The WFH FAQ: SignalFire’s Remote Hiring Guide For Startups

Published on Aug 17, 2022

The WFH FAQ: SignalFire’s Remote Hiring Guide For Startups

Strategies for attracting, onboarding, compensating, and motivating your remote team


Why remote work requires a new strategy

To adapt to the post-COVID “new normal” employers can no longer see work-from-home as an exception. The need to make decisions around how to pay people in different locations, how to legally employ people across many places where local employment laws differ, and how to help avoid the loneliness, disconnection, and Zoom fatigue that comes from working alone at home. 

We took a look at the strategies of the best companies operating remote or hybrid, including those who became distributed long before the pandemic. In this remote hiring guide, you’ll learn how to answer questions like:

  • What type of remote culture is right for our company?
  • How do we compliantly hire talent where we don’t have an international entity? 
  • What is the right pay and benefits approach for our team’s setup?
  • How do we navigate time zones and location complexity?
  • How do we build an engaged and high-performing team when we aren’t in the same physical room?

Remote Recruiting And Compliance

‎What’s right for you: remote, hybrid, or IRL?

To build an intentional strategy around where employees will work and communicate it clearly to your team, leadership needs to crystallize their objectives:

1. Why are you considering any kind of remote work variation? 

  • Is it primarily due to necessity (e.g. global pandemic) and not desirable? 
  • Is it to attract and retain top talent in a competitive market? 
  • Is it to recruit an international team that can connect with customers across multiple global markets?
  • Is it because hiring in other countries might lead to cost savings? 

Identifying the top 1-2 fundamental reasons for distributing your team will help balance goals and tradeoffs.

2. What biases or concerns do you have about having a remote team? 

  • Do some leaders worry that people underperform from afar? 
  • Do finance and people teams worry about the extra tax and compliance work? 
  • Do you believe that physical in-person time is best for relationship building? 

3. Are you planning for an office-centered strategy, a hybrid strategy – partial or full, or an all-remote strategy? 

  • Office-centered means that you may have a hub and spoke model where there are multiple offices in key locations and employees can live apart from each other but do work in an office.
  • Hybrid means that there is an office or multiple offices, but there are also options for employees to work from home in some capacity. Full hybrid means that some people may be fully remote and never commute to an office, but others may choose some mix.
  • Partial means that all employees must still be expected to work from the office in some capacity, but it could be as little as a few days a month. 
  • All remote means that there are no dedicated offices. There might be a coworking desk stipend or membership, but the primary design is around no office hub and everyone works from home or a hotdesk. 

4. Is everyone eligible for remote work or is this only afforded to some? 

  • Does the same working arrangement menu of options apply to any team member or is it restricted to specific tenures, seniority/levels, teams, or locations? This can be a dicey decision, and it’s important to document the choices made and the reasoning for those choices for a perception of fairness and inclusivity. That said, there can be very good reasons for some employees not being eligible for remote work (e.g., a job that requires office duties such as IT) and it’s okay to create limitations so long as they can be communicated properly.

5. Are all locations eligible?

  • When you offer remote work, are you offering work from home within a radius of an office location? 
  • Remote work within specific states, countries, or locations where you have a business entity? 
  • Any location within a specific set of time zones? 
  • Or anywhere in the world? 
  • Are you investing in specific locations for key business or talent market strategies or are you simply hoping to find the best talent wherever they are?

Remember, keeping everyone in a similar working time zone creates better conditions for scheduling meetings and communicating synchronously, but having more time zone coverage can be especially helpful for customer support and engineering coverage in case of downtime. 

Will you be a remote-allowed, remote-first, or remote-friendly organization?

  • Remote-allowed means that remote work is something that may be approved or permitted, but it is seen as a perk in and of itself and the organization will not go out of its way beyond that permission to enable or empower employees who work remotely.
  • Remote-first is the other end of the spectrum, and it means that the company is fully committed to remote work and centers on the remote working experience -vs- the office experience. This might show up as benefits and perks equalized for commuters to an office and remote teams (e.g. food delivery service to match in office lunch) or all-hands meetings with everyone dialed in separately so as to equalize the experience for the remote worker and people in office (e.g. one human, one zoom square). 
  • Remote-friendly falls in between. Considerations are given to remote employees (e.g. rotating team events between virtual and in-person) and remote employees are provided some perks (e.g. a travel reimbursement for a quarterly trip to the office), but the in-office experience is still at the center. 

