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A Complete Guide to Building a Remote Work Culture (Forever)

Hunter McKinley
November 4, 2021

Your employees want to work from home. So much so that they would take a pay cut or give up benefits rather than go back to the office. Another survey found that one in two employees won’t return to jobs that aren’t remote post-pandemic.

What does this tell us?

Remote work is here to stay.

It’s no longer a health protocol, a fad, or a temporary adjustment. So it’s time to learn how to work from home and manage a remote team—for good.

What is remote work? Sharing benefits & addressing misconceptions

Remote work is a culture shift where professionals are able to work anywhere, anytime—and not in a traditional office setting.

There are a number of different forms this can take. You (and your employees) might:

  • Work in a dedicated room you set up as your home office
  • Head to a co-working space each morning
  • Hop around various coffee shops in town
  • Be a “digital nomad” and work while you travel
  • Work from different places in your home (e.g., the couch, your favorite chair, the dining room table, wherever feels comfortable)

The biggest benefit to remote work is that it’s flexible, and there’s no one-size-fits-all. This means remote workers get to choose how (and when) they work best and make it happen.

Benefits of remote work

Speaking of benefits, let’s dig into why this can be such a great work structure for many of your team members.

No commute

U.S. Census data from 2019 showed an all-time-high one-way commute average of 27.6 minutes. That’s nearly an hour both ways.

What could your team do with an extra hour each day?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced nearly everyone around the world into remote work, a lot of your employees are realizing just how much more time they have at home. They get to spend more time with family and pets, fit in exercise, or work on their hobbies when they don’t have to deal with daily commutes.

Improved work-life balance

With more flexibility comes more opportunity. Your employees will appreciate having the freedom to drop kids off at school, attend doctor’s appointments, and be home for maintenance calls and deliveries.

73% of workers reported a better work-life balance since moving to work-from-home versus on-site. Most of them cited that this was because they had more time to spend with their kids and partners, as well as to take care of their pets.

Location independence

Location independence is a major benefit for both workers and employers.

It’s a weight off your team’s shoulders knowing that if an unexpected life situation required them to move, they’d still have a job. It also means your company can hire top talent anywhere in the world.

Cost-effectiveness

Your employees no longer have to spend money on gas or travel passes for their commute, ordering lunch to the office every day, buying office clothes, and more. In fact, studies show that working from home saves people an average of $4,000/year.

But that’s not all. Your company also gets to save on real estate costs, office furniture, cleaning services, and more.

Reduced environmental impact

If one of your goals is to lower your company’s carbon footprint, then remote working is a great way to go greener. Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By cutting the commute and unnecessary air travel, you’re on the way to reducing your company’s emissions.

If you want to take it a step further, you can even offer perks to make your people’s homes more sustainable, like cash towards energy-efficient light bulbs.

Common remote work misconceptions

Due to the pandemic, Pew Research Center found the number of people working from home rose to 71% at the end of 2020.

Job responsibilities while working from home

However, even with nearly half the employed population shifting to remote work, there are still a number of misconceptions that those who advocate for remote work hear consistently.Myth #1: Remote workers aren’t as productive

This may be the micromanager in you talking but just because you can’t keep a physical eye on your team, doesn’t mean they aren’t getting their work done.

In fact, one study comparing the first six months of people working home during the pandemic to the same six months the year before found that productivity remained stable or had actually improved.

Employee productivity while working from home

After a dip in the summer months, productivity rose again as leaders found a foothold in how to manage teams effectively while working remotely.

Myth #2: It’s harder to communicate with remote workers

If you think it’s harder to communicate when working remotely, then you might be interrupting your team too often and holding too many meetings in the office.

The truth is, it’s entirely possible to have effective remote communication that ensures your team is always on the same page. And it doesn’t need to rely on synchronous interruptions.

In fact, we argue that “more meetings” is practically never the answer. Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work 2020 report found that people were using video meetings 50% more in 2020 than pre-COVID-19. However, 80% of respondents said they want at least one meeting-free day each week.

The key is finding the right communication tools and balance for your team (more on that in a moment).

Myth #3: Meetings are ineffective

Meetings are often ineffective regardless of if it’s in-person or remote. In 2019, Doodle’s State of Meetings report found that ineffective meetings have cost companies $399 billion—and that was before the working world went remote.

Ineffective meetings are not unique to video meetings or to remote working. Plenty of meetings are held in person that don’t have agendas, end without actionable outcomes, and waste everyone’s time.

A remote work environment can actually help you improve your meeting effectiveness by introducing asynchronous meetings and communication.

The case for building a remote-first company

There is no consensus among executives on the ideal number of days in the office. When surveyed, most executives believe employees should be in the office some days a week to maintain company culture.

