What is remote work, a digital nomad or even a remote-first company?

The remote work movement gains more and more momentum. But what is ‘remote work’ really? And what are all the other terms in its context? See the following collection.

Remote Work

It is any kind of collaborating work, where not all participating members are colocated in one building. The definition diverges, some say all workers on one plant are not remote, but others say everyone who sits 30 meters away or on a different floor is remote. That hard definition comes from the fact, that this 30-meter-collegue will lose the connection to the project without proper communication and documentation.

With that definition you will get one point: you are already working remote in some kind. But the common understanding of working remote is to work part- or full-time from your home office or a cafe or coworking space in your home town or anywhere else on our planet.

Completely Remote / 100% remote

If you are talking about a person, it is someone, who works full-time remote (no matter if in the home town or abroad). This is not excluding project meetings at your company and visits of customers and suppliers from time to time.

If you are talking about a company, all their employees are able to work where they want. The company can even have offices, but some never had an office or headquarter anywhere.

Remote-friendly vs. Remote-first Company

All big companies are trying to be remote-friendly these days. They are offering flexible work hours, part- and full-time home offices and sometimes even single enployees, which are completely location independent. These actions are commonly taken on existing onsite staff.

A remote-first company is built around the remote philosophy with all its tools and processes, even if some employees are sitting together in the same office. These companies are hiring worldwide, with no connection to any location. That constellation is still rare, but there is a raising number of i.e. software companies. One of the first of that kind was 37signals, turned now to Basecamp (http://basecamp.com).

Freelancers / Entrepreneurs

There are 3 major working conditions for remote workers: freelancing, self-employment and traditional employment (permanent appointment). These conditions are often mixed, i.e. a freelancer who has its own side projects or an employed person with part-time freelancing. Anyway, the percentage of freelancers and entrepreneurs is very high under remote workers.

Digital Nomads

are generally people, who are working online with the help of laptop and smart phone (formerly known as telecommuting). While the term is correct for people in the home office and abroad, it is normally linked to remote workers, who are moving from location to location around the globe.

Co-working and -living

With the raise of remote work, some digital nomad hubs emerged (i.e. Chiang Mai in Thailand). In those cities the first co-working spaces appeared, commonly open offices with WiFi where you rent your desk per day or even hours. Co-living came up next, the easiest explanation is: a combination of co-working space and hostel. The co-working spaces are already spreading through our home towns, because remote workers, who cannot work at home, are tired from distractions and bad wifi at coffee shops.

Remote Industry

If you combine all that, you see that we have a rising industry branch here. The related businesses includes co-working and -living spaces, hostels, coffee shops, specialized travel agencies, organized digital nomad trips, specialized online education and blogging, software for online collaboration and a lot more (please feel free to put the things I missed in the comments).

Millennials / Generation Y

Everytime you read something about the future of work you will come across the term ‘Millennials’. The millennials (or ‘Generation Y’ if you live in continental europe) are, according to Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennials): ‘the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and ending birth years ranging from the mid-1990s to early 2000s’.

Why are they (wait, I should say ‘we’) that important? Because this generation will have the highest percentage of working people soon and because the needs and desires of that generation are totally different to generations before. Security and stability at only one employer was desired over decades, but the millennials are looking for freedom, opportunities and self-fulfillment. And because that is combined with and enabled by the digitalization, it is the biggest challenge for all industries.

That explanation was helpful? Or do I missed an important point? Please let us all know in the comment section. Thanks for sharing!

How to start the transition to a remote company

launch the future of work

How to start? The answer to that question depends highly on your actual company. How old is it? How many employees in how many locations does your company have? Which industry is yours? What kind of work are you conducting?

But there are a lot of advices, which fits them all. There are 2 possible ways, I like to show you:

Possibility 1: You will start a new business right now

Start completly remote. Other words for that are ‘100% remote company’ or being a ‘remote-first company’. You will save a lot of money for office space, furniture, hardware, electricity and cleaning service. Even if you have just planned to rent some desks in a bigger office building – save this. Hire the best talented people for you endevour and participate in all the benefits explained in ‘Why your company has to go remote‘.

Posibility 2: You have a running company and should transform

Start small. Send your staff to the home office for some days a month, i.e. every Friday or two days a week, whatever fits to your projects. To be clear, you should not ‘send’ them home, you should ‘let’ them work from home. There will be some characters or some home situations (i.e. loudly kids or housemates), where the home office is the second best solution.

After that trail for some time, adjust you processes, tools and regulations if needed (read ‘How to prepare your company for remote workers‘) and increase the remote portion of the remote time. Please don’t forget to consider the feedback of your employees about that topic.

