s no way to work. And it’s the same with meetings. We organize them at least a week in advance and invite only the people who have to be there, and we have as few meetings as possible.”

The Unique Challenges of Running a Remote Company

“A challenge is that we don’t hire as many juniors because onboarding and mentoring somebody remotely is really tricky. Quite often, we hire people who already know something about their field, are professionals there, or even seniors. I think mentoring and having really young people joining, maybe it’s not the right fit for them and for us.”

Transcript

[00:00:34] Jon Penland: Hi everyone. My name is Jon Penland and Reverse Engineered is brought to you by Kinsta, a premium managed hosting provider. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Ilma Tiki, Co-Founder and CEO at The Remote Company. Ilma, welcome to Reverse Engineered. 

[00:00:45] Ilma Tiki: Hey! Happy to be here.

[00:00:52] Jon Penland: Well, to get us started, Ilma, can you introduce yourself to our audience? 

[00:00:58] Ilma Tiki: I’m Ilma, I’m Co-Founder and CEO at The Remote Company. And The Remote Company is a company that unites six different sized businesses. It means apps for businesses, from email marketing to no-code solutions. So it’s quite diverse. 

[00:01:15] Jon Penland: Yeah, we’ll come back to The Remote Company and those different products in a moment. First I want to ask you just a little bit more about your history and role there at The Remote Company. So just in brief, you’re CEO today, what is your history with The Remote Company?

[00:01:29] Ilma Tiki: Yeah, I think my personal history is kind of a strange one because I have a Master’s in Economics. I was working in the banking sector for several years. Then I switched to art, to the contemporary art business, from there I went to tech. So I think, and actually, even though when I say it all together, it sounds like it doesn’t make any sense. But personally, for me having so many different experiences, it really helps to come up with like creative solutions, how to run Remote Company.

[00:02:07] Ilma Tiki: Yeah. So this business, it was founded by my partner. So we have a boy and a business together. So it was founded by him, but then he invited me to join to do marketing for MailerLite. So for the last 10 years, I’m here together building a lot of things together.

[00:02:24] Jon Penland: Yeah. And I think your transition to CEO though, was relatively recent. What precipitated that change from your prior role into the current CEO position? 

[00:02:34] Ilma Tiki: I don’t know. It’s just, we have so many, like we have six products. We have a lot of CEOs and I think Remote Company is a company, but it’s like overseeing everything. 

[00:02:45] And I’m more about people in general and about values, about how to kind of build habits, how to build, how to unite all the teams together. So I think this is what the CEO of The Remote Company is doing, uniting all these products and all teams to grow together.

[00:03:06] Jon Penland: Oh, that’s really interesting. So I recognize The Remote Company has several companies within it and you’re CEO of The Remote Company, but it sounds like what you’re saying is you’re not actually CEO of each of those individual companies. Those companies have their own, potentially have a different CEO. Is that right? Am I hearing that correctly? 

[00:03:23] Ilma Tiki: Yeah. Yeah. But at the same time, I think in that case the CEOs of these companies, they are usually like product owner’s role, like product managers. And then The Remote Company kind of taking care of the people. And myself, I’m building of MyZenTeam. So MyZenTeam is like a hiring app that we plan to launch too. And it’s something that we built for ourselves because we needed some a bit different approach in hiring, especially because we’re hiring globally and remotely for the last eight years.

[00:03:53] So like I’m CEO there as well. So I think I’m not like, I don’t kind of focus on titles and positions that much. I think it’s just much more important to understand what everybody’s doing and to make sure that your team knows what you’re doing and how you can help them.

[00:04:13] Jon Penland: Yeah. We’ve touched on a couple of these different companies that are part of The Remote Company. You were talking about MyZenTeam just now, when you mentioned MailerLite a little while ago. What was the process or how did these different companies come to be? Because you’re in a lot of different diverse spaces.

[00:04:32] So how are you running companies that are then in the email marketing space and then you turn around and now you’re, you’re launching a hiring platform. How do those fit together? Help us understand how that fits together. 

[00:04:42] Ilma Tiki: Well, I think it’s all connected. First, we have three companies that are in the email marketing industry, as you said. It’s MailerLite, MailerCheck, and MailerSend. And we kind of call it to Mailer Group ’cause it’s all connected, but at the same time, they are a bit different products. So we decided to go with different ones because it’s just easier to build three different ones instead of one complicated one.

[00:05:06] But right now we are working on one sign-up so that our customers could use all these products, really comfortably, right? MyZenTeam, as I said before, it’s a tool that we build for ourselves. And with the pandemic, we understood that remote used to be kind of an exotic thing. And now it’s like reality, so that was a push for us to think if we want to release it to the market and show our approach to hiring, ’cause it’s a bit unconventional, I think. Partnero, it’s an affiliate program that we needed for ourselves and we couldn’t find. So some of them, they actually they’re coming from our needs or our passion.