However, as many as 77% of employees would be happier continuing to work from home after COVID-19, and one in two people will look for another role if no remote option is available.

We say there’s rarely a need to get the team together in person. 99% of what you can do face to face, you can do remotely. The age of having full-time in-office employees is over. It’s time to embrace the remote-first culture.

We’ve covered the benefits of working remotely, like better work-life balance and zero commute.

If you want some numbers as motivation, work out how much your company can save by nixing your office space and all the recurring costs that come with it.

Additionally, consider the talent possibilities by having a remote-first company culture. You can hire employees all over the world, allow existing employees to travel, and take less time off. And with productivity optimization measures in place, you won’t have to worry about things like the waterfall effect.

Improve overall efficiency, reduce overhead, and keep employees happy, by making the switch to remote.

A primer on asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication (or “async”) is the backbone of remote work.

It allows your team to excel at a remote job while keeping everyone on the same page. It can also help you ensure seamless project execution and keep details from falling between the cracks without taking up your team’s valuable time.

Essentially, asynchronous communication is when your team communicates with each other at different times.

Methods of asynchronous communication include email, text-based instant messaging tools, and voice messages. Although many of these forms of communication give the impression that responses need to be instant, successful asynchronous communication gets rid of that stigma and allows team members to respond when it makes the most sense in their workday.

The first step in putting together a successful async policy is pinpointing the best tools for your team. A few options to consider include:

Best tools going async
Source: yac.com

With tools like Yac, you can bust all of the common misconceptions about remote work. You’ll keep productivity up because team members aren’t being interrupted by meetings, passing colleagues, and more.

You’ll also have better communication because teams can think about a more comprehensive response before sending. You can even hold effective asynchronous meetings.

The ability to communicate clearly and asynchronously with things like voice messaging, meetings, discussions, and more, means that your team can become an efficient remote work powerhouse.

3 companies succeeding with a remote work culture

Maybe you need to see it to believe it. Luckily, there are several large companies out there paving the way for remote work.

We’re going to focus on three popular SaaS companies that are advocates of remote work. They also have consistently high employee satisfaction and retention rates. (To put these rates in perspective, companies like Google and Amazon struggle to keep employees for a year.)

Luckily, for anyone interested in going remote-first, they’re also transparent about how they’ve made it work for their teams.

Zapier

Zapier (95% employee retention rate) has been a remote team since the beginning. And when they started hiring in 2012, they kept it that way.

How Zapier works
Source: Zapier

Co-founder Wade Foster wrote a comprehensive guide for the Zapier blog on how he manages a remote team. A few of his insights are:

  • Hire the right team. Not everyone can or wants to deal with a remote work arrangement. The secret to success is ensuring hiring people who don’t need micromanaging and get things done on their own.
  • Choose the right tools. Take it from a company that has seen major success as a remote team for nearly a decade: finding the right communication and collaboration tools will make or break a remote team.
  • Create the right processes. “Process-ify” your company. Create protocols for project management, determine how various teams work together, put together an async meeting policy, etc. You need proper procedures and policies to make remote work, well, work.

Working across “17 timezones in 28 countries” might seem like a logistical nightmare to those who are used to working and meeting synchronously. But through asynchronous communication and autonomous working, they’ve built a successful (and positively thriving) remote-first company. 

Buffer

Buffer (94% employee retention rate) is a company that runs on transparency. So much so that they even share everyone’s salaries and created a salary calculator to let applicants know how much they could make working for the company.

Buffer's views
Source: Buffer

Buffer has also created a blog specifically for talking about remote company culture, where they’ve published posts about operations, their signature transparency, and giving back—all while working away from the traditional office.

Through these posts, we learn that Buffer places a lot of stock in their people. They survey them to find out how they’re doing, how they feel about the company, and how they can help (and they share the results publicly, of course). Buffer even spotlights employees from time to time.

With perks and benefits ranging from three months of family leave, at least three weeks per year of paid vacation time, a 401(k) with 3% match, and the ability to take a six-week paid sabbatical every five years, it’s no wonder they’ve consistently retained employees and regularly promoted from within.

Doist

Doist (97% retention rate) is the parent company of productivity tools Todoist and Twist. It’s another company that has been remote-first since day one. Their website boasts an eye-wateringly high employee retention rate, part of which is due to their remote work company culture.

Their “About Us” page includes their core values along with a few mantras about how they work.

Doist's mantras
Source: Doist

A repeating theme throughout Doist’s remote company insights is the emphasis they place on their people. They’ve been tackling things like feeling isolated while working remotely since day one, so they emphasize the social aspect of work and advocate using sick days to recharge their batteries.

Example of a sick day message
Source: Doist

Doist attributes their high retention rate to trust and a management tone that is set by the leaders in their organization.

