Dec. 8, 2022

Designing the Future of Global, Remote Work with Fredrik Thomassen

Designing the Future of Global, Remote Work with Fredrik Thomassen

More and more businesses are switching to remote work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But one startup was ahead of the curve, having been 100% remote since its inception in 2016. That startup is Superside, a fully distributed design operations platform that seeks to support a global remote workforce. By introducing a remote work policy, Superside gives designers around the world better income opportunities, regardless of their gender, race, or location.


More and more businesses are switching to remote work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But one startup was ahead of the curve, having been 100% remote since its inception in 2016.

That startup is Superside, a fully distributed design operations platform that seeks to support a global remote workforce. By introducing a remote work policy, Superside gives designers around the world better income opportunities, regardless of their gender, race, or location.

In this episode, host Adam Gamwell speaks with Superside CEO and Founder Fredrik Thomassen about remote work and how the pandemic accelerated its adoption worldwide, the promise and challenge of fully online organizations, the inclusion of minorities in the workforce as a global business imperative, and more.

Show Highlights:

[04:10] How Fredrik Thomassen started Superside
[07:37] On the power of remote work and the opportunities it opens up
[14:23] How remote work can improve workforce diversity
[20:07] Issues with traditional hiring practices
[24:50] On the importance of taking candidates’ values into account in the hiring process
[29:19] How Superside keeps its employees happy and fulfilled
[35:44] Why management is not as complicated as it is made out to be
[37:55] Why Superside as an organization values truth-seeking
[45:54] Closing statements

Links and Resources:

Transcript

[00:00:00] Adam Gamwell: Hello and welcome to This Anthro Life. I'm your host, Adam Gamwell. As a citizen of planet Earth, you know just as well as I do how COVID changed the way that we work and primarily that there's been a massive rise of remote work and working online. And indeed, as my guest today feels, one of the greatest transformations of the 20th century so far has been the rise and normalization of working online. COVID merely accelerated the adoption of online work. While there's been a ton of conversations on how virtual meeting and communication software like Zoom or Slack have changed the way that we engage with one another, there's been comparatively less conversation around how moving work online provides opportunities to democratize access and rethink organizational and structural aspects of business, aspects like how businesses look for and higher talent, how do they offer training, and how do they seek to keep people happy and retain employees.

[00:00:49] Today, I am very excited to welcome Fredrik Thomassen on the podcast. Now, Fredrik is the CEO and founder of Superside, which is a technology-enabled design company that is revolutionizing design at scale through democratizing access to the world's best design talent. Now, as we'll dive into in today's conversation, Fredrik Thomassen started Superside as a 100% remote company in 2016 and because he saw such unfair pay disparity between US-based graphic designers and their international counterparts. Fully online companies bring to light important implications for two widely used business practices that have come under increased scrutiny. The first is outsourcing labor to cheaper parts of the world. And the second is freelancing or gig economy work where companies can pay for independent and ad hoc project work rather than hiring employees and giving them benefits.

[00:01:36] Now, online-based work means that location-based pay is quickly becoming an outdated practice. And according to Fredrik, outsourcing should not be about a race to the bottom or lowest cost but actually about access to top talent. Focusing on getting the best people versus paying the least he believes will ultimately lead ambitious brands that are defining the future to give creatives a seat at the decision-making table. Second, Frederick believes that the future of work is not freelancers or gig economy platforms but actually solid jobs that are flexible and remote and that the best organizations will embed cultures of psychological safety into their DNA. There's a ton of thought-provoking gems in this conversation, whether you're an organizational anthropologist or psychologist, a C-suite executive thinking about the future of work, or just an employee or freelancer trying to define the kind of work that matters most to you. We'll dive right on in after a quick message from this episode's sponsor.

[00:02:32] So Fredrik, I'm really excited to have you on This Anthro Life today. You know, I was able to kind of get a look at the work you're doing with Superside and I think it's really interesting, you know, that we're finding ourselves in this kind of new era of design ops and design as a service. And like there's kind of new business models around how we can work with creatives. So one, just wanna thank, thanks for joining me on the show today. And then I'd love to kind of kick off a question here in a minute about how you got into this space and how you found yourself there. So, how you doing today?

[00:03:01] Fredrik Thomassen: I'm doing pretty good. I have a one-year-old who used to wake up at 6:00 AM and now at daylight savings he wakes up at 5:00 AM. So, thank you very much to all those daylight savings people. Much appreciated. But I've had a big coffee and feeling sharp.

