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6 insights from our panel on remote-first companies

‘Remote offices’ don’t work

By Rebecca Bellan

Covid-19 has offered a unique opportunity for startups to ditch the office, and all the hiring restrictions that come with it. 

But now that you can hire anyone from anywhere around the world, how does that change things like salaries, logistics and growth? How do you navigate all the messy bureaucratic red tape from country to country? And how much should we be replicating the IRL office online?

We asked all this and more to our panel of remote work experts: Nicole Sahin, the CEO of employer of record company Globalization Partners; Johnny Boufarhat, the founder of virtual events company Hopin; and Jonathan Widawski, the founder of Maze, which develops remote testing software for product teams.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Offices are a distraction

By design, physical offices limit the talent pool you can recruit from. This aside, the logistics of finding an office, hiring people who can easily commute there, dealing with notice periods and playing musical chairs with new hires takes time and energy. This time and energy could be better spent on things like building products and focusing on consumers, which lead to the type of rapid growth that companies like Hopin were able to see happen in months.

“I’ve seen a lot of advantages to how fast you can scale up being a remote-first company. It wasn’t just a philosophy for us; there was also a business view.” — Johnny Boufarhat, founder of Hopin 

Photo credit: Dr Andrew Garthwaite
Photo credit: Dr Andrew Garthwaite

2. Contractors, subsidiaries and global hiring agencies can help with onboarding bureaucracy

As you scale up and out, the cost of hiring needs to take into account each country’s different tax laws, insurance benefits and equity structures. Governments aren’t particularly helpful partners, so startups often resort to hiring HR contractors; creating subsidiaries in countries where they see talent hubs; or using services that specialise in global hiring. Globalization Partners, for example, enables companies to hire teams in 187 countries without setting up branch offices.

“Being able to hire anyone from anywhere is compelling except when you have to deal with legal, HR and tax issues. When companies realise they can hire through our platform and don’t have to deal with any of that, it adds tremendous value.” — Nicole Sahin, CEO at Globalization Partners

3. No office means more money for employee perks

By cutting the costs of a physical office, you’ll have a bigger budget to play around with elsewhere — from meetups and retreats to personal development budgets.

“We don’t necessarily look at them as savings. This is something that we’re happy to reinvest into our employees. Whatever we don’t spend on an office is something we might spend on an offsite or a home office. To us it’s just a shift of how we spend the money, rather than actual savings.” — Jonathan Widawski, founder of Maze

4. Employee compensation will change… for those at the top

Working with a global talent pool means global competition. Top execs and in-demand tech talent will see an overall increase in salary, according to the panellists, whereas employees in some other roles, like accountants and customer service agents, will still be priced according to local pay rates. 

Ultimately, the cost of living should still be a compass, but set a salary index, says Boufarhat.

“With all companies going global, I see that the expectation is for almost-Californian salaries to happen everywhere for remote talent… Are you going to align with the top? Because the reality is at the end of the day, you’re now competing with everyone.” — Jonathan Widawski, founder of Maze

5. Better onboarding means good employees will stick around

New startups should remember to stay organised and invest in their team the same way they would if they were in the office. Assign or hire someone to train the new joiners, introduce them to others, set them up with remote tools and benefits and make sure they feel valued as part of the team.

“If you just hire somebody and give them a laptop and they’re 12 time zones away, those are the customers we see don’t put any effort into their onboarding. They’re super disorganised, and they tend to lose their employees.” — Nicole Sahin, CEO of Globalization Partners

6. ‘Remote offices’ don’t work

Remote companies fail when they try to replicate the office, so think of remote work as a chance to get rid of bad IRL habits. Managers should not be asking questions like: ‘How do I keep my employees online from nine to five? How do I make sure people are doing their work? How can I replicate the *tap on the shoulder* every five minutes?’

“We don’t double check what people are doing. We don’t care what time they check in. All we care about is impact, so attend your meetings, but if you want to do yoga or watch trash TV while you work, enjoy. No one’s looking at what you’re doing on your screen.” — Johnny Boufarhat, founder of Hopin

For more insights on the Future of Work, read our report, HERE. You can also watch our full Sifted Talk on losing the office here: