Is it the new American dream to work remotely? As the dust settles after the COVID-19 pandemic, we're seeing a new balance between on-site and remote work. Some teams prefer the flexibility and autonomy of remote work, while others prefer the structure and social interaction of working on-site. Companies need to consider their workforce's preferences and build a positive hybrid or remote work culture that supports them now more than ever.
Or suffer losing out on a talented workforce.
As a venture capital firm that invests in companies building a world where work is more creative, accessible, and flexible, we at Worklife have been keeping a pulse on the growth and future of remote work.
"Many of my first investments were for remote teams and helping founders to build the tools to work from home and have a more flexible lifestyle. This started as a passion project as an angel investor. So I was talking about remote work before the pandemic began." –Brianne Kimmel, founder, and managing partner of Worklife Ventures
With companies big and small shifting to a more decentralized model, it's more important than ever to focus on building a positive remote work culture. To do so, we want to empower teams and managers with the insight and tools they need to make it happen.
So let's talk about:
- the importance of creating a remote work culture that ships,
- look at companies doing it right or building tools that help,
- and how to integrate remote work values into your company.
Remote Work Culture or Bust
Remote work has been a game changer for many companies during the pandemic, and it's not hard to see why. With the ability to work anywhere, remote work has opened up a world of possibilities for businesses and employees.
When done right, remote work can improve productivity, satisfaction, and retention. It can also increase the pool of potential candidates for a company by expanding to a global employee marketplace.
Last year, we asked the internet about the following topics related to remote work:
- returning to the office
- networking and bonding IRL
- team building
We found that 39% of teams said remote work was more productive, while another 28% said a combination of the two was better. They also indicated it could be considered as important as compensation and benefits. We found that 62% of respondents would pick remote work over a $3,000 bonus to go into the office. In another survey, 44% said they'd rather quit than return to the office (remember the Great Resignation?).
When we checked in on remote worker engagement, we found that 54% of people miss the friendships they can build in an office setting, and 50% of workers have felt more lonely since going remote.
So if employees love remote work, but some aren't feeling socially fulfilled–what can be done? Building the right culture around remote or hybrid work is the key.
The challenge with 100% remote work is that it isn't always done right, or sometimes it's not the best option for a company.
Merge (Worklife portfolio company) offers Unified APIs that authenticate, normalize, and sync data across API providers, so that SaaS developers can offer a variety of integrations in their software. As a team of 55, the company operates in its New York and San Francisco offices. As a tech company, this decision of a bold one, but their career page clearly states their thinking behind the policy:
"We've found that when you're a small startup, building together offers magical advantages that make your product better, your velocity higher, and your lives richer from close-knit bonds."
For Merge, 100% in-person works. For others, it's not necessary. However, every business leader should take the time to look at their processes, measure their team's productivity, and listen to their employees to conclude whether to do remote, hybrid, or in-person.
The State of Remote Work
If you still need convincing, it's time to read the room.
Remote work is being talked about in every business publication in the world. You'll see articles promoting new remote jobs, debates about in-office vs. at-home productivity, and companies recalling their workers back to the office everywhere you go. You won’t be able to escape articles promising the key to creating a remote work culture.
This isn't a matter to be pushed under the rug. So let's cut through the noise and take a closer look at what's actually going on in the world of remote work.
Remote Work is Finding Its Balance
In 2021, Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom and his colleagues surveyed over 30,000 Americans to see what workers expect from the growing remote work trend. They found that most full-time workers want to continue working at least 2-3 days a week remotely. As a result, he's predicted that 50% of American employees will work from home at least twice a week post-pandemic.
Now, in 2023, remote work continues to be a hot topic worth watching. Every day, we see another headline about corporations calling their employees back to the office. Yet, we're also seeing reports that there are more remote jobs than ever.
On the one hand, we're seeing giants like Netflix, Goldman Sachs, and Twitter return to an office-first mindset. On the other, Shopify, Dropbox, and Deloitte remain dedicated to a remote-first culture. But most companies are found reimagining work somewhere in the middle. Organizations like Pinterest, Canva, and DoorDash are adopting a hybrid approach.
A hybrid workplace allows employees to get the best of both worlds: the flexible working hours and autonomy of working from home, and the collaboration and connection of working in an office.
Employees can work from home when they want to be head-down during the week, and come into the office for important meetings or team-building activities.
If you’ve ever been part of a startup team, you know the energy that comes from getting everyone together and knocking out a pile of to-dos in a collaborative, creative space! When the team has the opportunity to come together in the same space to map out projects, make organization-wide decisions, and build camaraderie and culture, the benefits of meeting in-person are unmatched.
