The Remote-First Revolution – Coming to an Office Near You

A key difference has emerged within the large number of businesses that have deployed remote workers over the past few years, and that is the priority level designated to fully integrating remote workers into every facet of the organisation. This doesn’t mean organisations are required to allow all employees to transition from co-located spaces to remote work, but it does require a commitment to breaking down the barriers that hinder the free flow of information between the two environments. The resulting “hybrid” workplace has the ability to deliver better results for businesses and enable the flexibility that employees have been asking for.

With the recent external pressures of COVID-19, industries that would never previously have seriously considered operating within a distributed framework are becoming aware of the multiple benefits it offers. However, with the benefits come multiple difficulties, and increasingly since the start of 2020, it has become more and more apparent why the number of successful remote-only businesses is currently limited in number and type of industry. Should we then see this time as an interesting, but temporary foray into the world of distributed work, and rush back to the office as soon as we can, as some prominent CEOs like Reed Hastings of Netflix have suggested? He has become well recognised for having fostered a highly collaborative workplace culture, which he believes is now threatened by physical separation of employees. This is a valid concern, however the counter-argument to his position is that while collaboration is easier to engender in a co-located space, it is a much more difficult place for individuals to maintain periods of undistracted, deep work. Depending on a company’s priorities, one structure, and therefore, one type of work, may be preferred over the other, but many organisations will find that a balance of remote and office work can bring out the best in their employees. Achieving this balance requires a detailed strategy to connect the two environments in such a way that neither loses out from progress made in the opposite space. Remote-First is an approach to connecting co-located and distributed workers that displays no preference for one over the other. 

The first step is universal accessibility of information. In a remote-first organisation, information is shared openly and consistently. In person meetings are either streamed live or recorded and the important decisions or takeaways are clearly documented. An inability to fully involve remote workers in the major events in the office space relegates them to a segregated, minor role in the business and undermines their ability to keep up with their colleagues. The extra effort taken to clarify processes should not be seen as a burden to those in the co-located space because they equally benefit from the intentional and explicit nature of the communication. 

Once this open approach to communication is embraced, it opens the door to the next stage of remote-first capability, asynchronicity. “Async” is a big topic, and a potentially scary one for many, conjuring fears of disconnected workers, wandering aimlessly, feeling around in the dark for their next task. These fears manifest in expecting all workers to be readily accessible during specific hours, regardless of their productivity during that time. Ironically, all work has some level of asynchronicity built in, due to human nature. Everyone has peaks and troughs in their productive mental energy, and those fluctuations do not always align with co-workers. Even meetings, which are the highest form of synchronicity available, present problems and start discussions that are usually resolved later in an asynchronous manner. Remote-first organisations accept some level of Async work as innate, and encourage their employees to work when they can perform at their best, regardless of the time of day or their location. The level to which this approach plays out in practice depends on each organisation, and their specific requirements for collaboration and the urgency of responses to external factors. 

The last principle that specifically contributes to cohesiveness within an organisation is that of social inclusivity. Remote work is by definition, a separation from the hub of activity that is an office space. Often great expense is taken to create an office that encourages connections, stress relief, and thousands of small social interactions that contribute to an employee’s sense of being a part of something more than themselves. This is notoriously difficult, if not impossible to recreate online. A remote-first organisation does not attempt to replicate this experience for the remote worker, but takes every opportunity that presents itself to include them in social events and informal chat. To help with informal engagement, platforms dedicated to non-work chat should be established online where employees can drop in and out with ease over text, voice or video. This goes a long way to breaking down barriers to social connectedness. With a little direction and oversight, team members will engage voluntarily, and these spaces will grow organically to fill specific social roles. Social events are a key part of all businesses, and remote workers in particular value these interactions very highly, usually seizing opportunities to mix with co-located colleagues. Within the medium of a video call, a corporate social event can take the form of a relaxed weekly catch up, a facilitated team game or explicit team building sessions. Basic planning and simple standards of structure such as duration and regularity go a long way to making these events enjoyable and effective bonding experiences. In person events will always be the gold standard for building trust and camaraderie within teams, however the online space is very effective for maintaining that relationship, regardless of location.

Effectively utilising remote work within traditionally co-located businesses requires a shift in workplace culture and practices, across almost every facet of the employee experience. Without the catalyst of a global pandemic, this may have appeared an insurmountable task, whereas now, the incentive is for corporations to transition from coping in a distributed setting, to thriving. 

If you would like more information on how Constellation can help your business transition to Remote-First principles, check out our other articles, get in touch via email (below) or make an enquiry.

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