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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The Five Pillars of a Great Distributed Team

The workplace of the twenty-first century has undergone multiple structural transformations in a relatively short space of time. From the widespread adoption of open-plan design in the early 2010s to the recent phenomenon of hot-desking, our offices and the people who work within them are regularly subjected to corporate experimentation. Newest to the workplace is the concept of Distributed Teams, where employees that would have previously worked together in a co-located space have begun to work in different locations, or from home.

While there have been early adopters of the distributed work structure, it has not undergone the test of mass adoption, and all the positive and negative outcomes associated with it have not been widely understood. Other revolutionary systems, once tried and tested, were discovered to have substantial drawbacks inherent to their design. Open-plan offices contend with the noise pollution of the entire workforce, such that distraction is a major disruptor of productivity. Hot-desking employees can contend with a sense of their impermanence in the organisation, and in larger companies may even struggle locating their co-workers. Of course some employees thrive in these environments, enjoying the sense of community in a busy office or are so mobile in their activities that a permanent desk would only slow them down. Organisations can maximise their success by playing to the strengths of their chosen system, taking it into account when making decisions on personnel, daily practices and company culture. Each structure has it’s place, and is ideally suited to specific styles of work and industries.

The workplace informs the way in which people collaborate, and the way in which teams are deployed to focus on specific tasks. Proximity to colleagues with similar roles, shared spaces for inter-department meetings, and tiered leadership organisation are some of the responses to the allocation of space in an office. When moving to distributed work, should physical team structures automatically translate to a virtual replica of the workplace, or should they be built based off the inherent dynamics of the new network? When looking to integrate distributed teams into their workplace, companies must understand what employees in this space value, and what they require to operate.

We believe that there are five “pillars” of distributed workplaces that, once properly addressed, enable workers to deliver efficiently and thrive personally within their business. Each must be designed for, built up and maintained with intentional focus from management and leadership.

Consistent and Credible Communication

Distance and separation from co-workers is the core factor of a distributed workforce, since it is communication technology that has enabled this form of work to operate at all. Surprisingly, it is easy to allow this core element to become a secondary focus, and even for it to be avoided by some staff. Communication must be regular, and rich in content. A range of mediums should be used, including group based chat boards like Slack or Microsoft Teams, voice and video calls, both in small groups and one on one. The information exchanged in these formats must also be actionable, and team members must be confident that they can rely on its authority to make decisions, like they would with an in person directive or an email.

If employees are allowed to feel isolated from their teammates, a whole host of barriers to collaboration and healthy functioning are introduced to their work. Scheduling daily “check in” events where the team has a chance to chat, both formally about work and informally, gives affirmation of their common goals and professional relationships. Leaders and Managers should also maintain regular communication one on one with individuals, such that they are confident they are able to reach out for help should they need it.

Structure and Flexibility

What may seem like two opposing concepts really go hand in hand when speaking about a team member’s experience of working from home, or in a distributed team. When at home, or in a solo office there is a lack of external scrutiny on the moment to moment decisions of where to allocate time and energy, and while this may seem freeing to some, the shine wears off when there is too much freedom and not enough structure. Distributed employees value clear structure within a businesses operation very highly, because it gives them a roadmap to the successful execution of their responsibilities. This structure should explicitly state which areas employees must adhere to a schedule, and in which they have more flexibility. For example, employees must make themselves available for particular events in the work day, but they are allowed to deliver certain projects before or after standard 9–5 hours. Ideally, the structure should be built up with the input of the team that it relates to. When people have a hand in creating the structure of their work days they are more invested in performing within them.

Relational Capital Building

Of the five pillars discussed here, Relational Capital Building may be the most taxing on the time, energy, and budgets of Distributed Teams. If any amount of collaboration is required between members of a team, there must be enough relational capital present to look past differences in ideas, personality, and values to focus on the task at hand. While there exists a baseline level of reciprocity within the vast majority of people, this can be eroded particularly rapidly when physically separated from their co-workers. Without the daily incidental interactions employees have in an office, it becomes much more difficult to develop professional relationships with depth. The proverbial water cooler sees no rhythm of chit-chat, joking and downright gossip that has been the glue of organisations since their inception. In a distributed setting, employers must deploy a series of team building resources and exercises that encourage relational capital, and in turn enthusiastic participation in the workplace. A sometimes unavoidable expense is that of a physical “kick off” event where distributed employees are physically brought to the same location, where it will be much easier to start (or maintain) the work of team building.


Thankfully, not all aspects of running a distributed team are as difficult as each other, and in some cases technology has done most of the heavy lifting for us. This is true for the issue of transparency within the organisation’s communication philosophy. This refers to the accessibility of information and personnel within company operations, both in practice and in corporate cultural values. The online tools at our disposal handle the practical side, with live document editing, file sharing services and cloud storage of working materials, making it easy to have multiple people working on the same task simultaneously. The culture of transparency is more elusive, and distributed leaders must actively participate in this principle to encourage its adoption. Displays of openness to incoming queries and willingness to share information goes a long way to positively influencing the working experience. Of course, there are still limits to what should be readily available, such as private or sensitive information, but the general rule is if it has the potential to inform or affect an employee’s work, they should be allowed access.


From the steady day to day consistency of a home office, repetition and stagnation can become issues for any employee within a distributed team. Without the bustling comings and goings of an office space, it is very easy for distributed employees to experience dissatisfaction with their career and the work that they do for their organisation. To counter this, team leaders must communicate the goals of the company, and the subsequent achievements as they happen. Likewise, leaders must also discuss professional goals with employees and facilitate achieving them where possible. Without a sense of direction and the experience of moving toward achievable goals, a distributed employee loses purpose. Willingness to collaborate within teams also becomes affected, as studies have shown the biggest predictor of success within team environments is an earnest belief that all parties involved are there with the intention to work together towards a goal.

For a business, choosing to move to a distributed workplace involves much more than a simple cost/benefit analysis on the basis of personnel and budget. To avoid the trappings of this new era of work, any business’ implementation of it must be accompanied by a willingness to regularly assess the organisation’s structure, processes and hiring practices. The pillars listed here establish an interpersonal foundation for an effective and satisfied workforce. These principles also provide a framework to review aspects of a team that may otherwise go unchecked. Conducting a review of your team or business’ performance in these areas is incredibly useful, and should help you navigate this exciting new terrain.

Constellation Distributed Team Services can conduct an assessment of your organisation in these areas and more. Contact us to arrange a review today.

Written by Scott Allan

Photo by Eriksson Luo on Unsplash