Laptop on bed

Due to the ‘trial by fire’ nature of COVID-19, 2020 was the year that many employers changed their minds about working remotely. There is no longer any doubt that employees can be equally if not increasingly productive while working from home, and that there are added benefits in terms of emotional wellbeing, morale, cost, and job satisfaction. 

Some companies have taken this idea and truly run with it, making deep changes to the way that they manage their workforce, and in some cases, closing offices for good. Benefits of a remote-first approach include disparate areas such as:

  • Recruitment: Remote-first employers have a deeper pool of talent from which to choose employees, as there’s no need to pick from a local crop of candidates anymore. 
  • Finance: Reducing your physical footprint means no more CAPEX on office space, and perhaps additional savings in terms of compensation, overheads, and benefits. 
  • Wellbeing: There’s no doubt that millennials expect a certain level of flexibility, and that the majority of workers would love to cut down on their commute and get more time at home.
  • Growth: Companies have a greater ability to plan ahead and adapt without the constraints of a physical working space to contend with. Remote-first companies had far less disruption in 2020 for example.

If you’re thinking about going remote-first post-pandemic, here are some key considerations, with the help of 5 companies that are forging ahead into a more flexible future. 

What will your physical office-space look like?

Coinbase announced in May that they would become a remote-first company, post pandemic. One of the key differences they forecast is a change in the way they utilize office space. They are predicting that they will soon have one floor of office space in ten different cities around the world, rather than the current dynamic, which is ten floors of office space in a single centralized location. 

Co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong comments that he sees this as essential for any organizations looking to do remote-first successfully.  “Companies will start to maintain lightweight offices in more cities (probably managed by third parties like WeWork), for employees who still want to come into an office, or direct employees to join co-working spaces. The rest will work from home. There will be less emphasis on a centralized headquarters with an expensive buildout that is customized to one company.”

Challenges and mitigations to consider when decentralizing office space include: 

  • Hybrid communications: Create a smart hot-desking policy, including a process for meetings and conferences, such as dialling in separately for a cohesive experience. 
  • Information sharing: Enforce more written communication and documentation in a digital place so that employees have answers when they need them. 
  • Camaraderie and collaboration: Cluster teams from similar time zones, so that employees can collaborate well together during working hours. 
  • Performance management: Consider changing the focus to measuring employee output rather than clock-watching, and add resources for learning and development.

Can you keep a distributed office secure and compliant?

Toptal calls itself the largest fully distributed workforce in the world, and recently published their playbook on working remotely. One of the key elements to consider is security. Without a centralized environment to protect, companies need to set up what they call “virtual barriers”, cross-organizational policies that keep data, systems, users, and applications secure. This also includes compliance and data privacy considerations. 

“Every company needs to establish strict security protocols to ensure their systems are protected from outside intrusion. Accomplishing this task with a fully remote team requires a keen understanding of the potential sources of risk that arise from this distributed way of working and determining the best tools and tactics to mitigate those risks.” 

Best practices include using cloud services both for information sharing and for storage, and putting in place user-based access control that works across personal devices like home computers and mobile phones, even in distributed workspaces. 

You may also want to discuss documents such as your employment contracts with legal counsel, especially if you have employees working in a globally distributed way. Clauses that focus on intellectual property, non-compete, or non-disclosure may not be enforceable in the employee’s local geography. 

How will you manage compensation?

Affirm is one more company that has decided to go remote-first, post-pandemic. It has outlined its compensation package, and how the company will ensure it is fair for all workers, no matter where they live and work. The organization has aligned its payment structure with each state’s highest paid major city, utilizing data from the cost of labor across the US. 

“For this new way of working, we’re thrilled to announce we’ve assembled a dynamic and competitive compensation model and total rewards package that complements our remote-first work style. Affirm’s 2021 benefits will allow flexibility for Affirmers to customize their experience by selecting benefits based on their individual needs and preferences to be successful from almost anywhere — continuing to lean into our value of “People Come First”.”

Compensation considerations include: 

  • State variations: The minimum wage in various states changes across state lines. If your employees are now working remotely, you may need to make salary adjustments to suit. 
  • Morale: While it’s normal to pay staff according to the cost of living, it’s important to think about how you will approach the conversation with employees who will be getting a pay-cut, especially if you take away the choice to work in the office. 
  • Working hours:  A remote-first policy may well change your existing working culture. How will you ensure that employees are switching off adequately, and not checking emails at 11pm? Will you offer overtime, and how will this be tracked?

Does this impact the way you provide benefits?

For many companies, benefits are a way to provide extra compensation to employees outside of their monthly pay check. Zillow is one company that is attempting to understand the ‘new normal’ in terms of benefits and perks. While they don’t see any differences in terms of healthcare benefits or pension plans, as these kinds of benefits are usually unaffected by place of work or state lines, other benefits such as travel and wellness are a whole different ball game. 

“What is going to be different is a lot of our benefits today were built around commuting and built around supporting wellness in the office.” says CPO Dan Spaulding. “We do anticipate that as more people are opting for a hybrid world or a remote world, we aren’t going to have to pay for bus passes anymore or pay for parking in certain locations anymore.”

As the employer, you have a responsibility to do more than sit back and count the savings. Will these benefits be reflected elsewhere, or distributed differently now that you’re going remote-first? For example, Zillow is working with BrightHorizons to provide back-up childcare, so that working parents aren’t overwhelmed with childcare responsibilities now that they are based in the home.

Have you considered ‘Choice-first’?

Paige Rinke, People Director at Tessian says that going Remote-first, wasn’t the right approach for them. They saw the advantages of offering a remote option, which led to their new policy of ‘choice first’. 

Tessian now offers three unique options to choose from, and promise as few caveats as possible. Employees can be Office-based, coming in at least three times per week and with their own desk and space reserved in-office, Flexi, coming in at least once a week and using hot-desks that can be booked in advance, or Remote, where they work primarily from home, but may need to come into the office a handful of times per year. 

“Internally, having heard from our people, some Tessians can’t wait to get back to the office.  We want to ensure that we still have this option in the future. In fact, some have even said they wouldn’t want to work for a company that didn’t have this as an option! But some Tessians have experienced an enormously positive change in their lives since skipping the commute to the office every day. We need to ensure that we offer both.”

For Tessian, and many other future-focused companies, there’s a real benefit in giving employees as much choice as possible in how they work, for their own emotional and professional well-being. This option should be kept in mind before all options for office-based work are taken off the table altogether. 

The meaning of going Remote-first

Going Remote-first means having the systems and tools in place to thrive from anywhere. As experts in global payroll solutions, Papaya Global is uniquely placed to manage complex working environments, such as hybrid office and work-from-home operations, or complexities in compensation and benefits packages as a result of the new normal. 

Schedule a call to speak to one of our experts, and make sure to download our recent e-book on managing employees that are working remotely due to COVID-19.