It’s a mistake and a failure of leadership to conflate forced working from home during a pandemic with true remote work.
During the pandemic, many workers experienced an at-home version of the traditional work environment. In-person meetings were replaced with daily stand-up calls. Happy hours were replaced with after-work Zooms. The remote work we experienced during the pandemic lacked flexibility and autonomy.
Now, many companies are pushing their employees back to the office touting “flexible” or “hybrid” approaches that aren’t actually flexible. This is a failure of management to explore a new way of thinking about work.
Hybrid, or “remote-friendly” work, is often seen as the happy medium for companies. In practice, hybrid work often becomes the worst of two worlds. It places restrictions on where employees can live and how they work, while also failing to consider the best experience for those who do not happen to be in-office. Hybrid work still puts the office at the center of how work should be done, and gives preference to workers who choose to spend more time in-person than remote.
Remote-first deliberately re-imagines your company to take advantage of the realities of a truly distributed workforce. From how you communicate to managing pay and benefits, everyone is taught to think in a way that sets up employees for success, regardless of location.
Not only does this create a more organized work environment, it also opens up true geographical freedom–whether that’s across town or across the world. Your hiring no longer needs to be limited, allowing for easy recruitment and scaling as the business grows. Your teams achieve true life-work balance and the ability to manage their jobs around their personal commitments, not the other way around.
I haven’t worked out of an office for the past eight years; first at GitLab and now at the company I cofounded, Remote. Throughout, I have seen over and over again how remote work enables people to have balanced, healthier lives in addition to doing better work.
The best and most successful remote companies are ones that take an incredibly intentional approach. Creating that in a remote workplace isn’t hard, but it does require a new mindset. Here’s how to reinvent your way of thinking and create true remote work.
Take control of your company’s culture
In the office, culture often happens passively through impromptu conversations, team activities, and signals like decor and location. In the remote environment, however, companies need strategies to build culture with rigor and care. Remote culture is defined by intentionality. Decide what matters to your organization and ensure that your team sees, hears, and experiences these values in everything they do.
An employee handbook is an incredibly simple and impactful way to define culture and the ways that values show up in daily tasks. Be explicit about what’s expected of people and how they should do things. Rather than relying on external factors to decide what your company will feel like, shaping and enforcing culture in this way actually allows for more control.
Create new avenues for connections
Without the break room or the water cooler, a remote company must create new opportunities for employees to get to know each other.
Consider your team’s Slack (or other preferred comms channel) the new office. Just like a physical space, it can be a place for camaraderie and bonding in addition to getting work done. This means setting up spaces for casual conversations where people can simply be themselves and share their interests during the workday. We wouldn’t expect every conversation between coworkers in an office during working hours to be immediately productive, and the same applies in virtual settings.
Get creative in your approach to connections to be inclusive of as many styles as possible. At Remote, we create asynchronous bonding opportunities through videos, guessing games and calls for gif submissions—to ensure that everyone can participate in a way that works for them.
Being remote doesn’t need to rule out in-person interactions, either. Help plan meet-ups for employees in the same region and offer co-working stipends for those who desire an office. The key is to ensure that these are never required.
Embed transparency into your structure
Transparent flow of information is at the core of a productive remote culture to keep teams productive. On global teams, questions can get held up for hours while half of the team is asleep. A transparent work structure with clear documentation reduces questions and aligns teams on strategy and expectations. All members of the team should always know what work is being done and who is responsible for each aspect. Any person should be able to step away from their work tomorrow and leave behind enough documentation to allow for someone else to seamlessly take over.
Document everything and over-communicate. Encourage conversations to happen in public channels, and get people in the habit of sharing their work as they go. Create guidelines for where information should live and how regularly they should be updated.
The remote, global workplace is more productive, more empowering and more freeing than any other model. There’s a reason some of the most innovative companies, including Meta, Dropbox and AirBnb, are embracing remote work: It’s the model of the future.
Intentionally creating best practices for your company will create a culture with a healthier work environment and happier employees. Connecting employees to organizational culture can increase employee performance by as much as 37% and increase retention by 36%, according to Gartner. On the flip side, organizations that force their employees into in-office or hybrid settings could lose up to 33% of their teams.
While it may require mindset shifts, the returns for remote work are expansive—for employees and the business. It’s not just good for workers, it’s smart business.
Job van der Voort is the cofounder and CEO of Remote, the company enabling employers to hire anyone from anywhere. Prior to founding Remote, Job worked as a neuroscientist before leaving academia to become the VP of product at GitLab.