[00:05:50] Just like Ycode, there’s a no-code tool. And we have people who are super passionate about websites, and a no-code, kind of you know, market. So I think, it’s all connected and it happened within our team, ’cause somebody just started an initiative or couldn’t find a product that would fit our needs.

[00:06:10] Jon Penland: Yeah. That resonates a lot with what I see happening at Kinsta operationally. For example, we have our own affiliate system. We looked at what was out on the market and then we built our own. We have our own control panel. We’re a hosting provider, we didn’t use anything off the shelf. So we’ve gone through in that several other examples, but what I’m curious about, something that has always scared us away from thinking about offering any of these products to external customers is that we worry it would be a distraction from our core business, right?

[00:06:40] Our core business as a hosting provider. And if we decided to go out and offer one of these homegrown systems as a product, we worry it would distract us. So how have you managed to continue to build your existing businesses and not be distracted by these other products that you’re launching that are fairly, quite different from those original email marketing related products? 

[00:07:05] Ilma Tiki: Yes. At some point with all these products were reached, ’cause we’ve been using them for years for our needs. Right? And then we reached some points where you have to make a decision because sometimes like, okay, our hiring tool was built actually in a hackathon and it was okay for a year. It was okay-ish for two years, but then we had to make a decision if we are looking for some alternatives in the market, because like it’s not enough, right? We outgrew our product, and because it was like kind of the thing that was built in the hackathon, so obviously we had no team that is like taking care of that product, right? So our idea was to build something for the market so that we would improve our product for ourselves. 

[00:07:53] Jon Penland: Okay. That’s interesting.

[00:07:53] Ilma Tiki: This is how we came up with these decisions. Yeah. ‘Cause you know, sometimes you are building something for yourself to kind of go fix things and it works for some time, but then you’re like, “Oh my God,” like, “It’s just so much headache going on.”

[00:08:10] You kind of go to the market to find the better solution and you’re coming back now, “Maybe I’ll just improve this and maybe we can even launch it.” At the same time, in our case, we are always working with small and medium businesses. The target market for MailerLite, like small and medium businesses around the world, we have more than 1 million users. So we are thinking that is kind of the same target for most of these products anyway.

[00:08:35] Jon Penland: Yeah. That’s really interesting. I, I think you know, that the hackathon launched the MVP approach to initial launches is super common and makes a lot of sense. What I think is, sounds unique about the way that you’ve approached these products once you reached that point where you either needed to go find something else to make it better, is that you didn’t say, “All right, let’s make this better for ourselves.”

[00:09:02] I’m trying to remember the way you worded it. You said something like, “When you reach that point, you decided to make something for the market that would work for you,” or something like that. At that point, it sounds like you decided at that point, “We’re going to turn this into a product suitable for public use, even though you were probably still a year or two from actually doing that,” is that accurate? 

[00:09:21] Ilma Tiki: I think we are building it for ourselves and we are our target market, first of all. And all of these products were built just because we just couldn’t find any other alternative, and we did research, so we had already market research done. And we’ve been paid for some products, but there were some things that were just not there for us. So first of all, we are our target customer and we’re building for ourselves the way we see it. 

[00:09:49] And then I think it’s really connected to whether we’re like really aware of our, like, I don’t know advantages and disadvantages, and what kind of, where we are good at and what our passion is. And as a team, we are passionate about product. So we just went with it. So… 

[00:10:09] Jon Penland: Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:10:10] Ilma Tiki: We’ll see what happens, you know, in several years.

[00:10:12] Jon Penland: Right. I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about company values for a few minutes. The Remote Company has published values. You’ve written on your blog about the process of creating those values and how to think about them. And I just have a few different questions in the area of values.

[00:10:28] So for starters, I noticed that The Remote Company has a lot of values. So you’ve published, if I counted right, 10 different values. Has it ever been a worry that 10 is too many, right? Like is 10 too many values for team members to remember and to internalize, do you ever worry about that?

[00:10:52] Ilma Tiki: I did. Actually last week we edited our values, now we have five of them. 

[00:10:52] Jon Penland: Okay. Wow.

[00:10:55] Ilma Tiki: So your question is real right, ’cause I think you are right about it. I think the less, the better. But at the same time it’s not about even remembering the values. It’s much more important to kind of to have certain behavior that is already there, and things that will already people are doing. I think values is not the thing that you want to become, or it’s something that you’re already doing, but to want to do more of it. It’s kind of building focus, values are like almost like priorities, what is like really important in your company.

