What is Remote-first? How to Become a Remote-first Business
The corporate world is in the midst of an evolution of how employees work. There are several organizational strategies available for companies. Remote-first is the latest organizational strategy to be developed and generally the easiest strategy for companies to adopt in a post-pandemic world. The specific strategy for a company depends on the organization, the type of work being performed, and the average age of the company’s workforce.
By definition, remote-first means that all employees are not required to come to centralize physical office; in other words, team members work full remote. This organizational strategy also incorporates bringing groups of employees physically together and sometimes offering team members satellite offices or co-working spaces from which they may work at a schedule of their choosing. An example of a remote-first company is Kumospace, which makes virtual office software and brings its employees together for quarterly offsites.
The remote-first strategy came about to address the needs of a modern workforce. Many employees relocated during 2020 as they left populated areas for parents' homes if they were younger, or vacation homes if they were older. This makes bringing employees back to the office unrealistic for many organizations. The challenge was further complicated as organizations aggressively hired. With a highly competitive job market and non-in-office team members at the time of hiring, many companies added employees who were, in essence, 100% remote.
Remote-first is comprised of two parts:
The differences are slight but important. Two important factors of a remote-first strategy are a) giving employees common workplaces to congregate if they want and b) having frequent physical get-togethers. Whereas a 100% remote team strategy means that the organization very rarely or never gets together physically and does not have any physical offices or co-working spaces.
Remote-friendly companies are different from remote-first organizations in one major way. They are open to having remote team members and new hires be fully remote, but the organization as a whole is either employing a hybrid or in-office strategy for employees located in metropolitan areas with corporate offices. Companies that employ a remote-friendly strategy encounter several challenges, namely around equity of career development. Employees joining remote-friendly companies are concerned that they will be second-class employees who miss out on career development since they represent a small fraction of the company’s total workforce.
There are a number of benefits to a remote-first organization strategy for both the employer and employees. At a very high-level remote-first work is about flexibility and maximizing the benefits of in-person connections with a remote work lifestyle.
The top characteristic of remote-first work is fairness. Employees want transparency. As such, companies that want employee remote-first policies tend to have more transparent leadership teams. This trickles down to the employees in the form of feeling treated with respect and equal opportunity.
Because of the trust, autonomy, and inclusiveness that remote-first work offers, many employees are far happy. This benefits employers with higher levels of employee loyalty and retention. For employees the remote nature of their work also allows them to have an improved quality of life. This means spending more time with children and catching up on work in the evening or living a digitally nomadic lifestyle. Regardless of the employee’s work-life balance, the importance of choosing is what equals greater happiness.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, a workplace strategy consultancy, the average company that allows their employee to work just 50% of the time out of the office annually saves over $11,000. This number is a good estimate for remote-first companies since they still get together physically on a regular basis and offer offices or co-working spaces for employees to go to as they desire.
Employees are the lifeblood of every company. And without the constraints of specific geographic locations, remote-first teams can hire new team members who reside anywhere in the world. This opens up the opportunity for both filling roles faster as well as attracting a more diverse candidate pool. When Airbnb announced they would become a remote-first company, over 1 million people visited their careers page the following week. Not only is it easier to recruit when the world is your talent pool, many employees today are no longer interested in applying to in-office or even hybrid companies.
Flexibility = Productivity
For a long time, viewpoints against remote work often centered around reducing productivity, but the contrary is true. A Stanford University study shows that remote workers were 22% more productive than their in-office counterparts. This is because giving employees the opportunity to work around their daily habits and interruptions, means they are more productive. For instance, some people are more productive in the evening vs early morning. By allowing employees to choose when to work, they will pick the time when they are most productive.
Organizations that adopt a remote-first strategy are best situated for the unknown. Know one knows what the future will hold for sure, but remote-first companies are situated to be most resilient to unexpected changes. For example, if the company experiences a period of high growth, employee hiring is not constrained by the physical size of the office. And likewise, if the company experiences an economic downturn, the company does not have a massive amount of unused office space. If the world decided to move more in-person, remote-first companies already have physical locations and regular physical get-togethers to make this transition smooth. And if the vast majority of the corporate world moves to remote work, remote first companies are already set for this new normal. Upwork, the world’s leading freelance labor marketplace, projects that 73% of all teams will have remote employees by 2025.
Easiest to Implement
A remote-first organizational strategy is the easiest to transition to in a post-COVID world. This is because it doesn’t require the immediate termination of office space, it doesn’t shock employees into a rigid workplace structure, and it still captures the benefits of being people together physically.
An additional consideration is the legal requirements for offering remote work. Many countries around the world put in place temporary work from home requirements in 2020 and 2021. As those mandates end, many countries, especially in Europe, are considering making these laws permanent. The Netherlands was the first European country to make working from home a legal right.
