How to Transition to a Remote First Company

How to Transition to a Remote First Company

The Future is Remote First

So you’ve tried out remote work and, like many other employers, you’ve decided to make it permanent and become a remote-first company. This transformation of your operations, from office-bound to fully remote, isn’t as easy as telling your team to stay home and keep doing what they’ve been doing. But it’s also not as complicated as it might seem right now, at the start of your transition. We’ve put together a kit of blogs and checklists to help you manage the change at the right pace for your organization to ensure that you don’t miss out on anything vital.

What Is a Remote First Company?

Remote first companies are fully distributed teams that have no central office. Or to put it plainly, they are teams where every employee works from home, from a coworking space, or even from abroad. Remote first companies have shut down their central and satellite offices in favour of a workforce that operates out of whatever locations fit them best. These teams can be local – that is, everyone works in the same city but from their homes – or global. They may work the same set hours, regardless of time zones, or they may have embraced asynchronous communication, working whenever they’re most productive, and catching up through chat and product management tools.

There are as many ways to be a remote-first team as there is to be an office-bound team, but the most effective ones do have some things in common: good tools, emergency, continuity and transition planning, effective policies, and a remote-first approach to management and HR.

Going Remote Checklist

If you’ve been working remotely since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, you’ve already taken some of the essential steps to becoming a remote-first company. For example, by now you’ve probably figured out what your remote first toolbox looks like, and what communication protocols work for your team. What you may not have considered is how going remote should change your workforce strategies, employee agreements, and even how you plan your IT spending. If you haven’t started working remotely, well, you’ve got a lot of ground to cover, but we’re here to help!

If possible, avoid rushing your remote transition. It’s possible to successfully complete a remote transition quickly, but thoughtful planning will ensure you haven’t dropped any balls. Every team in your company, from client-facing staff to HR to IT should be involved in the transition. Invite them in at every stage of the process to give feedback, and crucially, have them participate in mapping their own jobs and planning for their absences. This will give them a sense of ownership over a process that could become disruptive without their buy-in.

1. Feedback

The first step you should take is to solicit feedback from your team on how working remotely has gone for them so far (or in the past, if you didn’t make a Covid-19 remote transition), what challenges they’ve faced, and how they’ve overcome them. Whether the feedback stage is open-ended or structured is up to you, but what you want to identify are challenges for teams that you don’t overlap with and things that you can’t anticipate.

2. Mapping

Next, you should map out your teams and their major workflows. What do your employees do all day and how do they do it? What tools do they use? What are the most common problems they encounter and how do they solve them? How do they communicate and how are decisions made? The mapping process should be driven by your team leaders and largely completed by your employees. The task for your leaders is to ask questions that will push your employees past surface-level documentation of their core functions. You may already have some internal job and workflow documentation, but are you sure it captures everything?

3. Identify Opportunities to Improve

Now that you have employee and team leader feedback and a clear map of what daily operations at your company really look like, it will become more apparent what needs to change when you go remote. Look for opportunities to not just replicate existing flows but to simplify them. Change management gets a big boost when the disruption that comes with new technologies and processes also comes with efficiencies and improved user experiences. Just as it is easier to get buy-in from your team when they feel a sense of ownership over the change process, it’s easier to get change to stick when it solves real problems for your employees and doesn’t make their work harder.

4. Choose New Tools – But Only if You Have to

Remote teams need effective tools to match their specific needs. Even more than office-bound workers, remote teams need tools that remove friction and make their jobs easier and more streamlined. This includes, at a minimum:

  • A central communication platform where your team can chat, call and host meetings
  • A project planning/task tracking tool where they can organize their work without whiteboards or in person meetings
  • A secure work environment where they can share company data without putting it at risk

Going remote may require an initial IT and hardware investment, or it may not. Think carefully about how well your current tools are serving your team and how long they will continue to be effective. If you can operate efficiently without making a big investment right at the start, consider putting it off until you’ve completed your remote transition. Having some familiar tools can help big changes go down easier.

If you do need to make a big up-front investment, ensure that your IT and HR leads collaborate on a realistic plan. Depending on the needs of your business you may opt for a variety of standalone tools or a full suite of office and productivity tools. And while you should consult with team members regarding their needs and preferences, ultimately you should choose what tools your team works with. Your IT department doesn’t want to support hundreds of different tools and your HR team doesn’t want to train for them. 

5. Create Remote First Policies

Not everything changes when you go remote, but enough things do that you’ll need to update some of your policies. Will you be a synchronous team with set work hours, or will you let teams set their own schedules? Who will be responsible for work equipment such as laptops, desks, and chairs, and will reimbursements be offered? How will your leadership team respond to crises, once you’ve gone remote?

6. Drive Sustainable Culture Change 

Ok, you’ve completed your transition to becoming a remote-first company and everything’s great! Well, maybe there are still a few problems. Team members didn’t absorb the training material on their new tools as well as you hoped. Old processes are creeping back in, and even worse, outdated documents are once again being circulated. IT is being inundated with tickets for problems your team should be able to troubleshoot themselves. So how do you stop this regression and keep your team moving forward? Continuous team building and training.

Team building is just as important now as it was before your remote transition. New employees deserve to get to know their colleagues in a relaxed social setting. Long-time team members should still be able to spend their lunchtime catching up. And your valued employees should be treated by you, every once in a while, to meals, gifts, and fun activities. As a remote team, and as a team operating during a health crisis, it’s not so easy to schedule a team lunch or a retreat but identifying and executing the remote team building activities that will work best for your team, will pay dividends. 

Along with team-building activities, you should root out helplessness and confusion by fostering a culture of continuous learning. Offer a combination of voluntary and mandatory training that ensures your employees absorb the basics, and then deepen their understanding week by week. Reward employees who improve their skills with education reimbursements and opportunities to challenge themselves at work. Share interesting resources with your team and model your values by improving your own skills. Above all, make it clear that while mistakes happen, they shouldn’t keep happening. You and your team leaders must be available to employees to offer gentle course corrections and to set high standards.

Remote first companies are leaner, more resilient, and better prepared to weather current and future economic change. By completing a thoughtful and thoroughly planned transition to remote work, you will set your company up to meet these challenges head-on. Please feel free to use the resources we’ve linked in this blog to help map out your own transition. You can find more resources, including infographics and checklists, in our resource library.

And if you need some help along the way, please drop us a note here, and we would be happy to lend a consultative hand!

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