By aligning on these topline philosophical questions, and documenting your team’s approach, you can start answering second-order questions such as:

  • Do we want to create entities in all of our locations, partner with a PEO or EOR, or some mix of strategies?
  • Do we want to pay a single rate for all talent regardless of location or adjust to local markets or tier by cost of living?
  • Do we want our remote team members to commute to the office at some cadence, and what does our travel policy look like?
  • Do we expect remote people to work their localized time zone or adjust their working hours to overlap with HQ?
  • Can someone move whenever they want to an approved location, or will we require approval?

Next, we’ll help you design strategies and a process for answering the questions above.

How to legally hire abroad: Entity creation, EOR/POR, or contractors?

News stories of companies like Airbnb and Spotify letting teams “work from anywhere” fail to detail the iceberg nature of this decision. Turns out compliance isn’t an exciting PR story. Below the surface, large legal, finance, and HR teams have to ensure that the company can legally employ or contract with these team members anywhere. Here’s how to navigate the core decisions.


Working relationship + payroll

In a co-located team, a standard HR platform with payroll integration like Gusto or ADP can typically be used to manage basic working relationships with employees and contractors. However, some of these systems aren’t equipped for international or distributed teams due to complexity around taxation and compliance. Employers can’t simply hire and pay people anywhere in the world without accounting for things like local labor laws, leave laws, payroll taxes, and more. 

There are essentially 3 buckets of options when it comes to employment classification globally, and they each come with pros/cons: ‎


Entity creation – Best for growing a large team in a specific country – All companies already have at least one entity in the location where they incorporated. Within the US, teams must register in each new state in order to employ new team members (or they can use a PEO, see below). Internationally, entity creation is also an option but a much more challenging effort. The upside is the flexibility to hire employees and contractors in all countries where there are registered entities. We recommend this path if your company intends to really invest in hiring in a specific location (typically 10+ hires indefinitely). The downside is the team must internally manage adherence to local employment laws, tax laws, and become experts in these nuances. If there are only one or two people in a specific country, especially employees who are likely to be retained no more than a couple years, it’s not a great investment for the company to set up and manage entities at the international level. 

Partnering with a global employer of record (EOR) or professional employer organization (PEO) solution – Best for hiring a few people in several countries – This category of vendor has truly exploded over the last few years with lots of companies promising to help startups hire anywhere. (Examples are: OysterPapayaPilotVelocity GlobalRemote, and others.) Be sure to check that the provider isn’t only offering payroll for contractors, but also allows full-time employees to be hired. These vendors work by setting up entities in all the countries where you want to operate and employing your team through their platform. The upside is that startups can hire internationally faster than waiting to establish an entity of their own, while remaining compliant and reducing risk because these companies are experts in all the countries and manage the administrative complexity. The downside is that they can be very expensive, sometimes costing 20-30% of the salary costs alone. In addition, they provide the knowledge base for managing employees post-hire, but the onus is on the company to follow the local labor laws (e.g. termination of an employee for performance in some countries requires a full year payout if on a fixed contract). That’s why once a company has 10+ people in one country or tax jurisdiction, it is more cost-effective to create an entity. 

Classifying hires as contractors – Best for consultants or testing remote work – It’s important to understand the nuance of contractor classification in each country to ensure that the type of work a person is being hired for is aligned with the definition of a contractor, otherwise the company runs the risk of misclassification which can be very costly. Navigating employment classifications is a tightrope walk that can be very limiting, especially in some countries where the classification laws are strict (note: LATAM, Germany, France, Canada are amongst the most restrictive, but the list goes on). Sometimes choosing this will feel antithetical to “remote first” because employers can’t provide contractors medical benefits or promote them into certain job levels without taking on massive risk. The upside of this option is that it serves as a great “waiting room” while determining if the company is best served by an entity vs PEO strategy. It’s the cheapest upfront ($0 beyond any accounts payable software needed) but the risk of a lawsuit could mean fines and back pay and end up as much more expensive than the other options. 

Navigating the best option can be complex, especially the more countries a company chooses to operate within. Of course, some companies choose to mix and match all 3 strategies as they grow, which allows for the best of all worlds, though it does add more complexity to workflows navigating different employee and contractor segments. ‎

Vendors


‎A word of caution: engage legal as a partner in these efforts

Everything shared above is general advice on how to think about remote work setup options and does not constitute legal advice. The goal is to think through what options might suit a specific hiring strategy and then engage with a legal partner who can more formally advise on the best way to design, communicate, and execute the best approach. 