[00:03:22] Adam Gamwell: Cool. Well, I appreciate that, I understand the challenge of the one-year-old who lives on their own time schedule, you know? How to design for that is I think is the ultimate question, right? How do we design for folks that don't know sleeping schedules? So, let's think about this in terms of like, that's an appropriate spot for an origin story, you know? If we think about your own superhero origin story, too, and how you found yourself in the space that you are now with Superside but then also, you know, what inspired you to get into this kind of company space, you know? So, you know, some of the background we have reading is that, you know, you worked at McKinsey for a while. You've worked at a number of other companies doing some journalism, too, even. So, I'd love to hear a bit about your kind of pathway and story of how you found yourself thinking across things like consulting, writing, creative production into the company that you run today.

[00:04:10] Fredrik Thomassen: Yeah, for sure. And so, when starting the company, I was actually living in Indonesia and part of building an e-commerce company there and worked with a lot of incredibly talented people and thought to myself, you know, these guys, if they could have been magically teleported to the US, they would make 10, 15 times as much. And then, obviously, you guys over there in America are building walls and, you know, keeping people out of your country, right? And so, it felt like the only solution would be the internet. And I felt very strongly that one of the greatest transitions of the 21st century would be work moving online. And I just wanted to be a part of that one way or another. And I think it's been a really interesting journey. It's still very early. But every year now, there's millions of people joining the online workforce from all over the world and internet is helping create a more equal playing field. And our mission is to create more equal opportunities in the world by helping to accelerate this transition to online work.

[00:05:19] And so, I had personally always been working in marketing and sort of worked as a journalist for a while, worked in consulting and did primarily marketing activities there, and worked in e-commerce, did marketing for within an e-commerce. It always, we were always bottlenecked by design and creative and we were always waiting for the designers to finish up. We were always feeling that we could have better performance of our marketing programs if the creative was better, faster, you know, more volume. There's always like new channels, new segments that you want to target, but always just waiting for the creative. And it is not the designer's fault. I mean, in my experience, they've just always seemed, you know, overworked and tired and, you know, always under deadline and stress and all they want to do is make cool stuff and not be bothered, right? And so, that just felt like an unnecessary situation. It felt like it would be possible to solve that. And so, we started to build Superside, which aims to help marketing and creative teams get more done and bottleneck design, deliver greater performance on creative campaigns. And so, yeah, that's basically the genesis.

[00:06:38] Adam Gamwell: No, that, that's really interesting. And I think that you've said a lot of the things that really kind of strike my brain as an anthropologist and a former design educator and design teacher that, you know, oftentimes, there is the kind of creative artistic bottleneck in terms of how fast can we produce intention with the idea that like, I wanna take the time to, you know, make the perfect design, the perfect kind of campaign outlay, the perfect kind of graphic or motion design. And, you know, there is this interesting tension back and forth that I hear you articulating that is between the idea of speed and quality, right? But then there is this, you know, not magical at this point, but it still kinda feels magical, right? The power of working online and remote work, right, that we can in fact connect across time zones, across places in the globe. And, you know, so the anthropologist side of me is, you know, the heart is warmed in terms of the idea of how do we democratize access to work and well-paid work, right, and how we make this area and availability often open to more kinds of people.

[00:07:37] And so, I'd love to kind of think about this. You know, obviously we're in late 2022 while we're recording this, so we're, I don't know if we can say we're in post-pandemic but we're, you know, towards a latter stage of understanding living with something that has made so many people locked down, right, and moving work online, right? I'm curious how that idea has also kind of shifted some of the thinking. Did it kind of help launch Superside even further or was this something that like you felt ultimately prepared for, right? Because you're already in a remote space that we can deal with kind of geographical challenges in different ways.

[00:08:09] Fredrik Thomassen: I mean, COVID has been fantastic for accelerating the world's transition to online work — I think that's fair to say — and a huge tailwind for Superside and just an incredibly important proof point that it is possible to actually do work from home. You know, people are actually working when they're at home. It's not like, you know, people aren’t just chilling around and, you know, doing yoga and playing music and, you know, having a good time. People are actually working and maybe actually people are working more when they're working from home. And so, I think increasingly people are seeing that it's possible to build better companies in a fully remote context or it's at the very least possible to embrace that as a strategy to get access to more talent.

[00:09:03] I think a lot of companies out there are feeling constrained by the lack of access to talent in their local labor markets. And so, if you are a company in Oslo, for example, which is where I live in, you know, in mid-sized capital in Europe, it is just no chance you're gonna have access to all of the skills that you need to build, you know, internationally competitive company within marketing and sales and creative. Like you need specialists from every field and maybe there are a few large urban conglomerations in the world that can allow that network. Like you have San Francisco Bay Area, I don't know, 10, 15 million people all working and thinking about technology, you know? New York, London, and some of the sort of Chinese place, you know, perhaps, but like most other places, you just wouldn't be able to get the level of access to talent to a reasonable level. And so, I think remote is the only strategy for an ambitious technology company that is started in any other place in these large international tech clusters.

