Before the pandemic, remote working, also called working from home (WFH), was less common than today. Nevertheless, some forward-thinking organizations have already pioneered this flexible work model. The way of work has changed, as McKinsey's report on the future of work post-Covid says:
“We find that about 20 to 25 percent of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week. This represents four to five times more remote work than before the pandemic.”
Data from Professor Nick Bloom's Stanford Remote Study confirms that this has happened – around 25% of working days are now remote. Remote and hybrid work have become the new norm with this significant shift. Numerous companies have made these flexible work arrangements their default options.
If you're pursuing a remote model, consider examining some well-known and well-established remote working models. In this article, let's explore the best remote-first companies, how they did it, and their best practices.
The Significance of Remote–First Companies
Nowadays, remote and hybrid work arrangements are not just an added perk for workers - they have become a key strategic initiative for many companies. They need to adapt to the changing landscape to stay competitive.
With many companies calling their teams back to the office, at least for some days per week, offering fully remote work is more of a competitive advantage to attract talent in a competitive job marketplace. 37signal's David Heinemeier Hansson wrote about this opportunity:
Let's face it, if you're trying to compete for talent with the likes of Google or Apple, you need all the help you can get, and these companies forcing everyone back into an office might just be your biggest lift. Because for quite a few people, working remotely or not has become the defining characteristic of a job. To the point where many remote workers won't even consider a position that involves a corporate office. – David Heinemeier Hansson, 37signals
Sure, some issues remain regarding keeping in touch and staying engaged. However, the advantages of remote work models are undeniable and make them a win-win relationship for both companies and their people.
Attracting and Retaining Talent
Remote work has become the top priority when jobseekers look for their next move.
In Buffer’s State of Work report in 2023, 98% of workers expressed their desire to continue working remotely, at least part of the time, for the rest of their careers.
Moreover, one of the popular news stories in Singapore stated that 2 out of 5 workers in Singapore are only willing to accept a job if it offers either a work-from-home option or flexible working hours.
These data underscore the advantages that remote-first companies can have when trying to attract and retain the best talent.
Cost Savings: Optimizing Office Space and Budgets
One significant advantage of remote and hybrid companies is the potential for cost savings through office space optimization, such as rent, utilities, and other associated costs.
Global Workplace Analytics highlights the financial benefits that organizations can save an average of $11,000 annually for every employee who works remotely half the time.
Flexibility and Work-Life Integration
In his article Work-Life Balance Is Becoming Work-Life Integration, Jacob Morgan shared:
“If we spend more time working than doing anything else, then work really is life, and life is work.”
Indeed, people don't want to spend their entire lives just sitting in the office for their earnings. That can explain why most job seekers put hybrid or remote work as one of their top priorities because it provides them greater flexibility in managing work and personal responsibility.
Additionally, Gallup’s survey of 8,090 remote-capable employees concludes:
“The greatest advantages of hybrid work to date are improved work-life balance, more efficient use of time, control over work hours and work location, burnout mitigation, and higher productivity. Hybrid work provides the flexibility for employees to work in ways that are most effective for them.”
Productivity can be improved.
Statistics by Garner proved that flexibility in working hours helped employees achieve greater productivity. 30% of respondents said that less or no time commuting enabled them to be more productive.
However, when it comes to productivity, a change in perspective is necessary for managers and employers. Instead of measuring productivity based on attendance hours, shifting toward an output-based approach and adopting more remote-friendly methods is important. This gap in productivity perceptions between managers and employees in the hybrid work context is highlighted in HBR research.
The Best Remote-First Companies: Role Models for Success
Remote-first companies that embrace a hybrid work culture have mastered the art of combining the advantages of remote work with occasional in-person interactions. They prioritize flexibility and empower employees to default to remote work while recognizing the importance of in-person collaboration and connection, if possible.
The companies listed below have established policies and practices that have paved the way for their success, building a solid remote culture.
By studying the practices of successful remote-first companies, you can avoid the pitfalls of trial and error when building and enhancing your own hybrid or remote company.
Basecamp, a project management and communication software company, has been a pioneer in remote work practices. They have embraced a fully remote hybrid model that allows their employees to work from home, in coffee shops, or co-working spaces. They also built the 37signals Employee Handbook for the detailed guidelines of their working rituals.
