Remote-First vs. Remote-Friendly Cultures — How to Determine Which One is Right for You

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Sara London for Hive
Sara London for Hive
April 22, 2024 at 4:58PM UTC
What’s the difference between remote-first and remote-friendly cultures – and how do you know which one would be best for your needs? Coco Brown, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Athena Alliance, a networking organization for female executives, has some advice on remote first and remote-friendly cultures as a founder and mentor herself.

What is “remote first culture” vs. “remote-friendly culture”?

Remote first cultures, Brown says, are companies that have been remote since their founding – like Brown’s organization, Athena.
“Athena was born remote – we know no other way of operating as a company,” Brown says. “We have no physical company address, team members are hired and onboarded virtually, and we hire people from all around the world as we operate beyond the limits of a physical location.”
A remote-friendly culture, on the other hand, is one that didn’t start as a remote firm but acclimated to the current remote work trend.
“Progressive companies understand that today’s workforce doesn’t want to be judged or paid based on where they are working, but rather what they are contributing,” Brown says. “Remote-friendly cultures give people a choice to work where they wish to work. And they are a great choice for companies that have portions of their workforce who can not be remote at all.”

Which one is better?

While remote-first and remote-friendly cultures each have their own windfalls and pitfalls, Brown says that remote-first cultures had a less difficult time adjusting to the direction of the future of work. This means that from the beginning, remote first cultures were built on efficiency, affordability, and autonomy – all skills that are valued in the post-pandemic work landscape.
“From an operations perspective, depending on your business model and needs, it can create vast efficiencies as there are people always online,” Brown says. She mentions global help desks or IT support models that might benefit from remote first cultures. “And, of course, there’s a real savings associated with remote-first. No expensive office leases or parking.”
“That said,” she adds, “if your business started with an office and is committed to an office or offices, it might be impractical to do a 180 toward remote-first. Remote-friendly creates the bridge to that ultimate goal if, like me, you believe it to be the best future state.”
However, Brown says, some companies just can’t be remote first. They might offer in-person services, produce physical products, or require in-house tech help. Other in-person services may include perks for employees, like a gym or a daycare on site that becomes vital for the productivity of one’s workforce.
“The benefits to workers of remote first or remote-friendly are the freedoms to integrate life in a way that works uniquely for you,” she says. “If a company can’t offer that, perhaps they can offer benefits that help. For those businesses, it may be more practical to think about job sharing, a variety of flexible work schedules, and benefits and perks that help overcome having to be in the office.”

Potential problems.

Remote first cultures can breed loneliness, and remote-friendly cultures can breed confusion – but to Brown, these potential issues are problems of our own making.
“I’ve had a friend say to me, “Coco, I miss being in the office,” Brown says. “I don’t feel like I can lead the way I used to when I’m remote.” That isn’t a real problem – it’s a feeling. It’s change management. This particular leader had never been remote, and going completely virtual so quickly when Covid struck was very hard for her. Yet, she is now working on her own startup – remote-first.”
That being said, remote-friendly cultures will have in-person interactions built in, while Brown says remote-first cultures need to make time for personal interaction. Brown adds that she only recently met her teammates in person at a retreat in Nicaragua, though she had worked with them for years.
“Despite being remote-first and having never shared the same physical space, we have real connections to each other,” Brown says. “We laugh, we talk about our weekends, we share pictures of our kids; we share our down days, too. I have felt zero setbacks from being remote – only freedom and flexibility.”
“I would encourage company leaders to make reasonable budget accommodations to ensure that there’s room to spend for travel, retreats, and in-person connection when it feels right to do so.”

How to choose for yourself.

Brown says that while tech connects everyone everywhere, remote-first culture is better for those who prefer flexibility and control of their own schedules.
“Those who don’t thrive in remote-first might have challenges that being in an office helps to solve for them,” Brown says. “They could lack a strong friend group or otherwise feel isolated and alone outside of an office experience. Or, they are just starting a career and crave the opportunity to experience an office and the benefits they perceive to come along with that – learning the ropes of the business through peers who are right there with them, people to duck around the cubical to and ask spur of the moment questions.”
Brown admits that though she’s partial to remote-first culture, and notes that if you’re someone who wants to work at a remote-first company, there are ways to get around issues of loneliness or self-doubt.
“At Athena, we have teammates we know to be lonely, others who are going through very difficult times in life, and quite a few just starting their careers. The important thing is to be aware as an organization, and offer avenues for sharing and connection beyond work – like our Slack Watercooler, Friday “Athena Wisdom Exchanges,” and “cross department buddies.”

The takeaway: advice for job seekers.

Brown tells those looking for a remote position that you should know your deal-breakers when you’re interviewing with a remote first or remote-friendly company. She also says that just like one would ask about salary or job title, they should also consider what work environment would make them feel more at home.
“If you know you want to go into an office, ask about hybrid plans or regional locations where you can get some “face-time,” she says. “If you know you need remote-first, then you can easily search for those types of roles. I view remote [cultures] as simply another feature to consider in your search.”
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This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for deciding between a remote-first and remote-friendly role? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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