Five Steps towards becoming Remote-First


Remote-First is commonly seen as the mindset needed to gain the most advantage out of remote work. What steps can you take today to get closer to being remote-first? In this post, we're going over five super simple and actionable steps you can take to get there!

The first questions we need to ask: Why is this supposed to be interesting? Contrary to popular belief, remote-first does not mean the same as all-remote. You can very well be remote-first with one or multiple office locations. What's different is the mindset around remote work: Is there a bias towards the office? Are schedules and meetings timed according to the office locations? Are discussions always accessible to remote workers? If you read this post and find that you're already doing all the things mentioned, you might be remote-first already!

Send the leadership back home

An issue with remote-friendly (as opposed to remote-first) teams is that the leadership is usually sat together in the office. Having the important players close and reachable makes sense organizationally, but it also puts a strong bias on the office environment.

For a few days every week, let yourself and the rest of the leadership team work from home, and you will discover all those little annoyances and nuisances in your workflows which your remote workers have to deal with on a daily basis.

It's a perfect way to create a level playing field and iron out all those little issues which prevent your remote employees from having a similarly good experience in their work life as their peers in the office.

Get rid of that big conference room

A big table, a dozen of chairs, a big TV and a webcam pointing at all participants: That's a common conference room setup. This might work if there are two parties with this setup talking to each other, but as a remote team with multiple people on their own devices, the playing field becomes unfair for remote workers.

There are certain devices looking to solve some obvious issues of this, but the biggest problems persist:

  • Latency makes it difficult to interject and get a word in at the right moment.
  • Audio and internet issues are only being experienced by remote workers
  • Local conversation (alas only including people in the room) can make meetings feel passive, easy to drift off
  • There's generally less awareness of who is around and who could have helpful input

There are a range of best practices you can start implementing to account for latencies and a good distribution of talking times, but there's a much easier solution: Get rid of the big conference room and let everyone join from their own devices. By creating a common baseline, you can make your meetings fairer and more productive!

Start documenting EVERYTHING

To be fair, having proper documentation for not only technical components, but also workflows and discussions would be a good suggestion for most companies. For companies with remote workers, it's absolutely crucial though!

If knowledge is exchanges or transferred in any ways, or if a discussion reaches a certain conclusion, there's a big chance that remote employees are out of the loop, unless it's clearly documented. By dismissing clear documentation, you're allowing knowldge gaps (and very likely future time waste as well) to happen.

In our talk with Sid from GitLab, he told us that he his ready to shut down any meeting that doesn't have an agenda and document attached. That's only a small glimpse into how important proper documentation is in a remote team, but it's a good takeaway: if it isn't documented, it doesn't exist.

Keep meetings disturbingly on time

Respecting others time gets even more important when working across timezones. I distinctively remember the times when I had daily meetings at 7pm or 8pm, which was the late morning in San Francisco, where I worked. Especially when meetings are during times when people tend to sleep, eat or recharge, timing should be respected. It's all psychological, but a planned 1 hour meeting often feels a lot better than a 30 minute meeting that goes over by 20 minutes.

Teaching that kind of time awareness can be hard, a few hacks for you:

  • Set a strict agenda with topics and time estimates
  • Rely on a Google Doc or other notes to discuss the agenda and solve main points beforehand to bring the topic list down
  • Set an alarm that audibly goes off a minute before the end of the meeting. Time to wrap up.
  • Be incredibly strict with the cutoff, don't be scared to say "let's take this over to Slack/Docs"

This can be painful and awkward, so turn it into a challenge: A full week without delays and overtime. Can you do it?

Use your communication tools right

Many teams today rely on Slack as their main form of communication. That's a great step away from many fully asynchronous and undocumentable ways of communication of the past decade – think about the importance of phone calls in the early 2010s – but Slack has its downsides, especially referring to their notification strategy and constant sense of urgency.

We wrote about this before, and it doesn't fully make sense to repeat all things again, but let us give you a quick tl;dr:

  • Establishing a good notification routine
  • Preventing the use of big notification sources like @channel
  • Move to a conversation style which is not urgent, utilize threads to keep things on-topic
  • Make use of Slack apps and bots which moderate your channel
  • Emojis!

Of course, transforming your company to a remote-first organization is hard and is in first order a change of mindset and workflows. We hope that the five steps above can give you an easy nudge in the right direction, but we are well aware that it's just the start of the journey! We'd love to hear about your experience!

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