Most companies will be surprised to find their primary legal counsel can’t advise outside of a few states or domestically. There are law firms that specialize in international employment law. A top law firm that supports everything from setting up entities to granting equity/stock across countries is Baker McKenzie, and Susan Eandi heads this practice. We recommend starting with a localized employment attorney in each location where there is an entity and/or a bulk of team members, and pull in Baker McKenzie for specifically scoped projects or more difficult international questions outside the scope of local counsel. 

There are many vendors, both tools and service providers who can support you after you make the above choices. SignalFire has partnership discounts with some of these vendors. SignalFire’s portfolio companies can check out the Founder Portal for details.

Remote Compensation and Onboarding

Remote compensation and rewards strategy

Learn more about designing your core compensation strategy here. 

Compensation gets a lot more complicated with a remote team. You need to think about it not only at time-of-hire, but also throughout the individual’s employment and as compared to people in similar positions across the globe. Consider the below questions to help inform an effective compensation strategy:

  1. Will you offer a single rate of pay regardless of location or a geo-based tier structure?
  2. What percentile strategy and market location will you build your compensation bands from?
  3. Will you aim for a total rewards value proposition (e.g. differentiating benefits across countries with a similar total value) or offer the same benefits across the board? (e.g. if employer-sponsored retirement benefits are the most generous in APAC at 10.5%, the US team members will receive the same for 401k matching)
  4. How will your choice regarding remote work strategy and operations influence your compensation and rewards strategy? (e.g. remote first organizations may strive for a similar value proposition whereas remote allowed may have tangible differences in the overall value proposition)
  5. Is your chosen strategy scalable considering future growth and investment costs to execute?
  6. Do you have the internal tools and resources to manage your chosen strategy design? (e.g. if you have a geo-location tiered strategy and need to assess when team members move cities or states, who will monitor, assess and adjust pay changes associated with moves?)

We recommend reviewing SignalFire’s cash compensation strategy guide, but also considering decisions on total rewards, including which holidays to give off depending on the location, how benefits and perks will work when a portion of the team might receive in-office perks, and more.‎

Remote interviewing process and tips

The benefit of hiring anywhere means that your potential candidate pool is much larger than the traditional confines of a commutable zone around an office space. But companies must be intentional about the candidate experience, since a company’s culture that’s typically a vibe felt when attending an onsite interview now needs to be communicated virtually. 

During a remote interview process, candidates are seeking cultural signals through the careers page, Zoom interactions with the interview panel, publicly available information about the employee experience / employer brand [see our guide here] and communications sent by the hiring team throughout the process. Employers should move quickly through the hiring process due to increased competition from other remote companies and need to find creative ways to signal role fit without meeting the candidate in real life. Below are tactical tips from setting up your remote hiring strategy:

The remote interview process:


Remote candidates use the interview process to assess how organized the company is. A disorganized and underprepared hiring team signals to candidates what their employment experience might be like. Successful remote organizations are documentation-heavy in order to create clarity and move fast when working asynchronously. 

Key considerations from the process above and how to optimize for remote hiring:

  • Employer Brand: Consider a more robust careers page that highlights how you manage a remote team operation and what candidates can expect if they interview with you and if they ultimately join. Also consider other sites like Glassdoor, BuiltIn, and more, where candidates around the world might discover you and/or review for their own research.
  • Position launch: Consider timezone overlap requirements for the team (being within 4 hours of the majority of your team is a best practice for collaborative synchronous meetings) as well as geographical location and note these on the job posting (e.g. US-remote, EST timezone to overlap with EMEA-based team). Also, consider legal compliance requirements when posting positions. Some states require compensation ranges and specific language regarding background checks.
  • Recruiter screen: Be upfront about your compensation strategy and the range for the position when confirming their location. Also, ensure they have valid working rights for where they plan to work from/if they require sponsorship now or in the future. You will also want to share where they may or may not be able to work from in the future as defined in your remote strategy.
  • Work sample: An asynchronous work sample, technical pair coding challenge, or working session with key stakeholders in the team are great ways to understand how the candidate will communicate, collaborate and demonstrate technical competencies expected for the position. It also gives both the candidate and team a glimpse into what it would be like working together 
  • Panels: When hiring remotely, the time between 1:1 conversations can make the process feel long and drawn out. Where possible, schedule all panel interviews on the same day. This helps the process move quickly and keeps the candidate experience positive/max of 5 distinct steps in the process. The shift from commuting to in-person interviews to Zoom interviews means other employers can swoop in if you’re too slow.

In addition to the process, remember to be considerate of scheduling times that are convenient for the candidate’s timezone, remind interviewers to check their technical connections ahead of the interviews, and don’t be late/no-show without proactive communications to the candidate before the scheduled time of the interview.