[00:10:13] Adam Gamwell: I think that that's really interesting and a powerful point that if we're competing like in a global stage and how can we, because, yeah, there are these big giants and some of the tech behemoths in the United States can make it very difficult, right? They gobble up talent, you know? But this idea in terms of that remote opens it up not only for — I think like two sides, right? There's the talent side, right? Like what access do I have as a creative to look for work? And then the other side to your point is like making a better organization that can be more agile and work more quickly.

[00:10:45] Fredrik Thomassen: Exactly. And, you know, what's surprising to us is that the companies that have been fastest to embrace our service and fastest to embrace online work in general are the kind of existing technology companies, you know, like 70% of our customers are technology companies and we would definitely be like a great solution for, you know, a mid-sized company in a smaller city where the access to talent wasn't necessarily as good but we nevertheless see kind of most our demand coming in San Francisco, New York, Seattle. And, you know, maybe that's a cultural thing. Maybe it's more early adopters there. You know, maybe in San Francisco your particular like kind of wages in the local labor market are so insanely high that it's people find it hard. Maybe it's just hard to find talent in those places. But yeah, nevertheless, just bit of a puzzling situation that we're mostly embraced by the people that kind of, strictly speaking, need it the least.

[00:11:54] Adam Gamwell: Yeah, that is interesting. I guess, I mean, thinking like putting on your marketer hat, too, that from your other life as well how can we think about that? Like what is it, you know, are there ways to help, you know, bring the conversation to smaller markets in Norway or smaller markets in Tanzania, you know, or Jakarta, that we can kind of familiarize ourself with this type of working with kind of liquid super teams, we might say.

[00:12:18] Fredrik Thomassen: I mean, I think technology obviously lends itself perfectly well to like a distributed way because the end product that you're delivering is digital and so distributed is fine. Like if you have a factory and so on, it is harder and you definitely see more traditional industries resisting transition to remote work more. I think that's a huge opportunity for people that want to break out of that, to be perfectly honest, for consumer packaged goods company or a retail company or whatever, you know, to have significant parts of the organization globally distributed. I think that's a huge opportunity and I think we're gonna increasingly see companies or large companies embracing that as kind of a competitive edge, but it will take time. But, you know, the curve is exponential. Every year, you know, millions of people, over the next decade, two decades, we're gonna probably see a few hundred people fully move online. And so, you know, these exponential curves tend to, you know, start small but then suddenly become pretty massive and feel like wholesale revolutions that cuts across all of societies. So will be interesting to see what it's gonna do to kind of the global — culture or, you know, global culture in general would be very interesting to see.

[00:13:43] Adam Gamwell: Yeah, no, I agree, too. It's always this interesting conversation where it's like, how do we think about or like how do we imagine the stories that we can tell, right, about what that future can be. And, you know, one of the ideas that comes out of your work in Superside is that, you know, the internet has helped make and like remote work has helped make talent more about merit and not like how close am I to an office, right? And so, I'd love to think about this with you and kind of talk about, you know, you mentioned the idea of democratizing access to top talent and to work. And so, let's break this down. Like what does it mean that we now have kind of a broader ability to make our work about talent versus like am I close to some certain place?

[00:14:23] Fredrik Thomassen: Well, it means a ton and it's a great question and it especially means a lot to people that were previously discriminated against, right? And I think there's a lot of groups that have smaller or larger labor market discrimination issues. I mean, the male-female wage gap is, you know, often talked about and is, you know, still persistent and pretty big even in, you know, Norway and the US, like reasonably, you know, mature economies. On the internet, you actually don't see that difference. And, you know, you look at data from the payment provider Payoneer or from Upwork and of these large platforms and you basically see general wage gap across skills is basically nonexistent.

[00:15:13] You see many examples and our own company is a case in point of people with various, you know, attitudes or, you know, the LGBT community, people with like various, you know, behavioral or people that really wants to be at home. Like all these type of people that are potentially handicapped or obese or whatever like that were historically like massively discriminated against in the local labor market are now seeing just massive amount. They will be like relatively speaking the big winners on the internet because you should just working on this person remote and it's — Google sheet and once in a while you log on to. Like why would you care, you know? Like there's no reason to discriminate anymore. Like all you care about is getting the best people to do the best work. And, you know, when you are then applying this very kind of systematic, data-driven, meritocratic approach to screening talent, it turns out that you just get this like rainbow of people and that's fantastic, no?

