Remote work is not a new concept. Before COVID-19, around 6% of US workers operated entirely remotely — while 25% did some work at home throughout the week.
But when the pandemic hit, quarantines, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders compelled companies to let their employees work remotely.
And what happened? Productivity rose and people felt happier.
Now, remote work has become the norm for many companies. An estimated 30% of people work at 100% remote workplaces, while over 50% of US employees would like to work from home at least three days per week.
It’s clear that remote work is here to stay, and it’s why we have made the transition from working only out of offices to becoming a remote-first company at Graphite.
In March 2020, we had 18 employees across two locations: New York and San Francisco. With the unprecedented growth we’ve experienced, our 55 employees and 12 independent experts are now spread worldwide, including Atlanta; Austin; Chicago; Denver; San Salvador; Mexico City; Melbourne; Berlin, and more.
The shift to becoming a remote-first company was not without its challenges, but the benefits have far outweighed the cons. As you navigate your journey on what it means to become a remote-first company, we want to share the process and framework Graphite took based on conversations we’ve had with our CEO and Founder Vikram Ashok.
Understanding What It Means to Be a Remote-First Company
Since the pandemic, terms like remote, hybrid, and remote-friendly have been used interchangeably to describe our new work reality. But these terms don’t all mean the same thing.
Having a remote-first approach means that working remotely is the default option for employees. At Graphite, we don’t own any office spaces. Our entire team works remotely — where they feel most productive and safe — whether that is from home or a nearby cafe.
On the other hand, remote-friendly means that a workplace supports remote working some of the time, but employees are expected to also come into the office every so often. Amazon, for example, would be considered a remote-friendly workspace because they allow employees to work from home two days per week.
And then, there are hybrid workplaces that generally follow a more prescriptive schedule. Meaning that people work in the office some days, like Monday and Wednesday, and work from home the other days. Companies like Google and Salesforce have implemented a 3-2 model, requiring employees to be in the office on two specific days per week.
Top 4 Benefits of Becoming a Remote-First Company
There are multiple benefits to going remote-first, but we have found that these four make the top of the list.
Benefit 1: Provides Better Access to Top, Quality Talent
Hiring the right talent will set your organization up to succeed even during challenging times. Traditionally though, the “right talent” essentially meant the best people that lived within commuting distance.
Now that’s all changed.
With remote work, you don’t have to limit yourself to your geographic location. You can hire the best talent nationally (or even internationally), which means you can find the right person for the job even faster compared to the traditional approach. More importantly, you ensure you are getting the best talent because different locations can offer a higher concentration of specific types of expertise.
For example, San Francisco’s Bay Area is home to many software developers and engineers that have been attracted to what is now known as Silicon Valley. It’s therefore not surprising that the majority of our technology and product team members are based on the west coast.
Soon after, we decided to implement this approach in our search for other pivotal roles in our company. And our hypothesis proved out.
“We realized that Chicago is a hotbed for great sales talent. This became clear to us when we hired our VP of Sales, Jeff Troxclair, to build and lead our sales organization,” says Vikram. “He was the first Chicago-based employee. Today, we have 28 (and counting) employees who make up our sales team based in the windy city.”
Benefit 2: Improves Employee Retention
The probability of employees with remote-work access looking for another job within the next year decreases by 30%. This is in large part due to a better work-life balance.
When remote work is done well, employees can structure their work around their lives — not the other way around. This is especially important for those with families. It’s no wonder why 70% of remote workers report being happier than their onsite counterparts.
Employees can work at a time that suits them (depending on deadlines, of course) and at their place of choosing. Better still, they no longer have to spend the best part of an hour per day commuting. This adds up to almost 5-hours per week, roughly 250-hours per year, which equates to about 10 days.
Remote working can even make work itself less stressful, according to a study conducted by the University of Tokyo. When employees have access to remote-work options such as a flexible work location, distributed teams, and/or the option to work from home, burnout at work decreases by over a quarter.
Benefit 3: Increases Efficiency and Productivity
Because employees have more control over their work schedules, they’re more productive and efficient. Recent research shows that the work-from-home boom will result in a 5% increase in the US economy as a result. And it makes sense.
Now that people spend less time on their commutes and more time at home, they’re reallocating their time and optimizing how they work. People are designing their workdays to better align with their personal and professional goals. But that’s not the only benefit of working remotely.
Research shows that remote work increases innovation by 63%, work engagement by 75%, and organizational commitment by 68%. In general, it’s estimated that remote workers are 47% more productive than their in-office counterparts. At Graphite, the gain in productivity has enabled tremendous growth.
“Working remotely has enabled our team to have more productive and effective interactions, something which was much harder to come by when working in office,” Vikram says. “Since we’re working from home, we’re more focused and engaged on solving a specific problem when we interact with one another .”
