The pandemic brought a sudden shift from office work to remote work and now leaves us questioning traditional work models. 62% of employees now expect their employers to allow them to work remotely moving forward. If you are currently debating whether to become a remote-friendly or remote-first company, here are some things to consider. This article explains the benefits of remote work, the changes it brings, best-practice examples from other companies, and how you can best implement it.
What Is a Remote-First Company?
Let’s first clarify what remote-first means. A remote-first company makes working from home the standard. Companies might still have physical offices where some employees work on a regular basis, but the work processes are designed for working remotely.
In comparison, in a remote-friendly company, office work is the norm. Employees in this system have the option to work from home from time to time under certain conditions.
The extent of working from home as well as the rules for it are defined in the employer’s remote-work policies.
Remote-First vs. Remote-Friendly
Transforming your organization into a remote-first environment goes far beyond swapping in-person meetings for video conferencing. It requires new structures, different setups, and a shift in mindset. Here are eight changes you can expect.
Remote-first companies are highly dependent on trust. When people can choose when and where to work it can be hard to monitor your employees. However, micromanaging is not the solution. It takes some major shifts in the company culture and the mindset of both employees and employer.
Typically, remote team members take more responsibility for their work and their outputs. Additionally, HR software with features such as time tracking can help to bring visibility to remote teams. Another way of creating accountability within teams can be the setup of OKRs, where the goals of the everyday tasks are clear to each team member.
2. Talent Pool
The best people live everywhere. In a remote work setting, your talent pool is no longer restricted by borders. Going remote-first gives you access to top talent across the globe, increasing the skills within your company and allowing for more diversity in your team. Diverse teams are known to be more creative, innovative, and productive. However, it takes good leadership to provide a solid basis for diverse teams to work together. Taking this into account, training your employees should also involve some coaching on how to engage with teams through the screen.
3. Digital Skills
With remote work, there is no face-to-face communication. All communication is moved from the conference room to digital tools. For younger generations, it may seem obvious that everyone knows how to use these tools. But for older generations, that's not the case.
In the interest of inclusion, you should aim to provide training to your employees. For new employees, this can be part of the onboarding process. Also, you will realize that you need to have rules on how the tools are used in a remote setting. Different generations have different understandings of certain platforms. While elderly people might prefer to communicate via email, millennials and Gen Z are used to messaging via instant messaging platforms such as Slack.
4. Work-Life Balance
Many employees love the opportunity to work from anywhere. While a millennial might enjoy the flexibility to work from different locations every now and then, a working parent might appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with their children. Working remotely can be a huge perk for any kind of employee.
Some people even prefer this kind of flexibility over a high salary. However, it’s also up to the employee to build healthy habits. As there are no borders between work and private life, remote workers must consciously embed habits in their day-to-day. When switching to a remote-work culture, it becomes an important task for HR departments to remind people to take care of their physical and mental health.
5. Working Hours
International teams work in different time zones. This is in favor of asynchronous work, which replaces real-time communication. To make this work, it’s important to have appropriate tools in place that allow for asynchronous communication, without any information getting lost. When done right, this is way more efficient than synchronous communication. Additionally, if your business requires customer support, having employees that work around the clock is ideal.
Naturally, the setup for a remote-first company is different. By not needing to provide a fully equipped office space, you can save costs as an employer. Oftentimes all the employees need to work remotely is a laptop. Besides that, it’s important that your employees have a workspace where they are not disturbed and they can best work. If this is not at home, co-working spaces can be another option.
Additionally, in a remote-first setting, it becomes more important to integrate an employee into the business, its culture, workflows, project management, communication mechanisms, etc. In that case, it is essential to have self-explanatory software that brings people together on one platform.
7. Employee Engagement
Perhaps the biggest challenge of remote-first cultures is how to keep distributed teams engaged. In a remote setting, it’s important to rethink how teams collaborate, how relationships are built between managers and employees and among employees, and to make individuals feel supported by the employees from onboarding to mentoring. flair’s Cheers feature is designed to support employee retention in a remote-first environment by allowing team members to show gratitude for the work and compliment and congratulate each other.