[00:16:26] And so, and for us, it's like one of the most fulfilling parts of building this company is seeing this incredible diversity that we've built up. And it's not been by design. And I can understand why people are like annoyed with, we need quotas for these things. And like, I understand that it can be like, people can be in opposition to that, but we haven't designed our company to become diverse, right? We've decided our company to become highly performant, like we've designed our company to be, you know, very, very rigorous in the way we assess people. And then the outcome of that is, you know, this hugely diverse company of 800 people in 75 different countries with all kinds of shapes and sizes and colors and hair colors and hair sizes. It's always a, you know, it's always like a surprise to log onto some video call and just see like 10 people and it's all actually looking so different. And I think we are out there to prove that that's just a great way to build a business, right?

[00:17:37] I think the story, it's very important to not tell the story that it's kind of bad for business, but we still should go out and hire more women, you know? Like if you start to have that story that sort of tends to taint that particular group or tends to kind of say, women are less talented than men but we're still going to, like that has that implicit bias in. So I think it's much more important to say, actually, you should revisit the way you're hiring people. You should revisit the way you screen people. And if you do, and if you do it in a fair data-driven way, the outcome will most likely be a pretty diverse company. And if you don't have a diverse company today, that's probably a result of implicit biases that you've built into your screening process. And it's sort of like a data and measurement error. So, that's a little bit our approach to it.

[00:18:35] Adam Gamwell: Now, that's really interesting, too. And I love this idea, too, kind of like it's how do we widen that conversation but also be serious about the fact that oftentimes if organizations have a lack of diversity, it's actually often implicit bias of their screening processes, right, of how they're like getting talent and looking for folks in the first place. And tending to have like a confirmation bias where I wanna hire someone that looks like me. Even if I don't think I'm doing that, if I'm screening people based on names and then how the interview process goes. I like the idea of thinking about this as a data error too. That's a nice kind of additional piece that we could think about that it's like a flaw in our kind of models. Using our human minds versus different kind of data, different approaches that are not based on some of the more subjective qualities that people kind of implicitly carry in their heads.

[00:19:19] And I think also this idea I think really stands out important, too, is that, you know, as you noted that diversity tends to be a like natural outcome, if we can say natural, you know, but just like a common outcome when you're using the, you know, different kind of data, different approach that's like premised on let's get the best talent, right, and the best kind of folks that are able to provide the best services. And I think that's really interesting and important as a way to help wake up I think other organizations, too, in terms of there are better ways we can hire and that we can screen for work and it can be based on doing good work, right, and not get stuck in these kind of typical resume boxes of, you know, hit these five marks and then ultimately let me interview you but I'm gonna get the person that looks the most like me or that reminds me of me, even if that's implicit right? And I mean, that's one of the other kind of insidious parts we find with interviews.

[00:20:07] Fredrik Thomassen: Absolutely. And, I mean, I think there's lots of problems with resumes and it's just very hard to avoid looking at them, right, but it's at best like a weak correlation between like the pedigree of your prior institution and the actual quality of the job that this person will perform. And we've made the mistake a lot of times of hiring, you know, this like classic archetype from, you know, Harvard or, you know, some other prestigious place and, you know, gone to some kind of consulting firm and like, it might be good, but it might not, you know? It's like very hard to say.

[00:20:46] And I think our approach, which we really believe in, is to place much greater weight on evolving our capabilities to test skills and test abilities and values in a more structured way. And so, we place a much greater reliance on, you know, case assessments and various other structured tests that we're doing and we place a great deal of importance on screening for values. And it's something that we're trying to do in an explicit way, but it's obviously, as you know, as an anthropologist, it's, you know, hard to like assess people for values, but it's something we try to think about. You know, our number one value in Superside is to be kind. And so, that is something that we try to like understand through like into process and try to, you know, elicit from reference checking and so on. But it is obviously, you know, very hard because most people are generally, you know, behaving pretty nicely, even into context, so.

[00:21:59] Adam Gamwell: Yeah, it's like we have to give them like little stories, right? Like read the story and then see who would you help and how would you help them.

[00:22:05] Fredrik Thomassen: Yeah, it's like ethical puzzles. Yeah, you know, you have the tram and then five people on the, you pull it and you have people on the other tracks. Yeah, I dunno. No, but I guess our recommendation is to really put a great amount of thinking into standardized testing. Standardized testing has gotten a very bad rep because it basically in people's mind means the SAT or something and SAT probably has a lot of flaws or IQ testing and IQ testing probably has a lot of of flaws, right? And so, that doesn't mean it's not possible to create structured assessment frameworks. It just means that we need to evolve beyond SATs, beyond IQ testing toward more sophisticated ways of testing. And that's what we are sort of constantly working on and trying to improve and trying to make into our, one of the kind of key company IPs that we have.