Communications:

  • Use any recruiter outreach as an opportunity to share the mission, vision, and employer brand of your company — link blog posts, accolades for culture and employee experience, recordings of executive leadership speaking about the company vision or mission in written communications.
  • During the interview process, embed ways for the candidate to learn about what it would be like to work at your company. For example, if they would like to speak with a team member who shares a particular identity (e.g. BIPOC, Women in leadership roles, LGBTQ+, etc.), create inclusive and friendly ways to call in community members internally and create company culture moments.
  • Create clarity throughout the process through written expectations and updates — how many steps the interview process typically takes, what type of time commitment is expected, as well as timelines associated with feedback and next steps

Remote onboarding plans


For a deeper dive, check out this webinar by Robert Walters featuring our own Heather Doshay on Remote New Hire Onboarding

Onboarding can be more challenging when employees are remote and not sitting with each other. There’s less human connection and a lot more self-guided learning. The first month can feel lonely, especially if the team member is transitioning from a traditional office setting. In addition to compliance, here are some tips for helping new remote hires ramp up quickly:

  • Fly-in or virtual onboarding: For total inclusion on remote-first teams, either fly every remote team member out to the office in person for onboarding so that all employees get the same first-week experience, or create a totally virtual remote experience so that remote employees don’t get a second-rate experience of what the in-office cohort gets.
  • Onboarding documentation: Create a companywide onboarding guide that new employees can turn to and access answers to questions without feeling like they are bugging their manager. See our onboarding template here.
  • Pass down your culture: Consider implementing a buddy system where employees you think of as culture carriers can be matched to new hires for their first 90 days and be available to answer any questions. Provide the new hire and the buddy with a small stipend to fund a virtual coffee or lunch so they have a chance to connect socially.
  • Feedback styles: The manager should ask the new hire about their feedback and recognition preferences — public vs. private, how they are best motivated, etc. and ensure that the manager is aware of the preferences of everyone on their team to balance overall recognition dynamics. 
  • Surveys: Consider a new hire survey 90 days after each hire starts, to get insights to continually make onboarding stronger and stronger and intercept any new hire issues that could arise but go unnoticed in a virtual setting.

Pro tip: Here’s a manager activity we recommend when a new hire starts. Explicitly share these with the new hire: (1) Why they specifically were hired for this job, (2) why this specific job is critical to the success of the business, and (3) what success looks like after the first 30, 60, 90 days and beyond.

Equipment to do the job at onboarding and beyond

Hardware and remote office setup is a physiological need for most office workers who are working remotely. How much you offer employees as a company depends on your top-level strategy and approach. A remote-first team might provide a remote office setup stipend or membership to a local coworking space on top of shipping equipment to them (or providing reimbursement for a computer purchase).

Be explicit with whatever strategy you choose. Tell employees “We recognize you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer on Zoom calls here, so we’ve purposefully designed a perk to allow new hires to design an ergonomic desk set up to avoid stress injuries as well as an upgraded webcam and microphone to enable more effective meetings.” 

Here are a few examples of what remote-friendly and remote first teams might provide their employees, along a spectrum from baseline expected (a company computer) to a more generous approach (home office stipend and monthly perk budget):


There are vendors that can make this easier to manage. For example, FirstBase provides remote office setup as a service, inclusive of both hardware and office furniture. Compt allows companies to set budgets for reimbursement in key categories as one-time or recurring offerings. And of course, there are tools that help people be more effective and productive when working remotely, such as Loom for video messaging, Krisp for noise-canceling, and Motion for task and calendar management. 

Remote culture tips: No second-class citizens


The perception of belonging comes down to implicit and explicit factors, so here we’ll review the dynamics that impact whether someone feels truly comfortable at your company. The risk is that a hybrid work strategy can create norms that signal to some employees that they don’t belong or that they are seen as second-class citizens in your culture. 

Remote work time zone etiquette

When you’re on a distributed team, not everyone shares the same 9 to 5, and not everyone can attend every meeting unless they are available 24/7 (spoiler alert: we don’t recommend working around the clock – 3am calls will eventually drive away talent). Therefore, it’s important that all team members can access critical information and share information asynchronously.

Many teams miss the documentation and communication step of doing business and find their company in a state of confusion or in an unscalable and exception-based reality, especially if a key knowledge-holder leaves. 