Benefit 4: Lowers Operational Costs
Because the business operates remotely, you don’t need to invest in an office or expensive depreciating assets at workplaces. By foregoing signing an office lease, you could raise your income by 30%. According to Capgemini, remote work slashes operational costs by a third.
When IBM went remote, it saved a massive $50M . In fact, certain figures show that organizations can save upwards of $10K per employee per year. Imagine what your company could do with this extra budget.
4 Considerations Before Starting Your Remote-First Journey
Adopting a remote-first model is not without its difficulties. It’s not as simple as giving everyone a laptop and then expecting them to get on with their jobs. While your company will likely identify how to overcome these hurdles as time goes by, here are the top four things you should consider before making the transition to becoming remote-first.
Key Consideration 1: Building a Sense of Community Is More Important than Ever
Maintaining your company culture when working remotely can be challenging. You might even find that some members of your team begin to feel slightly isolated. While there are plenty of tools in the market that can help you stay connected with your team and colleagues, it never replaces human interaction 100%.
When people work remotely, they lose the regular social contact that they are accustomed to receiving. In a remote environment, you’ll have to put more effort into thinking of ways to encourage communication and interaction, especially when thinking about junior employees.
Statistics show that junior employees report a 10% decrease in the effectiveness and frequency of communication from their managers when working remotely. This impacts mentorship and hinders their ability to ask for help when they most need it.
“A way to ensure regular communication with employees is to schedule regular team meetings and weekly one-on-ones,” Vikram suggests. “Doing so provides the manager with visibility into the employee’s workload and mindset, and provides an avenue to constructively discuss solutions to any challenges they might face.”
Key Consideration 2: Prepare Yourself for Remote Onboarding
Traditionally, new hires are greeted by an HR representative, given more details about the company and their role, and then introduced to various departments. From then on, the new hire usually sits next to someone that has been at the company for a while (and who can answer any questions they might have).
When working remotely, however, this onboarding process looks vastly different. Introductions happen over Zoom or Google Hangouts. Getting up to speed, forming working relationships, and feeling like you are part of the organization also take longer.
There is also the question of logistics. When you onboard an employee onsite, they are typically given an assigned desk and equipment. Since people are working remotely, it’s up to the company to ensure that their team has the right equipment to work from home.
“At Graphite, we send every new hire an onboarding form to see what they need to set up their home office,” says Vikram. “This includes everything from the type of machine they want to work on to the type of monitor, mouse, or keyboard they would like to have.”
Key Consideration 3: Keep an Eye Out for Payroll and Insurance Laws
When your employees live in the same state, finding a health insurance provider is easier because you can opt for a single large regional carrier. When your employees are spread out all over the place, however, this muddies the waters.
“You have to ask yourself which provider do you go for? Do you pick a Kaiser-partnered affiliate, for example, even if this offers a lower level of protection than Kaiser itself?” Vikram explains.
With payroll, on the other hand, you will quickly realize that each state has its own specific registration and employee employment requirements.
“If you have a remote-first team that is spread across the country, your organization has to get up to speed with a whole host of different payroll laws,” Vikram states. “This means more administrative processes to manage, so make sure you account for this early on.”
Key Consideration 4: Avoid Employee Burnout
For some employees, the concept of time management can be more difficult when working remotely. Employees may feel the pressure to be “always-on” — whether that’s during their lunch break, in the evening, or even first thing in the morning.
Studies have shown that remote working leads to a 2.5-hour increase in the average employee’s working day. Nearly 70% of remote workers now work on the weekends, with 45% clocking in more hours over the week than they did pre-pandemic.
“At Graphite, we strive for balance. One solution we have implemented to help employees develop effective time management skills is documenting preferred working times and how work will happen remotely,” Vikram says.
“In doing so, we’re able to be mindful of each other’s working style and hours so that we are using the time we have together more effectively.”
A 4-Step Framework For Becoming Remote-First
Deciding to become a fully remote-first is a big deal for any company. We carefully considered the pros, made sure not to ignore any potential cons, and tried to identify what was right for our company — and most importantly, what was right for our people.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for how to make the transition. Every organization is different. That said, here is the 4-step framework we followed in hopes that it will make your transition smoother.
Step 1: Focus on Culture First
This is important for any company, but even more so for a remote-first one. It’s harder for company culture to grow organically because you don’t interact face-to-face with your colleagues in the office. But that certainly doesn’t mean that it is impossible to create a winning culture.
Here at Graphite, we built our culture by following these exact steps:
- Crafting our mission statement
- Developing our organization’s core values that empower employees to embrace a remote-first operating model
- Sharing these core values and mission statements with the existing team to get them onboard adopting them
Once shared, initiate the process of getting people to buy into the mission and core values. It’s never a one-and-done exercise. At Graphite, we achieve this by recognizing individuals and teams who live up to the mission and core values in moments of truth. Not only does this help boost morale, but it also keeps employees engaged.