[00:23:08] Adam Gamwell: That sounds great. And I think that's a really valuable point, too, where, you know, oftentimes it's like the anthropologist, ethnographer, Tricia Wang, you know, talks about that oftentimes, like one of the challenges when we try to quantify and measure things that sometimes would be more subjective, things like a value, right, it's that, we can put the numbers on the wrong things. But then the flip side, I mean, also what you're saying here is that we're trying to measure what actually matters to people, right? And that's what we need to do. And that I think I take your point, it's well said in terms of the standardized testing tends to get a bad rap because it is like the SAT or, you know, different tests per grade for students. They don't tell us much about the, you know, the ability for someone to succeed in a space, right? It's more just like, can you answer these questions in a way that then is satisfactory to this test? But to your point, like, why couldn't we have all those kinds of questions, right?

[00:23:56] And we do that all the time in other industries, in other areas, you know? I mean, the example that comes to mind is the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, Dr. Helen Fisher, has done a number of really interesting studies both for Match.com, the dating website, and Chemistry, their parent company, on how we ask standardized questions of match and mate finding. These sites actually have some of the best ways of engaging with people, you know, but in part because they're designed qualitatively, like with, you know, this, the kind of an, I think, you know, I'm biased with my anthropological mindset, you know, in terms of how do we ask questions that really get to the heart of what people value, right? And then if we do that enough over time with data, then we actually can begin to see patterns, right, and build some correlations.

[00:24:40] We're gonna take a quick break. Just wanted to let you know that we're running ads to support the show now. We'll be right back.

[00:24:50] Fredrik Thomassen: Absolutely. And it's also like kind of a discredited field historically where you have, you know, the MBTI and the Big Five and these things, which is like both with like serious methodological problems and also with this like pretty fair criticism in my opinion, which is it sort of like takes a human and reduces it to like these dimensions when anyone and anyone that takes this test is like does it like fully adequately explain me, my special self to have like extrovert, introvert, like thinker, feeler, like, or, you know? Is that like a useful way? And so, I strongly believe that there needs to be lots of innovation in this particular field of assessing value match with an organization because it is incredibly important both for you as an individual and your own well-being like, what is this place? You know, like, will I be happy here? You know, what are these guys talking about?

[00:26:02] And for the organization as a whole, you tend to see just, and this is our experience and I think a lot of other people's experience, right, I think you tend to see that it's just so much easier to collaborate if you share a set of values and if you are aligned around a common vision for the future. But it's still just so hard to assess and we just constantly make mistakes, right? And I would say nine out of 10 times that we make a hiring error, it is because of values. It is not because of performance. It is someone that actually doesn't necessarily like to work hard or isn't necessarily that nice or, you know, isn't truth-seeking but political. Like we have all these values that we care about obviously but. And so, if we would improve our ability to assess values, we would dramatically reduce the number of hiring mistakes, which would be better for us. And then obviously a lot better for the people. Like most of the times when we've made these hiring mistakes, then this person goes on to have like tremendously, you know, like a successful career else elsewhere where there's just a better, you know, cultural fit.

[00:27:26] Adam Gamwell: Yeah, no, that's a really, I think it's a really fascinating point, too. And, you know, especially on like the employer or the talent side when you're looking for an organization to work at or with is it can be often hard to assess that value question, right, and like, will that line up? Especially because there's a lot of, you know, as we know, uncertainty and emotion in the process of applying for a job traditionally, too, right? You know, the interview process, the resume, whether you're doing case studies, you know, kind of how you're kind of vetted. And there's a lot at stake in terms of that oftentimes people, I don't know if I have to say it live, but like a lot of people will like stretch how much they care about something or because they want to get a job, not because they're trying to like be untruthful but just like it's also important that I get paid, you know, and that I can, sustain myself, you know? So there's an interesting like conundrum there. I appreciate the line of thinking here and how we can open that inquiry up more openly.

[00:28:16] Fredrik Thomassen: And that's the type of thing, right? Yeah, you present someone with like a Big Five questionnaire during a job interview. And then surprise, surprise. Everyone is like incredibly conscientious, all of a sudden. And there needs to be ways to like assess it that doesn't, you know, rely on this requirement to feel or to place the candidates in this position or where they feel that they need to lie, for sure.

[00:28:43] Adam Gamwell: Do you think that like, something that stands out, too, that how Superside talks about the kind of work that you do is that like you have, you know, one of your missions is like creating jobs that are like equal opportunity. We've kind of been talking about this, obviously remote is an important part of flexibility there, but also the deal of happy, like that the employees can be happy and feel good about that work. And so, I feel like the value question and the culture question that we're talking about here is really important to that part. But I'd love to hear, you know, are these the elements or like are there other elements that, as you think about, how do we know what makes a job happy for people and how do we help like provide that process?