[00:11:28] Yeah, and values through time actually did change a bit, it wasn’t like anything drastic. And even right now we have five values just because I kind of joined some of them. And there’s only one new value, you know, like from this year. We used to have a value that is ‘we’re ready to grow’.

[00:11:45] And now we transform it ‘we learn and transform’. Because ‘we’re ready to grow’ I understood that the wording is kind of strange instead of we grow, we were kind of just planning to grow. 

[00:11:59] Jon Penland: Waiting for it to come. 

[00:12:00] Ilma Tiki: Yeah, kind of, you know. And it was true for some time, because first of all, like last year, we’re really, we’re really in the stage when we’re building a lot of stuff, products, right? So it’s what’s really what we did, we were ready to grow. And now I thought that it’s the time to grow and just to be even more specific. I talked with the whole team about letting organization concepts, and this is why we included value, that ‘we learn and transform’.

[00:12:30] Jon Penland: Yeah, I’m curious, as a company, if you have other types of statements that you’ve published, and this question just occurred to me as you were talking. So I would have checked your site before our conversation, but it just occurred to me. If you have, you know, a mission statement or anything like that, and how you think about these different types of statements? What’s the purpose of these different…? Like what’s the purpose of your values versus the purpose of a mission statement? Do you guys have other statements, and then what’s the difference between those different types of statements? 

[00:13:01] Ilma Tiki: Well, vision is real abstract. And I think it’s really important to be in the vision kind of to have that wide spectrum of who you are. Not just to say that we are building apps. I think it’s much more important to look at that bigger scale, right? So I think I just changed it recently. Right now we are talking about that we are a learning organization that is growing, professionally our team and growing business, and helping to grow businesses or something. And vision, it’s, I think it’s more about things that we’re doing. It’s more precise what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Right? And it’s the same with the values.

[00:13:45] We not just only have the values, right now within the values I have written behavior that we do and that we don’t do. So like to make it, you know, as easy as possible to understand. And I think having these values being published, it’s really, it’s helpful in hiring. Because people who are coming and they’re choosing if they want to apply for us, for them is much more easier to make a choice just to see who we are and how we behave and to understand if we’re a fit for them. 

[00:14:21] Jon Penland: Yeah. You mentioned hiring there in relation to values, and I was curious what are some of the things you do as a company to try and put these values in front of team members? You’ve mentioned hiring now that they come up during the hiring process. What are some other things that you do as a company to try and put these values where your team members will think about them? 

[00:14:38] Ilma Tiki: I think even on events, for example, we have a value that you take responsibility. So I think it’s really important for people to own things, right, to own the decision and to kind of, to see the impact that they are making. And, this is why, for example, like everyone can build a new Slack channel.

[00:14:46] If they think that it’s needed. So like, it’s totally up to you ’cause I’m really big fan of IKEA effect, especially in culture. Meaning that you’re really proud of the things that you did by yourself instead when you just hire somebody to entertain you, right? It’s is the same with, for example, we have RemoteFair.

[00:15:16] And RemoteFair is a kind of trade show, our inner trade show. And we have booth where people present, the teams present what they have been working on for the last six months. So instead of making a presentation by the team leader or manager, I want the team to be proud of the job that they did. And that concept that is a booth it means that everybody can come up and ask a question. And most probably my question would be very different than yours. And it really helps us to grow and collaborate and see, like a bigger spectrum what could happen and, you know, like hear different questions instead of just clap to your manager.

[00:16:00] So we’re trying to kind of put that into action instead of just say, you know, I think this it’s really important to have some kind of rituals and behaviors that you already have, like you build and find the team what they do.

[00:16:12] Jon Penland: Yeah. That’s really interesting. So have two thoughts following up on that. One of them is that it sounds like you don’t so much try to present your written values to your team, but instead try to encourage the behaviors that reflect those values. Because you spoke earlier about how values should describe behaviors, as opposed to necessarily being aspirational statements or that sort of thing.

[00:16:36] So that’s interesting. So you’re not just saying, ” Okay. Once a month we’re going to read our values.” You’re saying, “Let’s instead engage, encourage engagement, the behaviors that reflect those values.”

[00:16:45] Ilma Tiki: Yeah. And that’s important, then you don’t have to kind know remember them by heart because what’s the point, right? I think you have to live them. And like the first value that we have is we focus on people. So if you go to any of our websites or anywhere on social media, you would see all of the photos of our team members.

[00:17:06] So we are even giving like photographers for the people to have for to shoot around the world, just because we believe that if we are coming with our faces, we just trust our product that much. And we believe that we don’t want to be a faceless corporation. Right? So, I think these even small things, right, I like, these are the details. Right? But I think it’s really important, and just to show off that we are people and we are really proud that we have a diverse team around the world. 

