Article
24 Sep 2021

Remote First Company

A person typing on their laptop from home.
Mary Isaeva

Remote-first refers to a strategic plan in which working remotely is the top choice for the majority of employees, if not all of them. Remote-first, by its very definition, means that only a small number of team members, if any - are required to do their work from a central office on a regular basis. As a result, employees work from a different place, such as their home office or a co-working facility.

Remote-first is not a new concept; nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic, which compelled many organizations to quickly alter their business procedures to accommodate most or all of their employees working from home, drew a lot of attention to the concept. 

Remote-first vs. remote-friendly: what is the difference?

Working outside of a primary workspace or company site is the normal style of working in a remote-first workplace, rather than an exception or occasional practice.

This is in contrast to a corporation that is "remote-friendly." A remote-friendly firm allows some workers to work outside of the physical office for a variety of reasons, but nonetheless performs the majority of its daily activities in the traditional office. The principal mode of working for a remote-friendly company may include allowing employees to work from home a set number of days per week or hiring remote employees for specialized jobs, but this is not the primary mode of working for the entire corporation. 

As an example, in a remote-friendly environment, a person who works from home one day per week may phone into a conference room where the majority of the other employees are meeting face to face on the other days of the week.

Remote-first businesses, on the other hand, design their operations to provide a consistent employee experience no matter where the employee is located. As an example, in the above-mentioned team meeting scenario, all employees in a remote-first organization would convene using a videoconferencing tool, even if some of them were in the same physical location as each other while the meeting took place. This ensures that all participants are able to hear and see each other at the same level.

Remote-first businesses operate with a fully remote workforce and set up their operations to be able to run consistently and successfully regardless of where their employees are located at any one time and despite different timezones.

A remote-friendly firm permits workers to work outside of the corporate office for at least a portion of the day; a remote-first company assumes that employees work outside of the corporate office all of the time or even all of the time.

What is a remote-first mindset?

How do you switch from being remote-friendly in order to develop a culture that is centered on being remote first? It has a great deal to do with standardizing and reorganizing the virtual workspace environment. Whereas workers in remote-friendly cultures can often feel like external resources,  workers in remote-first cultures are encouraged to collaborate in a spontaneous, egalitarian, and natural manner.

The implementation of these policies and technological infrastructure to promote open, nonlinear working, as well as equal access to opportunities, rewards, and inclusion for all employees is necessary. Everyone should advocate for the credibility of the remote work paradigm, while also respecting the flexibility of remote workers, recognizing their demands, and factoring them into all decision-making processes. Even if it appears to be a lot, start with these three fundamental building pieces and the rest should be rather straightforward.

What are the advantages of remote-first working?

Cost-saving

One of the most frequently claimed perks of adopting a remote-first work model approach is that it allows enterprises to reduce their physical footprint, which saves money. As a result, businesses, particularly larger ones,  will not need to invest as much cash in office space as they would otherwise.  Furthermore, startups may be able to reduce their remuneration policies if they hire distributed teams in places where the cost of living is lower.

A wider pool of candidates

Recruiters and recruiting managers have access to a significantly wider pool of possible candidates while working in a remote-first workplace than they would in a traditional setting. The ability to attract and keep high-performing full-time employees is a significant advantage in today's competitive environment. The latter is especially relevant for positions when there is a scarcity of skilled or reasonably priced local workers, such as some specialist information technology positions.

Improved quality of life

Employees who work from home frequently perceive an improvement in their overall attitude towards their jobs. The ability to minimize or remove commuting time and travel expenditures is an excellent illustration of how remote-first environments can improve the quality of work-life balance for the employees.

Greater scalability

Using a remote-first approach, in general, allows a company to scale up and down without being hampered by the limitations of its physical area as much as it would otherwise. A rising company does not need to constantly expand its office space and equipment in order to keep up with the speed of its recruitment. Apart from that, businesses may more easily adjust to changing situations because they are not worried about squandering money on physical infrastructure. 

In a similar vein, remote-first approaches are advantageous for business continuity planning since firms already have the resources and environment in place to achieve their objectives even when employees are unable to reach a central office or workspace.

How to make remote-first work

Asynchronous and clear communication

A remote-first firm should not feel significantly different from an office-based organization, but in order for this to happen, communication must be tailored to the virtual workspace. Everyone needs to know when things are happening and how to get involved.  A significant portion of this relies on the use of asynchronous communication systems, such as those that document all corporate talks in a single, easily searchable location. By logging all discussions, it ensures that everyone has equal access to all conversations while also allowing them to access them at a time that is convenient for their agenda.

For the most part, remote-first businesses should work asynchronously, but it does not preclude them from scheduling time for synchronous communications as well. Particularly significant are video calls or conferences, which not only make it easier for remote colleagues to feel a connection but also help to prevent remote communication from becoming sterile and bureaucratic in nature. However, they can still be made available for asynchronous use; by recording crucial video sessions, it ensures that everyone has access to them, which is crucial for colleagues who work in various time zones.

Governing with an asynchronous attitude allows remote teams the freedom to handle their work in the manner that they see fit, while without losing out on any important information or communications. 

Support networks and team-building opportunities

When people work from home, they are unable to participate in the typical, healthy interpersonal interactions that take place in offices. Consequently, a successful remote culture must place a strong emphasis on virtual bonding and take initiatives to encourage positive interactions amongst employees.

Make every effort to provide as many opportunities for casual conversation as possible, including dedicated social channels for chatting, a calendar of team social events, and friendly contests, all of which help people form connections with people they do not generally work with on a daily basis.