[00:29:19] Fredrik Thomassen: Yeah, look, I mean, I think it's, I think it's important for a lot of people this question on values and mission and working for a company that cares about that. But at the end of the day, there's also a lot of pretty basic things that people want, you know? People really want to get paid on time every month. So that's really nice if that happens. People ideally want to kind of make more overtime. And if you work hard, you want to get promoted and you want to know if you're doing a good job or not and you want that feedback to be given to you in a professional way by a manager that cares about your well-being. And so, these are kind of the basics that I think is a lot more important for people. And many of these other things we've been speaking about, like yes, it's nice that the company cares about the mission and the vision and the future of work and those things. But like these things, you know, if my boss hates me or if I'm afraid of coming into work every Monday because, you know, my boss is terrible, that, you know, that's obviously, you know, much more impactful and much worse for you. So we really try to focus on getting all of those basics in place and just doing a really, really good job around providing people with a very clear and ideally very rapid career progression.

[00:30:52] And so, our primary, let's say, pitch to candidates, it's actually more around Superside being the fastest possible way for you to accelerate your career. And so, if you are ambitious and you are looking to learn and grow as quickly as you can, you can join Superside and then within three, four years you can 4x or 5x your salary, right? Which is pretty incredible. And we provide a bunch of resources to be able to do that. And really, we're incredibly passionate about our ability and the tools, the training, the infrastructure that we provide that allow people to grow so quickly that within a few years. Like imagine an educational institution that you join and then you spend three years there and then you make five times as much on the other side, you know? That would be a pretty incredible university at most. Most colleges like you basically just like play beer pong for four years and, you know, hang around with the frat bros and, you know, you learn a little bit. And so, we're a bit skeptical about higher education in general, I guess, especially within a field like design, which is such a field that is such like a craft field, like apprenticeship field. And where we feel if you do it in a structured and good way in a sort of learn on the job type thing, you can massively grow. And so, that's really what we're the most passionate about.

[00:32:36] And I think that when people feel personal growth and when people feel company growth, that kind of solves all problems, almost all problems like. And I'm not saying that all the things aren't important, but like at the end of the day, you know, company doubles every year, like what Superside has been doing over the past three years, almost nobody leaves, right? If you yourself, every year you improve it. So like, I think, you know, you work in some traditional agency, every year, you're going down like 5%, 5%, like TVs, like less and less advertising, you know? You're struggling to hold onto clients. It's getting harder and harder, like there's no room to grow. Obviously, those people are looking for alternative places to grow to get better opportunities. And then, so then we're seeing this like, yeah, we're seeing this massive influx of applications and people looking to escape the agency world and work in a place where you get personal and company growth.

[00:33:44] Adam Gamwell: So, that's fantastic, too. I mean, and also just congratulations. That's incredible to hear that's kind of doubling over the past three years and with like such and low to no turnover is also incredible, right? 'Cause that's one of the big questions we're seeing in organizations now, right, is that especially because of the pandemic, there's been a huge amount of turnover, right, as folks are — the Great Resignation, some people call it, right, or the Great Rethinking or whatever it is.

[00:34:03] Fredrik Thomassen: Yeah, I just log in on the new Google Hangout link on Monday instead of —.

[00:34:09] Adam Gamwell: Yeah, I think that says something really important I think that folks are kind of sticking with it and that's a testament to kind of the space that's provided. And also, you know, I like the way that you have kind of broken down these two sides where there is the bigger picture of the right kind of culture fit and values, but then also there's a lot of this concrete, we might say, right, pieces of getting paid on time but then also are we helping people feel like they're growing? I think that's also one of the big things, that's one of the big reasons that we see people have resigned so much over the past few years, too, is that they don't feel like they're getting anywhere in their job and don't have definition of how that they're gonna get anywhere. And so, I think that's a hugely important part of the way that you're all intentionally designing that space. And so, that's interesting.

[00:34:50] Fredrik Thomassen: Yeah, absolutely. And obviously, then the number one reason people state in surveys why they don't like or if whether when they're not happy with the job is that they don't like their boss. That's the number one thing. And so, and obviously very hard as an organization to control but it's again this like values thing and then creating like very clear requirements for bosses to follow. Like managers everywhere in our organization have a very clear set of obligations that they need to adhere to toward their individual team members.

[00:35:33] Adam Gamwell: I think that's actually a great point, right? 'Cause oftentimes people can get promoted into management without having any management experience and then there's no clear ways of how to manage and then like, that's oftentimes where you'll see the train derail.

