By Globalization PartnersMarch 2021
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Is your company a remote-first company? Most companies on the planet are working remotely, so the assumption might be that most companies are indeed remote-first. This, however, is not the case. Working remotely on a temporary basis is different than being a remote-first company. Shifting to a remote-first mindset means embracing a new approach.
The concept of remote work is not just a consequence of the global pandemic – beforehand, companies were already experimenting with borderless talent acquisition strategies, and “work from anywhere” hiring policies. But it wasn’t all perfect. As companies started hiring globally, their international teams did not always feel in sync with local employees.
According to Harvard Business Review, “coworkers who are geographically separated can’t easily connect and align.” Tackling this problem and creating an environment where there is collaboration and connectivity, even when physical distance is present, is the challenge for company leaders.
This is where the concept of remote-first comes in. A company that has a remote-first mentality can significantly increase engagement and productivity.
What is a remote-first company?
In a remote-first company, remote work is the norm. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all employees work remotely, but rather that all activities are tailored for remote communication.
In a remote-first company, distributed employees are given the same priority as those working at headquarters. Companies that don’t think of remote work as a default are known as remote-friendly or remote-ish companies.
Why are remote-friendly and remote-ish companies not the same as remote-first companies?
Remote-friendly and remote-ish companies have a remote workforce but have yet to adapt their practices for remote workers.
According to remote-first company Doist, “Remote-ish teams confront even more communication and collaboration challenges than fully remote ones. In these hybrid teams, information gets siloed in offices while remote employees are left in the dark.” This can lead to office workers being more valued than remote workers.
For example, if your company allows employees to work from home but requires all meetings to take place in the office with everybody in the same room, you are not creating a level playing field. In this scenario, local employees who wish to work from home will be forced to come into the office, and global remote teams might have to give up their free time.
Remote-ish companies deal mainly in synchronous communication. This type of communication favors those directly in front of you, which translates to most decisions happening in the headquarters where employees interact in person.
In remote-friendly and remote-ish companies:
- All management takes place in headquarters.
- Synchronous is the most practiced form of communication.
- In-office work is considered important work.
- Critical decisions take place during formal and informal in-person interactions.
- All meetings happen during headquarters office hours.
- Performance is directly tied to hours in the office.
In remote-first companies:
- Management works remotely and across the world.
- Asynchronous communication is preferred.
- All work can be done remotely, including essential meetings.
- Critical decisions take place through remote communication.
- In-person meetings are limited and recorded for all time-zones.
- Performance is measured by results and not time spent in the office or online.
What are the benefits of going remote first?
• Reduced costs
When you develop a remote-first culture, you can reduce and even eliminate local costs such as office rent, expenses generated for employees by commuting and living close to the office, and even salaries.
Surveys conducted by Global Workplace Analytics showed that 80 percent of employees would like to work from home some of the time. Over a third would take a pay cut in exchange for the option. The same survey showed that a typical employer could save about $11,000/year for every person who works remotely half of the time.
• Increase in employee retention and employee engagement
A remote-first approach can promote a more inclusive work environment that makes all employees feel that they are all integral parts of your company, regardless of where they reside.
Doist boasts a 97 percent employee retention rate, with 50 percent of their employees have been at the company for more than four years. This is not exclusively a result of the pandemic. In 2016, Stack Overflow conducted a company-wide survey that showed that 88 percent of remote workers were highly engaged.
A remote-first approach is also an opportunity to re-invent a lot of the dynamics that were previously a drain for employees. By establishing a remote-first culture, your company can also increase employee engagement. According to Forbes, “key milestones in the employee experience, such as onboarding or getting to know your immediate team, were largely taken for granted in the past.”
There was this permeating idea that “getting to know your team assumed that proximity would equal closeness. Now, companies are becoming much more deliberate and creative about the employee experience.”
• A bigger talent pool
When your company is designed for employees to work from anywhere, you can hire everywhere. Forget about only choosing from local candidates. Now you can find the best global candidates.
• Better performance and increased productivity
The results are in remote workers are more productive than their office counterparts. If one of your primary concerns is that having a fully remote workforce will affect your organization’s productivity, this is not the case.
A survey conducted by Airtasker in 2020 showed remote employees spent 15 percent less time avoiding work and 1.4 more days working each month while taking more breaks. The same survey also showed that remote workers are less distracted by co-workers. On average, remote workers spend about 30 minutes less discussing non-work-related topics.A survey conducted by Airtasker in 2020 showed remote employees spent 15 percent less time avoiding work and 1.4 more days working each month while taking more breaks. Click To Tweet
• Increased potential and adaptability
We do not need to go into the future to know that remote-first companies have greater adaptability than companies without a remote workforce or remote-ish companies. All we must do is look at how remote-first companies were able to adapt during and after 2020.
For remote-first companies, the pandemic proved that they are ahead of the game. If all your company processes are designed to work remotely, then your employees are automatically prepared for any eventuality.
