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Lessons from Remote-First Work Policy Pioneers: Success Stories and Challenges

The rise of remote working has been evident for some time, but in recent years it has shifted from a welcomed luxury to a necessity. While the year 2020 made the world embrace remote working almost overnight, some companies have been practicing it for years, paving the way for others to follow.

It is vital to analyze how they operate, challenges they face, and applicable lessons to keep in mind. This will guide businesses looking to transition effectively to a remote-first work policy.

Remote-first Work Policy Overview

Under this policy, remote working is the default work method, with technological and organizational infrastructure backing the workforce. This structure implies that remote work is the first and standard approach, relegating physical office attendance to an optional secondary choice. It means that this is different from remote-flexible, where only a percentage of the staff work remotely, and the physical office remains the standard work arrangement.

Benefits of Remote-first Work Policies

The benefits of remote-first work policies go well beyond alleviating the physical constraints of a physical office. It saves money on office rent, utilities, and supplies, eliminates drain time caused by travel, and provides a flexible approach to working hours.

Additionally, companies that implement remote-first policies extend their hiring opportunities without being limited by geography. It attracts top talent from all over the world and encourages team collaboration and time management. All these benefits result in happy and satisfied employees, boosting productivity and growth.

Remote-first Work Policy Pioneers


Buffer, a social media management platform, provides a practical example of a successful remote-first working model. The company operates as an entirely remote team since 2012, with employees scattered across different parts of the world, while approximately 40% of their employees work outside the US.

Buffer’s approach to remote work is anchored on their culture, which is centered on Transparency, Communication, and Individual Autonomy.

Transparency involves open discussion about strategies, challenges, metrics, and decisions. This approach makes the team feel connected and aware of the challenges and tasks. Every Monday, Buffer practices “Transparency Checklist,” where each team member writes a brief summary of what they plan to work on that week. That way, everyone is aware of each other’s objectives for the week, promoting accountability and transparency.

Buffer places significant emphasis on Communication, providing various channels to ensure the team remains in constant communication. They achieve this through Video chat, Slack Messaging, and Emails, which is encouraged within each page of its internal wiki that receives over two million views every month.

To promote Autonomy, they let their team members work in a way that suits them best, instead of mandating working hours. They encourage employees to make decisions about their workday, workspace, and other aspects that they deem essential. The principle is to create an environment where team members can work in a way that enhances their well-being, and ultimately productivity.

Additionally, Buffer prioritizes team development through online mentorship programs and continuous learning opportunities. They dedicate time to one-on-one check-ins, career path planning, and regular code reviews.


GitHub, the world’s leading software development platform, operates as an entirely remote team since its inception in 2008. GitHub has been attributing their success to the support and culture of trust amongst the team members.

Employees have the autonomy to work according to their preferred method without any surveillance of their activities. They are also flexible concerning work hours, location, and schedules, provided the tasks are completed.

Communication and Collaboration are one of the key driving forces of a successful remote work policy. GitHub leverages the capabilities of advanced digital communication tools such as slack, zoom, and other project management tools.

GitHub uses culture as a powerful tool to create a sense of community and connection amongst their employees. They maintain a strong sense of shared values and aspirations, which they communicate through an internal platform. The company hosts several social activities to foster communication and a sense of togetherness, such as virtual game nights, lunches, and book clubs.


Zapier, the company that allows businesses to automate repetitive tasks, has been working entirely remotely since launching in 2011. Zapier fosters an institutional culture by creating opportunities for employees to meet face to face, such as company retreats and local meetups. They believe this helps drive employees towards having a shared sense of purpose and also improves collaboration and communication.

One of the most explicit benefits of remote-first working policy exhibited by Zapier is its principle of ensuring its employees are not overworked, which is often associated with remote work. They prioritize explicitly the maintenance of healthy work hours, taking a strategic approach to project management by planning team meetings and events only during working hours.

Another significant policy they have in place is the “No Meeting Wednesday,” which encourages employees to focus on deeper work, such as writing, research, and brainstorming ideas.

Lessons from Remote-first Work Policy Pioneers

Establish a Strong Culture

The pioneering companies demonstrated the importance of establishing a robust remote working culture that prioritizes trust, collaboration, and communication. Employees need to feel a sense of shared experience with others within the organization and that the company values and understands them.

The culture should include communication and collaboration, individual autonomy, transparency, career development, and mutual support. Buffer’s successes can be attributed to the company’s culture, which creates an environment that supports remote working while facilitating teamwork and mutual support.

Prioritize Communication & Collaboration

Remote workers rely heavily on communication to ensure they understand their role in the organization and understand the job’s requirements. Companies must provide flexible communication channels that suit different employees’ time zones and working patterns. To promote successful group project completion, it is essential to establish collaborative working methods such as regular virtual meetings and project management software.

GitHub’s success is in part due to its exceptional communication and collaboration efforts. The company leverages the capabilities of advanced digital communication tools such as Slack, Zoom, and other project management tools.

Support Personal Development

Remote work policy can potentially cause isolation, often leading to demotivation and disengagement from work. Leaders must create learning opportunities to foster employees’ development, such as offering mentorship programs, online courses, workshops, and conferences.

Buffer’s continuous learning opportunities, one-on-one check-ins, and career path planning programs exemplify the importance of supporting personal development.

Offer Flexibility

The remote-first work policy should offer employees flexibility on where, when, and how they work, as long as the employees can meet work expectations. Having a flexible work schedule ensures that employees operate at their optimum productivity levels while balancing work-life, continuing education, and other out-of-work activities.

Zapier’s principle of ensuring its employees are not overworked is a perfect example of how flexibility could save companies from experiencing low productivity levels.

Incorporate Team Building Activities

The creation of an organizational culture is vital when structuring remote-first work policies. This culture can be cultivated through team-building activities and other social events that help build trust, improve communication, and promote a sense of shared values.

GitHub’s hosting of several social activities such as virtual game nights, lunches, and book clubs, which promote a sense of community, exemplifies team-building activities.

Challenges of Remote-first Work Policies

With the numerous advantages of remote-first working policies, there are also a few challenges that come with the model that leaders need to be aware of.


Remote employees often work long hours and experience overworking due to the lack of boundaries between work and personal life. Leaders must create structures that enable employees to have work-life balance and prioritize self-care.

For instance, Buffer has a policy that encourages its employees to prioritize self-care and personal life, which helps to curtail occurrences of overworking.

Isolation and Loneliness

Remote work also poses isolation and loneliness risks, which can lead to demotivation and disengagement from work. To counteract the isolation, leaders must prioritize communication, establish opportunities for team building, and ensure employees feel part of a community.

GitHub promotes a sense of community by communicating actively through internal channels, hosting social activities such as virtual game nights, lunches, and book clubs, and organizing team building exercises like team meetups.

Technology-Related Issues

Remote work is only possible when dependable technological infrastructures are in place. The inability to access the necessary tools or weak network connections can significantly impact overall productivity. Leaders must ensure that their employees have reliable internet access, available technology, and necessary cyber security measures to function optimally.

Buffer ensures its employees have reliable internet access, available technology, and necessary cyber security measures by offering measures to ensure that every employee is equipped with the required hardware and software required to undertake their roles.


Remote-first work policies are the future of work arrangements, and the pioneers of this model have demonstrated it is possible to operate efficiently under this approach. To ensure that remote-first work policies are successful, leaders must prioritize culture, communication, collaboration, individual development, and team building. Additionally, the challenges posed by isolation, overworking, and technology-related issues must be mitigated by leaders who embrace this model. By implementing these, companies can embrace remote-first work policies and remain competitive in a technology-driven world.

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