How to make remote work productive

When you’re finally ready to embrace the future of work, the real question becomes this: How can you ensure you set your team up for success so that everyone is happy and productive?

Here are four tried and true tips for making remote work as productive as possible.

Create a dedicated workspace

Even with the added flexibility of “you can work from anywhere”, it's still a good idea to create a dedicated workspace.

The nice thing about flexible work is that you can create this space anywhere—your home office, a hotel room, a coffee shop, a nook in an Airbnb, etc. But having a place that’s only for work helps your brain associate it with getting work done.

A famous 1975 study quizzed divers on words they had to memorize both underwater and on land. When asked to recall the words they learned underwater while on land, the divers recalled 50% fewer words and vice versa.

This is because our brain creates associations based on our surroundings. It’s called context-dependent memory.

When you set aside a single space that’s only for work, it’s easier to start the day off on the right foot as soon as you step into that space. But it’s also easier to turn off work and unplug when you’re finished for the day, and you leave that space.

Maintain clear communication

Maintaining clear communication is essential in a remote team. When your primary method of communication is through text-based messages, it takes a lot of time to compile everything you need to get across.

Async voice communication can be a much more efficient way of getting your point across because speaking is seven times faster than typing.

Yac example on creating a message.

It also allows the listener to pick up on nuances that just don’t come across in text. Not to mention, you’ll have less trouble with miscommunications that are so often attributed to emails and text-based messages. This is why voice messaging is great for building connections between colleagues, even from a distance.

Make meetings valuable

I think we’ve made our feelings on meetings pretty clear—if it doesn’t have a solid agenda, it doesn’t need to happen.

Video calls increased as people started working from home in 2020, but that doesn’t mean those meetings were purposeful or effective.

We’re firm believers that the majority of communication can be done asynchronously and that meetings should be saved for valuable discussions driven by an agenda that all meeting participants have contributed to.

Use the right tools

It all comes back to this: finding your toolset. This is in Zapier’s remote work Bible because it’s one of the best ways to make remote work productive and streamlined.

Start your search early for the right collaboration, project management, and communication tools. Put those processes in place as soon as you can and ensure everyone on your team is properly trained on how best to use your tools of choice.

Goncalo Hall
Co-Founder at Remote Portugal and Remote Europe. Future of Work Conferences and Remote Work Movement Podcast. Creator of the Digital Nomad Village in Ponta do Sol, Madeira.

All the reasons why remote work is not a fad:

  1. Live in smaller communities
  2. See our children
  3. Improve yourself
  4. Create your perfect workspace

Where does hybrid work come in?

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge to a fully-fledged remote team, hybrid work is a way to test the waters.

What’s the difference between hybrid work and remote work?

Hybrid work Remote work
A combination of in-office work and remote work. Work that is done outside of a traditional office setting.

With hybrid work, you can allow your employees the flexibility of some WFH days while the rest of the week is spent in the office with the rest of the team.

Some hybrid teams have the same remote and in-office days, while others will scatter them to decrease the number of people in the building. Some hybrid teams have a set team that works in the headquarters while other employees are fully remote.

Hybrid work models look vastly different from company to company, and as more offices are reopening at least part-time, we’ll likely see even more versions sprout up.

However, it’s important to note that hybrid work arrangements often come with a set of their own problems, like proximity bias. This may be a good short-term solution as your team transitions to a more remote culture.

Remote hiring: Tapping into a global pool of talent

One of the greatest benefits of managing a remote team is the ability to tap into a global pool of talent rather than relying on the applicants specific to a single location. This opens your company up to a number of talented individuals who could be major assets to your team.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when posting and interviewing for remote positions.

  • If your company has a main office or headquarters, let applicants know where it’s at (especially if they’re ever needed to go in or expected to communicate with staff at the office).
  • Share whether you need someone in a specific time zone for the role or not.
  • Include remote working skills in the job description, like “self-motivated” and “can communicate well through writing”.
  • Detail remote working perks and benefits you offer, like flexible hours, a co-working space stipend, home office setup, etc.
  • In the interview, ask about their preferred working environment. Discuss your company culture to make sure they’re a good fit.

Make your job postings as attractive as possible to ensure you’re bringing in the best talent. Create a structured interview and hiring process—and make sure you have a thorough onboarding document ready to help your new remote hires feel welcome and ready to get started.

Key takeaways

Remote work lets people work when and where they want to, providing flexibility that lets people spend more time with family, friends, pets, and even exploring hobbies. Working from home is no longer a fad, so it’s time for companies to put policies in place that allow employees to work remotely.

One of those policies needs to center around using the best tools for communication. Tools like Yac provide a simple way to communicate across time zones and without the whole team needing to sync up.

Book a free demo to learn more about what your team can do with Yac.