It used to feel like only the cool, lucky people with nomadic lifestyles ran remote-first businesses. But now, everyone is running a remote-first business at least (if not a fully remote one) because we all have people distributed everywhere.
I read recently that 67% of white-collar workers in the US are working remotely at least part of the time as of Q4 2021. Whether it was part of your plan or not, the Great Resignation tells us remote-first is here to stay. If you haven't wrapped your arms around it, I'm here to tell you it IS possible - you CAN make it happen. Before I was married to my wife, she moved 1,800 miles away for college, and we maintained THAT relationship - so I know it is both possible and worth the effort. I'll save you the stories of surprise visits and flower deliveries: Here is how to do it for your business.
Invest In Infrastructural Technology
First things first, you will need the infrastructure set up to support the kind of collaboration that needs to happen in a successful business. Zoom has become a vital tool in business, and paid accounts give your employees the opportunity to host meetings and record beyond the 40-minute minimum that comes with free accounts. And while everyone is using Slack, the paid version enables your employees to search through and use as many different channels as they need.
At Trainual, we have chosen to retain our physical office space at our headquarters in Scottsdale. To better facilitate communications between our in-person and remote teams, we invested in wide-screen cameras, and soundbars with professional microphones, so that any time people actually did get together in person, they could easily dial-in their remote team members. That investment in infrastructure was huge in terms of enabling that remote-first culture.
We also subscribe to tools like Miro as a virtual whiteboard and Donut for spontaneous meetings between coworkers. These tools take a little extra effort to implement, but they dramatically improve the experience compared to an environment that isn't set up to accommodate remote. And these sorts of meetings have actually improved because of the extra effort.
Host Virtual Events
When we started hiring people that weren't local to our Scottsdale HQ, we had to think of ways to involve them in the social type experiences we host here. We have made a conscious effort to organize remote-based events that bring our remote team members together and make them feel part of the team, in the same way that our local team members do. Doing these takes time and effort. So why do we do it?
When you're in person, even the smallest events, like having coffee and donuts in the kitchen one morning, bring people together and give them an opportunity to connect over non-work conversations. For every small in-person event we host (lunches, pumpkin carving, game night), we try to also add a remote-optimized event to the calendar to invest in our remote teammates. We've hosted remote gingerbread house making, painting nights, and trivia, as a few examples.
With remote team members, you have to try to mimic these types of smaller interactions and not just the big end-of-year holiday party.
Be Mindful Of Communication Channels
We also have specific channels for communication - open communication with your remote team members is SUPER important. We have channels in Slack for things like general company announcements or celebrating the accomplishments of individuals or teams within our organization. By putting those types of communications inside a channel that is designed for a remote-first environment, rather than making them in person in our physical office and having them trickle out to everyone else later, we are incorporating our remote team members so that they feel part of the fold.
Cultivate In-Person Opportunities
We have different events throughout the year, so we've had to build this system where our remote team members can come in for those events. We maintain a "three times a year" cadence - every June, we host an all company retreat that involves both our remote and local-to-Phoenix team members. Each December, we get together again for an annual kickoff and holiday party. We've also made the decision to offer all remote team members their choice of any week out of the year to come work in our Phoenix office: to have in-person meetings, events or even meet co-workers for the first time, and feel like more part of our company.
We also give all our managers the freedom to bring any team member in at any time of their choosing for in-person meetings, any time they feel it is necessary.
And, if they really love their visits to Arizona, all of our remote employees are also eligible for a relocation bonus to move to AZ, since it's easy to justify the savings on travel expenses in subsequent years.
Reallocate Your In-Person Expenses
You might think a remote culture means cutting your expenses; trimming or even removing the cost of office space, no desk space meaning no overhead. But really it's just reallocating those expenses. The money you would have spent on overhead and desk space, you are reallocating to travel, hotels, and subscriptions, and equipment. You need to be willing to invest that "found cash" in systems and tools that work to help your business thrive in this new era.
Anyone that has maintained a successful relationship can tell you, it takes some work (just ask my now wife.) We consistently hear from our remote employees that they have the tools and channels they need to feel truly part of the team. Investing in a remote-first culture for your company is now part of the way we all must do business to succeed. And, who knows? You might find that you like it, too.