Whenever we talk to founders, building a great remote team usually wasn't a priority during the early days. Much more important to have quick communication cycles and push out that first MVP. Only when it comes to building a company, not only a product, does the question often come up. Together with expensive office spaces, empty hiring funnels and long commutes, the decision to become a remote company is often taken when there are already a handful of employees, expensive furniture and an office space. So where do you go from here?
In the last guide, we've discussed a few easy steps to build a remote-first mindset. You should read that one too! In this guide, we are going to cover a few things you need to think about when transitioning from traditional local office setup to remote company.
Choose your setup and organization
Remote isn't always all-remote. There are nuances to setting up a global workforce, and you should be aware of the pros and cons of each. We usually recommend companies to go all-remote if they can. It's a great way to have access to the global talent pool, save money on big local office spaces and have a fair setting where everyone is equal.
Especially if there is an existing team with a leased office space that can't be dissolved quickly, there are other setups that may make more sense at first. This isn't a complete list, and each of the items has their own variations, but systems that work very well are:
- A hybrid setting where the head office persists but future employees are being hired worldwide. This can be tricky, aim for a majority of remote workers and establish remote-first thinking!
- Establishing small satellite offices can help creating a more equal workforce, where each office is just as important as the others. You're solving some part of the hiring pipeline here, especially if you open an office at a place with less equal opportunities, but you also don't center culture about your pre-existing HQ. Not a cheap option, but cheaper if you keep satellites small!
- Starting with a great "Work from Home" program can help employees acclimate to remote work. Disclaimer: It's not for everyone and a lot of employees will want to continue working from an office. Great to evaluate whether it makes sense to get rid of the office and have some flex desks at local co-working spaces instead!
Become location flexible first
Going remote is a big step. To strengthen the team and awareness about location independence, it can be a great first step to just loosen all the constraints that the office has, and become more relaxed and flexible about location and the office.
Founders and executives should lead by example there and take a few days every week to work from home, work from a local co-working space, or even a chalet in the swiss alps. Anywhere other than the office.
Getting people out of the office can be hard at first – humans are creatures of habit after all – so here are a few ideas of what you can do (some more outrageous than others).
- Provide a budget for a few days at a local coworking space or a few cappuccinos at a café that allows longer stays.
- Close the office on Fridays
- Collect good working spaces on a map – libraries, hotel lobbies, community spaces are great but hidden
Employees should gain a feel about how and where they can work best outside the office, and get a first feeling of some of the difficulties of remote work, e.g. separation of work and private life.
Get serious about asynchronous communication
A deal-breaker for a successful transition to remote work is heavy reliance on real-time communication. If you find yourself often spending mornings in meetings and conference calls, it may be hard to transition right away.
Making asynchronous communication work out properly might be a book in itself. Nevertheless, some things to try out:
- Try turning discussions that usually happen in 1-hour meetings into an e-mail or Slack thread that may take a day or two to resolve.
- Be more mindful about messaging. Try to keep one-liners to a minimum. There should be no room for interpretation!
- Turn chats, conversations, discussions and new findings into documentation. Track how many times someome comes to your desk or pings you on instant messaging. Try to lower that number with extensive documentation.
The good thing about starting locally is that you know your company culture already, can track possible future pain points and anticipate them. You can work on becoming a more asynchronously-driven company, then go remote.
Lastly, making this work smoothly is all about processes.
"Remote forces you to do the things you should be doing any way earlier and better" - Sid Sijbrandij, GitLab.
Become painfully aware of the things going on in your company, and try to formalize everything that needs a lot of back-and-forth. That is including, but nowhere near limited to:
Be sure that you're ready to go remote, and how you're going to do it (then again, who is ever fully ready). Preparation is everything, and you won't be able to solve every little pain point right away. With the right process (and hopefully our help), we're confident that you're going to make it!