How to Become a Remote-First Company

Margo Ovsiienko

Most companies can switch to remote work fast and make working from home an option for their employees. However, not everyone can call themselves a remote-first company. There is a long way from being remote-friendly to a remote-first organization. So what are the differences and how can you develop your company culture around remote-first principles?

In this article, we describe the key differences  between remote-friendly and remote-first and show how you can nurture the remote-first spirit in your company.

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

From  first sight, it can seem that the lines between remote-friendly and remote-first companies are blurred. You can even think that it’s up to you what you call your company’s culture. Both assumptions are wrong and there are many differences between the two ways of remote work.

In remote-friendly companies, working remotely is an available option. However, employees are also welcome to come to the office. Remote-first companies encourage employees to work remotely and they empower them with the right tools – working remotely is not an option, it’s a choice an employees make on their own.

Synchronous communication is a preferred way of communication in remote-friendly companies. Employees are expected to be online during their working hours and respond to messages and requests fast. Working in different time zones makes synchronous communication difficult. That’s why in remote-first companies, people communicate asynchronously.

In remote-friendly companies information is often kept in silos – employees coming to the office have better access to information, often are favored and promoted. In the case of remote-first companies, key decisions are made online with everyone involved.

Remote-first companies measure the work results by impact, not hours worked, while in remote-friendly companies office work is often perceived as more productive and work is measured in the number of hours worked. The studies show that employees are unlikely to work a full 8 hours in an office. They work less from the office than home, according to a report the State of Remote Work in 2022.

Steps to becoming a remote-first company

Now you know the difference between remote-first and remote-friendly companies. So how can you build a company culture according to remote-first practices? Below, we explain the key steps to becoming a remote-first company. 

1. Establish asynchronous communication

With asynchronous communication, you shouldn’t expect an instant response to a question. Often, for people working in different time zones, responding right away means doing it after working hours.

People communicating asynchronously are also using chat messages more, instead of catching up for a quick call. As a result, you end up with an extensive history of previous communication that everyone can refer to in case some information needs to be retrieved from archives. 

Remote-first companies use synchronous communication only in certain situations such as 1:1 check-in or collaborative meetings.

2. Build a culture of documentation

A remote-first organization is  one focusing on inclusivity of all employees – both remote and those working from an office. Equal access to information is a factor that contributes to inclusivity. By documenting your company procedures and policies as well as key decisions, you will create a level-playing field for everyone in terms of access to information. 

Also, make sure everyone knows where to access the most important documents and is actively using them. You can also create an internal knowledge base where everyone can search for answers related to company policies, onboarding, HR, and more.

3. Measure performance by results

Office work is often associated with clocking-in and clocking-out. When signing contracts, employees agree on working hours that they have to stick to throughout their employment. Often, success at work is measured by how dedicated you are to what you are doing. Working harder means working more. That’s a traditional perception of work. However, in a remote-first company, this is not a way to succeed. 

Working more hours doesn’t always mean working more. Working within a specific time window doesn’t always mean being the most productive. Instead of focusing on the amount of time spent on projects, look at the results and track effectively by customizing your dashboard of key business metrics. Measure employee performance by the impact they make rather than the time spent at work. 

Anyway, you can never supervise what everyone does remotely. It also doesn’t matter if someone works eight hours or five hours as long as the work outcome satisfies you as a manager or business owner. 

4. Hire employees from anywhere in the world

Some companies offer remote work as an additional benefit allowing employees to work from home from time to time. Working from the office at least a few days during the week is often set as a requirement. By looking at hiring on the local market (in the city where their HQ is based), this way, companies limit their hiring opportunities.

To become a remote-first company, you have to encourage people to work remotely whenever they want. As a result, you can also hire anywhere. Remote-first companies usually don’t have many people coming from the same city or country – their teams are distributed all over the globe. For example, when hiring a dedicated development team, you might expect some software developers to come from Ukraine, some to work in Belarus, and others to be located in Poland or the US.

5. Make perks equal

Office employees usually benefit from the traditional perks like medical insurance and the possibility to use medical services in a city or country where an employer is based.

While it’s a great perk for office employees, a remote worker won’t be able to use such perks. To create equal benefits, think of the perks that people can use anywhere in the world. For example, you can pay for your employees’ Internet bill or offer a budget to buy an online course. You can help employees with their transition to remote work by dedicating some budget to use for a home workstation, buying a computer, headphones, or a webcam.

6. Set up virtual water cooler conversations

In offices, important conversations (and decisions) often happen next to the water cooler. That’s also a place where most people socialize, creating bonds with their colleagues. Unfortunately, while beneficial for office employees, remote workers can’t teleport to a water cooler and contribute to a talk. As a result, they end up missing out on a lot of things.

By creating a virtual water cooler in a separate Slack room, you can facilitate casual conversations among employees working from an office as well as remotely. If everyone is working remotely in your team and you don’t have an office, creating a virtual water cooler is also a good idea for you.

7. Conduct hiring virtually

Even if you decide to hire someone locally, aiming to become a remote-first company, conduct your hiring remotely. Make sure you have the right tools to do it – a good web camera, Internet connection, and your communication tool. 