A hybrid also gives people who love the office a place to focus. In addition, with fewer people in the office, companies can also bootstrap operational costs by downsizing their office space. It's a win-win-win.
Companies that call teams back to the office part-time or with flexible options will once again have to adapt to new norms. They'll have to consider details like whether to keep all virtual meetings or install cameras in meeting rooms for a hybrid approach. They'll have to decide whether to choose specific days of the week for teams to be in the office, or leave it up to the employee.
Companies need to carefully consider each element of work-life to ensure the team can maintain productivity and engagement. Thankfully, there’s a lot of really awesome companies who have done a lot of the heavy lifting in finding that balance already.
Companies Doing Remote Work Culture Right
Remote work has become the new norm for many companies. But let's face it, not all companies are created equal in remote work culture building.
Some are killing it with their out-of-the-box strategies and tech-savvy approach, leaving their competitors in the dust. Let’s dive into how these trendsetters have managed to dominate the remote game and even taken companies public:
WordPress, the leading open-source content management system, has been a pioneer in remote work for many years. The company has embraced a decentralized structure since its inception in 2003, allowing employees to work from anywhere worldwide.
Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automattic, which runs the publishing platform, is incredibly passionate about this choice and has even started a podcast about it.
"It's one of my life missions to have more companies be distributed. It's good for the environment. It's good for opportunity. It's good for the company." Mullenweg tells the New York Times.
For leadership, it was more than just a business decision, it was a choice to change a core part of their culture. The company found that remote work allows for more flexibility and autonomy for its employees, which leads to increased productivity and job satisfaction. Now, they can attract top talent from around the world, regardless of location.
One thing that makes their approach work is embracing asynchronous work and letting people work whenever they want. This shows a high level of trust being instilled from the top down, and employees respond well to it. In fact, he's shared that often, he finds his distributed team needs to take more vacation time or time away from the keyboard. So, of course, they've implemented measures to encourage those glued to their computers to step away.
GitLab is another great example of a positive remote work mindset. The code-management platform has always been fully remote-first and outspoken about the topic, posting in-depth insights into their approach on their website.
In this manifesto, they claim all-remote work promotes:
- hiring and working from all over the world
- flexible working hours
- writing down and recording knowledge
- written processes
- public sharing information
- opening up documents for editing by anyone
- asynchronous communication
- the results of the work
- formal communication channels
One of the key elements of GitLab's remote work culture is its focus on transparency and open communication. The company's entire handbook, which outlines its policies and procedures, is available to anyone on the internet. This level of transparency helps build trust and accountability among remote team members.
GitLab also has a strong focus on employee autonomy and self-management. Employees are free to work when and where they want, as long as they meet the company's expectations for productivity and results. This approach helps to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility among employees.
Airbnb is newer to the list of tech giants going all-in on remote work. Last April, CEO Brian Chesky announced that employees could work and live from anywhere in the world and shared 5 key features of their approach:
- Employees can choose from home or office.
- Their compensation won't change based on location.
- They can live and work in 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location.
- Airbnb will host in-person team gatherings each quarter.
- The company will follow a multi-year roadmap with two major product releases a year to keep them working in a highly coordinated manner.
And if you don't believe in the power of a flexible work color, you might be surprised when you find out more than 800,000 people ran to the Airbnb careers page after the announcement broke.
With remote work now the norm, Airbnb is well-positioned to continue its rapid growth and innovation in the travel and accommodation space. In addition, this move demonstrates the company's commitment to creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace, as remote work allows for a more flexible work-life balance.
These companies are great examples of how to build a remote work culture. But remember, they're not pulling it off alone. So let's not forget about the companies building business solutions technology to make it happen!
Companies & Tools Making Remote Work Culture Happen
As the world continues to adapt to the new reality of remote work, companies have emerged that are building innovative tools to connect and empower remote teams. From virtual meeting platforms to project management software, these companies are helping teams stay connected and productive, and driving the future of work.
We have had the privilege of investing in some of the most promising companies in this space, and we are excited to share some of their best remote work features. Let’s take a look at some of our portfolio companies playing a major role in the remote work industry:
One of our portfolio companies, FlowClub, is changing how remote workers stay connected. It's the ultimate virtual co-working platform for remote workers looking to stay in a productive flow.
Whether it's to work alongside friends or strangers, Flow Club provides a collaborative environment that keeps remote workers motivated and on task. The platform will match you with other users working on similar projects, so you can swap ideas and share words of encouragement as you knock out your to-do list.
