How Does a Remote-First Company Succeed?

Over the past few years, many of us have grown so accustomed to working from home that we have no interest in returning to the old in-office setup. In fact, nearly 30% of employees even plan to quit their jobs if they can’t keep working remotely, according to a recent LiveCareer survey. So, how can your…

Company leaders are recognizing the remote shift—and 78% of CEOs believe remote work is here to stay, a PwC report revealed. But to keep business running smoothly and employees happy, businesses need to adopt a remote-first (not just remote-friendly) mindset. While remote-friendly organizations allow remote work with limitations and restrictions, in a remote-first company, working from anywhere is the primary option for everyone—from the CEO to entry-level employees. 

“If one person is working remotely, the whole company has to operate as remote-first,” says Job van der Voort, CEO of Remote, a fully remote business. “Otherwise, you create a culture in which the remote team is the B team. They have less access to information and are less well connected within the organization.” 

Being remote-first is a win for everyone. When location doesn’t factor into hiring, companies have access to a vast, diverse talent pool. Going remote-first isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, though, and Remote helps ease the transition by managing payroll, benefits, taxes, and compliance for remote and international teams. The company has about 150 employees in 19 time zones, and by the end of the year will be working with companies in 80 countries. 

Here’s everything you need to know about building a global, remote-first team, according to the experts at Remote.

Create a Standard Onboarding Process

Going through onboarding should give new hires a sense of your organization’s culture, what their job will be like, and who they’ll be working with. Amanda Day, People Operations Partner at Remote, says the process should be standardized. That means including checklists, links to resources, information about setting up and logging into systems, and details about how the company communicates. 

In addition, onboarding should be organized, easy to access, and all in one place, so that newcomers feel connected to the team. “Companies need to make sure that new hires really understand this is their place to go and understand what they should be focusing on,” Day says. 

A standard onboarding process also relieves some of the administrative burden (including lots of paperwork!) typically experienced by human resources teams, says Nadia Vatalidis, Remote’s Director of People.

Stay Compliant as You Expand

One challenge with hiring remote teams is navigating the complex compliance issues that come up. Every country has unique labor laws, labor compliance requirements, and payroll and benefits rules. Violating those rules can result in penalties. 

Without a team dedicated to compliance, it’s seemingly impossible for organizations to stay on top of local HR requirements in each country, Day says. There’s likely a language barrier to understanding these policies, and online resources containing this information may not be kept up-to-date. 

“We find that companies don’t really understand the compliance needs of how difficult it can be to actually hire someone in a different country and all the requirements that are necessary,” van der Voort says. “We see companies get that wrong and they come to us to solve those kinds of problems.”

Build a Company Culture Across Borders

While culture often develops organically (or even accidentally) among co-workers working in an office, remote-first organizations must be intentional about communicating their values and establishing culture, Vatalidis says. 

It’s important for businesses to have clear company-wide values—whether it’s focusing on employee wellness or learning and development—and an understanding of what you hope to achieve with these values. Then, continue referencing them as an organization. 

At Remote, social interaction is a central value. “I want colleagues to get to know each other out of the context of work,” van der Voort says. “To be able to foster that, we wanted to hang out with each other or play games together.” To achieve this, the company provides virtual reality headsets to employees so they can hang out, play games, and even hold official VR meetings.

Master Asynchronous Collaboration

In a remote-first environment, people live in various time zones and have different work hours. Therefore, mastering asynchronous collaboration—when multiple people are working on the same thing, but independently and at different times—is key to keeping up the workflow. 

“It really means just writing stuff down,” van der Voort says. “If you make a decision, you write down what the decision is in a place where everybody else can see it, access it, and discuss it. If you have multiple places where you’re documenting things, then you get all sorts of problems.” Having this “single source of truth,” as he refers to it, keeps everyone on the same page at all times. 

One helpful tip is to use a centralized documentation tool like Notion or Coda to document and continuously update any new policy, process, or project.

It’s important to be intentional in how you conduct interviews because a one-size-fits-all approach might not be effective in helping you find the best-fit person for a specific role. At Blueboard, the interview process has a core set of components:

  • Hiring managers conduct an early-stage interview to assess a candidate’s skills and experience and screen for cultural indicators 
  • Founders meet with the candidate to share their vision for the company and assess motivators and career goals
  • A take-home assignment is given to get a sense of how a candidate will behave as an employee (i.e. how they think, write, and express ideas)
  • Onsite culture interviews take place with diverse members of the team to get perspectives from junior to senior-level employees across the organization

Streamline Communication

According to Vatalidis, remote-first companies need to be intentional about how they communicate—and do so in a way where every employee can contribute to the discussion, but without overwhelming individual inboxes. 

“Default to communicating in writing in a channel where everyone feels included and in a space where everyone can collaborate,” Vatalidis suggests. Businesses using Slack should default to using public channels over private messages (unless absolutely necessary for privacy or security reasons).

Documenting public communications in a public platform helps organizations achieve asynchronous communication, van der Voort says. And while he admits it could lead to over-communicating, it’s better than the alternative—especially for remote-first companies. “What goes wrong is that some things don’t enter the communal brain of the company in a situation where you might want that to happen,” he says.

Avoid Overscheduling Meetings

“This meeting could have been an email” is a meme you’ve probably seen on social media over the last year. And it’s a message remote-first organizations should embrace, despite the temptation to hold more meetings when employees aren’t physically together. But, Day says, that often prevents work from getting done and can lead to Zoom fatigue

A more efficient, asynchronous method is making most meetings non-mandatory, yet still accessible. Schedule meetings via Zoom or another platform, make the link available, and afterward, provide the recording and a place to offer feedback or ask questions. Vatalidis suggests rotating the time zones of meetings so that everyone has opportunities to attend live, which creates a sense of inclusion.