Here are a few best practices for communicating effectively in a distributed setting: 

  • Establish a source of truth where key decisions and processes can be documented and accessed across the organization. This can be as robust as a companywide intranet or an official company Google Drive storage system, or as simple as a single Google Doc that links out to everything else as an archive (the latter won’t scale once you’re over 150 team members, but it’s better than nothing!)
  • Build a multi-channel communication strategy for big announcements, as messages can be lost with the low signal-to-noise ratio on Slack or a Zoom all-hands. 
  • Record company-wide and team-level Zoom meetings and provide links so that people in time zones outside of where the meeting is being held can still access it on their schedule.
  • Consider using silent meeting techniques, which give all participants an equal footing and by design capture all feedback and discussion in a doc that can be reviewed at any time.
  • Maintain thorough meeting notes via Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, Notion, or whatever you use, both for 1:1s and larger meetings. Establish a single notes document for the meeting that can be referenced back by relevant parties. 
  • Avoid creating secondary documents beyond the company-wide or team-wide source of truth. You don’t want a culture where people create siloed personal records for their goals, priorities, budget, reporting, etc. Encourage everyone to contribute to the ‘official’ documents that already exist
  • Document your documentation norms. Yes, it’s a bit meta, but encourage all team members to follow suit! From e-mail to Zoom chat to Slack to Loom to an old-fashioned phone call, it can be confusing to know which method is right for the time. Receiving messages across a variety of channels can lead to unproductive spin and even burnout amongst distributed teams. See below for some examples of how to make these decisions and guide the team to follow.

Pro-tip: Publish internal guides to which email list or communication medium is for what use case, or how to take a Slack chat headed toward an uncomfortable place to a live conversation. Here’s a few public examples of this done well by Gitlab and Zapier.

Remote-first or remote-friendly time zones?


How rough will it be for employees living across the globe from the core of your team? Explicitly and intentionally decide if you choose to be a remote-first organization that strives for global inclusivity as default, or if you want to anchor to an “HQ timezone as center of gravity” to which everyone adjusts their hours.


Remote-first time zone management: The goal is to ensure all time zones feel included. Strive to delay decision-making until you’ve heard from everyone who should be involved, rather than finalizing decisions before some stakeholders are even awake. All-hands meetings might rotate times on a quarterly cadence to be equally convenient to all. If you occasionally need to ask a colleague to join a meeting outside of their normal work hours, we recommend skipping video. It’s much easier to join if you’re not expected to be camera-ready.

HQ-centric time zone management: If HQ is in San Francisco, all employees must work at least 4 hours overlapped per day with Pacific Time. Employees in APAC might start their day at their local 7am to overlap in the afternoon, and employees in EMEA might start their day at noon and work into the evening to overlap with the morning. Company meetings might take place at 11am Pacific Time and EMEA employees are expected to tune in at their dinner hour or watch a recorded version of the meeting after the fact. 

It’s important to be cognizant of naming conventions for meetings as well as when and how social events happen so everyone feels like it was designed with them in mind. If an SF HQ’d team has a team member in NYC or EMEA and holds a 9am pacific time standup called “morning standup” when it’s noon for NYC and maybe 5 or 6pm for EMEA, that can feel alienating to some. Consider “daily standup” instead to signal consideration and empathy.

Alternatively, if your only virtual social events are 5pm “happy hours” in that same SF HQ, it might make it tough for the EMEA folks to ever attend unless they join at midnight, and happy hour may not feel appropriate for the mid-day cadence of an APAC team member. A shift to “social hour” or going a step further to call it “it’s happy hour somewhere” might help. Moreover, hosting events that aren’t centered only around alcohol is inclusive not only for the team member who joins on their lunch break but also for the team member navigating sobriety or their own religious norms. 

Pro-tip: Develop rituals and norms that allow team members to know who’s working vs. OOO both on Slack and in calendars. Ask team members to keep their Slack status up to date so other team members know if they can expect an immediate response. Requiring the team to set “working hours” on apps like Google Calendar is also helpful in scheduling group meetings and setting expectations and boundaries.

Remote work perks and benefits: Building a sense of belonging


Here are some ways to translate culture-building to remote work through incentives beyond compensation:

  • Office or location-based perks: Think of this as in-office catered lunch and snacks, a free gym membership only at the location next to the office, or even child care. If you’re “remote-allowed” you might remind people of that specific choice and that you believe remote and flexible work choices are the perk in and of themselves (and a few years ago, people might have nodded their heads in agreement and moved on, but in today’s climate, they might move on… to another job that is remote-friendly or remote first). If you’re “remote-friendly” you might offer your remote employees a more flexible option to reimburse a gym membership near them or offer a monthly virtual lunch where remote employees can expense food delivery but not try to match every single in-office perk.
  • Remote-first and -friendly perks: If you’re remote-first, you’re going to design your remote perk strategy in a way that feels equitable to what the office offers. For example, you might offer a monthly DoorDash gift card in the value of the amount you spend on your in-office catering per person or equalize a remote office reimbursement budget for snacks and supplies at the same amount as a commuter benefit dollar. It’s not to say everything should be dollar for dollar, but the key is explicit intentionality. 
  • Office-first community: Think of this as the big annual company holiday party, the weekly happy hour, or the in-office yoga class at lunchtime. If “remote-allowed”, you might communicate that when it is easy or practical to do so, you’ll create virtual invites to in-office events. If remote-friendly, you might ensure that at least one event each month is specifically designed to be remote (e.g. virtual bingo instead of a happy hour, bring in a virtual yoga instructor, or play a guided meditation). In other words, some programming budget is dedicated to include those remote team members. You might even offer to cover the costs for team members to fly in for the holiday party and build a team offsite around it to align with a business purpose.
  • Remote-first or -friendly community: Here you would design a majority of their programming around remote team member needs, and might choose to give every team member up to $300 to take their family to a nice holiday dinner in lieu of a single location holiday party but ask that everyone who utilizes that budget to share a photo of their dinner and how they celebrated in Slack. They might design policies that allow every team member a budget per year to visit one team member in another location and work with them for a day or two to encourage decentralized social time. 


Remote employee advancement and internal mobility 

Advancement and internal mobility is a powerful way to retain top talent while filling roles in a competitive market. It’s truly a win-win and drives a deeper sense of belonging, though when teams are hybrid, it can get a bit tricky. 

While perks and social events can make remote employees feel included, what’s most important is them believing that a bright career future is possible outside of HQ. If you decide the executive team must be in office, does that mean a remote emerging leader can never be promoted beyond a certain level? In a more informal sense, how much water cooler talk turns into mentorship or sponsorship that may result in promotion over someone without those opportunities? Or what about a Zoom meeting that ends, and everyone working remotely logs off, but the manager stays behind in a conference room to chat with the employees physically in the office that later turns into a changed decision or context the remote employee misses? These informal moments create proximity bias.

The first step is to decide what limitations you want to formally construct (if any), and then the second step is to identify all the implicit and explicit ways people may feel held back by being remote and find ways to mitigate those dynamics. These could be documented advancement and internal mobility policies as described below, extra office hours especially for remote teams, or a special rule that no decisions happen after the Zoom meeting turns off if there is even one remote person on the call.   

Most small companies don’t (and shouldn’t) start out by over-architecting complex promotion and internal mobility processes (though when you’re ready to think about designing performance management processes, check out this guide and all the templates in this folder!). Typically, when companies are small, all it takes is someone raising their hand and asking for an opportunity, and based on a number of factors (e.g., business need, readiness, how good at influencing they are), a promotion or new role is forged. This is not sustainable with scale and can lead to remote team members feeling like second-hand citizens.

So how do we solve this dynamic with scale?

  • Provide equitable opportunities to build social connection: The goal is not to block some relationships or casual connections from forming, but rather to create transparent paths for all to gain access to the same opportunities. How can companies create spaces for those who want virtual sponsor relationships? Can we empower virtual channels through which all can participate in water cooler culture such as a weekly casual coffee chat or using Donut to create more connections between senior leaders and emerging talent?
  • Create a written overview of your promotion/internal mobility process: It doesn’t need to be a 40-page legal policy, but can be policy- or process-“lite” where there’s a consistent way internal opportunities for promotion or mobility are advertised inside the company and approvals happen. Here are some helpful templates to get you started: Internal mobility & promotion policy templatepromotion request template/form! Consider including content on the following:
    • Do employees need to hit tenure (e.g. 12 months in role before being considered, unless business needs justify a move sooner)?
    • Will all new role opportunities be posted? Will they be posted internally and externally? If internal only, how many days will it remain open for applications?
    • Will all internal moves require an interview process that assesses competencies for role fit? 
    • How will in-line promotions (e.g. not a new role, but someone moving from X to Senior X) differ in process? 
    • Will promotions be available to happen anytime? Or at key points in the year (e.g. at the start of each quarter)?
    • Will promotions assume an approved backfill? If not, how will backfills be decided?
  • Enable your managers with training. Training managers on the processes and making them aware of their biases can help mitigate inequitable internal mobility and promotion decisions. The biases most common in this scenario are:
    • Similarity bias – “We work the same way and think the same way, which makes it easy to communicate and work together.”
    • Familiarity bias – “I like them and know them on a personal level, so I’ll weigh that higher than attributes required for the role.”
    • Halo effect – “They are really nice and well-liked by the team, so they must be good at their job.”
    • Horns effect – “They made a mistake on that one project we worked on cross-functionally, so there is no way they would be good for this opportunity.”