During the first year, Basecamp provides support for setting up a home office with a budget of up to $ 2,000. Additionally, they offer a $200/month stipend for a desk at a co-working space.
The entire Basecamp company gathers in person twice a year in different cities. These well-planned meet-ups include agendas, lodging, meeting spaces, and social activities. Furthermore, mini meet-ups are sometimes organized to allow small groups of coworkers to collaborate on meaningful work face-to-face.
Basecamp is famous for having very few meetings. Instead, they embrace written communication in many forms so that everyone can digest information at their own speed. They use daily check-ins, weekly intentions, team “heartbeats” (team’s progress update in the 6-week cycle), and “kickoffs” (next sprint predictions) to ensure transparency and encourage collaboration within and across teams.
Hybrid model: Fully remote
Takeaway: Meetings are toxic! Encourage written communication and collaboration that don't require real-time interaction to promote transparency and empower remote teams. But to make this happen, clear guidelines are crucial to establish the rule of engagement and collaboration in remote settings.
Remote Jobs at Basecamp
If you're curious about job openings at Basecamp, explore and apply here.
When the pandemic hit, Atlassian realized the long-term impacts and boldly decided to shut down all their global offices and transition to remote work. They became one of the remote-first Australian companies, with their headquarters in Sydney, and they've put together a comprehensive guide on their remote working approach.
"We think that by doing remote we can tap into a whole new workforce that our competitors aren't tapping into," Atlassian Co-CEO Scott Farquhar told CNBC.
Atlassian's distributed work policy, called Team Anywhere, allows employees to work from wherever they feel most comfortable and productive. They believe in a hybrid model, allowing flexibility for Atlassians to choose the work environment that suits their needs. They even provide a home office stipend for remote employees to create a great workspace.
One of the coolest things about Atlassian is that they focus on results rather than strict working hours or being physically present. They value employees' outcomes and trust them to manage their own time and tasks. It's all about finding that balance and ensuring everyone feels trusted and empowered.
Atlassian has embraced a remote-first mindset, which means they treat remote work as the default way of doing things. Even when employees are in the same office, the company encourages practices that support remote collaboration, like communicating asynchronously and keeping thorough documentation. This way, everyone can feel included and work effectively no matter where they are located.
Hybrid model: Remote-First
Takeaways: Autonomy results in a culture of trust and empowerment, driving constructive outcomes barely measured by strict hours and physical presence. With this approach and the right strategies, they can stay ahead in the competitive labor market and benefit from diverse perspectives and expertise.
Remote Jobs at Atlassian
If you're curious about job openings at Atlassian, explore and apply here.
In April 2022, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky emailed their employees about their “live anywhere, work anywhere” policy. Seeing a large company take such a bold and straightforward stance was refreshing.
According to the policy, Airbnb employees can choose to work from home or from one of Airbnb's 26 office locations spread across the globe, depending on what suits them best. But here's the amazing part: They can also live and work in any of the 170 countries where Airbnb operates for up to 90 days a year.
It even strengthens the company's image from the inside out when it takes the step to align internal policies with their business mission and values - to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.
Airbnb organizes regular team gatherings where employees have the chance to meet up in person. They are about once a quarter, so there's always an opportunity for face-to-face interaction and socializing.
The new policy is summarized in five major points on Brian Chesky’s Twitter thread:
Hybrid model: Remote-first
Takeaways: What sets Airbnb apart is their hybrid work policy is deeply rooted in the company culture and values. It aligns with their mission of creating a sense of belonging anywhere. When designing your hybrid work practices, ensuring they reflect and support your company's culture and values is essential.
Remote Jobs at Airbnb
If you're curious about job openings at Airbnb, explore and apply here.
Did you know that Zapier, the popular automation tool, has been rocking the remote work game since day one?
It's pretty impressive! While many companies struggled with the shift to remote work and sought ways to maintain productivity with distributed teams during the pandemic, Zapier's remote model allowed them to keep business rolling without a hitch.
Zapier CEO and co-founder Wade Foster explains why the company chose to be completely distributed, without any headquarters:
“It's a better way to work. It allows us to hire smart people no matter where in the world, and it gives those people hours back in their day to spend with friends and family. We save money on office space and all the hassles that comes with that. A lot of people are more productive in remote setting, though it does require some more discipline too.”
They've compiled all their remote work wisdom into The Ultimate Guide to remote work, a must-read for employees and managers. This guide covers everything from tips for remote teamwork and managing team members to strategies for staying productive and recommendations for remote work tools.
Zapier also recognizes the importance of coming together in person, so they organize company retreats twice a year. Transparency is a core value at Zapier. They believe in sharing information openly, including company goals, performance metrics, pay scales, and promotion criteria. This fosters trust, accountability, and productivity within the team. When everyone is on the same page, communication flows smoothly, and trust thrives.
Hybrid model: Fully Remote
Takeaways: Zapier is the gold model in building a highly scalable remote workforce from the ground up. That way, they can implement many remote-friendly initiatives to boost the collaboration and productivity of over 800 team members across 40 countries.
Remote Jobs at Zapier
If you're curious about job openings at Zapier, explore and apply here.
“At Buffer, we’ve experimented with new elements of work: titles and no titles, managers and no managers, office and no office. We don’t work on a fixed schedule or from a fixed location.”
Buffer is a social media management platform that helps individuals and businesses schedule and publish content across different social media platforms.
Buffer is excellently building and maintaining a strong sense of connection and belonging among their distributed team members.
They understand that remote work can sometimes be isolating, so they have implemented various initiatives to combat loneliness and foster meaningful relationships.
One of their highlighted practices is the optional biweekly pair calls, where team members can have one-on-one conversations with their buddies. These calls provide an opportunity to chat, share experiences, and develop personal connections.
Additionally, Buffer organizes recurring mastermind meetings, which go beyond work-related discussions and encourage deeper connections among team members. In their current state, retreats at Buffer happen once a year. They set aside a budget to fly everyone to one location for a week-long gathering.
Hybrid model: Fully Remote
Takeaways: Human interaction is key! Buffer's genuine commitment to creating a connected and supportive remote work culture makes their remote strategies unique. When many companies are driving for hybrid productivity and weighing down the impact of employee engagement, Buffer taps right into their team’s well-being to attract and retain remote talents.
Remote Jobs at Buffer
If you're curious about job openings at Buffer, explore and apply here.
Dropbox has switched to a “Virtual First” company for over two years, but wait a minute, a new term, “virtual first,” just appeared. You may wonder what the differences are between remote-first and virtual-first. I got you!
In general, there is not much difference between the two terms. At Dropbox, remote work becomes the day-to-day default type of working, meaning all employees can be based anywhere. They are focused on creating a supportive and inclusive experience for their employees through their "virtual-first" initiative. This includes virtual social activities like coffee chats, cooking and gardening events, escape games, and happy hours as called "neighborhood" programs.
"We’ve always believed that companies that give flexibility will outperform, out-attract, and out-retain the companies that don’t." - Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox
Going virtual-first doesn't mean Dropbox has no office. They keep Dropbox Studios at many locations as collaborative spaces designed for social interactions, in-person catchups, and team activities. Nothing beats the real face-to-face experience!
In the recent research by Dropbox, they highlighted the value of connections and the challenge deriving from the different nuances of people in perceiving meeting effectiveness. From the key findings and employees' insights, they've updated new practices and tips in their Virtual First Toolkit to support distributed teams at their best.
Hybrid model: Virtual-first
A key lesson: Dropbox has nailed it when transitioning into remote work. They've aligned their new initiatives with their company's mission and have devised some seriously thoughtful policies to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible for their distributed teams. With all the perks that come with remote work, it's no surprise that Dropbox is ensuring that its employees experience it fully and without any interruptions.
Remote Jobs at Dropbox
If you're curious about job openings at Dropbox, explore and apply here.
In conclusion, remote-first companies reshape the future of the work landscape. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote and hybrid work, leading to significant shifts in organizations' operations. Companies that have embraced remote approaches, such as Basecamp, Atlassian, Airbnb, Zapier, Buffer and Dropbox, serve as role models to establish a strong remote work culture successfully.
In short, the same patterns in hybrid/remote work practices of these companies demonstrated the power of flexibility, autonomy, and trust, recognizing the benefits of remote work while also valuing in-person interactions and collaboration. This allows them to tap into the global talent pool, keep the A team, and achieve more success.
When it comes to thriving in the future of work, there's a lot we can learn from those who are already excelling. These top 5 remote-first companies offer valuable insights on how to navigate the changing landscape. While it may take time to succeed, adapting and drawing inspiration from others can be incredibly helpful.