If your company employs people within the European Union you may be legally required to give employees the right to work from outside the physical office. This is why it’s very important for companies to make a clear plan for their future work policy versus simply trying to enforce a return to the office.
If your company is considering adopting a remote-first strategy, you will be in very good company. Some of the world’s largest companies and most respected brands in business have adopted this organizational strategy.
Here are some well-known remote-first companies:
It may seem daunting to change your workplace strategy, but in actuality, it’s not that hard. It starts with a decision, and this really isn’t a hard decision. A majority of your employees will applaud the company's decision.
Employees need clear direction in a post-COVID world. Many of your team may already be actively job seeking due to a lack of clarity around the organizational strategy. It might seem simple, but being hyper-clear and transparent with remote team members is key to running a successful remote business.
Promoting cross-cultural communication is critical to success when working remotely. Getting communication right is one of the hardest parts of leading a remote, hybrid, or distributed team. The easiest way to think about communicating is in two parts: synchronously and asynchronously.
Give your remote team members a comfortable remote workspace. This is both virtually, by using virtual office software, as well as physically. Companies that utilize a remote-first strategy are saving $10,000s each year. Use some of those savings to give your employees the best work environment, regardless of where that may be. Empower the team to work from anywhere in style and comfort, by making their anywhere office feel like it is the corner office, with a home office reimbursement policy. Remote-first companies can also send team members regular goody bags. There are a number of subscription services for companies to send snacks and fun items to employees.
It’s also important to establish a clear policy on how to communicate. A Kumospace, a company that built virtual office and events software, we are 100% remote and have been since the company’s founding. As such, our remote work communication policy is that whenever someone is confused about an asynchronous message, simply start a synchronous conversation in our digital HQ. This policy helps avoid team members getting into the dreaded Slack and email wars.
Remote work is about great communication. To succeed, it’s important to set expectations with employees on how success will be measured, both individually and for the company. It’s good to establish a cadence for team members and departments to set goals and report on their process, usually weekly. Set up a weekly all-hands or department meeting. It’s important to ensure that these virtual meetings are efficient and engaging. Here is a guide to running a successful virtual meeting.
Make new team members excited and feel welcomed to the team as they join. This should include things like sending them a welcome package full of swag, introducing them to the team during an All Hands meeting, and scheduling a 30-minute 1-on-1 meeting between the new hire and relevant team members. This last one is especially helpful in creating the foundation for building bonds. During these 1-on-1 conversations, the team members should speak largely about non-work-related topics and get to know each other.
Lastly, it’s good to codify everything mentioned in this remote-first article into a less than two-page remote work policy. This document should be concise, easy to understand, and distributed to the whole company. Tell your team what it means to us to be a remote-first company. Here are the most important topics to touch upon.
Making the decision to structurally organize as remote-first is the first step. But in order to succeed, a company looking to become a remote-first organization needs to invest in the right tools. Here are the must-have tools for remote teams to succeed.
Every remote and even hybrid organization needs to be efficient communicators. This means having a good blend of synchronous and asynchronous communication between team members. Slack and Microsoft Teams are the two most widely used products for asynchronous communication. These products are good for asynchronous communication between team members, but can not be relied on to be the only communication tool for remote, hybrid, and distributed teams.
Where asynchronous communication fails, virtual office products succeed. Tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack have their place and value, but to truly succeed as a remote-first organization you need to recreate your company’s office virtually. This requires virtual office software, sometimes referred to as virtual workspaces. Virtual offices make for better communication and collaboration between team members as they encourage micro and burst communication. They also help establish a remote-first culture within the company, allowing team members to interact in non-structured ways, engaging in watercooler talk. Looking to learn more about virtual office software, schedule a conversation with the Kumospace team. Our virtual office application is used by companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies.
Every team needs tools that allow them to do their work. It’s best to pick tools that foster collaboration between team members. The best examples of these tools are products like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Workspace. These two suites of office productivity software allow multiple users to virtually create, work on, and edit documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. Although not commonly thought about, these productivity tools are a form of remote work communication. Companies can complement these core productivity tools with other products like Notion for information storage and organization and Jira for tacks and project management. The right combination of tools and specific software products to choose from will be driven by your organization’s specific needs.
Since remote work means not going to a physical location on a daily basis, team members need a singular place to store information. The best option for this is a shared cloud storage software product like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. Not only do these software applications allow others to access all the company files easily, it also means that employees can easily switch between computers and devices to access the company’s files. This is especially important for remote team members who may be on the move as it allows them to access and edit files from computer, mobile phone, or tablet.