[00:17:38] Jon Penland: Yeah. Yeah. Something that I really love as I’m putting together here all you talk about how you approach values, as you mentioned, you list behaviors in your values. You don’t just say, “Our value is communication.” You actually put in there some of the behaviors. So that then makes it much more practical where it’s not just a statement that we’ve written down. Now I can say, “All right, so these are the behaviors I want to encourage, because they reinforce this value.” So I don’t so much have to worry about the written value anymore, but I do need to worry about these behaviors. These are important to us. I love that. That’s an interest. See that seems like a really effective way to make sure that your values are reflected in the way that your company operates.

[00:18:19] I really love that. The second question I had about values relative to your prior answer, you mentioned a RemoteFair and I have to know, practically how does that work? You talked about like every six months, I think, where the entire team presents…? Like, is there like a tool that you use to do that, like practically, how does that work because I really love that idea? 

[00:18:43] Ilma Tiki: Well, it used to be super fun and super easy, when we could meet all together, like in one location. Then it would be like real life, like a trade show. Now we’re using Zoom and Breakout Rooms. So, you know, every hour we have, I don’t know, three or five teams that are presenting. And you can, you know, jump in and see what they be in like working on and ask questions. So it’s kind of, you know, an online version, but we’re still doing it.

[00:19:07] Jon Penland: Yeah. No, that’s awesome. I hadn’t thought about the in-person we’ve been fully virtual for so long now. I was thinking virtual doing it in person would be really awesome. But that’s, yeah, Zoom and Breakout Rooms. That’s a good practical tip for, I think folks listening to this episode who have a little bit of a larger team. That’s a great way, I think, to allow your team members to talk to those different teams. That’s a great idea.

[00:19:29] Ilma Tiki: Yeah. Yeah. I think that, like right now, there are quite a lot of tools that you can use for it. To connect, not like, if you’re like more than 10, most probably it’s already complicated to connect all together in Zoom, so it’s better to break them out. So I think, another thing, another tool that we really like is Gather Town. So this is like, the most kind of, you know, human interaction you can get, ’cause you’re just walking in that virtual room and you just hear the people that are close by to you. So that’s another way kind of to let’s say, fake a meeting. 

[00:20:01] Jon Penland: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, that’s a great one. We’ve looked at Gather Town as well, that’s a really interesting tool. Well, some of our teams have used it, we haven’t as a company used it yet. I’m really looking forward to trying that out, that a RemoteFair might be the way we do that.

[00:20:13] There is one specific value I wanted to ask about, which is ‘ we communicate with purpose’. So I have two questions about this one. I’m just going to start by asking you to give us and in broad strokes, how do you think about communication? How does communication work within The Remote Company? 

[00:20:28] Ilma Tiki: Well, it’s kind of a foundation, right? It’s just to make sure that you are all on the same page. So I think, especially if you’re not only remote, but you’re like the reverse in, in different time zones, then it means that quite often you have asynchronous communication. And then it means that you don’t want to make assumptions and you don’t want to guess. So as you have to be as clear as possible what you do and how you do.

[00:20:57] So we start with like, some simple things. For example, we are really clear at how we communicate on Slack. And when we divide Slack channels, we have a lot of like Slack channels, I don’t know hundreds. But at the same time, it means that we have a lot of, if you are in the channel, it means you want to know, and then it’s okay to over-communicate. Right? So if we see it as one channel with several topics already, we’re going to divide it into two different ones, right? It’s the same with, I don’t know with the breaks. We want people to kind of, to write that like in deep work until two, right, so that people would know what to expect.

[00:21:35] Even the way we write messages is a bit different because our team is located I think in 14 different time zones, so you have to have an expectation that it might be that you’re going to get your reply in 24 hours. So your message is bit different instead of just saying, “I need it now,” most probably going to be really specific one in what you need, and it’s the same with a reply.

[00:21:56] Another thing that’s like a strange one, maybe a strange one, but what we are doing, especially with the managers, we ask them to write a description called “How to work with me,” and I think it’s a great way to onboard people because we have to understand that we are all different personalities, right?

[00:22:14] And the way we communicate is different as well. Some people they want to talk, have a small talk in the morning about the weekends. For some, is just business. Some love gift shifts, somebody doesn’t. So it’s actually really cool, even like a personal kind of thing to do, just to spend some time thinking how you want to communicate with your team, or even with your customers.

[00:22:36] I don’t know, I think it can go even wider. So first, even for yourself to be aware of what you want from them. For example, if somebody is forwarding an email, do you want to be included or not. Is this, all these simple things. And then at the same time, I think it’s really good, especially when new team members join and they don’t know anything about you.

[00:23:20] So it’s like a good starting point to understand each other. And, yeah, ’cause being global, it means that you are diverse and you are very different. And the default setting is that we are different and we stand there, and then it’s really important just to be very clear and communicate about it.

