Remote-First vs Remote-Friendly

Sep. 27, 2019 · 4 min read

Remote-First vs Remote-Friendly.

Remote-first workplaces claim to have a business advantage over remote-friendly workplaces.


  1. Define the advantages (and disadvantages) of remote-first workplaces
  2. Highlight how an organization can benefit (from those advantages)
  3. Support claims with research and survey results


There’s no halfsies in a distributed team. If even one person on the team is remote, every single person has to start communicating online

Joel Spolsky

Most people can be productive in an office. However, many people decide to (or must) work remotely. The key is to offer both.

Remote-first is an environment where remote workers are not excluded (as a default). All workers have equal footing.

Advantages (of remote-first environments):

  1. Hire great people (who can’t move)
  2. Retain great people (who must move)
  3. Higher accountability
  4. Higher productivity

Why Not?

We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Marissa Mayer

Spontaneous collaboration is more likely to occur when people are colocated together.

If the work environment is unable to measure work output, then proxy metrics (e.g. “office buzz”) can be used as a signal for productivity.

Advantages (of remote-hostile environments):

  1. Serendipitous connections (e.g. water cooler conversations)
  2. Accountability (e.g. “butts in seats”) as a substitute for trust
  3. Proxy metrics (e.g. “office buzz”) as a substitute for productivity metrics

What is a Remote-First environment?

Let’s define terms:

  • Remote-hostile: No employees may work remotely
  • Remote-friendly: Almost all employees will work from a company office
  • Remote-first: All employees may work remotely or in company office
  • Remote-only: All employees work remotely

Remote-only eliminates offices completely, which makes it difficult to build teams and culture.

Remote-first maintains “headless” offices for collaborative in-person work and assumes that all/most work is distributed.

Remote-friendly maintains “head” offices and assumes all/most work is colocated. This is the least-advantageous environment, where remote workers are often disconnected from the collaboration and privileges of the “head” offices.

Remote workers include:

  • Employees who travel
  • Employees who are on-call
  • Employees who are approved to work from home
  • Employees who are expected to receive calls (or perform work) outside of the office

Critically, working remotely does not mean working in isolation:

  • Active communication is enabled by technology (e.g. asynchronous chat, real-time video)
  • Active communication incentivizes transparent accountability and productivity metrics

Remote-first is a culture that optimizes for productivity and efficiency, while accommodating requirements for a collaborative space.

Remote-first is often economical for both employers and their workforce.

Remote-first respects individual choice and values results over methods.

How to form a Remote-First environment?


  • Critical: Remote workers are as much a part of the team as those in the office. Over-communicate in ways that are inclusive of people who are in the same, and different time zones so that they can follow along, gain similar context, and understand decisions being made.
  • Requires: Commitment as a team (and a company)

Communicate (deliberately):

  • Critical: Formal communication (e.g. documentation > informal conversations). You and I can talk about anything in real-time (e.g. Zoom, Slack, etc), but we need to then reinforce and follow-up that it is written down in a permanent place.
  • Requires: Persistent collaboration tools (e.g. GSuite, Atlassian Confluence)

Invest in what matters:

  • Critical: Reliably fast Internet (>1Mbps (upload) per concurrent stream)
  • Requires: High quality audio/video hardware (e.g. headphones, microphone)

Measure what matters:

  • Critical: Measure work by accountable metrics (e.g. not “butts in chairs”)
  • Requires: Metrics (e.g. documentation completeness, employee engagement)

Benefits (and caveats) of a Remote-First environment

Benefits to our organization

  • Hire great people, faster
  • Retain great people; reduce turnover
  • Accountability

Speculative benefits (may also be caveats):

  • Office cost, compensation, job relocation cost
  • Business continuity
  • Diversity

Benefits for our workers

  • Flexible schedule: quality of life
  • Flexible (or no) commute: cost and time savings
  • Productivity

Speculative benefits (may also be caveats):

  • Distractions
  • Eating at home
  • Exposure to office gossip, illness