Remote work, mental health, and burnout


There are a variety of reasons team members may experience burnout, isolation, and anxiety regardless of how an organization is structured. Not only are remote workers subject to all of the same risks for burnout and other mental health issues as their co-located counterparts, they are physically isolated which may add to these concerns, have to put extra energy into enduring Zoom marathons, and it’s also more challenging for managers and teammates to see what’s really going on.

Research in the Applied Psychology academic journal reveal employee’s ability to align their work and personal responsibilities to avoid some types of common burnout are improved by people managers that demonstrate these four strategies:

1. Connect: Make employees feel comfortable. Normalize personal life moments in the workplace, from saying hello to a disruptive child to making it clear that the team cares more about results than clocking in at a certain time if something comes up.

2. Respond: Work effectively with employees to creatively solve conflicts between work and personal responsibilities. Be open to listening and helping problem solve, using discretion and not overstepping of course.

3. Rethink: Organize work in their department or group to jointly benefit the employees and the organization. If an employee is feeling burnt out, are there specific buckets of project work that could be reassigned to them to help reinvigorate their excitement in exchange for taking something off their plate that’s causing burnout?

4. Model: Demonstrate effective behaviors on how to juggle work and personal responsibilities. As a manager, model good behaviors like truly taking time off at regular intervals and disclosing that you sometimes feel burnout and then share what you do to manage it effectively.

Burnout isn’t always something that stems from too many competing responsibilities and a consistent state of being overwhelmed. It can also stem from a lack of personal alignment between one’s personal values, the company mission, and the role itself. We recommend managers communicate why each team member’s individual job responsibilities are mission-critical to the company’s success. 

Companies should design systems of resources and processes to not only mitigate, but also respond to burnout, isolation, or unproductive job-related stress. Stigmas around mental health in the workplace are diminishing, which is great, but not everyone is open to talking about these experiences. That why it’s vital that help and resources are easily discoverable within a company’s intranet or handbook. 

We recommend companies provide resources for team members to confidentially get the help they need as well as train managers on navigating mental health and burnout in the workplace. Here are a few resources that can help, and some can even be positioned as perks for those looking for preventative measures. You’ll also typically find that your benefits broker can provide free EAP programs and you can also share websites for in-network therapy under your benefits plan. 

  • Spring Health – Certified therapists and counselors 
  • Modern Health – Certified therapists and counselors
  • Better Help – Certified therapists and counselors
  • Bravely – Coaches who can help with difficult situations at work including burnout, but not certified counselors
  • Empower Work – This is not a paid solution, but rather a non-profit free for employees in need that you can share as a resource for your team if you cannot provide one of the above solutions in a paid partnership

Remote employee recognition: More than virtual high-fives

Image Credit: Revel Interactive

In the long run, the most important forms of recognition and engagement are internally derived from the self-perception that the work someone does matters and that it matters to acknowledge their contributions. If an employee can’t articulate how they are important to the business or are recognized for their efforts, no amount of high-fives or shout-outs will retain them. However, that alignment and advancement path is a long-term journey. The little props and bits of public praise or the random Starbucks gift card acknowledging someone’s efforts go a long way to keeping one’s recognition and esteem battery charged.

Develop and maintain channels for verbal and written praise for achievements no matter the location or time zone. Also, remember it’s not all on leadership to show appreciation for their direct reports. Whether a company invests in HeyTaco or Bonusly or simply repurposes a slack channel focused on #props or #appreciation, public recognition that’s accessible to all regardless of seniority or location is key. 

It’s important to note that especially when navigating a global team, this dynamic of giving props, shoutouts, kudos – whatever the team calls casual and quick praise – there are two challenging layers to navigate:

  1. Kudos across time zones: When praise only happens as a segment during synchronous meetings, and remote employees tend to watch after the fact, they may feel not only a decrease in belonging but may also receive less praise. Moreover, they have no avenue through which to give others that same praise in kind which may result in less of a flywheel of praise for that person’s work. If coupled with a lack of clear alignment to business goals and path toward advancement, it is likely that the employee will fall prey to low workplace esteem and potentially low engagement or premature attrition. 
  2. Cultures and preferences: While not culturally specific 100% of the time, it is common for some people to feel uncomfortable with excessive praise, especially in public. This can result in awkward feelings or interactions due to preference for a different source of recognition, or a more public team-level imbalance of who receives praise and who doesn’t. 

