What are the noteworthy differences between the two primary virtual work models– remote-friendly and remote-first– that have emerged post-pandemic? Let's take a closer look to help you determine which structure is more fitting for your company.
You've likely come across news articles about major companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook embracing a remote-friendly model, and perhaps even read about remote-first companies like Stack Overflow, Automattic, Shopify, and GitLab. At first glance, you might assume there are more similarities than differences between remote-friendly and remote-first companies, and the fact that these two terms are often used interchangeably doesn't help much.
The truth is, though, that there are several noteworthy distinctions between these two approaches to work, even though they both embrace the ability for employees to work from home.
Technology has been changing the world of work for decades now, but the coronavirus pandemic forced many companies that may have been resistant to virtual work in the past to make drastic changes to the structure of their organizations.
What are the noteworthy differences between the two primary models– remote-friendly and remote-first– that have emerged post-pandemic? Let's take a closer look to help you determine which structure is more fitting for your company.
Remote-first companies might encourage employees to use coworking spaces or have centralized office spaces, but they approach remote work as the default. Employees are not expected to work in a specific office in person or be tied to any given location.
Instead, these companies employ distributed teams with members that can hail from all across the globe, utilizing virtual collaboration tools and asynchronous communication to make the whole thing work.
Though the concept has been in practice since the 1970s (usually going by the terms telecommuting or telework), remote work has become increasingly common since the coronavirus pandemic began. During this time, the majority of knowledge workers and office workers quickly transitioned to working from home. Though some companies have returned to having their employees work in-office, others have embraced the benefits of remote work and transitioned to a remote-first model.
A remote-first company will typically consist of:
While remote-first companies don't expect their employees to work in any specific location or office, remote-friendly companies use a hybrid model. Though workers can work from home some of the time, they are still expected to work from the office for a specific amount of time.
What these policies actually look like can vary quite a bit between companies.
For example, some brands might let their workers work from home four days a week and ask them to come into the office one day a week, while others might allow one work-from-home day and require four in-office days each week. The policies regarding remote work can also depend on the specific employee or role.
Remote-friendly companies typically consist of the following:
While you might assume that remote-first and remote-friendly companies are more similar than different, there are ultimately a lot of noteworthy distinctions between the two models. Perhaps the most glaring thing that separates these approaches to work in the modern age is how embedded remote work is in the organization's culture.
A remote-first company will be entirely modeled to support remote work and workers. Remote-friendly companies tend to prioritize office workers without making nearly as many accommodations for remote employees.
Remote-friendly companies tend to lean heavily on synchronous communication methods such as live virtual meetings or phone calls, while remote-first companies will primarily use asynchronous communication like collaboration software or email. One of the reasons for this is that remote-friendly companies will have all or most of their employees working in the same time zone and typically keeping a fairly standard schedule. Remote-first companies, though, can have workers across the world in different time zones, each keeping a schedule that fits best within their lifestyle.
One of the benefits of remote-friendly teams, which we'll touch upon a bit more later in the article, is that they tend to have more opportunities to casually socialize and chat with their coworkers. This is a meaningful way to build community and camaraderie among teams– in remote-first companies, there must be a deliberate effort to create circumstances in which employees can connect with one another more personally.
It's common for remote-friendly organizations to prioritize in-person work systems that they then adapt in order to accommodate people working from home. Remote-first companies instead build their systems around remote work, using virtual collaboration and communication tools.
For example, remote-first teams will have virtual meetings that bring everyone together digitally. Remote-friendly companies, though, will typically hold their meetings in physical space, and people working from home can tune in via webcam.
In remote-friendly companies, it's common for people in leadership positions to be required to work from the office a greater percentage of the time, if not all of the time. This typically means that they have more interactions with other office-based workers and fewer interactions with primarily remote employees. This can put people that work from home most of the time at a disadvantage in terms of recognition, opportunities, and influence.
