Why remote-first workplaces will win out in a post-Covid-19 era

- September 17, 2020 4 MIN READ
Photo: AdobeStock
What new HR policy do some of the world’s most influential companies have in common? In the year of Covid-19’s ‘Great Lockdown’, you’ve probably guessed correctly: remote-first working.

Twitter, Square, Atlassian, Slack and Shopify are among a slew of companies transitioning to become remote-first workplaces; this means they are allowing their employees to work from anywhere in the world, permanently.

In a Remote Work Survey conducted at the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, Employment Hero found that 92% of employees would continue working from home if given the opportunity. These statistics are backed up internationally, with Global Workplace Analytics citing that 77% of the world’s workforce want to continue working from home once the pandemic is over.

The research indicates that despite Covid-19 forcing many companies to embrace remote work, most employees are enjoying the ‘new normal.’ So how can business leaders leverage this sentiment to their advantage?

It starts by tapping into the strategic benefits of a remote-first workforce and learning to manage a decentralised team. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, with the right techniques and feedback structures, remote-first working will change the future of work for the better.

Here are four things to consider when transitioning to a remote-first workplace:

1. Greater access to global talent pools

A ‘remote-first’ policy means employees, to a large extent, can be based anywhere in the world. This opens up a global talent pool of opportunity, as employers are no longer restricted by their geography.

Ben Thompson

On the flip-side, the rise of remote-working is a chance for more qualified people to reconsider their career and values. Granted the opportunity to work from anywhere, highly-skilled professionals could seek work in new industries, benefiting businesses in need of a fresh perspective.

It also gives employers the chance to re-evaluate how diverse or inclusive their hiring policies are. Remote-first working could be the chance to reconsider traditional prerequisite job criteria; providing employees with disabilities, working parents, carers, and the geographically isolated a broader spectrum of job prospects.


2. Attract and retain top-tier talent

The benefits of remote-first working are twofold when it comes to talent, helping businesses both attract and retain highly-skilled employees.

Organisations who source staff from all over the world not only gain access to a wider selection of skilled talent, but also have a competitive edge in employer branding. Since COVID-19, we’ve discovered that most employees enjoy working remotely, meaning companies who rise to this challenge are more likely to win favour with job seekers.

With more employees wanting to embrace remote-work comes a responsibility therefore for employers to meet the increasing demands of their workforce. If business leaders ignore the call to change, they risk losing top talent to companies who accommodate flexibility.

For leaders still unsure about what flexible work could look like within their team, it helps to ask your employees about their preferences; this could be via an anonymous internal survey or a workshopping session, depending on the nature of your team.

Finding the right environment that allows your staff to do their best work leads to greater employee satisfaction and engagement, which ultimately pays off in performance.

As well as retaining your strongest workers, remote-first workplaces can create walking brand advocates to attract more talented professionals to your organisation.


3. Create a company culture online

Remote-working largely benefits businesses, but it also comes with challenges that need addressing at a leadership level.

In our Remote Work Survey, we found that camaraderie and culture ranked highly among the things employees missed most about working in an office environment.

Social aspects like brainstorming ideas with colleagues, ease and access to managers, friendships with co-workers and the energy that exudes from an office space are all near impossible to replicate remotely.

With that said, business leaders should aim to adapt their workplace culture, rather than recreate it; part of this comes down to having the right technology stack to enable virtual collaboration.

When used correctly, video conferencing software like Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams or Zoom helps to establish a strong cadence.

Set your expectations early-on for how you want your team to use these platforms; for example, you might have a ‘camera-on’ policy to promote more personal interactions.

There is no right or wrong amount of video meetings to have; it all comes down to the needs of your people. The key is to keep meetings consistent and not too long.

Ask for regular feedback to find ways to improve virtual meetings, and aim to set aside time for purely social catch-ups at least once a quarter.

Slack or Whatsapp can be invaluable instant communication channels, and also help to keep inbox traffic to a minimum. Dedicate a channel to non-work-related chat; that way, employees wanting to interact socially can do so without interrupting workflows.

Lastly, reward and recognition are critical to maintaining company culture, albeit in the office or online.

Look for creative ways to acknowledge the hard work of your team; some ideas include a weekly newsletter highlighting individuals’ wins, or creating a Slack channel dedicated to recognising star performers.

The camaraderie that comes with sharing success requires minimal effort from a leadership standpoint, but offers big returns in employee engagement, and over time, loyalty.


4. Is the office dead?

Part of establishing a thriving online workplace culture is deciding whether the physical office space still has a role to play within your team.

If your employees enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with siloed space, the answer might be no. The benefits of this are reduced overhead costs, and less time and money spent on workers commuting.

If face-to-face collaboration is something your team struggles to digitally adapt to, it might be worth looking at a satellite office, or renting a co-working space as you need it. This could transform the ‘office’ into a social hub for creative workshopping or team catch-ups, while the home becomes a space dedicated to ‘deep-work.’

Remote-first work doesn’t have to equal remote-only work – it simply means working from home is the favoured option for the majority of your team.

Now is the time for organisations to redefine what the office means to them, and rebuild traditional frameworks to better suit the evolving needs of their workforce.

Remote-first working is the way of the future, and business leaders who can get on board now will win-out in a post-pandemic era, equipped with better talent and more engaged, productive workforces.

  • Ben Thompson is CEO and co-founder of people management platform, Employment Hero