Embrace Flexibility: Improving Collaboration in a Remote-First Workplace

This article on remote-first workplace cultures is an abbreviated version of a research report prepared by Kindred Concierge. Concierge is our on-demand research and insights team that helps our members get the data and information they need to navigate complex decision-making within their organizations. To learn more about the Kindred experience and member benefits, apply here. For existing members, log in to the member portal and maximize your Kindred experience through Concierge today.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are adopting a remote-first approach for their workforce. Once considered a nice-to-have, the option to work from home has become a mainstay for companies looking to retain talent. In recent months, companies including PwC, Amazon, and others have made provisions to allow employees to continue to work virtually indefinitely. This move is also shifting demographics in traditional tech hub cities as top talent relocate with the new flexibility.

The flexibility of remote-first and remote-friendly cultures — i.e., where employees have the option to work remotely while the company maintains physical space — is highly valuable to employees whose priorities have changed in the past year. A 2020 study from Global Workplace Analytics found that 82% of over 1000 employees surveyed want to continue to work remotely once the pandemic is over. Furthermore, if not given the option, studies show that employees would either look for another job or be less willing to go the extra mile for their employer. 

That said, the switch to a remote workplace is not without its challenges. In workplaces where company culture previously relied on in-person interactions, replicating tangible practices in a virtual environment can prove difficult. Companies adopting remote-first or remote-friendly policies must be intentional about building a culture that promotes collaboration, effective communication, and inclusion.

Key Considerations for Remote-First Workplaces

One important consideration for companies leaning into remote work is how the move may impact diversity and inclusion efforts. While remote-first companies are often able to hire more diverse employees, there are equity considerations in practice.

Aubrey Blanche, Senior Director of Equitable Design, Product, and People at Culture Amp, believes that leaders should consider remote workers as a potential constituent group when collecting DE&I data, particularly in hybrid environments. “Understand that their promotional equity, for example, could be slowed down compared to in-office workers,” she said at a recent Kindred Assembly on building inclusive hybrid workplaces. “Thinking about that as a constituent group for your DE&I efforts will help you identify problems before they become giant issues.”

To her point, studies have shown that being observed in the workplace signals commitment to the job, team, and organization, which can result in positive outcomes for an employee. Additionally, a Korn Ferry study found that a majority (60%) of professionals believed that admitting they preferred to work remotely would hurt their career. 

According to Desmond U. Patton, founding director of SAFElab, leaders should also look for opportunities to address issues around accessibility highlighted by the pandemic. “[Accessibility] has been an issue that we have overlooked. And this shouldn’t be the burden on folks who identify as having some form of accessibility need to be able to voice those things,” Patton said at the same event. By identifying these needs and addressing them effectively, organizations can create more inclusive virtual and physical workspaces.

Other important considerations for fostering a collaborative remote work environment include:


In a remote-first workplace, teams may be made up of individuals in different locations and time zones. To promote a collaborative workplace, transparent communication with and among employees is essential. Leaders should approach teams with empathy as they adjust to new working styles and tools. Practices such as documenting discussions, sharing guidelines for communication channels, and norm-setting will help ensure information is easily accessible and everyone is aligned on expectations across the organization. 

Team Building

With remote employees in different locales, it’s important for management to find opportunities to eliminate potential social barriers and facilitate non-work time. For instance, companies can recreate team interactions such as impromptu chats, team-wide activities, and team breaks by offering virtual break rooms, communication channels (such as Slack) dedicated to non-work discussions, or virtual book clubs. The goal is to enhance collaborations and communication between employees, particularly those whose jobs do not intersect. These activities help boost morale, increase innovation, encourage collaboration, and build relationships, among other benefits.

Employee Autonomy

Last year, as organizations moved to remote work, many employers turned to employee monitoring software to track productivity. However, the use of this software can lead to distrust, which negatively impacts company culture. According to a survey from The Workforce Institute, over half of employees say that trust significantly affects their work experience, including mental health, career choices, and sense of belonging. Leaders should focus on employee output over processes to build trust, emphasize collaboration, and provide autonomy. Managers can also track progress against predefined metrics and allow employees to communicate progress with the team.

Similarly, leadership should help employees achieve a proper work-life balance and set boundaries through work schedule policies. While managers should set expectations around working hours, deliverable dates, and regular check-ins, providing flexibility allows employees to create a schedule that works best for their situation while achieving target outcomes.

Onboarding Employees Remotely

Regardless of the work environment, new hires should clearly understand their role within the company, how their work contributes to overall goals, and how success will be measured. However, onboarding new hires and helping them feel integrated into the company can be challenging in a remote environment. The onboarding process should begin by establishing a strong foundation for the employee on the first day. In addition, prioritizing informal meetings for new hires will help build relationships and avoid silos. Setting up a two-week onboarding plan to share documented procedures and practices will help lay out short-term processes and expectations.

The adoption of remote-first workplaces will continue, and organizations will need to evolve to support a distributed workforce successfully. Companies that prioritize inclusion, provide opportunities for effective communication and collaboration, and build trust will successfully cultivate a sense of belonging among employees. 

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Published on October 22, 2021