But Flow Club does more than help people get into a flow state. It also fills that void of social interaction and community among its users. By working alongside others, they get the social interaction they need to stay motivated and engaged without the need to commute to the office.
Users all over the world are singing its praises, as are we!
When the pandemic first closed down in-person offices, a lot of companies scrambled to find tools to help them communicate and collaborate remotely. Some ended up with a tech stack of multiple platforms with work still happening in a synchronous format, while other, luckier companies discovered Almanac.
Almanac is another one of our favorite startups dedicated to defeating process chaos. It empowers remote workers to stay connected and productive with a full-suite of real-time collaboration tools.
It takes critical planning conversations out of Slack and organizes it into a dynamic, collaborative document. It helps team leaders and HR directors collaborate on company handbooks.
Need social designs on Canva to get reviewed and approved alongside it’s related blog in Google Docs? Instead of saving the files and dragging them into the document, you can send them for approval all together in one unified Almanac workspace.
Whatever the project – if your team needs to collaborate on it, Almanac has a tool for it. No seriously, here’s a list of all of the platform features:
- Share and Publish Documents
- Import and Export Documents
- Collaborative Workspaces
- Comments and Tasks
- Read Receipts
- Private Track Changes and Reviews
- File Organization
- Version Control
- Document Editor
- Share and Publish Handbooks
- API Integrations
Almanac is another one of our favorite startups revolutionizing the way remote teams collaborate and communicate. Almanac empowers remote workers to stay connected and productive with a full suite of real-time collaboration tools.
Almanac plays a vital role in remote work by providing transparency to workflow progress, without the need for micromanaging or tracking. In addition, these collaboration tools were built to create a culture of trust within a distributed team.
One of the best parts about Almanac is that it builds a culture of trust and transparency – critical elements of a positive remote work culture. The workflow and progress is clearly tracked without the need for micromanaging.
When teams are freed up to get the work done instead of searching databases and project management platforms for a progress check, they can distribute critical meeting insights quickly, build and ship products more efficiently, and feel confident that work can get done asynchronously.
For companies wanting to hire a global remote workforce, Deel is here to help. Deel is a startup shaking up the world of international hiring with a platform that streamlines the process of hiring internationally, making it easy for organizations to bring in top talent from around the world.
Last year, we had the chance to sit down with Deel co-founder and chief revenue officer Shuo Wang to learn more about the company and the growing trend of a global workforce. She shared that the pandemic's push to going to remote really skyrocketed the business:
"The pandemic definitely accelerated the need for Deel, and it helped us find a product market fit much faster. I think we didn't expect our company to scale so fast."
One of the biggest challenges of hiring internationally is compliance. Different countries have different laws and regulations, and it can take time for organizations to navigate these complexities. However, Deel takes care of it, ensuring that the hiring practices comply with all relevant laws and regulations.
In addition to compliance, Deel also handles payroll and benefits distribution for international hires. This means that organizations can bring on international employees without worrying about the logistics of paying them and providing benefits.
How to Build a Strong Remote Work Culture
As we saw with the companies on the leading edge of remote work culture, building a robust remote work culture is more complex than just sending employees home with laptops.
So let's take a page from their playbook and look at some crucial steps companies will need to take when remote work culture building.
Invest in Technology
Investing in technology is possibly the most important step in creating a remote work culture. Selecting the right tech tools to unite your remote workforce can make or break their success.
From AI platforms that automate repetitive tasks and data analysis to SaaS products built to manage everything from projects to human resources, there are a lot of options out there. However, here are some of our favorites:
- Flow Club - Invite your teams to co-work and connect
- Almanac - Standardize your workflow and collaboration
- Mmhmm - Take your virtual meetings to the next level by being on-screen with your presentations
- Candor - Let your teammates get to know how best to work with one another
- Loom - Reduce Zoom fatigue with quick videos to share information
- GitLab - Empower your developer productivity with a collaborative DevOps platform
- ChartHop - Keep a pulse on your remote work culture with centralized people data
By providing your team with the tools they need to succeed, you can reduce the stress and frustration that comes with working from home.
Keep Employees Connected
One of the most significant downsides to remote or hybrid work is the disconnection teammates feel from their peers.
Remote work can be isolating, so it's essential to provide employees with opportunities to bond with their peers and build relationships. This will be especially important for Gen Z in the workplace, who entered the workforce during the pandemic and have yet to have the same opportunities to bond with their bosses and peers.
