What's remote-first?


Remote Work doesn't equal Remote Work. There are nuances and different types of remote.

Certain people would describe the "Work From Home" model as Remote Work, even if the company has an office nearby. Others think it's acceptable to label something "Remote OK", if you can work from anywhere in the country. Other companies don't have offices, everyone is remote.

Remote First is not Remote OK

Against popular belief, "Remote First" does not assume that a company has no offices. In the contrary, it often assumes that there might be an office somewhere.

More than a label of how a company is organized, "Remote First" describes the mindset of a company. If somebody is applying for a position, is it automatically assumed that they are joining remotely? Is async communication embraced (we'll talk more about that in another post)? How is information shared? How are meetings conducted? All that counts towards if a company is remote-first.

The "Remote OK" companies are a lot more common nowadays. Often, the company is organized to have a big HQ office, with a lot of employees distributed remotely. While this is often preferred by founders, it can lead to certain difficulties. Remote team members can easily feel left out or excluded from discussions. Real-time communication is often preferred over async communication, and people in the office tend to have a stronger voice in key decisions. While Remote OK is not a bad thing at all and a great step in the right direction–as a new founder planning to have remote team members, you should always strive to be Remote First.

The characteristics of a Remote First Company

Since Remote First companies tend to have a larger percentage of the employees in remote locations, they have to adapt to remote communication schemes. We will add a lot more content about this, but these schemes include:

  • Embracing asynchronous communication (e-mail, long messages, voice notes) over synchronous communication (meetings, "quick calls", instant messaging)
  • Conducting face-to-face meetings in smaller groups, which are planned beforehand and that tend to work with everyones schedule
  • Making all-hands meetings optional / recording them
  • Not having more than 25% of the team together in an office
  • Being conscious of people's focus times and schedules
  • Usually a higher effort to combat remote worker problems (loneliness, overworking)

These are mostly assumptions (except 1./2.), but the consensus is that Remote-First companies are usually more thoughtful and cautious to make remote work function, whereas a "Remote OK" company is usually connected with less concrete effort to do so.

Why should I be Remote-First?

Earlier we mentioned that, as a new founder, you should strive to be Remote-First over Remote OK. The reasons for that is, that a founder is only getting a part of the benefits of remote and non-remote, but many of the disadvantages. Namely:

  • Having to pay for an office AND your remote workers benefits (home office stipend, shared office rent, ...)
  • Having face-to-face time with your co-located employees, but leaving remote members out of the loop
  • Unability to fully embrace synchronous communication OR asynchronous communication
  • Danger of forming an "us vs. them" mentality

Again, we're not saying that businesses need to be remote-first. It's a substantial commitment and often not possible to convert in the later stages of a company. If you're an upcoming founder though, about to make your first hire, we're the resource for you!

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