[00:35:44] Fredrik Thomassen: I'm not, you know, I'm not sure if I'm like the best boss ever. I think probably for everyone, it will be some people that you're good for and some people that you're not good for. It's like little bit chemistry kind of question. But what I wanted to say is like, I think it's actually not necessarily that hard to like move into management. A lot of people make a big very big deal out of that. And a lot of people, when they become managers for the first time, they just try to do all this kind of stuff, but it's not necessarily needed. Like most people are reasonably good at their job, want to be like more or less left alone. And when they have a problem, they will come and say, hey, can you help me this thing? And then, yeah, the boss needs to then help with that thing and say, hey, good job. And that's it, you know? It's not that complicated, but a lot of people kind of make it out to be way, way too complicated. So we're trying to, in our kind of internal management training, just trying to simplify, align around this idea that as a manager, your primary objective is to help when needed. People will come to you for problems.

[00:37:02] Adam Gamwell: Yeah, that's really interesting and I think an important point, right, that we can frequently kind of overcomplicate the story 'cause it's like I have to do all these things now I have this kind of new role. But then sometimes it's like the idea of Occam's razor, right? The simplest answer can be the best, you know? It's like be there to help and support and help them then get to the next stage themselves.

[00:37:21] The follow-up question I was thinking with this is the kind of importance of psychological safety, right, in the workplace and how this is important, especially for kind of the two things that I've seen Superside kind of talk about is like the importance of the psychological safety for things like speed and creativity, right? That I can kind of take creative risks both as a designer creator, but also I think as an employee, too, right? And then speed in terms of how the question of productivity and what kind of work I can do. So, I'd love to kinda hear your thoughts about this idea, this framework and how this plays into, you know, kind of Superside's super growth, we might say, you know? How do you think about this idea?

[00:37:55] Fredrik Thomassen: So we have a value in Superside, which we call seek the truth. We feel it's incredibly important and we feel it permeates the organization and has really become a pretty powerful part of our values, of our culture. In order to seek the truth, you need to have a lot of curiosity. You need to have people that challenge each other. You need to have a lot of people asking stupid questions. Almost always the questions that push the discussion to the truth are simple, stupid questions about why and why are we doing this. And in order to have everyone there ask those questions, there needs to be a great amount of psychological safety. And I feel very often organizations that taught that they are so truth-seeking tend to build cultures that are deliberately like overtly aggressive towards people that are challenging authority and that definitely backfires. And I don't think you can have a truth-seeking organization without having authority, you know, being massively open to criticism and to challenges to your authority. And so, that's hard, right? And it's like, I don't know what kind of intelligence briefings Vladimir Putin is getting from his like cronies in his intelligence services about how things are going really like in Ukraine. Like maybe his vision is that he's, you know, winning and everything's going super well. Like it's hard to create like a truth-seeking culture.

[00:39:54] And so, for me it's something that I sort of constantly think about and feel that it's like one of the most important responsibilities for me and also for all of our management to try to create the culture that constantly challenges. — tells me, hey, this is bullshit, you know? Like this idea is not a good idea. I disagree with this. And the way we try to do that and look, I think we can be a lot better. I like most people don't like it when people say that my ideas are bad, right? And so, it's very tempting to go against it. But the way we're trying to do that and I personally hand to the hearts believe that I really enjoy being with people that challenge me. And I tend to think much more highly of junior people, like people that report to me. When they say that they disagree, when they openly in a big meeting say, hey, I actually don't think this, disagree. Then I'm like, okay, wow. This is a, this is talented guy. Like we need to keep this person around and give this person more. So, I think, yeah, so I think that's the most important piece to like constantly reward that kind of behavior. And then when people say, hey, this person, you know, got promoted twice and but is constantly like going against the CEO, then hopefully that sort of sets an example that that's the way to behave in an organization. So that's how we in theory think about it. And then, you know, again, it's never fun when people disagree, too.

[00:41:34] Adam Gamwell: Yeah. But it's also, that's a well-said area because it's, it is both difficult, but at the same time, I think it's nice 'cause it's really up to leaders, right, to model that, right? It's okay to dissent as respectfully, of course, you know, but to kind of say, I, you know, respectfully disagree 'cause I'm thinking about this other way or something. We saw evidence that another approach can work, too, or something. I think it's really important. And so, it seems that, you know, today, more top leadership is also gonna be open to this, right? And obviously, it's like the great example of like political leaders are the ones that are most not open to this. So we kind of need business to kind of help us rethink that.

[00:42:09] Fredrik Thomassen: Absolutely. Conflict is necessary, like personally, my style is relatively confrontational, which I guess a lot of people feel probably intimidated by or maybe just annoyed by. But it's to me also like pretty important to like push through to a level where, you know, you kind of get comfortable with conflict, you know? You get comfortable with this — or with my co-founders where we've been shouting at each other for seven years. It feels just incredibly comfortable still. It doesn't stress me out when we have disagreements. I know it's like part of the method to seek the truth. And so, I think kind of conflict avoidance and being too or avoiding confrontation is pretty antithetical to truth-seeking as well but have to be done in a, you know, kind and respectful way, of course.

