Remote First: Never meet in person?
First published at Wednesday, 15 March 2023
Remote First: Never meet in person?
This is a blog article out of a series where I reflect on what I learned during funding, growing (, and selling) SaaS product companies. While I write those things down for myself, since I believe self-reflection is a crucial learning tool, I also want to share my thoughts with anybody who might be interested. I'm looking forward to your comments on any of these topics. An overview of all related topics can be found below. I have a bunch of these blog posts lined up, so you also might want to follow me if you like this one.
Does remote-first or remote-native mean that you'll never meet your peers in person? I certainly diagree. But you'll meet intentionally and usually this'll mean intense and productive collaboration.
Remote-first and remote-native to me mean that the default style of working is working from whereever your prefer to work from. For me this is a dedicated room in our house, crafted perfectly for my personal work requirements. For you it could be a co-working-space, a shared office, your kitchen (but mind a proper chair), or a beach.
At least in IT basically for anything we do a computer and a desk will be sufficient. There're better ways for me to relax then commuting (while this might force some people to take some time off) and I also like the ecological benefit of reduced travelling. Most of the common work can also benefit from a silent environment without the common distractions of an office, if you are able to affort a space providing silence, that is.
But there are still reasons to meet, even regularly. The most important ones are (to me):
If you aren't sure where you want to head (product, technical, organzational, values, mission, vision, …) an in-person workshop certainly can proove helpful. Of course it might still be hard for some people to travel for this (family, disabilities, disease prevention,…) but generally these events showed to be invaluably helpful. So helpful, that, at Frontastic, we initially did this at least weekly. Especially at the beginning or after hiring somebody new for a C-level position putting extra effort into alignment can be a game changer.
We still try to do this anytime there are strategic changes. During Corona we also did this fully remote, but while this also worked, it has been less efficient. The two most important reasons I have been able to identify are:
Discussions about strategy can be intense and body language can help to understand each others background a lot better. Generally I have the impression that you need to elaborate a lot more in virtual meetings.
No matter which virtual white board software or collaboration tool you use, nothing beats a plain old white board (for me). The ability to quickly make notes, use post-its, and draw something is unmatched by digital tools.
People say I'm good at moderating such discussions, but at least my moderation toolbox doesn't work as good in remote settings. Making sure everyone is heard and collecting also opinions from people who might be sceptical but have yet to decide to speak up is harder. I believe the two shortcomings (missing body language and white boards) are a key factors here.
Luckily people are different but for me there is no way to really relax and enjoy my time with co-workers in social events in my office or generally in front of a screen. On the other hand the pure team building events we had with Frontastic at difference sizes of the company always have been amazing experiences for us, and (from what we heard) also everyone else.
Organizing this in a way that suits everybody is impossible, though. So you should try to offer different options and also make it optional to attend, while encouraging it. And these evets will also cost you a significant amount of money.
It has been said before, but: Remote first is not about saving money or not meeting anybody ever again. It is about finding the optimal work environment for everybody and also about being able to hire outside of the direct vincinty of your office locations. For me, personally, in-person meetings are best for strategic alignment in groups and team building. For everything else I strongly prefer my home office and it showed over the recent years that I'm not alone with this preference. This is also the way how many people deliver their best performance.