5 Ways to Boost Retention in a Remote-First Workplace

Upflex CPO and cofounder Ginger Dhaliwal shares insights on talent retention for remote teams. Here are five key takeaways from her recent Q&A with the Remote-First Institute.

In a post-COVID era, companies are embracing remote-first and hybrid workplace models like never before. These approaches to work come with all kinds of benefits, including flexibility — though they can also bring unique challenges: From motivation, to technology and communications, to the need for collaboration, employers are still navigating how to best support their teams and help their company culture thrive when the workforce is dispersed.

To avoid being affected by “Great Resignation,” leaders are focused on meeting the changing needs of remote employees. Recently, I sat down (virtually) with the team at the Remote-First Institute for a Q&A on attracting and retaining top talent in a remote-first environment. Here are some of the takeaways from discussions I had with the managers and HR leaders around the world who tuned in.

1. Keep employees on equal footing no matter where they are

Many companies today will have a portion of their workforce that’s going to be fully remote. One of the challenges we see companies facing is: How do you create an equitable relationship across all the different work locations?

All companies are going to have some people that are going to be co-located in clusters within a particular city or town, and what you don’t want is to make people who are outside of that cluster feel like they’re not included. I was recently speaking with a colleague from Atlassian, where they have a policy that if three or more employees were working remotely, and you were hosting a meeting, that meeting would be held on Zoom regardless if you were in close proximity. That’s a cultural decision they’re making so that they don’t create a secondary class of employees, who are “not present.” Keeping this type of balance in check requires constant attentiveness from managers — we need to make sure everyone feels like they’re right where the work is happening, no matter how far away they are geographically from the leadership, or their teammates, or heart of the action.

2. Organize periodic all-team on-sites

Part of this equal footing is about making sure everyone has a chance to meet and work face to face, at some point. Remote-first companies need to get everyone in the same place periodically, and that requires planning — and budget.

Culturally, a lot of companies like ours that are remote-first are making effort to get their teams together. But, one team in our organization could include people from all over the world. Our customer service team, for example, is based across New York, Toronto, Lisbon, London, and Vietnam. We’re not spending money on offices, but we do need to have a budget to allow these teams to come together in person on occasion.

We also host yearly retreats for everyone in the organization to meet at a convenient spot. Again, we have talent all over the globe, so we need to cognizant as we choose those meeting locations that every VISA is viable and there are no limitations.

When when we think about the culture, we’re thinking about those types of considerations — we’re thinking from that global perspective: How are we how are we going to ensure that people feel included? How can we change our current processes to make sure remote employees are on equal footing with team members who happen to be physically together, or who, in a hybrid work environment, are coming into the office?

3. Consider time zone differences

On the Upflex team, we have employees everywhere from California to New York, Lisbon to London to Warsaw, India and beyond. Time zones are important, not just for scheduling one-on-one calls or team meetings but even for Slack and email communications.

To keep a good dynamic with team members and make sure they feel supported and appreciated, our managers have to be aware of where people are based, and be mindful not to be bombarding them with requests on what might be their Friday afternoon, or the middle of the night. Asynchronous work can work very well — but it does require planning. We time our communications to arrive at opportune moments so they don’t feel like a borage.

This consideration applies to our meetings, too: Every every week, we host an all-hands. It’s an opportunity to be very transparent with our team. We know that’s critical to building trust in a remote-first workplace. Sometimes, we have to have them at 10:00 a.m. Eastern — other times they may be at 8:00 a.m. or some other time, to accommodate all the different time zones our team may be tuning in from.

4. Manage change thoughtfully

I’ve also fielded questions about adapting these new ways of working for companies that are entrenched in old ways of thinking.

As a new company, diving into remote first is relatively easy, because you’re starting new rituals, new processes, you’re building something from scratch. When you’re dealing with a large organization — possibly a very traditional organization — that isn’t going to be the case.

Upflex works with Schneider Electric to power their global hybrid workspace strategy. As an example, when we started working with them, they knew they wanted to modernize and future-proof their approach to office space, cut costs and improve utilization of their existing real estate, but there were learning curves, not just for management but for employees, too, who just weren’t used to distributed work.

There was a lot of communication that went into explaining why getting rid of your own private office and moving towards something like an open plan could be better than the old way of doing things. Education materials, consistent, clear communication, recognition of pain points and thoughtfully responding to those pain points — these things were all core to easing the friction of that transition, and to effective change management, at all levels within the organization.

5. Break through resistance with education

We’ve hired so many people in our organization for whom remote communication tools like Slack are kind of scary — and that’s the main form of how we communicate. If that doesn’t get addressed, that resistance and uncertainty about a core tool we use could end up being a big setback for that new employee — and, possibly, for their teammates too.

When it comes to resistance, a lot of it is that fear is because we just don’t understand. Having the empathy to think through that person’s approach to why they may have that resistance is really important in than breaking it down. Like so much in this relatively new world of remote-first work, it comes down to empathy and education.