[00:43:13] Adam Gamwell: That's funny. I feel like I hear your journalism background peeking out here.

[00:43:18] Fredrik Thomassen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I was just working in like a regional newspapers. I didn't get to do like that much like critical undercover journalism. But no, definitely, really cool occupation journalism. It's anyone working in journalism is very envious, it's a very envious job and really respect that profession for sure.

[00:43:43] Adam Gamwell: Yeah, no, totally, totally. It is one of the, I think one of the hardest jobs on the planet, but it's important. Like, I mean, it's based on truth-seeking. So I think this has been I guess a really, really fascinating piece to see that like how that can also help us ask questions in this case of like, what are we doing in the C-suite and how are we as leaders framing our organizations, too? So I think that that's really powerful.

[00:44:02] You know, I wanna be respectful of your time. I think this has been a really fascinating conversation. And I'm super enthused, you know, to share the kind of the world of Superside with folks. Again, especially a lot of the design community and folks I think will be really excited to get a sense of what's happening in the space and that there's opportunities for both well thought out employment and also like the idea of kind of talent-based work that we can really lean into and not be too worried about more traditional biases of hiring practices and things like that but then also having an organization that is premised on this idea of kind of seeking the truth. And this is interesting because a lot of designers, you know, when I was teaching design a few years ago, you know, folks wanna make beautiful things but at the same time, too, there's some kind of truth in the right kind of design I would find a lot of students talk about, you know? And so, I think it's interesting, too, that the field in which Superside is functioning, you know, both in terms of the design service is the design itself can be a way of kind of revealing that truth or hiding it, depending on what one is trying to do.

[00:44:59] Fredrik Thomassen: Absolutely. I mean, I think there's no shadow in a doubt in my mind that there is, you know, objectively good and bad art and objectively good and bad design. I think it was definitely like this whole postmodern period in human is definitely like a side track. And we clearly see, no, we clearly see that. And I mean, it's just simple things, you know, like, you know, around symmetry and around the logic of things and alignment and color composition. And it's like there are some loss to it and there are differences. And so, we really believe in that obviously like lots of room for in subjective interpretation, creativity and so on. But there's definitely, it's definitely a craft, right? There are some things that you can learn.

[00:45:54] Adam Gamwell: Right on. And I think craft is the right word. But hey, Fredrik, I wanna say thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. This is really, really fascinating conversation. Super, super enthused to hear about your organization and the work and learn about all the great stuff that you're doing and excited to share this out with the good people.

[00:46:09] Fredrik Thomassen: Thanks a lot for having me. Really great to be here and exciting to meet you.

[00:46:15] Adam Gamwell: A huge thanks once again to Fredrik Thomassen for joining me on the podcast. Now, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the conversation. What do you think about the promise and challenge of fully online organizations that cross international borders? How could we best fight discriminatory hiring practices and pay gaps using online tools and resources? How can we ensure that global talent pools actually means increasing equitable access to good, solid jobs for everyone? And how can we keep organizations accountable?

[00:46:43] For more on this, be sure to check out and subscribe to the TAL Substack where you'll get episode commentaries, writeups, and more happenings in the social science community. And if you get something out of the podcast and/or blog, please consider subscribing. It's always gonna be free, but you can also optionally pay a few bucks a month to help support the ongoing show, writing, and everything else that we're doing at This Anthro Life and Anthrocurious. And I can't do it without you. As always, drop me a comment over at the TAL Substack, on LinkedIn, or shoot me a message at the TAL contact page, thisanthrolife.org/contact.

[00:47:12] These are such important questions to wrestle with as we define the future of work. And as always, thank you for your time and energy. It's been great to be here with you and I can't wait to keep bringing more content and stories to your ears, eyes, and brains. I'm your host, Adam Gamwell, and you're listening to This Anthro Life. So, stay anthrocurious, my friends, and we'll see you next time.

Fredrik ThomassenProfile Photo

Fredrik Thomassen

CEO and Founder at Superside

The internet made talent about merit, not proximity to the office, and Fredrik Thomassen is out to prove it by creating 1 million jobs that are equal opportunity, remote, flexible and, most importantly, happy. As the Founder and CEO of Superside, the technology-enabled design company that’s revolutionizing design at scale for ambitious brands like Amazon, Meta, Shopify and Coinbase, he’s well on his way with 300% year-over-year growth, 650 team members across 70 countries and a valuation of $400+ million.