[00:23:16] Jon Penland: Yeah. You’ve talked about a couple of different things that you do in Slack. Actually, I wanted to ask, because I noticed on your site you mentioned that your company does use Slack. You also talk about asynchronous communication and you talk about deep work. And there’ve been many articles published, especially over the last two years, criticizing Slack as the enemy of asynchronous communication and deep work.

[00:23:37] So I’m curious, how do you make sure that Slack supports effective communication at The Remote Company rather than creating sort of that dreaded culture of constant semi distraction? 

[00:23:49] Ilma Tiki: Well, first you have to kind of organize it, right? So this is why we have so many channels and we ask people to star all the channels that are work-related, so that you would get notification all about the things that really matter. Then if you’re writing that you’re focused, it means that you won’t be getting any notifications.

[00:24:08] Right?For example, with MyZenTeam, we have standup notification on Slack. It means that every day at 3:00 PM, we’re going to have notification saying, “What have you been working on? Do we have any blocks?” It’s just, the same message all the time, but it’s totally up to you when you’re going to reply to it.

[00:24:26] So it doesn’t mean that you have to be here and now right now. It means that you are doing a lot of things on your own. And in our case, we’re really clear that, well it might take some time when we’re going to reply, just because we are based around the world. I think it’s just easier, especially when you write down everything, because when we started writing down how we work and how we communicate, the work quite a lot of like cases where I would say one thing and you would be like surprised, like, “Really?

[00:24:59] I didn’t know that.” So I think that’s even having the discussions inside the team, so how do we want to do it. It’s good, and at the same time, if it’s written, it’s much easier to change because you would say, “Okay, so we used to do that. I don’t know, if Ryan were doing this.” So, yeah, we are really specific how we have to organize Slack, but because if everything is in general and nonstop, like, you are getting notifications, that’s no way to work. So, and it’s the same with the meetings. We organize them at least a weekend advanced and invite all of the people who have to be there for sure. And we have as few meetings as possible.

[00:25:36] Jon Penland: Yeah. So it sounds like the, kind of the cornerstones of making Slack work at The Remote Company is it’s organized in a very intentional fashion. Team members know how to structure Slack so that they only receive notifications about things that matter. And then you set the expectation up front, not to expect immediate replies, but to expect communication to happen asynchronously. Yeah. Awesome. 

[00:26:04] Ilma Tiki: Yeah, I think another thing that maybe it should be mentioned that we do have, as I told before, we have a lot of non-work-related Slack channels. Like a lot of them, and like whatever. I mean, just so many about flowers, and dogs, and cats, and movies, and books. My favorite one is called ‘question a day’ and it’s like every day somebody is asking a random question.

[00:26:30] So it’s a really great way to connect. And these channels usually don’t have a notification for them, but it is a great way to kind of communicate asynchronously and have that feeling of a team and even connect with some people that maybe you don’t have any work-related matters just because you are passionate about some topics. So I think having those it’s really good and it could be done asynchronously well, so I think it’s really great for remote companies.

[00:26:56] Jon Penland: Yeah. We do a lot of, similar things, and we have two channels that I particularly love in our Slack workspace. One is Kinstagram, which is just only non-work-related pictures, right? Like a picture of your dog, picture of your kid, whatever. So that one’s super fun. And then we have something that one of the managers and our team does call it ‘Three Question Thursday’, which sounds a lot like your ‘question a day’ where every Thursday he pops in with three, they’re totally off the wall. They’re like, ” If you were an animal, what animal would you be, and why?” Like just crazy stuff. But it’s super fun. Yeah. Same kind of stuff. That’s awesome. 

[00:27:34] Ilma Tiki: Yeah. So I think it’s good to give space for people to connect.

[00:27:35] Jon Penland: Yeah. All right. So, it’s not a company value, but there was a statement on your site that I think is closely aligned to some of your company values. And the statement was, “Everything we do at The Remote Company is designed to help each team member live their best life, both professionally and personally.”

[00:27:53] And so I just wanted to ask kind of an open-ended question here. What are some of the things that The Remote Company does to try and help their team members live their best lives? 

[00:28:04] Ilma Tiki: So the first thing is that we are a remote company, right? So it already means that people can choose where they want to work and how they want to work. And quite often they can even choose when they want to work. And I think it’s really connected with quality of life in general, because you are owning your life. 

[00:28:18] And even knowing in advance where you have to be, let’s say even for online meetings, if something that it means that we do respect people’s time. Other thing is just, for example, we have a joy budget, we have a budget that everybody’s getting, and it’s totally up to you how we’re going to spend it.

