Remote & Async Work 16 min

The change to remote-first: A powerful shift in perspective

Written by Marcelo Lebre
December 15, 2023
Marcelo Lebre


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It’s undeniable. Remote work is here to stay. When employees are offered the chance to work in a flexible arrangement that includes working from home, 87% embrace that opportunity.

Businesses around the world are profoundly affected by this change. They must respond in a way that supports this trend, regardless of their preferred way of working.

Whether your company is experimenting with hybrid work arrangements (part-time at the office and part-time from home) or with a largely remote model, adjustments are in order.

An important factor in a successful transition is what we call a “remote-first” attitude.

Find out in this detailed guide what this mindset entails and how to use it in your transition from an in-office or hybrid work model to a largely or fully remote model. We’ll also show you how to leverage your HR platform to streamline the shift to this all-important remote-first mindset.

A look at the remote work spectrum 

The terms “hybrid work” and “remote work” are often used interchangeably, but there are differences as well as overlaps between them that are important to be aware of. 

Both terms point to forms of working remotely, whether from a home office or another workspace.

The main difference in how these terms are used is in the percentage of time that’s spent at the office versus away from the office. This spectrum runs from 0% to 100% remote. Let’s look at the main work models positioned along it.

The in-office work model

First, there’s the in-office model. This is the traditional work model where staff members come into the office each workday. In general, employees spend around 80 to 100% of their working hours in a physical office. 

The hybrid work model 

A hybrid work model offers a blend of in-office and remote work. While the percentages vary, many companies that follow a hybrid model allow employees to work remotely for about 40% to 60% of their working hours, with the rest of their time spent at the office. 

The hybrid model provides a welcome balance between collaborative in-person work and the flexibility and other benefits of remote work that many employees want.

The remote-first work model

In a remote-first model, the emphasis is on working primarily from home or other non-office environments, such as co-working spaces or the coffee shop around the corner.

Employees might come to the office occasionally (usually less than 20 to 25% of the time), but the default mode is working remotely.

The fully remote work model

In a fully remote model, employees work 100% remotely, often from different parts of the country or around the world. 

Companies that offer this work arrangement are known as distributed companies. They don’t typically have a physical office or headquarters at all; instead, all employee functions take place via the internet.

The unique world of remote workers 

To state the obvious: working from an office is not the same as working remotely. 

One area to master when working remotely is how to blend flexibility and responsibility effectively.

Remote workers generally like having the ability to design their own work schedules, as it gives them more control over their work-life balance. And this can positively impact both their productivity and personal well-being. Yet, they also have to be able to manage their time and avoid distractions.

Stress is another issue remote workers can face. In fact, fully remote employees experience higher levels of exhaustion (85.65%) than in-office or hybrid employees. Without the typical office environment, staying focused and motivated is a constant exercise in self-control that can lead to new types of work stress and tiredness and requires adequate support from the employer. 

Remote employees experience higher levels of exposure to cultural diversity as well, especially if they’re part of a global team. This can be enriching, but it also requires more sensitivity to different cultures and to working effectively across time zones. 

A sense of loneliness can pop up in remote work as well. Even though technology connects remote workers to their colleagues, these workers can also experience feelings of isolation, which requires a proactive effort to resolve.

So, if a company wants to successfully transition to a hybrid or remote-first work model, it would do well to understand a remote workforce’s unique experiences and needs. 

The remote-first attitude: A shift in perspective

Given these unique aspects of remote work, businesses can benefit from developing a “remote-first” attitude toward their hybrid or remote workforce. But what exactly does this mean?

“Remote-first” entails a profound transformation in organizational philosophy. The notion points to a mental model where remote work isn’t a mere supplementary choice but instead an integral, established, and sustainable mode of business operation.

Such a shift goes beyond simply adapting to new tools or the occasional work-from-home days. It underlines a commitment to making sure that remote workers, whether they’re in the next city over or continents away, feel as integral to the company as those working from headquarters.

This understanding is especially true in the domain of international hiring, where every employee is, by default, remote. And companies need more than just infrastructure to navigate this diverse landscape; they also need a guiding philosophy that helps them make the best use of this new work paradigm.

One concept that’s central to the remote-first philosophy is equality, or making sure that distance and less visibility for an employee don’t translate to disparity.

Whether an employee logs in from London, Lagos, or Lima, they must have consistent access to opportunities, resources, and the liberty to voice their opinions and make valuable contributions to the company. This mindset is foundational for building a diverse, inclusive, and collaborative team across borders.

8 steps to becoming a remote-first company 

Becoming a remote-first company offers many benefits, such as more diversity, cost savings, greater productivity, and access to a wider talent pool. But these gains don’t just drop into your lap if you hire remote employees in your country or abroad. 

Rather, it takes a detailed roadmap and a dedicated effort to put the remote-first attitude into action and avoid trouble with a higher turnover risk, legal issues with hiring abroad, and other obstacles. In other words, the shift to remote-first is a process you can’t simply leave to chance.

Here are eight steps for walking successfully through this process:

1. Commit to the remote-first mindset 

Remote-first all begins with the right intentions. If a company wants to make this shift, its leadership will have to embrace the remote-first mindset at all levels of the organization. 

