How to create a remote-first, employee-first business

‘You can literally customize employment around individuals’

How to create a remote-first, employee-first business

While software engineers have long been in demand, even pre-COVID, many are now being asked to come back to the workplace as the pandemic subsides, according to Greg Gunn, CEO and cofounder of Commit, a remote-first professional network for software engineers, in Vancouver, in talking to Canadian HR Reporter.

“A lot of software engineers would look for another job where they’re forced to go back to the office.”

Creators of software have long practised this type of work, according to Gunn, especially with open-source software, which is done often remotely, asynchronously and without colleagues being together.

“They’re the tip of the spear in terms of change, they’re the most ready for the future of work in terms of the way that the job is done. We believe that software engineering is the books category for remote work in that Amazon started out with books because it was the first place to really build an everything store when ecommerce took off and we believe that software engineering is the first profession that will be fully decentralized in the next three to five years.”

Canvass your workforce

For those employers considering a switch to a remote-first business, it’s important to talk to employees and find out what they want, says Gunn.

“Ask your employees what they what they would like, what’s the ideal working environment? Do they want to have an office to go to? Would they rather have a budget to fix up a room in their spot? Or would they rather join a coworking place?”

Once those conversations have been had, the remote-first organization customizes itself around the employees, instead of the physical workspace, says Gunn.

“You don’t have those constraints; you can literally customize employment around individuals. We’ve always been doing that except that in an office environment, we needed to come to some sort of consortium.”

In the pre-remote days, workplaces made policies based on the space, says Gunn, and he used the example of businesses deciding what to stock the office fridge with. “You’d have a whole operation team deciding what was in the fridge, where the offices were going to be, what sort of staplers that we were buying.”

But with the remote-first, employee-first model, it involves a “decentralization of power,” which should be given due consideration, he says.

Greg Gunn

“Distributed work is about giving that power to the individual: power to their voice to vote for things in the company but that power to the individual to make decisions on how they best work and what they want to invest their overhead in to making their themselves more productive.”

Todays’ software engineers are looking for some of the same things they have for 10 years, according to Gunn, and it’s important for hiring managers to keep this in mind: “recognition, respect, and renumeration.”

“It’s recognition that they are craftspeople, and that you’re building a place where their crafts can be celebrated the most but respecting individuals, giving them the ability to define how they want to show up to work, where they want to show up to work,” he says.

As well, engineers need to be given the benefit of the doubt early on as they work remotely, that they can be depended upon to do the job, says Gunn.

“You’re decentralizing power when you’re giving people the ability to make decisions on where they work, how they work, what they need to work, and making decisions that they need that trust in order to move your company forward.”

‘Litmus test’

All of this is a “litmus test for leadership,” says Gunn.

“Do they see this as an opportunity for growth or do they see this as threatening to their existing business? Those that have a growth mindset, that see remote-first and see all the benefits that we get to learn from it, will do well but the ones that fight it and are trying to protect their old way of doing business, that’s a mentality that’s not going to work for remote work; that’s not going to work in 2021 when you’re trying to build a business in this fast-moving environment.”

For HR professionals, this also represents potentially a shift in their own value with the organization, which Gunn witnessed at a previous position in the rise of the social marketing officer about 10 years ago.

“We think that the chief people officer will almost morph into a COO-type of role in terms of its influence as an organization, where the big questions are going to be: How do we evolve our organizational design to take advantages of all the benefits that remote distributed and eventually asynchronous work can bring us? For folks that are absolutely ambitious and empathetic and people-first HR professionals, remote work is going to be a huge opportunity for them to see their roles rise in organizations,” he says.

Better work-life balance was cited as the top reason employees would switch jobs, according to a survey, while many employers are predicting 23 months before things get back to normal, found another survey.

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