As the pandemic winds down, we’re seeing one of its most significant work-related outcomes — a rise in remote-first companies. From digital nomads proliferating the technical workforce to startups and multinationals looking to scale worldwide, many companies have embraced a globally distributed workforce to remain competitive.
While many people view 2020 as the year of remote work, it is just the beginning of a trend that continues to grow exponentially. Global Workplace Analytics president Kate Lister predicts that by 2025, 70% of the workforce will work remotely at least five days a month.
Corporate cultures will inevitably evolve throughout this transition. However, rather than passively waiting for these changes to unfold, it’s vital to be proactive in shaping your remote work culture to ensure your employees are set up for success.
In this post, we’ll explore the pros and cons of adopting a remote-first culture and its five pillars that can help your organization thrive in today’s remote world.
What is a remote-first culture?
A remote-first culture is a type of organizational structure that favors remote work. Unlike similar structures that offer remote working arrangements as a perk, remote-first companies use teleworking as their default mode of operation. These organizations optimize all their processes and procedures to align with and support remote work.
While most of their employees work from home, it’s important to note that remote-first organizations maintain a centralized office location for workers who prefer this type of setting.
Remote-first vs. remote-friendly vs. remote-only: What’s the difference?
Employees with remote-first jobs work primarily from home even if the company retains an office headquarters. No matter where their staff chooses to work, remote-first companies are committed to providing exceptional employee experiences.
Conversely, remote-friendly organizations aim for a hybrid work environment, allowing some employees to work outside the corporate office but still conduct most of their daily operations in person. Remote-friendly companies may hire and manage remote employees for specific roles, but most employees will work on-site.
Finally, remote-only companies don’t retain a physical office space, leaving employees who prefer in-office work without a choice. Even though the remote-only work model has many benefits, such as reduced overhead costs, some employees may feel lonely and isolated if they work entirely from home.
While these three approaches are similar in their intent to foster a remote work environment, a remote-first culture provides more flexibility and higher employee satisfaction.
Top benefits of a remote-first culture
A remote-first culture presents several benefits for organizations and employees. Here are some of the advantages of adopting this work model:
1. Greater flexibility and continuity
A remote-first culture provides more flexibility and better scaling opportunities, especially in the face of unforeseen events. Remote-first companies can expand without worrying too much about the limitations of their physical facilities. They don’t have to constantly add office space and equipment to keep up with hiring. Moreover, they can easily adjust to changing conditions without wasting funds on physical infrastructure.
Similarly, remote-first is fantastic for business continuity planning. Remote-first companies have the resources and culture in place to meet their business goals — even when employees can’t access a central workplace.
2. Higher employee satisfaction
According to research, a remote work culture gives employees more perceived autonomy and less work-family conflict, resulting in higher levels of job satisfaction. Remote-first employees are free to work around their schedules, improving their work outlook and productivity.
A remote-first environment also reduces or eliminates long commute times and transportation costs, ultimately enhancing the employees’ quality of life.
3. Increased productivity
Many businesses that have switched to remote work in the middle of the pandemic have reported higher productivity due to the change. This increase in productivity is linked to the elimination of long commutes, extended coffee breaks, and other distractions.
A 2022 study by Zippia shows that workers are 13% more productive when working remotely, and 40% of employees believe they were more productive working from home during the pandemic than at the office.
4. Significant cost savings
Companies that use a remote-first strategy enjoy considerable reductions in overall operational costs. According to Global Workplace Analytics, remote-first companies can save around $11,000 a year for each employee who works from home at least a portion of the time. They can save billions of dollars annually on real estate, utilities, property taxes, and more.
Plus, employees of remote-first organizations can save up to $6,000 by working from home half the time. They can save on public transportation or gas and car maintenance. They can also minimize spending on dining out and work clothes.
5. Wider talent pool
Companies that prioritize remote work have access to a global talent marketplace because they don’t have to hire within their immediate geographic location. This lets them attract and retain top talent even when there aren’t enough qualified candidates in their local area, specifically for specialized IT roles.
Without any geographical limits, global hiring enables remote-first organizations to reach and recruit the best fit out there.
Challenges of remote-first companies
While remote-first trends have many advantages, the culture also has its own set of obstacles. Here are some of the biggest drawbacks of remote work:
1. Communication and collaboration issues
Communication difficulties are among the most common problems that newly remote-first companies encounter. Without in-office discussions, remote teams typically struggle to navigate the new virtual communication environment — especially when there are no defined communication guidelines and toolkits in place. This can lead to frequent misunderstandings, delays, and serious losses in productivity.
Aside from communication issues, it can be difficult for employees to work on projects together when they are spread out across multiple locations and time zones.
2. Isolation and exclusion
A remote-first structure can take a toll on employees’ mental health and well-being. According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work report, loneliness is one of the most common issues that remote employees experience. Remote-first workers may feel out of the loop, isolated, and invisible — especially if HR and department heads aren’t intentionally helping remote employees connect and integrate within a company culture.
Furthermore, a 2022 survey by GoodHire reveals that 59% of U.S. workers are concerned about getting excluded from critical team meetings and projects if they are not consistently present at work.
3. Lack of self-motivation and time management
While several studies show that freedom associated with autonomy positively influences employee performance and productivity, some remote workers feel less motivated without the structure, supervision, and support they have at the office.
Without someone regularly and physically checking on their work, remote employees must be masters of self-motivation. It’s considerably more challenging for those who work from home to keep track of time, manage tasks, and beat deadlines. They often struggle to stay focused and on track with their deliverables when dealing with several distractions, such as chores, child care, and time-wasters like Netflix and social media.