All of this, of course, should be bolstered with actual face-to-face meetings with the participants once in a while. This gives essential emotional context for remote colleagues – from a person's sense of humor and character to the way they speak, which helps to improve connections and foster empathy. You are no longer just a name and a face on an icon when you work remotely, and it stimulates those nuanced interpersonal exchanges that will help people engage more successfully with one another later on. 

Even if it is only once a year, bringing all of your employees together in the same room is a really effective team-building initiative that is well worth the time and money spent on infrastructure and preparation.

Trust and autonomy

Beyond all else, trust is essential for the development of a remote-first culture. Employees should be able to work when and where they want, on their own schedules, and on their own terms as controllers of their environment. Employees who feel like they are not trusted or are micromanaged by their team leader can swiftly see their company's culture deteriorate. 

When trying to keep your remote team's work visible, avoid using intrusive employee monitoring technologies. Be mindful of the fact that not everyone is equipped to working remotely; as a result, when hiring, make certain that prospects are happy and comfortable working alone. In order to build trust, it is also necessary to treat people properly – and this may necessitate spending more time and effort to ensure that your employees' needs are addressed.

Trust, of course, is a two-way street. Remote-first environments cannot prosper unless employees have faith in their managers and they must also feel safe and supported in their work environments.

Success can only be achieved when people are confident in their ability to make mistakes. For this reason, clarity is essential - there should always be a digital paper trail for company strategy to ensure that everyone is kept up to date with the latest developments. It is possible to create an environment of distrust and suspicion when information is lost or misunderstood.

A focus on output and productivity, not time

Provide your remote staff with a degree of freedom when it comes to working hours. That is the crux of being able to work from home. Allow them to organize their work hours around personal hobbies or responsibilities such as childcare or fitness, as long as doing so does not interfere with their capacity to perform their professional tasks. 

Allow your remote staff to take frequent breaks for relaxing and resting to keep them healthy and productive. Furthermore, keep in mind that some people find they are most productive in the early hours of the day, while others enjoy the solitude of the evenings and early mornings.

Consider the tasks completed and the results obtained rather than the number of hours worked to determine employee productivity. It should not matter what particular hours individuals work as long as they are performing their allocated responsibilities on time and are not neglecting essential meetings. Stay away from micromanaging your staff. Putting your trust in them to complete their tasks while allowing them to pick their own working hours will enhance their motivation and productivity. 

A remote-first ethos needs to be collaborative

Most importantly, remember that cultivating a thriving remote-first ethos is not as simple as crossing a few items off your to-do list every day. A perpetual work in progress, it is something that demands ongoing cultivation, attention, and investment on the part of the business and every single employee and stakeholder.

Are there any disadvantages to remote-first working?

As with everything, there are a few potential disadvantages to remote-first working, most of which can be mitigated with careful planning.

Harder to build a company culture

Well-defined company culture is critical for the ongoing success of a business. n addition, a solid business culture makes it evident to both employees and consumers why they should choose to work for or spend their money with your organization.

A rich culture can only emerge as a result of deeply held principles. When managers do not have regular face-to-face interactions with their staff, it can be more difficult for them to specify which values are most important for them. Interactions are minimal at remote companies,, resulting in fewer spontaneous possibilities for managers to demonstrate what is important, or to provide valuable perspective into why particular decisions were made.

These endeavors to exhibit values are still possible, but they demand a significant amount of effort and do not occur by accident.

Moreover, if you are trying to develop a company culture that values pleasure and teamwork, meeting in person for festivities and team-building events makes it much easier to instill such values.

The office is no longer a valuable recruitment asset

Working from home is a viable option for a few months, or perhaps permanently for a portion of each week, depending on your circumstances.

However, many individuals find that working from home five days a week becomes claustrophobic after a while. This may be the reason why so many remote employees are turning to coworking facilities, coffee shops, and public libraries as alternative workspaces to supplement their home offices.

In this COVID-19 time, many individuals who work from home do so in the company of family members, roommates, and children, making a home office less of a private retreat than it might have been previously.

In light of these considerations, some employees appreciate having the choice to work in an office that is cleaned regularly, maintained, and paid for by the company. Even seasoned remote workers recognize and appreciate the fact that maintaining a clean, stimulating workplace involves time and energy that they may not be ready to devote on their own.

Not only that,  guests do not have to wait until they interact with you before getting a feel of what your business is all about if you have the right space. For example, a well-kept office might demonstrate to prospective employees that you are a successful business. Even your choice of location and area conveys information about your personal preferences and priorities.

Of course, even as a remote corporation, you have the ability to make those kinds of declarations, as well. It simply necessitates more work.

Remote-first in practice: which companies have taken the plunge?

Dropbox: File hosting service Dropbox announced that it would transition to being a "virtual first" company in October and that it will open collaborative spaces called Dropbox Studios in locations where it currently has offices.   Dropbox has also declared that it will be implementing "non-linear workdays," which will allow staff to schedule their own workdays.

Quora: According to the website's announcement in June, it has embraced a remote-first strategy, stating that 60 percent of its staff have decided to work remotely. Quora will transform headquarters into a co-working space for its staff, with the CEO only visiting once a month. His only stipulation is that all virtual meetings take place with the employees' cameras turned on.

Aquent: An announcement by Boston-based Aquent in March 2021 stated that the majority of its offices will be closed, with the leasing money going into employee engagement activities designed to act as an intermediary between employees who no longer work in the same building.

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