Online calls are also a good test for your candidate – you can check if they feel comfortable communicating online, check how well they are prepared for remote work from a technical side – Internet speed, mic and camera quality.

8. Create remote onboarding checklist

A strong remote onboarding process is also a part of your recruitment and HR process – think over the ways to deliver training online without having day-long onboarding calls. A good idea can be assigning a “buddy” to your new employees – a person on your team who can help in all aspects of work during the first months.

Start with creating your remote onboarding checklist to structure your onboarding process better. Here is an example of one:

9. Invest in the right off-the-shelf tools

To reduce friction in communication and make remote work more convenient, use the right technology tools. You can start by evaluating the best email apps that reduce clutter in your mailbox. Email is one of the key channels for remote work, so it is worth keeping your employees’ focus on the key messages, filtering spam effectively, and keeping their inbox clean

Make sure you also offer some budget for the department-specific tools. For example, if your developers want to buy something to make their work more productive, such as a VueJS admin template, they are already authorized to spend a certain amount of money you assign to their tools budget.

10. Invest in developing your tools

While there are a lot of SaaS tools that you can start using now, it might turn out that due to the specifics of your industry and security reasons, you will want to develop your tool. If your company offers HR services, you can build a unique HR tool that helps manage processes better in distributed teams, or a suite of online apps for businesses. In such cases, you might need an outsourced team to help you with HR system development or B2B web app design.

11. Organize regular retreats

When some employees work remotely and some – from the office, it’s important to bring everyone together for team-building activities and get teams to build bonds.

Company retreats offer some time to focus on creative thinking, strategy, and brainstorming. If you are planning to work out an app prototype for your new product or do company rebranding, getting everyone together to work on it can help initiate the ideas that wouldn’t otherwise appear in an office environment.

Also, setting work aspects aside, company retreats can help understand each other on a personal level.

12. Make decisions online

To succeed at remote management, you should make all decisions public. Employees working in an office usually contribute more to decision-making having a bigger chance to contribute to discussions. This way of making decisions doesn’t contribute to inclusivity in a remote organization. 

That’s why it’s worth discussing possible changes only online, making sure office and remote employees learn about decisions at the same time and can participate in a dialog together.

13. Create communication guidelines

Make sure your team members know what tools have to be used in certain situations. They should know when a Zoom call is a better option for a chat message. Also, specify what other tools your team can use and in what situations they are applicable.

Apart from general communication tools such as Google Meet and Zoom, it’s worth doing some research on the tools that help teams communicate better when managing their projects. 

It’s rarely necessary to catch up for a call to approve a project. Take social media management as an example. To schedule social media posts, you have to agree on the graphics, text, and publishing time. With certain tools, you can comment under a post and see your feedback introduced. You can easily track and change project status once the job is done. Here is how collaboration looks like with such tools.

14. Reduce excess offline and online meetings

Both offline meetings and online calls are not necessary in the majority of cases. They are time-consuming and costly – they involve several people at the same time. However, if you end up organizing an online meeting, it makes sense to record it, so other people can also watch it and not miss out on the key information. Remember that there are not many work aspects where things can’t be discussed in a written form.

There is also another problem that companies face – overstretching meetings, so they go beyond a schedule. To avoid it use the following techniques:

  • Timeboxing – focus on preparing for the meeting in a way, so you don’t exceed 30 minutes. Moderate meetings effectively.
  • Opt-in attendance policy – let people decide if there is a need for their presence at a meeting. Also, let them leave a meeting when they no longer can contribute to it.
  • Apply intelligent meeting scheduling – don’t scatter meetings, not leaving any reasonable time windows for deep work. For example, you can reserve the first part of the day for deep work and book meetings only after lunch.

15. Create a strong remote brand identity

Before the pandemic business had an abundance of internal branding opportunities. Leveraging their control over employees’ physical surroundings, businesses could slap their brand on walls, t-shirts, and coffee mugs, or shower employees with work hours entertainment. All this is harder to do for a remote-first company. Have you ever tried to get your employees to participate in a Zoom happy hour? It’s not pretty.

The good news is that people still communicate at work, and they still connect with each other. It’s just the medium that’s changed. Most meetings now happen using video conference platforms, and much of the daily office communication has moved to email.

To leverage video conferencing for branding you can provide your managers and employees with fake office background with your company logo on the wall. You’d be surprised how people yearn for a good background to obscure their messy living room.

To leverage email for branding you can use a handy tool like the WiseStamp Signature Manager to centrally apply a branded email signature on every last employee email. Now every time they send an email, their recipient will see your brand, keeping your company always in their mind.

Wrap up

There is a long way from a remote-friendly to remote-first company. Establishing a remote-first company is not about following a set of rules from a guidebook. It’s rather a set of processes you establish in your organization. It takes a lot of hard work to grow from a remote-friendly to remote-first company. However, the outcome is worth it in terms of the increase in productivity. You can also tap into a global talent pool easily. Give it a try!

Comments / 0

Published by

Margo Ovsiienko is an experienced marketing leader and product manager. She's a contributor to Flippa, CoSchedule, Keap, Single Grain, Jeff Bullas, and more respected websites.

New York, NY

More from Margo Ovsiienko

Comments / 0