HR Management & Compliance, Learning & Development

How to Build a Thriving Remote-First Company in 2021

As companies slowly emerge from the pandemic, it’s clear that some things about the professional landscape have inextricably changed. Most prominently, remote work has transitioned from an anomalous work arrangement to the new normal, helping shape the present and future of work.

remote work
Source: fizkes / shutterstock

So far, there are some clear benefits. For instance, despite many managers’ fears, remote work turns out to be a boon for productivity and efficiency. According to one survey of more than 800 companies embracing remote work, 94% felt that productivity was “the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic.” Even so, some challenges remain. For leaders looking to build thriving remote-first teams in the year ahead, here are three lessons from companies that have been here before:

#1 Work Remotely But Not Too Remotely

A Gartner HR survey on remote workers found that 41% don’t feel connected to colleagues when working remotely, and 26% report feeling isolated. Hazel Mitchell, Senior Director at eBay, is keenly aware of this and believes that leadership and communications tactics can help bridge this gap but that structural planning also provides a long-term solution to employee engagement.

Regional remote work gives companies an opportunity to pursue remote work while creating cohesive teams. This is something that eBay, a San Jose, California-based e-commerce company, has implemented as part of its remote working initiatives. The company has had offices in Dublin, Ireland, for nearly two decades, giving it a regional hub for its remote workforce in the country. And in Ireland in 2017, it launched eBay@Home, allowing it to access top talent from across the island of Ireland.

Mitchell notes, “The talent in Ireland, for us, has been absolutely central to eBay’s success.” As the company expands its eBay@Home remote work offering, it can tap into Ireland’s expansive talent while maintaining touch points and listening posts to identify problems and provide solutions.

Tracy Keogh, cofounder of Grow Remote, has witnessed this firsthand. In Ireland, Keogh explains, “We have Shopify, who has 400 people fully remote in Ireland, so you’re not a first mover. This reduces the risk of a remote workforce. We also have Wayfair, Gitlab and others who hire for remote teams here.” Keogh explains that in 2017, well before the pandemic hit, Ireland started preparing communities and companies for remote working by initiating training and providing tools people would need to feel connected. “With IDA Ireland, we trained US and global companies in the skill of managing remote teams—having skills on both sides is why we have a highly successful remote working ecosystem.”

Mitchell found that when the pandemic hit, eBay had all the tools in place, so the move from physical teams to fully remote took place within a matter of weeks. And eBay@Home in Ireland had already written the playbook, which was used to roll this out within eBay globally.

#2 Equip Employees for Upward Mobility

Remote teams need to account for upward mobility and advancement opportunities in a remote environment. Employees will seek a new job if their existing opportunity is not challenging, rewarding, and building toward something more significant. Mitchell explains, “You need to be able to think not only for this specific role, but what happens next.”

Even before the pandemic, Ireland was preparing to empower remote workers with upward mobility. For example, Grow Remote implemented remote worker training programs and commenced developing an ecosystem to prepare workers for success now and in the years ahead.

Keogh recalls, “Because we collectively started in 2017, I don’t think that there is another country with the network of courses and supports that we have. We developed free courses for both sides, whether that be companies or people getting trained in the skill of remote working.”

To ease these concerns, companies can develop clear rules and clear progress for helping their remote teams develop their careers. Companies can learn from other companies that have been developing remote working teams for many years. Mitchell commented, “The best way eBay approaches this is to keep a growth mindset and continuously explore how to improve and leverage the very best practices.”

#3 Tap into Existing Ecosystems

Some environments are more prepared for this transition than others. Prioritizing existing ecosystems with built-in technological infrastructure is a good place to start. Keogh says that having technical infrastructure in place means you can tap into a diverse range of talent that would not be available otherwise. The right technology makes everything from setup to hiring employees more streamlined and accessible.

Similarly, existing ecosystems with a culture of remote work can help eliminate concerns over isolation and disengagement. For instance, Ireland’s existing experienced remote work environment supports Silicon Valley companies, providing access to remote-ready talent in a cultural environment where they can thrive—something eBay experienced firsthand.

“The ecosystem in Ireland is good, not only if you want to enter the market and access talent, but it’s also good for sustaining the workforce that you have when you do hire remotely, given the strong sense of community. We have seen remote workers leverage their local remote working community to connect, share their own best practices and support each other to success,” explains Mitchell.

It’s becoming clear that today’s dynamic companies will have to improve their remote operating capacity. They will have to lean into best practices for achieving connectivity and provide upward mobility for their employees and the best technology in order to remain competitive in the global fight for talent. 

Deborah Soye is VP of consumer and digital technology for IDA Ireland on the U.S. West Coast. Located in Silicon Valley, she works with and supports multinational companies both in the consumer and digital tech industry and in the business services industry to identify opportunities where Ireland can add value to its international growth and drive further investment into the country.