“In the same way we realised we didn’t need a shop to go shopping we’ve realised we don’t need an office to do work.”

– Antony Slumbers, Digital Strategist & Product Leader

Remote-First working is an idea that’s been around for a few years, but COVID-19 has meant it’s really gained in currency in the last few months.

As the name suggests, Remote-First means remote working is the default. It means making sure your remote employees are as much a part of the team as those in the office. This inclusion is intentional and considered across all aspects of the organisation. Remote working is not an afterthought and this is not a meaningless buzzword or paying lip service to an idea.

COVID-19 has led to more companies around the world moving towards having a Remote-First ethos. This started out of necessity but looks like in some cases it may be here to stay. Buffer, Basecamp and Invision are all well-established Remote-First organisations, with many more high-profile organisations sure to join them.

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic is an advocate of the Remote-First way of working. He employs “more than 1,000 people in 75 countries speaking 93 different languages” so is well placed to share his five stages of remote work:

3 matt mullenwegs five states of remote work the great office debate working from home

Here are those stages in more detail:

Stage 1: We have an occasional call or meeting from home (maybe we’re expecting a delivery or have a need to be at home early for a personal reason)

Stage 2: We switch to doing all of the things that we previously did from the office, but through our screens, remotely. We are basically copying how we’d work at the office.

Stage 3: Technology is changing some of the way we do things. This might be that a meeting is working through a collaborative Word/Google doc. Tools and collaboration are the focus of this stage. It’s all about the tech.

Stage 4: Work shifts to being ‘asynchronous’. The focus is on getting the job done and not how the job is done. People can be working on the same project round the clock round the world. Handovers become the super-power. We’re doing great work!

Stage 5 Workers can adapt the job to accommodate their lives (maybe child pickups, maybe a daily cycling habit) while getting the job done in time shifted way. We design work around our lives, not the other way round.

At this point, Mullenweg thinks the majority of organisations are at Stage 2. Which stage are you at?

What are the pros and cons of Remote-First working?

The pros are easy to reel off. Some people enjoy increased flexibility in balancing their personal and work lives. Productivity can be increased. Organisations make huge cost savings from property and enjoy a wider talent pool. It’s good for the environment as fewer people are commuting. Remote-First is more flexible way of working, so it enables businesses to weather future peaks in the pandemic, or any other issue. On the pro side, a recent survey by Deloitte found 70 per cent of employees were enjoying the experience of remote working.

On the con side, if left unmanaged, Remote-First may, in reality, simply become Remote-Friendly – where the default position of the organisation isn’t one where all employees work remotely, with all processes and interactions etc. rigorously centred around this as the starting point, but where remote working becomes somewhat of an afterthought.

Remote-Friendly working can lead to far fewer ad hoc or spontaneous interactions, so it can be harder to build and maintain relationships. Equally employees that need a quiet space that they can use to work from home may find that this isn’t always possible. There may be no time to wind down or transition between work and home once work is finished. Some remote working employees may be troubled by feelings of isolation, loneliness and ensuing mental health deterioration. Close to my heart, there’s a challenge of maintaining a positive employee experience and a stand-out culture with no planned, regular face to face interaction. On the con side, a recent survey by Deloitte found 10% of employees have had a negative experience of remote working.

Would Remote-First working work for your organisation? What’s your experience of Remote-Friendly working been?