Spontaneous chats with colleagues in the hallway, at the water cooler, or at the coffee machine are known to boost creativity and bring more ideas to your business. In fact, companies like Pixar even designed their buildings in a way to promote those gatherings. But who says you need a physical location for a coffee chat? Maybe it just takes some out-of-the-box thinking about how those casual meetings that promote social engagement can take place in your remote work culture. You might want to introduce initiatives such as a happy hour over Zoom, start a book club, or have regular team-building events.
Benefits of Remote Work for Employees
Many people prefer working remotely. This can be hard to imagine for employees who are used to going to an office day in, day out. What is so attractive about working from home?
Freedom and Flexibility
Remote work comes with a lot of freedom. Employees can plan their day to suit both their work life as well as home life. While this can be seen as a distractor, it can actually take some stress off employees when they know they can pick up their kid from school on time, work out during their lunch break, or go to medical appointments between meetings.
Working from home can save some costs that come with working from an office. These include costs for the commute, parking, and going out for lunch.
A remote setting doesn’t come with any extra costs. Indeed, when employees have the freedom to plan their own schedule they might have time to prepare lunch themselves instead of going out.
A 9 to 5 is not ideal for everyone. Partly because people are more productive during different times of the day. Some employees might enjoy starting early in the morning while others are way more efficient at night. This can drastically increase productivity and motivation at the same time.
In theory, working remotely allows employees to work from anywhere in the world: In any country (as long as policies allow for it), in a mountain hut (if the internet connection allows for it), or from a friend’s house. Compared to the regular day-to-day at the office, this allows for less monotony, which might improve an employee’s mood, creativity, and productivity. Also, in the case of a partner being allocated to a particular location, remote work allows employees to keep their job or at least ease the transition period.
Benefits of Remote Work for Employers
There are clear reasons why remote work is attractive for employees. But what is the benefit from the employer’s side of things? Here are the top reasons for switching to a remote-first culture:
One of the benefits of employees working from home is the reduction in costs. Not needing to provide an office for your workforce not only saves you rent but everything that comes with it: utilities (water, electricity, Wi-Fi), maintenance, provision of a canteen/restaurant, equipment, and furniture. Depending on your business, you might provide a laptop, work phone, or a stipend for a co-working space. However, many companies follow a BYOD (bring your own device) policy.
Expand Talent Pools
You can find talented people all around the world. With remote work, companies have a wider choice of potential candidates. Hires don’t have to be local or consider moving halfway around the world to join your company. When looking for people with specialist skills, this could help you save time and money on training. Remote work is also very attractive for employees: Younger generations such as Gen Z keep an eye out for remote job openings. Giving people this opportunity can give you a competitive advantage in the job market and make recruiting easier.
Working on projects together while still being able to continue living their lives is a huge benefit for employees. This is also a benefit for you as an employer as happier employees are more productive. People who are happy with their work tend to be good advocates for the company.
More productivity leads to more profit. Employees can be more productive when working from home as it’s in their interest to get the job done effectively and not waste time. Also, virtual meetings contribute to greater productivity: They can happen instantly without much prior planning, they require less logistical organization, and they can be recorded and watched anytime.
Working remotely saves people a commute. That prevents people from taking unnecessary time off. Sometimes it’s only an extra hour of sleep that is needed in stressful times. Depending on how much flexibility the work allows, structuring a day around appointments, tasks, and projects can make a big difference.
With a remote-first policy, you demonstrate a high degree of trust in your employees. Giving employees this freedom can have a high impact on an employee's perception of their work. They are less likely to leave your company for another job, which helps you save money on hiring or training somebody else.
Facilitate Asynchronous Work
With people working around the world in different time zones, your business can easily be going 24/7. The idea of asynchronous work is that people don’t have to be online simultaneously and there is no wait for tasks to be completed. Having company-wide software in place that allows for integrations, such as Loom, can help you set this up.
Best Practices of Remote-First Companies
Many modern companies and startups have changed to a remote-first workplace, moving their daily business from an in-office setting to the digital world. How do they do it? Have a read about what benefits they offer and what perks they have in place that contribute to their remote culture.
The NYC-based no-code company Unqork works remote-first. Apart from other benefits, they send out a MacBook Pro to the employee’s home office, have regular learning events, and offer a work-from-home stipend. Companies that hire remote workers usually adapt the salary based on geography. In this case, salaries in New York City are higher than in other states. Opting for lower-cost remote staff can be financially beneficial.
What is a work-from-home stipend? A work-from-home stipend is a budget provided by a company to spend on home office equipment, a co-working pass, Wi-Fi, coffee, and anything else that makes remote work locations comfortable, productive, and successful. It is paid in addition to the base salary and can be a one-time stipend or an ongoing annual payment. In some geographical locations, this is a mandatory benefit for remote employees. This is the case in California, Illinois, Montana and Iowa for example.
Airbnb going remote-first was quite a big deal in 2022. Their remote work policy is comprised of just 105 words but it is very well thought through. The goal of this policy is to allow employees to be more flexible and decide whether they want to work from the office or from anywhere else. In order to keep the team together, there are regular meet-ups. For some teams, such as design, gatherings happen more often. For most of the employees, there is a physical meet-up for one week every quarter.
It might be obvious that the company behind the meditation app Calm takes good care of their workers’ physical and mental health. They are a remote-first company and besides a monthly fitness stipend, they offer a work-from-home stipend as well as virtual social events that make people feel they are part of a team.
The software company Zapier works 100% remotely. Their Chief People Officer explains that it’s essential for a remote-first company to provide systems that support employees from anywhere. Zapier’s work is goal-oriented, which gives employees the flexibility to run out to the grocery store during the day. Also, their Head of Marketing Steph Donily explains in an interview that she constantly overcommunicates expectations, feedback, and context. Another tip from Zapier is to make use of features that software provides. This could be raising your hand on Zoom, using emojis, recording meetings, and so on.
Tips to Implement a Remote-First Culture:
While there is a whole list of benefits of remote work, it must be implemented with care in order to make use of those. It must be said that having a remote-first policy doesn’t automatically make a remote-first culture. Here are some tips on how you can build a culture remotely:
For a relationship that is built on trust, it’s important for both employee and employer to know what is expected from each other. Is there any time when the employee needs to come to an office? Where can the employee work from? It’s essential to define working hours (if there are any) and communicate when the employee has to be available and whether an instant response is expected. This gives each party a feeling of security. A company-wide software can help to manage processes like absences and performance tracking transparently.
Build a Framework
As an employer, it is in your interest to make sure your employees are equipped with anything they need in order to work productively. There are often underlying laws that require you to provide certain office equipment and besides that, it will contribute to your employee’s satisfaction. A lot of this can be handled in the onboarding process. Later, it is still important to have managers who regularly check in with their team members in order to make sure employees are happy with their employee experience.
Promote Team Building
Without team building, your company might end up as just a bunch of individuals working on the same project. In order to enjoy the benefits of a diverse team, you will also need to put some effort into keeping your team together remotely. This can work through regular meet-ups, company clubs, and employee engagement features. Additionally, almost every remote-first company has an annual get-together, where people have the opportunity to meet face-to-face. Make sure you have that event planned out in advance.
Working remotely requires a high level of personal responsibility. When hiring for a remote position, watch out for the person’s ability to work independently, keep themselves motivated, and manage their own day-to-day. It is often said that trust is a trait that needs to be looked out for when hiring remotely. Is that true? It for sure is important, however, it can be argued that this is as important in an on-site setting.
A remote-first environment is different from simply having employees working from home. It takes some effort from HR to set up an appropriate culture for remote-first organizations. Modern companies that have implemented remote-first work show us that adapting employee benefits to the new era of work is a must.
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