What remote-first companies need to think about in 2021

This month, HRE is helping HR leaders prepare for the year ahead with a series featuring insights from industry experts, thought leaders and others about what we can learn from 2020 and the challenges coming in 2021. Read the series here.


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Remote work was the focus for many HR leaders in 2020, and it will continue to be so next year, says Job van der Voort, CEO and co-founder of HR technology provider Remote. van der Voort notes that, as many employers strategize for a permanent hybrid or remote model, they need to consider the move holistically–as it will impact hiring, compensation, benefits, culture and more. He recently shared with HRE his insights on how remote work will impact HR’s role in 2021.

HRE: What were some of the mistakes that HR made this year when it comes to remote work?

Job van der Voort is CEO and co-founder of HR tech provider Remote.

Van der Voort: The rapid shift to remote work didn’t give much time for HR teams to prepare a smooth transition for employees who were previously in an office. Perks and benefit policies that offered free food, transportation, gym memberships and office parties didn’t translate well into the remote work environment and amid shelter-in-place orders. HR also struggled with keeping up the morale and wellbeing of remote employees, which quickly became a problem as the pandemic continued beyond the initial few months. Working parents had to juggle children at home and many people became fatigued from a constant barrage of Zoom calls.

HRE: What did they get right?

Van der Voort: As the remote workplace removed the convenience of in-person communication, many companies started experimenting with out-of-the-box ways to foster collaboration among teammates. For example, we saw companies such as Facebook, Fidelity and Accenture invest in virtual reality to train and onboard employees and fuel an immersive learning environment in the digital workplace.

Many companies and HR teams have shown that they’re adaptable and open to innovation and bringing in new technology to better address remote work challenges. For example, one company took a rather unconventional and unique approach by hosting team meetings via Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

HRE: What will work look like in 2021, particularly when it comes to remote work?

Van der Voort: In 2021, the hiring landscape will become a borderless entity for companies looking to retain and attract top talent. As location becomes less of a hindering factor for businesses, this may lead to a migration of working professionals into different countries, back to their hometowns and out of cities.

In fact, recent research has revealed that 58% of organizations have seen employees wanting to relocate overseas and 64% of organizations had employees ask to relocate to a different state. As a result, 2021 will see more remote businesses hiring overseas, drawing from an even wider talent pool as geographical restrictions are removed.

See also: These 5 pandemic-driven trends are reshaping business

  1. It will also become essential for businesses to clarify whether they are a remote-first or remote-friendly company (Hint: there is no such thing as a remote-friendly company). As a longer-term strategy, remote work can only be successful if everyone is remote, so if some employees choose to return to the office whilst others continue to work remotely, this will inevitably have implications on the efficiency of the business, productivity and overall culture. Remote-first means providing all employees with the necessary tools and equipment to do their job from anywhere in the world.
  2. Two other pertinent topics that remote companies must be ready to address is the standardization of benefits and compensation for employees. To attract and retain talent, employees expect perks and benefits, and this is just as relevant for remote teams. However, remote employees are not able to visit an on-site gym or take advantage of free Friday office breakfasts. To create an appealing environment for remote workers, businesses need to embrace benefits designed for a remote-first culture. Research from earlier this year revealed that almost half of organizations believe that positive workplace culture is essential to success and that the most sought-after perks include healthcare, home office allowance and personal development plans/learning development allowances.
  3. Companies must also decide how they will maintain fair salaries for employees who are distributed among different areas in the world. Hybrid work models will inevitably cause friction between those that are office-based and receive certain salaries, benefits and perks, and those that choose to work remotely. This year, we’ve already seen some businesses such as VMware and Stripe implementing pay-cut policies for employees who choose to work from locations that have a lower cost of living. In 2021, businesses will need to prioritize addressing the challenges around remote salaries, whether this is implementing flat-rate salaries across the world or choosing to offer salaries according to location.

HRE: What should be HR leaders’ first priority for 2021?

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Van der Voort: Going into the new year, businesses and HR leaders need to focus on fostering a welcoming remote company culture and setting their employees up for success by giving them the tools they need to thrive in a remote workplace. With reduced geographical barriers of remote work, this is also a great opportunity for businesses to prioritize building diverse teams and creating an inclusive workplace. Remote work allows HR leaders to tap into a wide candidate pool of people from various backgrounds from countries around the world. As the workplace becomes global, companies that take the steps to ensure adequate representation for minority groups at each level within their organization better position themselves to reap the benefits of multifaceted and innovative ideas and perspectives offered by a diverse team.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].