4. Zero work-life balance
While many remote workers claim to have a better work-life balance, some often struggle to unplug after work hours. According to a study by global staffing firm Robert Half, employees are working around the clock while at home. Nearly seven out of ten professionals who transitioned to a remote setup because of the pandemic work even on weekends. In addition, 45% of individuals who work from home say they frequently work more than eight hours daily.
The pillars of a successful remote-first culture
There’s more to creating a remote-first culture than simply asking some employees to work from home or having virtual happy hours every other month. You should also develop structures to ensure this work paradigm is sustainable for your organization in the long term.
For instance, create a work environment where your remote employees can easily collaborate without feeling like external resources. This entails establishing the proper technical infrastructure, developing the right processes, and providing equal opportunities to remote and in-house employees.
Here are five pillars of a remote-first culture to help you leverage the benefits and overcome the challenges of remote work.
1. Accountability and trust
Skeptics and naysayers of remote work might easily jump to the conclusion that not being in an office translates to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. For both managers and employees, there has to be a shared understanding of both availability and accountability when it comes to working in different physical spaces and dealing with multiple time zones.
Trust plays a crucial role in the success of your remote-first culture. So, build a culture that gives your employees the freedom and flexibility to choose when and where to work.
However, keep in mind that trust works both ways — your employees should trust you as much as you trust them. You can achieve this by staying honest, consistent, and transparent. Maintain a virtual paper trail of all company activities and decisions, and always keep your remote employees in the loop.
Lastly, avoid micromanaging your employee because this can quickly breed mistrust and destroy your company culture. This means that while employee monitoring tools are necessary for remote work success, steer clear of those that may seem too invasive.
2. Asynchronous work
Asynchronous work is a way of collaborating in a team where everyone doesn’t have to be online at the same time. It advocates replacing most meetings and project discussions with meaningful communication using remote collaboration tools. GitHub, one of the most popular tool sets for supporting the software development cycle, allows remote teams to collaborate on projects from anywhere. By focusing on outputs rather than inputs, GitHub’s asynchronous communication style gives employees more flexibility to manage their work and personal responsibilities.
Moreover, when a group works asynchronously, team members can boost their productivity without having to wait for others to complete tasks. The key to asynchronous work is creating processes that enable employees to work independently while showing them you trust their ability to achieve set goals.
Asynchronous communication is an essential component of an effective remote-first culture. It comes in many forms, including emails, recorded videos, and annotated screenshots. By minimizing distractions through asynchronous communication, remote employees have a higher chance of staying productive and focused. Instead of constantly checking and responding to messages, they can concentrate on their work for long periods.
3. Communication guidelines and tools
Setting communication guidelines establishes a baseline for how your remote workers interact with each other. This framework helps prevent a culture of anxiety where employees feel they must be available at all times. Instead, it promotes a culture that sets healthy boundaries between work and personal life. It sets clear expectations and allows everyone to work uninterrupted during their most productive hours.
Focus on workplace tools and define your “communication stack.” From email to Loom, Slack, and Zoom, there’s a growing list of vendors that companies can choose from. That is the easy part, though. Codifying the boundaries or systems around how employees use the tools is much more challenging.
In general, ask yourself the following questions when thinking about designing for remote or distributed communication:
- What tools are we going to use?
- What channels are better for synchronous vs. asynchronous work?
- What are the rules of etiquette around each channel?
- Must employees enable webcams during all video conference calls?
- How do we document our culture around communication and incorporate it into our new hire onboarding?
Automatticians, makers of WordPress.com, put extra emphasis on audio quality. For CEO Matt Mullenweg, his pet peeve is when everyone mutes on a call. “I want to hear uproarious laughing or someone thinking out loud and their ‘hmm.’ It makes you feel like you’re together.”
4. Employee engagement
There should be more to your engagement and support pillar than meetings, one-on-ones, and the occasional virtual party. While the daily standup is essential for keeping everyone on the same page, informal communication helps forge deeper bonds between employees.
Create virtual networks and schedule regular virtual activities. While frequent in-person gatherings are typically limited by geography and time zone differences, you can nurture a strong remote-first culture through regular online meetings.
Depending on the size of the organization, employers and leaders can regularly organize an informal team or company get-together. These events are excellent catalysts for encouraging more open communication and forming stronger ties between colleagues.
5. Inclusion and diversity
Making each employee feel included in the company mission was a problem that existed even before the world went remote. The lack of in-person interactions makes it easier for employees to feel disconnected and slip through the cracks.
By making diversity and inclusion a core element of your remote-first culture, you build an environment where everyone feels safe to be themselves. It gets people talking about things other than work and builds stronger connections among team members.
Implementing a policy about what it means to be a diverse, equal, and inclusive workplace can help you foster an inclusive environment. Build a space for diverse perspectives and encourage everyone to participate and share their opinions. Be intentional about developing all employees, giving everyone an equal opportunity to expand their skill sets.
Build a strong remote-first workforce with Andela
Any organization is capable of creating and sustaining a healthy and productive remote-first culture. Investing time in evaluating your workforce and researching the most effective collaboration and productivity solutions are key. Prioritizing your employees’ well-being and job satisfaction will position your organization for long-term success and retention.
Take the first step to success by hiring with a remote-first mindset. At Andela, we don’t only help you get the best candidates, but we also ensure they fit perfectly with your company values. We leverage human expertise and AI-powered technology to find you the right match for the role, team dynamics, and remote culture.
Join us today, and we’ll help you quickly build a world-class team of remote tech experts.