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Transitioning to Remote-First Work Culture: How Small Businesses Can Get Started

Written by on June 29, 2020

Digital transformation has revamped the way businesses operate beyond imagination. From automation to artificial intelligence and machine learning-driven operations, technology has in a true sense revolutionized businesses across diverse industries. But the digital transformation hasn’t taken place overnight.

After years of fine-tuning, meticulously planning the adoption of digital technologies, modern devices, and embarking on a journey of cultural change has cumulatively contributed to the digital transformation. For large businesses, this was fairly easy since they had the necessary resources to accommodate the modern infrastructure in tandem with the conventional systems and make a smooth transition.

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But for small businesses, the change has been slightly overwhelming, which is also why SMBs have been reluctant to embrace new-age operations- be it automation, digital transformation, or remote working.

Remote working: An overview

The world is of course not unaware of the remote working phenomenon that has been gaining consistent momentum in recent years. In the last decade, remote working has seen an overall growth of around 91% and in early 2020 around 7 million people worked remotely in the USA alone.

The business world was of course aware of remote working and large enterprises had already adopted partial remote working owing to several of its benefits. These include:

  • Flexibility– employees can work from anywhere in the world, anytime
  • Saving productive hours– employees do not waste time in commuting and can be more productive without the stressful commute
  • Saving costs– companies need not invest in large infrastructure, costing millions of dollars to lease physical office spaces and the maintenance costs
  • Attracting talent82% of employees stated that the ability to remote work impacted their decision while choosing between two prospects.
  • Employee retentionthis survey suggested that 78% of companies stated that flexible working worked in their favor for retaining employees. 

Clearly, remote working is advantageous for the employees to a large extent since it helps them stay productive, have a good work-life balance and this in turn benefits the companies since there’s nothing more valuable than productive employees. 

Companies across the globe were trying to accommodate remote working as a policy by and large, small businesses however were still hesitant to the idea. 

And then the pandemic hit.

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COVID-19 and business continuity

COVID-19 practically pushed the world into an abyss that was impossible to get out of, without the help of technology. Businesses had two options- continue things as is and wait till the world returns to normalcy or quickly hop on the change wagon and ensure business continuity.

Needless to say, most progressive businesses with effective leadership and far-sightedness took the second option- to establish new policies that enable operations to continue during the era of lockdowns and social distancing. 

To the relief of business owners, the new normal of remote working did not impact productivity at the scale they imagined. 

And this opened up a new discussion. A discussion of not only adopting remote working culture urgently but also being prepared for any such future crisis with a rather futuristic approach- building a culture of ‘remote-first’! 

What is remote-first work culture?

Just like the ‘mobile-first’ culture has pushed the adoption of mobile apps for businesses before investing in other web assets, and the use of mobile technology for business operations across the globe, the remote-first culture indicates the change in the working environment of businesses- from ‘remote-friendly’ to ‘remote-first’. 

With the remote-first culture, the companies not only promote remote working but also offer the fully-remote working model. In the remote-first work culture, remote working is default and sits naturally in-line with the other company policies that have been around for ages. In the remote-first culture, remote working isn’t a perk or is not situation-motivated but just a way of operation.

Several characteristics that separate remote-first culture from remote-friendly culture include:

  • The employees are hired for remote work- the end-to-end process of hiring and onboarding is remote
  • The employees are never physically hired for a location. They might be tagged to a certain location
  • The remote employees are just like the other employees that work from the office and have access to the same benefits and resources
  • The remote employees do not need to visit the physical office spaces for meetings, everything is practically remote
  • Digital nomads can leverage these opportunities to build a stable yet location-friendly career
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Benefits of remote-first work culture

An interesting proposition on its own, the remote-first culture is highly advantageous for the businesses. Firstly, businesses no longer have to settle for the talent pool available in their geographical location. With remote-first culture, they can hire anyone that deems fit for their requirements across anywhere in the country.

Employees who consider job locations and commute to be one of the prime deciding factors for their job selection can never lose an opportunity and vice-a-versa. Moreover, companies can save tremendously on infrastructural costs- smaller offices, lesser rents, and maintenance costs, and small maintenance staff. 

There’s also a hot debate around the difference in pay structures- while some companies are incentivizing remote working, some are slashing the salaries by adjusting the cost of living. Although that’s a topic up for discussion, the ideal remote-first culture offers a consistent pay structure for remote working, irrespective of the cities from where the employees work from.

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The challenges in building a remote-first work culture for small 

Of course, such a monumental cultural change is easier said than done. Remote working has several challenges that need to be mitigated in order to fully leverage the benefits it offers. Several challenges of remote-first culture include:

Ensuring productivity

Sure, the employees feel more comfortable working from their homes. But is the diminishing line between work and personal strong enough to not impact productivity. What are the ways companies can keep a check on productivity without being intrusive to the employee’s personal preferences?

Also, driving engagement within remotely working staff can be challenging since they are always away! 

Data security

There are numerous ways to infringe the corporate data, especially when it is outside the secure network perimeters. How are companies going to ensure that data is protected and watched over at all times, again without hindering the privacy of the employees?

Device provisioning

Companies need to ensure that the employees have devices provisioned for remote working- this includes adding appropriate apps and resources to the devices, enforcing security policies and access control, and shipping the devices to the employees with minimum physical intervention.

Troubleshooting and support

Whenever there are roadblocks or device errors, the troubleshooting has to be done over the air and consistent support has to be provided to ensure that the devices are up and running and the employee productivity is never compromised.

How small businesses can get started

Create remote working policies

Remote working can only be successful if it is implemented under the adherence of strict policies. Small businesses can define these policies which incorporate the expected availabilities, team standups, online collaboration, and productivity mapping. These policies should also include time-offs, scheduled downtimes, and fun-times to ensure employee engagement and well-being. 

Device provisioning and management

Will the employee use personal devices for work? Or will the company ship the devices? Small businesses will have to decide this and accordingly get started with device procurement and management. Once decided, the next ideal step is to get started with a mobile device management tool that can help in implementing the device provisioning, making the devices ready for work with business apps and resources

Facilitating collaboration and communication

Communication lapses can frustrate employees and also impact productivity. When starting with remote-first work culture, small businesses have to ensure that the right communication and collaboration tools are in place, that are beyond latent emails.

Ensuring that these communications tools deliver speed, are secure and encrypted is a must.

Ensuring security

When employees work fully remotely, the devices they work on are connected to unknown networks, exposing the corporate data to several security breaches. Robust security policies need to be enforced, including access control, encryption, periodic compliance, and security alerts in order to protect corporate data.

Plan a cultural change

When we speak about remote-first culture, a cultural change is imperative. Small businesses that want to get started with building a remote-first work culture need to have a planning and change management team in place. This team can look after the phases in which the changes are to be implemented and keep a tab on the progress of the transition and identify gaps if any.

The cultural change will also encompass managerial training to help the managers learn how to streamline productivity, resolve conflicts, exchange feedback, and track project completion while working remotely. 

To summarize…

Remote-first work culture is the future of work. Small businesses that catch up with the trend early on can leverage the several benefits of remote working, while also attracting millennial workforce who are looking for flexibility from their workplace. With the appropriate implementation and a trusted MDM solution, remote working can be nothing short of a cake-walk! 


Renuka Shahane is a Sr. Content Writer at Scalefusion. An engineering graduate, an Apple junkie and an avid reader, she has 5+ years of experience in content creation, content strategy and PR for technology and web based startups.

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