At the start of the pandemic, companies sent their employees to work from home in droves as part of the effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Once the pandemic ends, it’s unlikely that most businesses will go back to the old normal of crowded office buildings and face-to-face meetings—at least not right away.
It’s even more unlikely that all of the employees who used to work on site will go back to the office full time. There’s a good chance that we’ll see remote work as an option for the foreseeable future; and some companies are going further than that, fully embracing the concept of being a remote-first company. Let’s take a look at what that means and how remote-first collaboration practices can benefit your business.
What Does Remote-First Mean?
This shift towards more remote work has shown up in different ways at different companies. Many companies have become remote-friendly—meaning that they allow remote work, but don’t optimize their systems and processes for it. In this case, in-office and remote employees exist in two (often unequal) tiers, as team meetings, communication, and general day-to-day processes are still geared toward traditional on-site work.
A remote-first company seeks to remove the differences between on-site employees and remote employees by making remote work the default. They still have physical offices, and some employees will still work on site; the difference is that the company’s processes are structured around the assumption that employees do not work in the same physical space.
Some of the ways this plays out in the workplace:
- Virtual meetings are the standard
- Meetings and other events are scheduled so that employees can participate regardless of their time zone
- Communication is primarily online and asynchronous
- Decisions are made online with all relevant employees present, not in passing at the water cooler
- Benefits may look different between in-office and remote employees, but are kept at an equal level
- Performance is measured by the end result, not the number of hours worked
- All necessary information and documentation is made available to the team regardless of location (typically by use of an online document storage system)
- The hiring process is done remotely as much as possible
As you can see, a remote-first company is one that has made a significant effort to level the playing field between remote and on-site employees and to make collaboration among all employees possible. Reading this, you may wonder why a company would go through such an effort—is it worth it?
Benefits of Remote-First Collaboration Practices
Despite all of the work that goes into creating a remote-first company culture, more and more businesses are moving in that direction—and not only because of the pandemic. It turns out that remote-first collaboration practices can bring a world of benefits to a company that implements them.
In a remote-first environment, more freedom is given to employees to decide how and when they work. The idea is that they can then choose to work when they are their most productive, rather than having to stick to a 9-5 schedule. As you can imagine, this can lead to increased productivity levels company-wide.
Access to a Global Talent Pool
By adopting a remote-first culture, a company opens up its field of prospective employees to encompass a much larger pool of talent. A company located in Minnesota could hire someone in New York or Paris (or vice versa). This allows them to hire the best person for the job regardless of where they are located and without having to pay relocation fees.
Similarly, this concept offers companies the chance to hire employees who may only be available to work remotely—such as disabled persons—as well as employees who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and worldviews. This kind of expansion can bring fresh ideas and a wealth of innovation to a company.
The need for less office space (lower rents and utility bills) and reduced employee turnover mean major cost savings for a remote-first company.
Improved Employee Health and Happiness
Employees who are given flexibility and trust tend to be more engaged, loyal, and willing to go above and beyond in their work. And employee health improves with remote working as a result of less contact with sick co-workers, no commuting stress, and more personal time.
With remote work, the focus is more on results than on tasks or hours worked. As long as the work is being done at a level that management is pleased with, it doesn’t matter when or where employees work.
Equal Playing Field
Because all employees—remote and on-site—are given the same expectations, tools, and opportunities, remote employees don’t feel less valued or left out of the day-to-day action of the office.
Shifting to a remote-first culture brings with it a slew of benefits for employees and the company alike. It’s no wonder many are considering the remote-first office to be the workplace of the future.
How to Begin Incorporating Remote-First Collaboration Practices
As we mentioned earlier, making this change will take a significant amount of work for any company. But as you can see, and as many companies are already finding out, the benefits of incorporating remote-first collaboration practices far outweigh the costs.
If you are considering making the switch to a remote-first workplace, there are a number of things to take into consideration. The following is a good place to start:
- Build out scenarios for what a remote-first culture could look like in your business
- Consider the benefits and constraints that will come with this change, specific to your business.
- Consider the resources needed to make a remote-first company work. What technology and other tools will you need?
- Think about your business objectives and determine if a remote-first workplace could help you meet them as well as (or better than) your current office setup.
- Test it out. Try it temporarily on a smaller level with a team or department, and see how it works for you (but keep in mind that it can take some time to work out the bugs with any major change).
If you do determine that a remote-first office is for you, it’s time to iron out the details and make it work for your team.
Tips for a Successful Remote-First Office
As you begin to implement remote-first collaboration practices, be sure to include the following in your plans:
- Ensure that all employees have the tools they need to do their jobs well. Remote workers may need more than a computer and an internet connection: offer them necessary office supplies, as well as tools to help them focus at home, such as desktop panels, room dividers, or acoustic panels that will increase privacy and help mitigate noise levels.
- Encourage office-based employees to work from home occasionally (especially those in leadership) to help sensitize them to the needs of remote workers.
- Encourage regular virtual social activities, such as happy hours and one-on-one coffee chats as a way for employees to build relationships with one another.
- Organize in-person events throughout the year. Bring all of your staff together at least once a year to help build trust and company cohesion.
- Check in with employees regularly, either through one-on-one meetings or using surveys/feedback forms. Make sure you keep on top of the common pain points of remote work.
- Get creative with benefits. Remote workers have different needs than in-office staff do, so their benefits and perks should reflect that.
Changing to a remote-first working environment takes a big shift in both processes and mindset, as well as high levels of planning and resources to pull off. But it seems evident that remote work is here to stay and that prospective employees will now expect remote working to be an option. It is therefore in every company’s best interest to develop a plan to make it work for them.