[00:28:32] And we have a Slack channel for it, when people would show off what they have bought or what they have experienced with a joy budget. Once a quarter we have creative days. It’s a free day, a paid free day, when you have to leave your laptop at home and do something like experience something, go to a museum, to an art gallery, I don’t know, whatever. 

[00:28:48] And all the time, like this is for paid creative day as well, we do have another Slack channel where people would share photos and even write like quite big texts, what they have been doing and what they have learned. So, I think having that connection and, you know, sharing joy together, it’s something that, yeah, it’s just, like, this is something that, I’m really passionate about and at the same time it’s something that when you share more, you’ve just more of it, right?

[00:29:24] So we are coming up with different solutions how to grow, stay curious, stay creative, stay together as a team, at the same time for them, as I told before is just making a lot of, your own choices in your life and what you want to do.

[00:29:40] Jon Penland: I’m curious, practically speaking, how that joy budget works. Like, it seems a little counterintuitive to ask if you have any rules about joy budget, but do you have any guidelines like to help folks use that, in a way that kind of brings you into their lives? Is this was just like, “Use whatever you want?” How does that work? 

[00:30:19] Ilma Tiki: Yeah. Well, the only rule is that you have to share a photo and you have to tell why it brings joy to you. So it’s like, it’s still totally up to you. We can, you can spend it on, I don’t know, I don’t know for groceries and have dinner with your loved ones. You can buy a piano. You can quite a lot of them.

They actually, we used to have a growth budget, but somehow it was much more complicated to spend it. So we thought that ‘let’s go for joy now’.

[00:30:24] Jon Penland: Yeah. Yeah, that’s fun. I like that. So I wanna shift focus one more time here in the conversation and spend a few minutes thinking and talking about remote work. So the world of remote work has changed a lot, especially in the last couple of years. Lots of companies have gone remote since the start of the pandemic.

[00:30:40] The Remote Country has been remote since before that. So I think there’s some unique expertise there about how to do remote work effectively. So just to kind of set the stage, is The Remote Company fully remote or do you have some folks working in an office? 

[00:30:58] Ilma Tiki: We still have an office. And, sometimes you can meet, I don’t know, two people there. But for the last eight years, we always said that we are remote-first company. And it means that it doesn’t matter that we have an office. It’s more like a coworking place where you can come, but all the decisions are being made online and all the meetings online. So you want miss anything when you are not in the office.

[00:31:20] Jon Penland: Yeah. So at this point, you would say, you’re a fully remote company. Any role can be filled virtually from anywhere? 

[00:31:28] Ilma Tiki: Yes. Yes. For sure. For the last eight years.

[00:31:32] Jon Penland: Okay. All right. So working remotely and working from an office, they both have benefits and shortcomings. What is a challenge that The Remote Company has faced in the realm of remote work? In other words, what’s been the hardest part of running a remote company? 

[00:31:48] Ilma Tiki: I don’t know if, I think like the reason why we call our company The Remote Company is because we believe that switching towards remote was like a breakthrough moment for us as a company in general. I am Lithuanian and our office is based in Vilnius, so it’s in Europe. And when our app and our users expanded around the world, hiring remotely and hiring talented people around the world was really important.

[00:32:19] I think it’s having a diverse team when you have like global ambition, it’s really important just to have less blind spots. And this is what happens when we have people from everywhere. Right? Well, the challenge is that most probably we don’t hire as many like juniors, ’cause I think onboarding and mentoring somebody remotely, it’s really tricky.

[00:32:42] So quite often we do hire people who are already know something about that field or like they’re professionals there and, or even seniors. So I think mentoring is something that, and having really, really young people joining, maybe it’s not the right fit for them and for us.

[00:33:00] Jon Penland: Yeah. It can be really challenging. I think if you can find the right person with the right mentality of ownership and responsibility and being self-directed, that it can work with a junior hire, but it definitely is, you need somebody, you really need somebody who either has been raised in a certain way to think about responsibility and ownership or has some professional experience to understand this is how things have to work in a workspace.

[00:33:27] Ilma Tiki: Yeah. And sometimes it’s not even about the person. Sometimes if you’re hiring somebody, you have to be then at the same time zone or at least a similar time zone in order to mentor somebody. Right? So I think even that, you know, I think is really important to mention when you hire people.

[00:33:42] And I think for actually the challenge that we used to have, we always hired people who had a remote experience before, ’cause I think remote is like a mindset, right? It’s just not something that you think you can do. It’s much better to try and see if you can do it. Right? And it’s not for everyone.

[00:34:01] So it’s used to be quite challenging because not so many people used to kind of work remotely. So right now we have a much bigger choice because in the last few years people have tried to, and now they know that they can do it. And it’s like good for them.

