By now, business owners and entry-level employees alike have heard the hype about remote work. Getting your work done somewhere that isn’t the office (home, a local coffee shop, a co-working space) is on the rise, and benefits like increased satisfaction and improved attrition rates abound.
Not every business that allows its workers to work remotely is the same, however. The two main categories that your business might fall into are known as “remote-first” and “remote-friendly.”
Remote-first implies that the team is “distributed” by design: Everyone works from home or a non-centralized office setting. Perhaps the business was built with this workplace structure and culture in mind, or perhaps the business shifted gears after the 2008 recession or another event that led to some serious cost-saving initiatives.
Remote-friendly, meanwhile, means that the company is primarily “co-located,” with most of the team in one place. Maybe just a few employees are remote, or the company encourages its workers to work a few days from home here or there—but it’s hardly the norm across the company.
All things considered, if you’re a business owner or CEO and have the chance to mould the company’s structure, is remote-first or remote-friendly better for your employees, and the business as a whole? Let’s take a look.
The benefits of remote-first
When you build a company that considers remote work to be a central tenet of the business, you think about communication, collaboration, and expansion differently.
Let’s run down some of the core benefits of a business that is “distributed”:
Talent knows no bounds
When you want to hire someone to work for a brick-and-mortar business or one with a traditional set-up, the first question is whether your candidates live near your office, so they can come in every day or almost every day. That feels like a pretty outdated factor to consider, doesn’t it?
When you can hire anyone you want, as long as they have an internet connection, the net you cast for the best possible talent becomes much wider. If the best engineer or marketer you can possibly find lives across the country or on the other side of the globe, so be it. You can make them an offer.
Overhead cost reductions
When you don’t need to bring everybody together to an office every day, guess what you don’t need? An office, and all the overhead costs that entail—from utilities to incorporating the costs of people’s commute into their salaries.
With the money you save from avoiding a commercial lease, you can invest more in your people—and bring them together through co-working spaces, or via regular events and getaways for your team.
Increased employee productivity and loyalty
Remote work isn’t for everybody—but those who like it, really like it. They claim that working from home makes them more productive, and they appreciate when their employer gives them the flexibility and freedom to work when and how they want.
As a result, these employees are less likely to leave their company: A Stanford University study showed an overall 50% decrease in attrition among home-based workers. That’s a major time- and money-saver for businesses in the long run as well.
Streamlined and effective remote processes
As we’ll discuss in the remote-friendly section, it’s a bit more difficult to create a remote-friendly infrastructure that communicates effectively with your existing in-office systems, than it is to build an infrastructure dedicated solely to remote workers.
When your team is used to communicating entirely via tools like Slack, Zoom, and Google Docs, they’re more likely to consistently remember to document all their changes and updates. Essentially, a remote-first team knows how to use the infrastructure you provide them with to maximize impact. A remote-friendly team may not be as keen to document their each and every move—and failing to do so can result in miscommunication, missed deadlines, and more mishaps.
The benefits of remote-friendly
Now, many of the benefits of a remote-first team can also apply to a remote-friendly team. Some people may be content with working from home part of the time, and you can potentially spend less money on overhead costs as well.
But there are other considerations that may convince you that it’s better to be remote-friendly than remote-first, such as:
More direct communication
It’s getting easier and easier to communicate effectively using digital tools, but no one can deny that immediate and direct communication between employees working in a single location is the fastest way to deliver important information. You’ll also develop relationships and rapport with your employees and co-workers much easier when you’re interacting with them face-to-face.
Many remote workers self-report higher levels of productivity, but the jury is still out as to whether the same person gets more work done at home than at an office.
What we can say is that working in one location creates a sense of accountability among all team members that can’t be replicated when everyone is able to self-report when they logged on, when they worked, and when they took off for the day.
More in-office productivity
Every app and communication tool that remote companies use to communicate and collaborate is, it must be noted, another potential point of failure. If a system fails when most everybody is in the office, some kinds of work can still get done. When a remote worker’s internet connection cuts out, or an app goes offline, it can derail an entire day’s work for a remote-first team.
On the other hand, a team that is mostly co-located can brainstorm and troubleshoot issues together, no matter what the technical situation. Your team can still hold meetings and make decisions without missing a beat.
Still reaping the benefits of a flexible workplace
If your business is remote-friendly, you can still attract remote workers, and use your outlook on remote work as a bargaining chip with prospective local employees. People will want to come work for a company that will give them the flexibility they need to work from home on occasion—more so than a company with rigid, traditional workplace culture.
This means you can tap into the benefits of remote work—increased company loyalty, a wider talent net—without giving up your centralized nature.
The bottom line on remote-first vs. remote-friendly
The question of whether to go remote-first or remote-friendly depends primarily on your goals for your business, and how comfortable you are distributing accountability among each of your team members.
If you’re looking to build the best possible team while keeping costs down, a remote-first structure may be the way to go. If you’re passionate about building a team with an excellent rapport that can still tap into what’s appealing about remote work, remote-friendly is a better bet.
Either way, make sure that you and company leadership are on board with the direction you choose. Your business won’t be worth much if you aren’t happy with the direction it’s taking.
Written by Jared Hecht.
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