One way to give employees opportunities to connect with their peers is through virtual team-building events. These events can be as simple as a weekly virtual coffee break, or as elaborate as a virtual escape room or scavenger hunt. The key is to create opportunities for employees to interact with each other in a relaxed and fun environment.
Let’s take a minute to take a closer look at celebrity shout-out video platformCameo’s approach to remote company culture building. They were one of thousands of startups scrambling to replace their in-office perks, like kombucha on tap and celebrity office visits (Quite a perk!). So what did they do?
They found new ways to have fun!
To make new employees feel welcomed, they went all out on swag, sent a personalized Cameo from a celeb, and paid for their office set up. They turned all-hands meetings into a theatrical production, complete with comedy skits and executives pouring water on their heads?
The point is to make sure you hold onto those office moments that felt silly, yet personal. Leaders need to be intentional about creating a space for those moments to happen organically online.
Aside from the fun stuff, managers should facilitate regular virtual meetings and check-ins, where team members can share their thoughts, ideas, and progress, to help build trust and camaraderie among team members.
Communication is KEY to remote work culture building! At the end of the day, Slack messages can lead to confusion and a lot of things can be misinterpreted
When you strip away in-person opportunities to toss an idea around or solve a business problem over the water cooler, you miss out on opportunities to communicate and collaborate. Therefore, business leaders need to be mindful of giving their employees additional training and guidelines around proper and effective remote communication.
To improve communication skills, companies need to invest in training and development programs focusing on effective remote communication. These programs should cover topics such as active listening, written communication, and using digital tools for communication and collaboration.
Slab is one company dedicated to building a knowledge-sharing culture for its users and team. For example, one of their biggest customers, Stripe, has used the platform to build a strong writing culture. Whether it's an email to a colleague or an announcement to the company, they emphasize the importance of writing with clarity and consistency.
To follow GitLab’s lead, documenting clear communication protocols and guidelines is critical for remote workers to stay on the same page. Here are a few process and protocol ideas to get you started:
- Weekly 1-1s between managers and individual team members
- Create a template for meeting notes
- Emphasize the use of asynchronous tools for formal work-related topics
- Use synchronous tools for informal communication
- Provide as much context as possible
- Establish expected response rates and synchronous communication time frames
The list goes on. Figure out what works for your team and document it in a centralized location where your entire team can refer to it.
Build Out Documentation & Protocol
And speaking of documentation – having clear and well-defined policies in place beyond communication can help ensure everyone is on the same page and consistency in how remote work is approached and executed.
When building out documentation and protocols, consider the following elements:
- expectations for remote work
- guidelines for communication and collaboration
- procedures for requesting and providing time off
- how to decide if a meeting is necessary
This will help ensure that everyone understands the expectations and responsibilities that come with remote work and that there is a clear process for dealing with any issues or concerns that may arise. Having clear and well-defined policies will also help to reduce confusion and misunderstandings and can help to improve overall job satisfaction and productivity for remote employees.
Follow the lead of tech companies that have been documenting and iterating protocols for years:
- GitLab's Guide to All-Remote
- Buffer’s Everything We Know About Remote Work
- Zapier’s Ultimate Guide to Remote Work
Build Trust & Psychological Safety
Last but not least: YOU HAVE TO TRUST YOUR TEAM.
And they need to know you trust them.
Trust is the backbone of any successful remote team. Without trust, communication breaks down, collaboration stagnates, and productivity suffers. Trust is built through consistent and transparent communication, clear expectations, and holding team members accountable for their work.
Without trust, you run the risk of your team suffering from a lack of psychological safety. Without psychological safety, employees may hesitate to speak up and share their ideas, leading to a lack of engagement and decreased productivity – which can and will hurt your business in the long run.
According to Gallup, highly engaged business units see an 81% difference in absenteeism and a 14% difference in productivity. Another survey conducted by the University of Maryland found that teams who feel free to share their emotions are more creative and innovative. Needless to say, companies can’t afford to have a disengaged, stressed out workforce
So if you want to empower your team to continue to feel motivated and innovative, Global HR platform, Remote provides some tips for assuring psychological safety for remote workers:
- Demonstrate trust from day one
- Make check-in meetings about the individual, not the work
- Show accountability from the top
- Measure performance, not hours
- Enforce time off to prevent creative burnout
There’s Plenty More to Talk About
Whether or not companies continue to ask their employees to return to the office in 2023, remote and hybrid work is here to stay. We're challenging companies to reimagine their workplace, find tools that help them build a positive culture, and remember to be flexible!
If you want to explore more on this topic, you can find more remote work tips here: