Why the label “remote first” isn’t a culture

Scan by way of job postings nowadays, and also you’ll inevitably see it. Generally it’s spelled out in massive, daring letters; different instances it’s buried in the perks and advantages: “remote-first culture.”

After a yr of lockdown, rising numbers of firms are embracing remote-work choices—some, akin to Twitter and Shopify, are permitting workers to “work at home perpetually”; others now provide versatile, hybrid preparations. To be clear, I feel these choices might be nice. There’s only one downside. Distant-first isn’t a culture, not by a lengthy shot. And complicated the place we work with how we work is definitely a massive deal.

The elusiveness of firm culture

Even earlier than the pandemic, exactly defining firm culture wasn’t straightforward. A library’s price of books has been written on it, however the idea finally is a imprecise one. Culture might be “what people do and how they do it.” It may be attitudes and behaviors, and even less tangible (however distinctly not poisonous).

Furthermore, what counts as “good culture” might be night time and day, relying on the firm. Some companies champion freedom and responsibility, whereas others follow radical candor or radical empathy, all in pursuit of a well-functioning workforce.

Since culture is so arduous to outline, we wind up lowering culture to tangible, bodily issues. Earlier than the disaster, culture was usually equated with workplace perks. Silicon Valley firms had been in a veritable arms race of soft choices earlier than the pandemic, touting entry to every little thing from in-office massages and automobile washes to indoor slides as a part of their culture.

At their finest, these types of options are inputs, not outputs; at their worst, they’re simply empty trappings. In one study, 60% of workplace employees reported that “enjoyable” perks truly make it tougher for them to do their jobs. Different statistics present that tech employees are a few of the least loyal workers, regardless of having a few of the finest perks at their startup workplaces.

The bounds of the “distant first” label

In the pandemic period, all these in-office perks have understandably gone out the window. Now, “distant first” is the shiny object that’s being conflated with culture. For instance, BuiltIn, a digital neighborhood for tech firms and startups, just lately posted a celebratory record of remote-first firms, positioning all 50 startups as progressive, forward-thinking companies. The issue is that “distant” offers little readability on values or targets, the course of by which groups are constructed and led, or the method individuals are handled.

As an worker, are you in for a cutthroat atmosphere the place efficiency is prioritized above all else? A people-first office the place colleagues assist the complete particular person? All you recognize for positive is that there are going to be a lot of Zoom calls.

In the meantime, as an employer, main with a “distant first” label is promoting your organization and culture brief. It’s like pitching what you are promoting by saying it’s on a bus route. And also you might be alienating workers for whom distant work will not be their superb circumstance. Based on a recent survey by actual property firm JLL, a quarter of workplace employees hope to return to the workplace full time, whereas one other half would favor a hybrid schedule to a absolutely distant association.

Constructing culture that transcends location

Actual culture goes past these bodily and digital trappings. At a intestine stage, it’s intimately wrapped up with how individuals are anticipated to deal with each other, but in addition how folks truly deal with each other after they suppose nobody is trying.

For me, constructing culture begins with a clear assertion of values. At my firm, this facilities round three fairly simple pillars: worker pleasure, buyer success, and income and profitability. To me, working a firm with out clear guideposts like these is like getting in a automobile and stepping on the gasoline with out a vacation spot in thoughts.

These values can’t simply be indicators on the wall, nevertheless. They must be bolstered in the processes you implement. Take that worker pleasure pillar. That’s expressed in every little thing from how we onboard new folks to rituals akin to weekly “excellent news” check-ins. Inside this framework, distant work is only one extra course of put in place to assist assist workers.

Above all, culture is manifested in lived behaviors, massive and small. worker pleasure is actual, for instance, when folks go the further mile unprompted. One among my favourite examples: a assist consultant was on a name with a consumer who out of the blue went into labor. Regardless of this, she was nonetheless attempting to resolve the difficulty. Taking cost of the state of affairs, the consultant informed her he’d get the difficulty fastened as quickly as attainable, and instantly booked an Uber to her workplace, expensing it himself.

A culture constructed on this method might be location-agnostic. An workplace area or an web connection is simply a supply methodology. The underlying substance stays unchanged. After I attend our all-hands Zoom conferences, I see, clear as day, that we’re nonetheless the identical firm, with the identical coronary heart, even when we’re not bodily collectively.

Simply as you wouldn’t accept ping-pong and “beer Fridays” as a definition of your culture earlier than, don’t accept remote-first as a definition of your culture now. The disaster has launched a lot uncertainty. Timelines are nonetheless shifting, and plans for returning to work stay up in the air for therefore many firms. Nonetheless, a permanent culture can stand up to all the twists and turns in the highway forward.


Chris Litster is senior vice chairman at RealPage, the place he manages platforms that assist property managers and house owners develop into extra environment friendly and worthwhile, together with Buildium and Propertyware.