Leaders at remote-first companies will focus specifically on developing and employing leadership skills specific to working in the virtual realm, and employees can enjoy a more level playing field when it comes to career opportunities, recognition, and having their ideas heard.
Remote-first companies can hire people from all over the world without having to worry about shelling out a relocation package– the employees they bring onto their team can work from wherever they please.
Remote-friendly companies, on the other hand, are going to require all of their employees to live near a specific physical office as they will be required to work IRL at least some of the time.
When some workers spend more time signing in remotely, and others spend more time in the office in a remote-friendly company, it can create a disparity in employee development opportunities. Office employees have more chances to impress higher-ups and have their voices heard, while those that work from home will typically struggle more to gain recognition.
With remote-first teams, though, all of the opportunities for advancement are fairly equally shared by all employees. Since there aren't some individuals physically present in an office– instead, everyone is logging in remotely– it can help to level the playing field quite a bit.
It's common for remote-first companies to prioritize hiring employees that are able to handle a greater amount of independence and autonomy in their work. These workers are able to manage their own time and work efficiently without supervisors or managers watching over their shoulders, and they are well acquainted with navigating the world of asynchronous communication.
Remote-friendly employees will share some of the same traits as remote-first workers, but they must also be well-versed in virtual and in-person communication. Additionally, they need the organizational skills and the flexibility to transition between working from home and showing up at the office.
Organizations have been turning to remote-first work increasingly in recent years because it offers a number of compelling benefits, including:
What is it that's so compelling about a remote-friendly system, and why would they be put in place rather than a full remote-first model? Here are some of the benefits that companies can enjoy when they adopt a hybrid structure.
One of the reasons that remote-friendly companies choose a hybrid model rather than a completely remote model is that there are some serious benefits to teams working together in person. Though it certainly isn't impossible to build strong relationships remotely, employees who spend time together IRL will typically have an easier time connecting with their coworkers and developing a sense of camaraderie.
Of course, on the flip side, distractions are much more likely to arise when several people are sharing an office space, while remote work can help employees stay more productive and focused on a specific task. Remote-friendly models attempt to get the best of both worlds, providing workers the chance to work from home in some instances and requiring that they spend some time in the office.
Though many people love the idea of working from home and not even having to bother to take off their slippers in the morning, the truth is that plenty of individuals end up getting a bit lonely with this setup day in and day out.
Remote-friendly companies can provide some employees with a great balance between in-office and remote work, allowing them some freedom while providing a greater structure than remote-first companies.
Some remote-friendly companies might hire entirely remote employees, which gives them access to a global talent pool. Others might require that all of their workers spend some time in a physical office, which limits the talent pool to people close enough to commute to the office.
That being said, the increased flexibility in an employee's schedule can still give companies access to a broader pool of potential applicants, and strong candidates might be willing to commute a bit further if they're only expected to come to the office one or two days a week.
Though remote-friendly companies will still operate offices, there are still cost savings implied by a hybrid model.
Office space requirements can be reduced with this model, lowering the cost of utilities, rent, maintenance, equipment, and more. This money can then be directed toward other business needs or invested in supporting employees' morale, satisfaction, and retention.
Allowing employees to work remotely some of the time or all of the time provides a lot of benefits for workers and leaders alike. The working world is becoming increasingly flexible, and this shift to remote work has helped companies see improved recruitment and productivity.
At the same time, managers and team leaders have to go out of their way to ensure that their remote teams receive the support they need. Though many workers are happy to skip the commute to the office, working from home most of the time or all of the time can leave people feeling isolated and lonely.
The sense of community that often organically emerges in an office needs to be deliberately created and nurtured among remote teams for the best possible outcomes in terms of teamwork, retention, employee satisfaction, and productivity.
At PizzaTime, our mission is to help remote teams build meaningful experiences and memories that boost morale and bring everyone closer together. By sending delicious and tasty treats to remote teams around the world as well as offering virtual team-building experiences, we help distributed teams enjoy much-needed social time and opportunities to get to know each other better while also developing essential soft skills.