HR Tech

Working reset to “REMOTE FIRST”

Written by JJ Chai on Digilah (Tech Thought Leadership)

Technology and virtual ways of working have made “REMOTE FIRST” way of working possible. The biggest proof being, almost the entire global economy has been able to survive because of this reset.

This new way of working requires some basic rules which every organisation, especially a start-up should follow to keep this sustainable and continuous.

Digital fluency

This may seem obvious, and to some extent, already a requirement for any knowledge industry job today. However, in a “REMOTE FIRST” environment, especially in a start-up, there’s no IT department helpdesk to call to fix up laptop or your microphone. Team members who can figure out how to troubleshoot, reboot or do basic configuration of their technology are much more productive than those who are typically reliant on an ‘IT person’ to fix things.

We see the ability to quickly learn the tech tools, whether collaborative cloud documents (no save to laptop and email please…), chat software or video calls as an important indicator of a successful remote-first employee. These are foundational skills, in some ways more important than even English language fluency.

High empathy

As a team with over 16 different nationalities, with different styles of communication in both written and spoken forms, we need team members who have high levels of empathy. It’s far too easy to misinterpret the tone and intent of messages or annoy others by setting up meetings at odd times of day due to time zone differences. 

We find that people who have a strong sense of empathy (e.g. as a simple indicator, they would indicate both parties’ time zone when scheduling meetings), to be much better adept to dealing with communication challenges and being effective team members in a remote-first environment. Some indicators, like experience with working across time zones, or having been well travelled (with a strong traveller’s point of view, vs a tourist point of view), are good signs in this respect.

Clarity of communication

This is true for any regular organisation but is made even more important in “REMOTE FIRST” organisations. With less opportunities to re-clarify at the water cooler or other interactions in the office, the ability to communicate well in writing and verbally are more important than ever. We appreciate structured communication and concise verbal communication.

The challenge to assess these three characteristics, and also other signals are also made tougher in a video-meeting set up. I do miss the days when I could do the coffee cup interview test. In-person at the office, I’d go with the candidate to the pantry, help get them a cup of beverage, bring them along to the interview room, and observe whether they later offered to help take it back to the pantry or assume ‘someone else would do it’!

We founded Rainforest in the midst of the Covid pandemic in early 2021. As an e-commerce aggregator that buys and builds e-commerce brands, growing the brands globally, we saw an opportunity to make the most of the pandemic situation by going “REMOTE FIRST”, i.e. we predominantly worked remotely, outside of a fixed office environment. As we grew, we took this further, and now have no office at all in any location. Our employees can work from anywhere.

We learnt that while most candidates that applied to us say they are comfortable to be part of a “REMOTE FIRST” team, the above characteristics stood out to be better indicators than others of being a successful “REMOTE FIRST” team member at Rainforest. We continue to look for these three traits to ensure they would thrive in our organisation.

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