There’s no simple answer for managing these areas, and teams will need to adjust what they can when they can to accommodate the diversity of the team. Three vendors in addition to the ones cited above may be helpful in navigating recognition: 

  • Blueboard – Helps leaders provide special experiences to recognize employees that can be sent in public or private.
  • Compt – Manages distributed benefits and perks broadly, but can also be a platform used for monetary recognition such as a stipend category for work anniversaries, employee appreciation, and more. All perks are 100% customizable and tax-compliant which is a major upside, with the one drawback is they function as reimbursements instead of gift cards.
  • Fringe – Similar to Compt except that there are specific categories available for the various recognition types and it’s not customizable, but the benefit of Fringe over Compt is that there are no reimbursements and all recognition gifts are virtual gift cards.

Remote work manager checklist: How to know if employees feel supported

Putting all of these tips together

Gallup’s Q12 Survey

How do all of these strategies work together? Consider Gallup’s Q12 – a set of survey questions that measure employee engagement. Gallup has surveyed more than 2.7M people across 100k+ teams to uncover indicators of engagement that lead to performance and retention outcomes we all strive for. 

In remote work, we often make isolated decisions about compensation, tooling, and more, but the employee experiences a holistic and integrated working experience at your company. See how all the pieces we presented throughout the guide work together in a list of quick tips aligned with the Gallup Q12 questions:

  • I know what is expected of me at work.

Deploy a single source of truth like an intranet or a company-wide Notion doc that outlines expectations that managers reinforce during onboarding and one-on-ones. Check out Gitlab’s handbook as a model, but something more concise will do as long as it is up to date. 

  • I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

Provide remote employees with access to communication and productivity tools as well as a remote office stipend to feel fully resourced, healthy, and effective in their jobs. Check out FirstBaseComptLoomKrisp, and Motion to meet a variety of remote employee needs. 

  • At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

Remote employees work just as hard as anyone else, often logging more hours than their in-office counterparts. Acknowledge their efforts and prime all managers, but especially new managers to build trusting teams where results matter above facetime.

  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

Consider creating a culture of recognition that extends beyond the in-person high five. Check out Slack plugins like HeyTaco, and feedback features within products like Lattice to help recognition become everyone’s responsibility, not just those in leadership roles. 

  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

One majorly overlooked retention tool is helping employees feel seen as whole people. Managers should normalize and honor extra-office responsibilities in the workplace. It can be as simple as saying a friendly hello to a wayward pet on a Zoom call or asking about the new plant in the remote office background. 

  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.

Consider the way your team designs learning and development programs, promotion policies, and other career opportunities and how these are or aren’t inclusive of remote employees. Consider rotating career development event times or creating asynchronous opportunities for learning.

  • At work, my opinions seem to count.

Zoom can make it challenging to speak up in meetings, especially when a majority of the team is co-located. Try calling on remote team members to share before co-located team members in hybrid meeting environments. Find ways of collecting ideas and opinions of remote team members in a virtual suggestions box. Tools like Ariglad can be helpful for organizing these suggestions. 

  • The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

The best retention predictor is feeling a sense of purpose in the work being done day in and day out. Especially with the isolated nature of remote work, a connection or tie between the daily grind and the company mission is more important than ever. 

  • My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

How can your company design virtual spaces for teams to highlight the work they are doing when they can’t see them in action every day? Consider how teams can highlight their work product at virtual all-hands meetings, create newsletters or async company updates that allow individuals to shine, and practice documentation and transparency wherever possible to inspire the team to row together toward greatness.

  • I have a best friend at work.

This can be more complicated when there is no coffee station to chat around in the morning or lunch table to enjoy a catered meal with. Consider deploying designated social opportunities for team members to connect as more than coworkers to build real friendships. Try Donut to create virtual hangouts, or create Slack channels that cater to common interests like #parenting, #gardening, #dogs, and more. 

  • In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

Consider performance management platforms like Lattice with their Grow product or other tools in this space to help managers navigate progression conversations. Alternatively, consider creating lightweight career development plan templates that managers can use or empower every team member to engage with a coach through a platform like Bravely to help them initiate their own progression conversations.

  • This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Remember that opportunities to learn don’t have to be classroom-based. In fact, only 10% of learning for leadership development works best in a classroom setting. The remainder should come from people connections and on-the-job training opportunities. Managers and leaders should identify opportunities that arise on the job and be extra explicit about their intention so that employees understand that they are being invested in for growth. 

Further reading

*Portfolio company founders listed above have not received any compensation for this feedback and did not invest in a SignalFire fund. Please refer to our disclosures page for additional disclosures.

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