Step 2: Adopt a New Mindset across Your Organization
Remote working is just as much of a mindset shift as it is a workplace shift. Working remotely can only be successful if you trust your employees to get the job done. A great starting point would be to get your leadership team on board by selling them on the benefits of the remote-first model and empowering them to lead by example.
This mindset shift applies to hiring, too.
Onboard the best person for the job, and embrace flexibility as part of your company culture. Whether it’s about the time zone in which your employees prefer to operate in or about any other commitments, they might have (for instance, needing to drop off or pick up their kids from school).
Now, the only question you have to ask is: are they up to do the job, and do they reflect your company and team culture? A recommendation Vikram has for CEOs exploring this business operating model is to “break down any preconceived notions you have about what the right fit for a particular job is.
“We saw huge benefits from adopting this mindset shift and by practicing what we preach. While companies were facing acute challenges in finding great talent, we tapped into the independent workforce to find highly skilled professionals for key roles in our technology and marketing teams.”
Step 3: Build Your Company Infrastructure
You need to build the right tech ecosystem to support a remote-first company. Arm employees with the tools they need to communicate with one another, collaborate effectively, and create value for your organization.
We recommend cloud-based, automation-heavy solutions. These enable employees to effectively work remotely while also automating low-value, repetitive tasks. Consider starting out with the following types of tools:
Asynchronous Communications Tools
At Graphite, we use a combination of Zoom, Slack, and Google Hangouts to keep in touch on projects. But there are other tools out there that are equally good, such as Microsoft Teams and Adobe Connect.
It is crucial that remote-first teams work out how they can effectively collaborate with one another. After all, they can’t just hop into a conference room to hash out details for an upcoming campaign or product launch.
We use Miro for planning and brainstorming sessions, Figma to create wireframes for our product updates/launches and marketing efforts, and the Google suite throughout our organization. When it comes to file-sharing, we use Dropbox due to its ease of use and next-level security capabilities.
Project Management Tools
Project management tools play a vital role in ensuring that key work gets completed on time. We rely on Asana to keep all our teams and departments working in sync on projects.
However, Monday and Airtable are other great alternatives to consider. When selecting a new tool, first consider what your organization specifically needs before identifying the solution that best serves your particular requirements.
Sales Enablement Tools
Sales is the heartbeat of any organization. If you are not making enough sales, your company will not survive — it’s as simple as that. You need to make sure your sales team is armed with all the information they need to serve your prospects.
For example, tools like Salesloft ensure that our teams are always in the know before they even pick up the phone. What’s more, our marketing team also uses the insights that Salesloft provides to develop new marketing materials based on how our prospects and customers behave.
Salesforce, on the other hand, provides us with reporting capabilities, offering data-driven insights into how we’re performing as a company. This helps us track our progress and monitor whether we are on course to hit our goals.
Note: With multiple technology tools out in the market, often offering free trials, watch out for individuals and teams using different tools to achieve the same end goals/features. While it can come in the way of agility, there may be value in centralizing tools by making enterprise-level purchases of tools. Not just for cost efficiencies but also technology security purposes.
Step 4: Build a Cadence with Your Team
Establishing guidelines for how your team will work, communicate, set goals, evaluate progress, and measure results are key to making sure your employees are productive and engaged.
At Graphite, we have a bi-weekly company-wide meeting where each function shares the progress being made to help power company goals. This transparency keeps everyone aligned and motivated to contribute to overall business objectives.
We also schedule regular virtual and in-person meetings to facilitate team-building activities and bonding. Beyond arranging these kinds of meetings and meetups, we also recommend the following general steps.
Document Key Processes/Workflows and Performance Expectations
Establish clear intentions for what you expect from your team and the key processes/workflows they should follow to achieve these goals. As the old adage goes, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
But you also need to make this documentation easily accessible by sharing it with the wider team. We pin key documents on our Slack, include them in our shared Dropbox folders, update Asana so that people are notified when a document has been attached to a task, and put it on the company’s Guru board if it’s an organization-wide process.
Encourage interaction amongst employees to build camaraderie and morale, whether through monthly social/virtual events or quarterly in-person meetups. For instance, we’ve created a culture committee at Graphite that is completely volunteer and employee-led to help us achieve this.
Together, members of this group think of ways to bring the team together regularly — even if we’re physically hundreds of miles apart.
Take the Next Step with Confidence
Going remote-first can be a challenge for organizations, but the benefits will be enormous if you get it right.
Better employee engagement.
Enhanced growth and revenue.
If you’re still on the fence or need a bit of reassurance, consider this key piece of advice from our CEO, Vikram Ashok: “Give yourself a couple of goals or KPIs and measure yourself against them, and see if it’s working for you or not. The biggest thing is to try it and see the results for yourself.”