[00:34:20] Jon Penland: Yeah. As you just alluded to, there’s been a huge acceleration towards remote work over the last couple of years. And I’m curious, if you like Kinsta, who’s a remote company, have you found that uniqueness of being remote is slipping away? Whereas in the past, this used to be a huge attractor for applicants.

[00:34:39] Now, many, many jobs that are similar to jobs at Kinsta can be filled remotely. So I’m curious if you’ve found that to be true. And if so, how do you think about evolving as a company to maintain? Is there a way to maintain some differentiation in that being a remote company? 

[00:34:55] Ilma Tiki: I think we still have an advantage and a big one that we started doing it before COVID ’cause we already know how to work and like, we don’t ask how to, you know, have a culture in the remote world. And, so we know a lot of things, while other companies, they’re still figuring it out. And I think a lot of companies, they say that they have a hybrid team, and I think hybrid means kind of nothing. You have to make a choice if it’s like office first and flexible hours maybe, or remote first. So in our case, we still have a competitive advantage in a way that we hire from everywhere. So it means it’s not just hashtag work from home. In our case it’s works, it means like work from anywhere. 

[00:35:39] And, at least what I see a lot of companies, they provide flexibility, but it doesn’t mean that you can choose the city or you can choose the country. It was just still kind of, or even like time zones there being like limited. Yeah. And we’ll see what happens.

[00:35:56] Like, I was reading a lot, like researches what people are saying, and it’s like really funny, ’cause a lot of people, they want to have that flexibility and have choices, when and how they work and where from. Right? But the managers, they’re really quite against it. And well, every time I’m talking with any company that like, they want me to mentor them how to become like remote.

[00:36:18] If the CEO is not on the board, that’s it. You won’t be doing it. I think it’s really important to check where your bosses and if he or she wants to stay in the office, most probably will have to come. So yeah, we’ll see where it goes, but I think it’s still a lot of things that could be done better.

[00:36:39] And a lot of companies are still learning and a lot of companies are still not like hiring everywhere from, anyone from everywhere. And that’s a huge opportunity actually. And I think that’s a huge opportunity for both companies and for people as well, because I think it’s amazing that you can do any kind of global career from anywhere. That’s something that wasn’t possible even, I don’t know, a year ago.

[00:37:04] Jon Penland: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Another thing that seems to be a part of the remote work formula, there at The Remote Company is the concept of the workation. So can you speak a little bit to what a workation is and why it matters at The Remote Company?

[00:37:17] Ilma Tiki: So workation is like, we are people and we’re social kind of, the way we, human beings, when we need connection and we need to see each other. So, twice a year we would have our company retreats, our company meetings that we would call workations. Usually it would be in the summertime and we would meet in Lithuania, and then in winter would go somewhere exotic like Bali or Panama, or Azores or Morocco. But we had to stop it in 2020 in March. We had to meet in Miami and the hotel is still waiting for us.

[00:37:51] Jon Penland: Yeah. I’m curious though. ‘Cause it sounds like you’ve done some staycation type variations on the workation and I’m curious, it can be really difficult to run a virtual event and have it work. Right? Just have people engaged. And I’m curious what your experience was with the virtual workation and what sort of things you did to try and help team members engage in that virtual version? 

[00:38:15] Ilma Tiki: Well, there were quite a lot of events that we would do in a workation, as well. As I said, we already have traditions, some rituals which we’re doing. It was really helpful that we could kind of transform them a bit and put online, like remote via. Another tradition that we have when we meet is that, new people that just joined the company, they are making PechaKucha presentation about themselves.

[00:38:42] And, so PechaKucha means like 20 slides that are automatically changing every 20 seconds. So everyone has six minutes, forty seconds to tell a story about themselves. And I think it’s a great way for a new person to join because it’s not just my name and my position, or like my country it’s much more.

[00:39:00] Right? You can, people are talking how they, I don’t know, met the wife. They’re talking about the families. They’re talking about professional accomplishments. And it’s a great way to know them better. So we used to do that during workations, but actually online, it works even better because we are not just watching them.

[00:39:17] We can have a chat and we can chat about the things that they’re talking about. So some of the things worked really well. And as I said, we are still using that IKEA effect that people kind of, they propose what they want to do. So we had great fun when several team members were doing food courses.

[00:39:37] So you can select which one you want to join. And then everybody were cooking together and it wasn’t the chef. It was one of our team members. So it was great fun actually to be from four different continents, eating the same foods with our families. And I think, my idea is just to every time I’m thinking how to kind of connect people on a deeper level, and it can happen is just, especially if people see why it’s needed, and when you like really communicate clear about it why it’s important for us to be altogether.

[00:40:10] Jon Penland: Yeah. Yeah. I really love that idea of the 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide presentation, because for many folks, the idea of talking about themselves or presenting information about themselves to their team is going to be a very scary thing. But you provide this very specific structure. It’s 20 slides, right?

