Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
There’s a notion that collaboration can’t happen effectively when you’re not working side-by-side in an office.
I think that’s ridiculous.
During COVID times, organizations found ways to continue doing business. Collaboration didn’t stop, and innovation didn’t stop; we all just found new ways to do it. The challenge many organizations are facing now is that employees don’t want to be forced back into the office. According to FlexJobs’ 2022 Career Pulse Survey, 57% of respondents stated they would look for a new job if they couldn’t continue to work remotely.
This isn’t a surprise, primarily because the rush to provide a remote work option meant there was no intentionality around making remote work part of the organization’s culture. Perhaps ironically, though, every large organization is eventually a distributed company. To effectively run a distributed company, you need systems and platforms that help you manage a large, remote workforce. A distributed business and a remote business are, after all, the same thing. If you want to expand, you have to figure out how to be remote first.
At Wistia, we’re disrupting the idea that collaboration suffers when you’re not in the office and working alongside someone in person. We believe the complete opposite. We are a remote-first organization — a decision we made confidently. The team at Wistia was performing incredibly well during the pandemic, so when the world talked about returning to the office, I said no, at least not in the traditional sense.
Here’s why — and why I think you should be thinking remote-first, too.
1. Have trust in the outcome
Trust is essential to a successful remote-first culture, specifically, trust that the desired outcome will be achieved. I believe that trust and a focus on the work, regardless of where a person may be physically located, can only be established when the direction of the company is clear. This means you need to be really clear about the goals you’re trying to accomplish and how you will achieve those goals.
Communicate your goals frequently and clearly with your team, and ensure they each understand their individual role in helping the company meet those goals. Then, trust them to do it well.
Further, encouraging an open communication policy should inspire the team to reach out when help is needed. Have an open dialogue when goals need to evolve or when additional input would be beneficial.
Summary: Be outcome-oriented to do remote work well.
2. Expand your talent base
Data shows that hiring remote employees is cost-effective for employers and allows organizations to tap into a wider talent pool. We have team members all over the U.S., and remaining remote-first allowed us to find the best-fit people for the job. In my opinion, this is more important than just hiring the best person available in the area.
Finding the right fit person can also add to collaborative efforts because they know how to work with the team. In our case, that means they have all the necessary traits required to succeed. Yes, time zone differences can sometimes be tricky, so to effectively manage remote teams, be proactive with putting systems and expectations in place to ensure everyone is heading in the right direction.
A final note: Finding the right people and the flexibility of working remotely increases employee retention.
3. Be intentional with in-person activities
Forcing people to work side-by-side in an office is not how you generate collaboration nor how you continue building your culture. When we were in the office during pre-pandemic times, I could Slack someone and not know where they were, even in the same office. In that way, it makes no difference if that person is right next to you or on the other side of the country.
This was a big area we learned from. We started doing some in-person activities as we emerged from the pandemic, and we found that some of it was valuable and some of it wasn’t. We had to be really honest with ourselves about what was worth it versus what felt forced and unproductive.
It led to our decision to be really intentional about hosting a few on-sites throughout the year to bring our team together with a specific purpose. Meeting in-person with a clear focus, goal and mission helps build on the already strong culture while inspiring the team to engage with each other in new ways. We must have these in-person engagements, but these events need to be purpose-driven; otherwise, the value is lost.
The narrative that collaboration can only be done well when in person is outdated. Adopting a remote-first culture is the way of the future. It enables organizations to tap into a deeper bench of top talent, leverage innovative ways to do more work better, and, perhaps most importantly, hold the organization accountable to consistently communicate goals and the roadmap to get there.