Also, a remote-first company helps employees develop relationships with co-workers across their country and even globally. This adaptability to new situations has a significant effect on the potential of your organization.
• Opportunities to explore new markets
As we mentioned above, a remote-first culture promotes adaptability. Part of this adaptability is that you and your employees will learn to work with everybody, whether they are located across town or on the other side of the world.
When companies tie their functions to a physical office, it is easier to see a global expansion as a significant challenge. If your company is meant to function around an office, your employees might get stuck in the mind frame that it is necessary to have physical offices across the world.
Learning to work remotely will guarantee that when and if you choose to hire a global team, both of you will be ready to hit the ground running, regardless of distance.
How to go from a non-remote or remote-ish company to a remote-first company
1. Create a remote work policy
If you want to transition to a remote-first company, the first thing you need to do is to create a remote work policy.
What is a remote work policy?
A remote work policy is a set of guidelines for employees working from home or locations outside the office.
Creating a policy allows you to make a clear standing on topics such as:
You cannot transition to a remote-first company unless your employees have a clear idea of your company’s remote work approach.
2. Have a communication policy
Communication is the basis for every other action in your company. The primary benefit of having a communication policy is to set expectations; other benefits include:
- Reduce conflicts and misunderstandings.
- Promote a culture of communication.
- State your mission and vision.
- Help employees understand how they fit in.
Communication is vital for remote work because it helps your company establish trust and credibility.
As previously mentioned, there are two types of communication that companies practice, synchronous and asynchronous communication. Remote-first companies use asynchronous communication, while remote-ish companies tend to use synchronous communication.
What is asynchronous communication?
According to Doist, “simply put, asynchronous communication is when you send a message without expecting an immediate response. In contrast, synchronous communication is when you send a message, and the recipient processes the information and responds immediately.”
3. Improve the hiring and onboarding experience
It is no secret that first impressions are crucial. No matter how much effort you put into excellent company culture, if your prospects and new hires have a bad experience, they will be less likely to feel motivated and engaged.
According to remote-first company SafeGraph, there are five reasons why a strong onboarding process is essential:
- It’s important to personalize each new employee’s experience to make them feel part of the team and improve employee morale.
- Building camaraderie to help new hires develop relationships
- Employee retention can be significantly improved through a good onboarding experience.
- Employees with good onboarding experiences will be able to start work faster and with a higher productivity rate.
- The onboarding process is a great time to introduce new hires to your company culture and lead by example.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), organizations with poor onboarding processes only set up employees for an early exit.
Amy become Hirsh Robinson, principal of consulting firm The Interchange Group in Los Angeles, tells SHRM, “Onboarding is a magic moment when new employees decide to stay engaged or disengaged.”
4. Let your headquarters be mobile
One obstacle to becoming a remote-first company is ensuring you do not make your remote-teams second to your headquarters. If your local employees function differently from your remote employees, you will continue to be a remote-ish company.
In an actual remote-first environment, your local employees function in the same way as your remote-employees. This means that whether your local employees are working from home or at the office can connect to meetings virtually to create a more consistent remote culture.
5. Promote cross-cultural communication
Hiring globally is no longer tied to an international expansion. Your company may have remote global teams that work in tandem with your local market. As we mentioned before, one of the benefits of a remote-first culture is improving your team’s adaptability and performance.
In this sense, asynchronous communication has excellent benefits for working with remote global teams. This approach makes it easier for all your employees to contribute without connecting and working in real-time.
Why choose asynchronous communication to communicate globally?
When your headquarters are in New York, but you have a global team in Asia-Pacific, synchronous communication will force your employees on the other side of the world to bend over backward to connect to catch up.
Asynchronous communication is better suited for remote teams. This type of communication allows for conversations to occur in platforms where materials are always available for employees.
In the case of meetings, it is hard to find a time that is convenient for everyone. However, meetings can be recorded and uploaded to the cloud for international employees to watch in their own time.
To communicate globally, companies must learn to avoid the pitfalls that come with the international stage. This can be achieved by finding the right tools and partners to hire globally.
How to be a remote-first company while expanding globally
To become and to remain a remote-first company while expanding globally, companies need to knock down the barriers of global communication.To become and to remain a remote-first company while expanding globally, companies need to knock down the barriers of global communication. Click To Tweet
The good news is that today companies have various online tools that enable asynchronous communication and allow global remote teams to stay in sync with local teams.
The obstacles that remain are the complexities that come with expanding to new markets and hiring international employees. This is where partners, such as an Employer of Record (EOR), come in.
An EOR helps companies that want to hire international employees by functioning as legal employers.
The EOR has entities across the world and takes care of payroll, benefits, taxes, and HR functions. By partnering with an EOR, companies can let go of the worries of setting up their international entities and figuring out a new country’s legal complexities.
An EOR also has local experts on the ground, which can help companies better understand cultural nuances. This leaves companies free to focus on the onboarding experience and creating a remote-first culture.