Only after all that improving start to hire fully remote workers. And further on track the mood inside your teams. Try to avoid any unequal treatment of onsite and remote workers.

If you want to jump into the cold water with your existing company instead, try it only with a separated project. The topic and the depending work should be as discrete as possible and should not overlap with the work of the onsite employees much. After getting through that project do the lessons learned accordingly and transform the rest of the company. Don’t allow a separated firm inside your company for too long.

What is always helpful on the way of the transition of your business is to be accompanied by an expert who has the knowledge about all the common stumbling blocks which will pop up.

Do you have other experiences or additional advice? Please let us know in the comments!

How to prepare your company for remote workers


After knowing why your company has to go remote, it’s important to prepare your business for remote workers. I will make that an easy one for you and just ask you some questions:

Are the documents, someone will need to work with your company (i.e. requirements), in English or another language?

If you have your documents in a foreign language and would not translate them, you narrow the number of possible remote workers by a order of magnitude minimum. That is still right, if you have the documents in Spanish, French, German or Mandarin – English is simply the most common language in the business world.

Is the company language English or your native language?

Similar to the question above, you are limited, if your native language is not English. Even if its English, you should adjust the writing and talking to an English which everyone on earth has the possibility to understand. If only the documents are in English, it can work, but meetings are hard for people, which are not used to the conversations in English.

Are your employees measured by ‘hours in the office’ or by the value of their work?

Remote workers are measured by their working results, not their time spend on the work (even if they are paid per hour). Though it’s easier for managers and collegues, if the onsite staff is also measured by results. That is also an efficiency boost!

Is ‘trust in employees’ a phrase at your company or is something behind it?

Nearly all managers claim that they are trusting their employees, unfortunately many of them don’t. That’s a really important point to fix. Because if managers are not convinced, that workers will work at home or anywhere else than the cubicle, the whole system will fail. A good way to help with that is measure the people by their work, not office time – normally the trust should rise with that.

Do you have a reliable internet connection or breaks or slows it down sometimes?

Sounds like the norm? Yes, but it isn’t. That is especially important if the remote workers will work with tools on your servers. For sure the same counts for the availability of your servers. Get this fixed before you create inefficiencies or bad vibes around the collegues.

Are all documents, someone will need the work with, available from a remote site?

Again it sounds like standard. But lots of security policies are reducing the availability in many coorporations – avoid that from the beginning, be it on your servers or in the cloud.

What are possible experiences with partly remote teams already?

The common situation is a customer, which sits somewhere, most of your collegues sit around you and some suppliers are sitting somewhere as well. That is already an remote environment! What works already in your company (i.e. easy video conferencing and screen sharing) and where should you improve?

You have to go remote to sustain in the future, so prepare your company now. Avoid frustrations about remote work just because you were not prepared.

Which point is missing? Please write about it in the comments!

Why your company has to go remote

Isn’t there already too much change these days? So why also switching to remote? That’s a good question, but also an easy one to answer: it’s just because you simply don’t find enough good people for your jobs, that will move to your town and commute to your office every day in the future.

Lot’s of regions in the world have a skill shortage for many needed jobs. It’s because lot’s of people don’t like to move away from their home town, mostly because of strong reasons (i.e. young family with kids, where both parents need a job in the same town or someone who takes care of an elderly family member). On the other hand think of the expensive costs for living in some regions like the Silicon Valley, Sydney or Munich. The best alternative is to work from where you like to live.

With the remote work approach you can hire the best talents with the best fits to your needs from around the world. And you will hire them for a salary, which guarantees them a good live whereever they live. So it’s mostly cheaper than the common western office worker, but that is only a side effect. You will spare anyway a lot of money for office space, furniture, hardware, electricity and cleaning service.

You will employ motivated people instead of bored 9-to-5-people who are used to wait for the time to go home the entire day. Because you cannot measure the remote workers by hours in the office, you have to rate them through work results. So only good work counts! You have to discontinue the work with not fitting or not self-motivated collegues.

Your remote employees will be more motivated on average than the onsite ones, because they are able to shape the work time and get them according to their needs. That can be fetch the kids from school at noon, walk with the dogs, whenever it is used to, shift work time with the partner to care for the kids or work the nights and sleep the days (except planned meetings).

The staff which is working for you will be highly productive, because of the lack of distractions from your loudly cubicle farm and tons of unnecessary meetings.

The quality of your work deliverables will also improve. How is that possible? That’s easy, it’s because there is the need for a better specification at the project and task beginning in the remote environment. And it’s because everything is way better documented in the end. You think that’s extra effort? In poorly specified and documented projects that’s a yes, but this effort is paid in two or tree times generally!

Did I miss something? Or do you think your company cannot or should not switch to remote work? Please write about it in the comments!