[00:40:32] “Oh, okay. It’s 20 slides. It’s six minutes. I can survive 20 slides and six minutes. And I don’t even really have to think about that much to say, because I’m going to have 20 pictures in each one’s only 20 seconds.” So I really, I think that’s, I really love that idea. And I do think there’s a lot of truth to this idea of like, if you can transfer these traditions you already had into a virtual setting, then you kind of transfer the energy as well, right? Like folks already know how to engage and how to think about these things. So those are some really, really great ideas for other companies trying to, try to think about virtual events. I know that’s something that we’ve thought a lot about. Going back to the idea of an in-person event though, The Remote Company is not a really small company. How have you managed to try and keep workstations affordable as a company, as you have more and more folks attending these, get-togethers?

[00:41:21] Ilma Tiki: Well, the last time we met, I think it was less than 50 of us. Right now, we are 150. So we tripled like grew 3 times during pandemic years. So last year we understood that would be really complicated for everyone to meet, just because of all the restrictions. 

[00:41:41] So we did work togethers. So now we have a new name and your event, and it means that you are meeting only with your team that you’re working with.

[00:41:49] ‘Cause some of the teams, they have never met before. And it was totally up to them where they were going to meet, for example. So they had budgets that they have to kind of fit in. And we’ve given them guidelines because we knew what is working, what is not, with a lot of recommendations on how to kind of plan that event, altogether. But then there was a lot of things that they did on their own. They had to decide, I don’t know, what they’re doing on creative day together. They could decide where they’re meeting actually and where they could meet because of these restrictions as well. So I think it was a great thing to do because the team was kind of dreaming together what they want to do and where they want to go and what they want to experience.

[00:42:30] So, like most of them, they said that it was like really good, not only good time, but what’s really like really effective because when you’re spending these four days together, lots of ideas then come in throughout the dinner, just because you are surrounded by your team members. Right? And I think we’re gonna continue doing that as well, because I feel a lot of value in these meetings within the teams.

[00:42:55] Jon Penland: Yeah. And one thing I want to point out that you’ve said about the work togethers, and you mentioned it a moment ago about the workations, which I think is brilliant, is that you don’t try and figure out the entire agenda for these events. You ask team members what they want to do, you put some of that ownership of the event back on them, which I think is really a great idea, both because it probably means that it will be more fun for them, but also it means that it’s less stressful for whoever’s trying to manage and organize the whole thing. So, a takeaway here for our listeners is don’t be afraid to ask your team members to contribute to the process.

[00:43:35] Ilma Tiki: Yeah. And I think one more time, we’re coming back to values here, take responsibility. So, I mean, it’s just, if you want to have fun, you have to kind of do something about it. Right? And I think owning it and kind of taking care of it, you just have a different feeling instead of just outsourcing it, so, you know, tourism agency.

[00:43:52] Jon Penland: Yeah. All right. So, we’ve talked about The Remote Company, how it came together, how the different pieces work together. We’ve talked about values and communication. We’ve talked about some of the unique challenges and benefits of remote work. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about, but that you think is really an essential part of what makes The Remote Company successful, that you want to mention here, as we start to wrap up our conversation?

[00:44:19] Ilma Tiki: I don’t know. I just want to invite more businesses to have these diverse teams, because I think that’s a great opportunity for everyone to grow personally. And as a company to have that wider view to the world, like global view to the world. It’s really helpful for anyone. So yeah, just want to invite more teams to join the remote revolution.

[00:44:43] Jon Penland: Awesome. All right. So as we do come to a close in our conversation, I have two wrap-up questions for you. So first, I’m going to ask you to recommend a go-to resource for our listeners. So what’s one resource, could be a blog, a book, a newsletter, an event, really anything that you would recommend to our listeners?

[00:45:04] Ilma Tiki: I think maybe Simon Sinek “Start with Why” is just go to YouTube and watch it. And, I think it’s important to know the ‘why’ when you start the business, and people feel if you have that ‘why’ inside, not just the product. 

[00:45:18] Jon Penland: Awesome. And then my last wrap-up question, where can our listeners go to learn more about you and more about The Remote Company? 

[00:45:25] Ilma Tiki: So you can just go on the website remotecompany.com or remote co without the. You can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter. Everywhere it’s like Ilma and yeah, so just say, “Hello.’ 

[00:45:44] Jon Penland: Alright. Perfect. Thank you so much for joining me today, Ilma, and thank you to our listeners. That’s all for today’s podcast. You can access the episode show notes at kinsta.com/podcast. That’s K I N S T A.com/podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to Reverse Engineered and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or the platform you’re listening on right now. See you next time.

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