This includes openly acknowledging the value and potential of international hires and committing to creating an environment where remote employees have equal access to the resources and opportunities that the company provides for its headquarters-based employees.

2. Assess the company’s readiness 

Once company leadership has made a firm commitment to change the company culture to remote-first, it’s helpful to conduct a thorough evaluation of the organization’s current systems and processes to gauge its operational readiness for a remote-first approach. 

Perform an internal audit of the current tech infrastructure, employee adaptability, management practices, and existing remote work policies. Such an audit not only pinpoints areas for improvement but also identifies existing strengths that leadership can leverage for a smoother transition to a remote-centric environment.

3. Create a remote-first transition plan 

After the audit, develop a detailed roadmap for the transition to a remote-first model. Include elements such as timelines, resource allocation, change management strategies, and goals and milestones.

4. Establish remote work policies 

Next, it’s time to adjust organizational policies to consider and fulfill the unique needs of international remote workers. 

These policies should cover areas like work hours across time zones, communication standards, data security, cultural sensitivity, and how to comply with local employment laws, especially if your workers are located in different countries.

5. Invest in the right technology 

Another indispensable factor is putting in place technology that guarantees inclusion for your remote employees. 

Identify and invest in proven digital tools for communication, collaboration, and project management. Then, provide your employees with all the necessary training and technical support to successfully use these tools. 

6. Provide training and development 

Technology training isn’t the only kind of training to provide. You’ll also have to address the soft skills among management and teams that are essential for remote collaboration, such as time management, adaptability, and active listening.

Plus, companies with international hires should focus on developing cultural sensitivity and understanding the nuances of managing and working within diverse, global teams. 

Some of these nuances are obvious, such as language barriers and different holidays and time off traditions. But you may also run into differences in work ethic and cultural norms such as punctuality, how and when to provide feedback on employee performance, and what a healthy work-life balance looks like across different cultures.

And if that’s not enough, you’ll also have to incorporate practical solutions for working effectively across multiple time zones. This includes mastering the art of asynchronous communication and understanding the rhythm of global teammates to minimize disruptions and maximize productivity.

7. Build an inclusive, remote-first culture 

We’ve already hinted at the inclusivity factor. This component of the remote-first philosophy is key simply because it’s quite easy to have a conscious or subconscious “out of sight, out of mind” bias toward your remote workers. And when your remote workforce feels neglected, it’s hard to motivate them to give you their best work.

So make sure to develop strategies for building a company culture that’s proactively inclusive of its international workforce. This could involve regular virtual team-building activities, recognition of various international holidays, and transparent communication across all levels of the organization.

8. Regular evaluation and improvement 

Once you’re actively working on changing the culture, don’t forget to establish mechanisms for continual assessment and refinement of the company’s remote-first strategies and practices. 

For instance, think of regular check-ins and feedback loops, such as employee surveys, to gauge the effectiveness of your remote-first approach. Then, make adjustments as needed until everyone is happy and on board with the new work model.

Technological requirements for an optimal remote-first work environment 

To do remote-first well, your company will also need to put in place a set of tech tools that convey to remote workers that they’re a part of the team that’s worth investing in.

Here are some typical technologies that you’ll need for an effective remote-first environment: 

Communication platforms

You’ll need a variety of communication tools, including the following:

  • Tools for daily communication, such as channels for instant messaging and team discussions. Examples include Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Chat.

  • Video conferencing software to facilitate virtual meetings and team collaboration. Examples include Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams.

  • Video messaging tools that give your managers and employees the ability to create quick and easy instructional videos to explain processes to remote workers. Examples include Loom, Clip, and Camtasia.

Time management tools

Effective and user-friendly time management software is a must as well — not just for tracking work hours, overtime, and absences, but also for productivity analysis and managing remote workers across different time zones. Examples include Clockify, Toggl, and Harvest.

Project and task management tools

Another big requirement is the right project management software for the kind of work the company does to keep everyone aligned on and aware of the statuses and deadlines for the projects they are working on. Examples include Asana, Trello, and Jira.

File sharing and collaboration tools

Effective file sharing and collaboration across cyberspace are also critical. Think of the following tools:

  • Platforms that allow teams to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in real-time. Examples include Google Workspace and Microsoft Office 365.

  • Cloud storage solutions provide a shared space for storing and accessing files. Examples include Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive.

Virtual whiteboard tools

One of the interactions that remote employees tend to miss out on is creative and spontaneous brainstorming. You can use a virtual whiteboard to remedy this situation. This tool can go a long way in giving your remote team a stronger sense of inclusion and the ability to provide valuable input. Examples of virtual whiteboards include Miro and Mural. 

Learning and development platforms

Another concern for remote employees is the sense that because they’re not at headquarters, they’ll miss out on personal development and career advancement opportunities.

A good way to proactively address this concern is to offer continual learning options to help with skill building and support career paths at the company. You can provide your own in-house training platform or give your employees access to online learning platforms that offer a wide range of professional development training courses. Examples include and Teachable.

