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Remote-first vs. Remote-optimized: What’s the Difference?

July 13, 2022

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The concept of remote work is more popular than ever.

We all remember the early days of 2020, when the world was seemingly put on pause as COVID spread across the globe. With quarantine and stay-at-home orders, non-essential businesses had to get creative to keep going — and thus, remote work spiked in popularity.

In 2019, 62% of people worked remotely (with only 30% of that number working remotely full-time). During the height of the pandemic, the percentage of people who worked remotely jumped to 69%, with the majority of that percentage working at home full-time.

And now that employees have tasted the freedom and convenience of remote work, it’s become almost essential to their work-related contentment. In the U.S., 81% of employees who worked remotely during the pandemic want a hybrid or remote working style going forward; a whopping 25% would even quit their jobs if they could no longer work remotely.

Meaning, businesses who can offer remote work opportunities to employees probably should. And for those who have decided to keep remote working options available, this question remains: remote-first or remote-optimized?

A man and woman holding up one hand and then another, as if presenting two options.

Is there a difference?

While the terms “remote-first” and “remote-optimized” sound similar and have sometimes been used interchangeably (albeit incorrectly), there are subtle differences between them.

Remote-first.

“Remote-first” businesses are just like they sound — remote is the default work mode for all employees. That could look like a business that has a company hub but sources all their workers from different time zones. Or, the business could be fully remote — no centralized office, no in-person collaboration. Just Zoom, Loom, and all the other platforms that take your synchronous and asynchronous communications online.

Basically, when a company is remote-first, remote work is part of the foundation of the business. Remote work is part of the company culture, and as a result, determines how the company hires and trains their employees.

Remote-optimized.

Much like the name suggests, “remote-optimized” businesses are designed so that all employees can contribute, whether they work remotely or in-office.

Two men looking at each other and saying, "Both? Both. Both is good."

Also referred to as “remote-friendly” or “hybrid,” this type of remote working style usually involves split time between working from home and in the office. Meaning, businesses that use this style will be more likely to have a central office space where people can come to work together and collaborate.

Remote-optimized businesses may still have full-time remote employees in different locations, but the majority of the workforce will likely be local.

Why is the difference important?

The importance of this distinction comes down to your employees. And perhaps more specifically, your prospective employees.

We already know that remote flexibility is popular — people want the opportunity to work from home. And while some people want to return to working remotely full-time, others don’t. Of those who have returned to the office, only a little over half of them want to return to working from home full-time.

Because despite the hype for remote work, there’s something to be said about working with people face-to-face. In a survey from Buffer, 52% of employees who work remotely reported feeling less connected — the remote work experience means that more effort is required to build relationships that happen more naturally with in-person interactions.

Two men speaking to each other, one asking, "Did we just become best friends?" while the other responds, "Yep."

Plus, remote work has ushered in a rise in meetings — more notably, video chats. According to the same Buffer survey, 61% of remote workers noticed having to participate in more meetings compared to working in-office. And this rise in videoconferencing has psychological effects that are tiring people out (or in other terms, giving us Zoom fatigue).

So if you think about it, while remote-first workplaces do offer a lot of convenience, remote-optimized work environments provide your employees with more choice. People who prefer to work remotely full-time get the opportunity to do so; people who want a more hybrid balance of home and office also get that chance.

And if you’re looking to hire new employees, offering a remote-optimized workspace is a benefit that will entice employees who want the flexibility of choice.

You’ll find that one title will fit your remote business model better than the other. And your choice will help your employees (current and prospective) determine how they best fit into your company.

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Article

Remote-first vs. Remote-optimized: What’s the Difference?

July 13, 2022

Jump to a section
Share it!
Sign up for our newsletter
You're all signed up! Look out for the next edition of The Manual Weekly coming Wednesday am!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

The concept of remote work is more popular than ever.

We all remember the early days of 2020, when the world was seemingly put on pause as COVID spread across the globe. With quarantine and stay-at-home orders, non-essential businesses had to get creative to keep going — and thus, remote work spiked in popularity.

In 2019, 62% of people worked remotely (with only 30% of that number working remotely full-time). During the height of the pandemic, the percentage of people who worked remotely jumped to 69%, with the majority of that percentage working at home full-time.

And now that employees have tasted the freedom and convenience of remote work, it’s become almost essential to their work-related contentment. In the U.S., 81% of employees who worked remotely during the pandemic want a hybrid or remote working style going forward; a whopping 25% would even quit their jobs if they could no longer work remotely.

Meaning, businesses who can offer remote work opportunities to employees probably should. And for those who have decided to keep remote working options available, this question remains: remote-first or remote-optimized?

A man and woman holding up one hand and then another, as if presenting two options.

Is there a difference?

While the terms “remote-first” and “remote-optimized” sound similar and have sometimes been used interchangeably (albeit incorrectly), there are subtle differences between them.

Remote-first.

“Remote-first” businesses are just like they sound — remote is the default work mode for all employees. That could look like a business that has a company hub but sources all their workers from different time zones. Or, the business could be fully remote — no centralized office, no in-person collaboration. Just Zoom, Loom, and all the other platforms that take your synchronous and asynchronous communications online.

Basically, when a company is remote-first, remote work is part of the foundation of the business. Remote work is part of the company culture, and as a result, determines how the company hires and trains their employees.

Remote-optimized.

Much like the name suggests, “remote-optimized” businesses are designed so that all employees can contribute, whether they work remotely or in-office.

Two men looking at each other and saying, "Both? Both. Both is good."

Also referred to as “remote-friendly” or “hybrid,” this type of remote working style usually involves split time between working from home and in the office. Meaning, businesses that use this style will be more likely to have a central office space where people can come to work together and collaborate.

Remote-optimized businesses may still have full-time remote employees in different locations, but the majority of the workforce will likely be local.

Why is the difference important?

The importance of this distinction comes down to your employees. And perhaps more specifically, your prospective employees.

We already know that remote flexibility is popular — people want the opportunity to work from home. And while some people want to return to working remotely full-time, others don’t. Of those who have returned to the office, only a little over half of them want to return to working from home full-time.

Because despite the hype for remote work, there’s something to be said about working with people face-to-face. In a survey from Buffer, 52% of employees who work remotely reported feeling less connected — the remote work experience means that more effort is required to build relationships that happen more naturally with in-person interactions.

Two men speaking to each other, one asking, "Did we just become best friends?" while the other responds, "Yep."

Plus, remote work has ushered in a rise in meetings — more notably, video chats. According to the same Buffer survey, 61% of remote workers noticed having to participate in more meetings compared to working in-office. And this rise in videoconferencing has psychological effects that are tiring people out (or in other terms, giving us Zoom fatigue).

So if you think about it, while remote-first workplaces do offer a lot of convenience, remote-optimized work environments provide your employees with more choice. People who prefer to work remotely full-time get the opportunity to do so; people who want a more hybrid balance of home and office also get that chance.

And if you’re looking to hire new employees, offering a remote-optimized workspace is a benefit that will entice employees who want the flexibility of choice.

You’ll find that one title will fit your remote business model better than the other. And your choice will help your employees (current and prospective) determine how they best fit into your company.

Article

Remote-first vs. Remote-optimized: What’s the Difference?

July 13, 2022

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