What does remote first mean?

Some companies are choosing to switch to remote working on a more permanent basis after Covid, but what do they need to consider to get to a remote first working culture?

Business woman having a video call with coworker


Mark Zuckerberg has already given the green light for most Facebook employees to remain working remotely through Summer 2021, but that may be about to be extended with the news that the company is looking to hire a Director of Remote Work. workingmums.co.uk spoke to Arran Stewart, co-founder of the US remote-first recruitment platform Job.com, about the future of remote working post-Covid and what companies who go ‘remote first’ need to consider.

workingmums.co.uk: What does a remote first working policy need to cover? Does it require a rethinking of every
area of a business?

Arran Stewart: Remote working policies must first establish who is eligible to work remotely, based on individual company needs and capabilities. Considerations on a remote policy should include data privacy, how equipment will be provided, the tone for communication channels, predetermined performance metrics and legal compliance. A business as a whole should not be impacted, but it may be necessary to reconsider workplace attendance strategies for all employees.

workingmums.co.uk: Where are the main challenges – recruitment and onboarding – especially of younger workers who might need more guidance, line manager support and training, promotion, team working, motivation?

AS: The main challenge is adequately maintaining communication and engagement with new hires to ensure that they feel adequately enmeshed into the organisation. Determining the level of productivity and maintaining that, creating a daily structure and sense of shared purpose and motivation, immersion into the corporate culture – these are all barriers that can be overcome, but are clearly present at the start of any worker’s remote tenure.

workingmums.co.uk: Has Covid already identified some of the key challenges – although Covid remote working was not the norm for remote working, particularly when children were around – eg isolation, well being, communication, etc?

AS: Covid absolutely represents a huge curveball for remote workers due to the addition of children, spouses and other members of the household into their workspace and time. Perhaps one of the only positives to come out of the pandemic is an increased understanding and acceptance around the family and personal challenges that can threaten the sterility of the idealised home office. The normalisation of a more relaxed, human idea of working from home has made us all more accepting of the little interruptions and delays that can pop up in a remote work day.

workingmums.co.uk:  How will Covid change the kind of HR roles we see appearing?

AS: HR roles will likely remain unchanged except for more specificity and focus on remote work. Introducing all HR members to the new policies needed to manage the remote labour force, and the unique challenges and benefits therein, will likely be enough for most roles in the near future.

workingmums.co.uk: What will the impact be on office real estate and city centres? In the UK there are big concerns about the impact on commuter city centres and lamentations for the excitement of the big metropolises. Do we need to put forward a more positive joined-up vision of what greater remote working might mean on a wider economic and social scale? Do we have to accept that there will be some gains and some losses?

AS: Certainly it will take some time for commuter city centres to return to pre-Covid levels of occupancy and profitability. However, the way we work has changed forever so there’s no going back. Focusing on the social and environmental impacts and potential for growth, change and innovation in big metropolises will be key to reinvigorating the economies there. Reduced commuter pollution, traffic emissions, repurposing of commercial buildings and more opportunities for community investment mean that there is definitely something to be gained as well.

workingmums.co.uk: There has been a lot in the press in the UK on the negative side of remote working of late, focusing mainly on productivity [even though much of the research suggests a positive for productivity], creativity and motivation. What works best to address these issues and is it fair to compare remote working during Covid with office working without Covid?

AS: Companies should determine how productive and efficient their remote workers are based on their own metrics, not by the nature of the market. Productivity is subjective so developing your own ideas for success are ideal when determining how to manage your unique labour force.

workingmums.co.uk: Is remote first the best way to go in your opinion when surveys seem to show hybrid working is what people want and surely some people are more suited to remote working than others?

AS: ‘Remote first’ is simply shorthand to communicate a forward-thinking approach to workforce management and distribution. As we spend more time configuring how remote work looks on a massive scale, and as the practice becomes more commonplace and it is safe to do so, we likely will see an increase in discussions around hybridisation (and then that can become the buzzword of the zeitgeist). All in all, determining how best to manage your employees and business comes down to the goals and capabilities of your company.

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