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What Does It Mean To Be A Truly Remote-First Company?

February 24, 2023
Part of maintaining a successful, fully-distributed environment is trusting that your employees know what’s best for them and empowering them to work in ways that increase their productivity rather than hinder it. Here's how we accomplish this at Abnormal.

It’s no secret that remote jobs have been on the rise these past two years—and the transition to a fully distributed workforce isn’t slowing down anytime soon. A recent Ladders report states that 25% of professional jobs will be fully remote by the end of 2023, a significant increase from the 15% of high-paying professional jobs available today.

Our remote-first philosophy at Abnormal centers around the idea that we should act as coworkers, not babysitters. We ask for excellence, innovation, and velocity from our entire team, and we know that dictating how and when our team gets their work done would run contrary to those expectations. Part of maintaining a successful, fully-distributed environment is trusting that your employees know what’s best for them and empowering them to work in ways that increase their productivity rather than hinder it. Of course, this looks different for everyone—so how do you ensure that your remote-first workplace meets the needs of everyone at the company?

1. Prioritize Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous (or “async”) work is a crucial component of a remote-first environment, especially when collaborating across multiple time zones and continents. Asynchronous work policies promote communication via Slack or email rather than meetings, freeing up employee calendars and giving them the space for deep, innovative work to get done. In fact, in Buffer’s 2022 State of Remote Work Report, 61% of respondents said they were actually in more meetings as a result of remote work, and 52% said they would like their company to adopt an async-first policy going forward. Of course, meetings are still necessary, and creating an async-first environment involves more than simply canceling meetings for the sake of getting time back, so companies need to be intentional about creating communication policies that allow for both.

Here are some of the ways we’ve accomplished this at Abnormal:

Treat Slack like your company’s personal assistant for async work
Beyond serving as a company-wide messaging system, Slack boasts a whole host of features that make asynchronous work easier for everyone. Getting in the habit of having employees set their dark hours, working hours, and time zones on Slack helps avoid after-hours communication, and bookmarking key documents directly in Slack channels like meeting notes and agendas can help those who fall outside of the current timezone stay up to date even if they can’t make it to a meeting. Utilizing automated workflows in Slack can also help managers and direct reports stay connected in between weekly meetings with an automated 1-1 agenda. This lets the direct report share their top priorities, projects, wins, and roadblocks with their manager in a way that’s easy to reference and respond to, which helps 1-1 meetings run even more smoothly.

Take away the pressure to attend meetings outside of working hours by recording them
In an ideal world, everyone would be able to attend every meeting that’s relevant to their role—but when you’re working across multiple time zones, that simply isn’t always a reality. At Abnormal we make it a priority to record all important meetings for those who can’t attend due to time constraints, whether that’s due to their location or current workload. Giving folks the opportunity to skip a meeting when necessary and catch up later is an important piece of the autonomy we want our employees to feel when it comes to dictating how and when they get their work done—without feeling like they’re being monitored or penalized for not being able to show up every single time.

2. Utilize ERGs, Employee Clubs, And Special Interest Slack Threads

One of the easiest ways to coordinate smaller social gatherings is through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), clubs, and special interest Slack channels. This gives employees the space to connect based on shared identities or interests, which encourages even more authentic conversations and deepens relationships among employees.

Here are a few ways we help foster those connections at Abnormal:

Host interactive events for employee clubs and resource groups
Our employee groups receive small budgets to use for virtual events, speakers, workshops, or whatever they feel is the best use of their shared time together. Our Ladies of Abnormal group recently hosted a virtual resin jewelry making event. Organizer Brookelynn Miller, People Programs Specialist at Abnormal, said “it was a fantastic experience to close out our quarter through having a creative outlet and finding time to connect with other women at Abnormal!” These events can be as simple as getting together to do a craft or activity, or something more interactive, like working through a virtual escape room together.

Facilitate special interest group activities
Bonding over a shared interest takes a lot of the pressure off of social situations with people you’ve never met in real life. At Abnormal, we create dedicated Slack clubs for these special interests, some of which include gaming, anime, the outdoors, finance, and more. Saffron Courtney, People Success Associate at Abnormal, has always been active in the company’s gaming club, and recently started leading organized gaming sessions for interested employees. “We have a lot of Overwatch fans in our company, so when Overwatch 2 came out in early October we were all eager to get together and play,” she shared. “It’s a team game, and we were able to gather exactly enough people to all team up and play together for a couple rounds and enjoy some Doordash as well. We had different teams in the org represented like sales, security, and product. Everyone had a lot of fun!”

3. Be Intentional About Virtual Events

One of the things employees at Abnormal love most about working remotely is the flexibility it offers them—which is why asking people to attend a virtual happy hour at the end of their work day would be counterintuitive. Taking away the daily commute gives employees precious time back that they can (and should!) spend decompressing, engaging in their hobbies, running errands, or spending quality time with their families. Asking employees to spend time engaging in a work event during time that could be spent recovering from their day could lead to a decrease in motivation, engagement, and even resentment, especially if it directly contradicts flexible, remote-first policies companies pride themselves on.

And still, social interaction with coworkers is something many employees crave. Buffer’s report found that 52% of respondents feel less connected to their coworkers as a result of remote work despite being in more meetings. Carving out the space to foster genuine human connection should still be a top priority for remote companies, and the right approach makes all the difference.

Here are a few ways we intentionally curate remote-first events for Abnormal employees:

Incentivize recurring events, like virtual lunches
While our monthly virtual lunches are entirely optional, those who choose to attend receive a DoorDash credit they can spend however they’d like. This gives employees a good reason to take valuable time out of their work day to socialize with coworkers they likely don’t get to spend time otherwise. These lunches are also structured with conversation prompts and breakout rooms, so everyone has a chance to really get to know each other and engage in meaningful conversation.

Gamify social time
We’ve all heard employee feedback about awkward one-on-one chats with new coworkers or silent breakout rooms—sometimes it can be challenging to connect with a total stranger for the first time over Zoom. At Abnormal, we utilize Luna Park, a Netflix / Peloton-like library of high-quality experiences that range from arcade games and icebreakers to trivia and beyond. One of their monthly experiences, Luna Park Pairs, randomly pairs different employees in the company via slack and tasks them to collaborate together on a 10-minute gaming challenge. The teams compete against not only all the other pairs at Abnormal but also against thousands of other pairs from other companies. This gives teammates the chance to meet, connect, and have fun without placing the burden of coming up with conversation topics on their shoulders. Companies can do the same without an official platform by utilizing online games, escape rooms, puzzles, and more.

Save company-wide events for holidays and other major celebrations
When you want to get the whole company involved in a virtual event, the turnout will almost always be better if you don’t ask them to show up too often. Utilize major holidays or milestones, like a company’s “birthday”, for big, virtual social events you want the whole company to be present for. This helps build excitement, as it positions these occasions as special events that employees won’t want to miss. These are also the best events to leverage surprises and gifts to reward engagement and attendance while showing appreciation for their hard work. During the winter holidays, try organizing up a White Elephant gift exchange—even on a tight budget, you can still award gift certificates or company swag.

Investing in Our Company Culture

In just four years, Abnormal has expanded to a workforce of more than 500 professionals across a dozen different time zones—and we’re not slowing down anytime soon. We will continue investing in initiatives that demonstrate our commitment to making Abnormal a destination employer and invite you to join us on our mission to make the world a safer place—one inbox at a time.

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