Employee engagement platforms

To address the loneliness factor, your remote employees will also benefit from engagement platforms that can help maintain a sense of connection and appreciation within remote teams and between headquarters and the remote workforce. Examples: Bonusly, TinyPulse.

Virtual Private Networks

Lastly, unless your entire operation is cloud-based, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) play a pivotal role in an effective remote work setup as well. 

A VPN creates an encrypted connection between a user and a server. It’s a critical shield against cyberattacks, especially for remote teams that need access to the network from different locations. Plus, having a VPN in place instills confidence in your remote team members that their digital interactions are adequately protected.

Technologies like the ones listed in this section play a vital role in helping remote employees succeed and convincing them that when the company proudly proclaims its new “remote-first” attitude, it really means it.

The international HR dimension of remote-first 

So far, we’ve discussed the shift to remote-first from the employee perspective — what to put in place so you can take full advantage of the benefits of hiring remotely and your remote workforce can feel valued and included.

But there’s another dimension that needs to function optimally if you’re hiring remote workers, and that’s the HR component. 

Interestingly, companies that hire remotely abroad will have to adopt a “remote-first” attitude for their international workforce, even if the parent company uses a different model, such as a hybrid or office-only work model. 

Let’s review some key considerations for companies that make this shift.

1. An internationally effective recruitment and onboarding process

If you’re dealing with a global workforce, it’s essential to have a strong recruitment and onboarding process in place for hiring internationally. This includes digital tools for screening and interviewing candidates, as well as online platforms for delivering orientation and training. 

2. Clear remote work policies formulated from an international perspective

Companies that hire globally need to establish comprehensive remote work policies that consider international regulations, diverse time zones, and cultural differences. These policies should cover aspects like work hours, communication standards, data security, and adherence to local employment laws.

3. A remote-oriented performance management system

Traditional in-office performance evaluation methods may not work well for remote international teams. Performance factors such as timeliness are often not the best in this situation.

Instead, HR will benefit from implementing a performance management system that focuses on measuring and providing feedback on objective outcomes and deliverables rather than on hours worked. 

4. A global payroll and benefits administration platform

If your workforce is spread out across multiple countries, managing global payroll and benefits can be complex due to varying tax laws and benefits expectations. A related challenge is ensuring timely, accurate pay mechanisms in local currencies.

Global payroll and benefits management platforms such as Remote can help streamline this process and ensure compliance with local laws.

5. HR analytics

Finally, good HR analytics are essential in a remote workforce. Allow access to tools that provide insights into remote employee engagement, productivity, and turnover so your company management can make informed operational decisions. 

The insights these analytics produce can also help your HR team create best-practice strategies for cultivating your top talent around the world and helping them pursue meaningful career paths in the company. Essentially, they help you build and keep a high-performing remote workforce.  

Your international HR options: A quick overview

Navigating the complexities of an international remote workforce requires a comprehensive strategy that involves both state-of-the-art HR technologies and expert processes. 

Here are the main avenues to explore:

This is a direct approach where your company creates a legal presence in each country you wish to hire in. Ideally, you’d combine this with implementing a robust Human Resource Information System (HRIS) that can handle the international HR dimension.

While establishing international entities offers more control, it also comes with the weighty responsibility of understanding and adhering to local labor laws, tax implications, and other regulatory requirements. Plus, it’s a costly process that’s best suited for large enterprises that firmly establish themselves in a foreign market.

Partnering with an employer of record

An employer of record (EOR) is a third-party middleman that hires international workers on your behalf. They perform this service via offices they’ve established in foreign countries or through partnerships. They also handle all the legalities and ensure compliance with local regulations. This is a favored option for businesses looking to venture into global hiring without the administrative burden of creating a legal entity abroad.

Using a global HR platform

Global HR platforms such as Remote offer a fusion of global recruitment support and compliance assurance. They simplify the intricate maze of international hiring, local labor laws, payroll, taxes, and benefits. This solution is perfect for not only startups but also mature businesses looking to expand their talent pool internationally without the overhead of establishing their own international legal presence.

In essence, equipping your business for global remote hiring is about choosing the method that aligns best with your company’s vision, capacity, and growth strategy.

Remote-first: A perspective that can help your business thrive 

Building a “remote-first” company takes some serious effort and an equally serious change in perspective. But done well, this change can make a huge difference in the success of your business. 

Use the steps we’ve outlined in this guide to assess your company’s readiness to go remote-first. Then, once you’re ready to make the switch, invest in the right kinds of technology to build your ideal remote-first systems.

And, as for the HR dimension for your international remote workers, consider partnering with Remote, a top-of-the-line global HR platform. Remote allows you to hire, pay, and manage your global team in a single hub. With Remote, you can:

  • Onboard your global teams, manage compensation and benefits compliantly

  • Oversee employee documentation and approvals in one place

  • Manage team member’s payroll and taxes via a user-friendly platform

  • Minimize legal risks by staying compliant with ever-changing local regulations

Learn more about how you can use Remote to apply a remote-first mindset. You can also get in touch with our friendly team for guidance on how you can manage remote teams with our trustworthy global HR platform.

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