What's the difference between distributed and remote-first work?

Zach Dunn
Zach Dunn

Last year, the entire world learned how to work remotely during a pandemic. As in-person work becomes an option again, companies don't have to give up the office to continue integrating remote work successfully. In this post we'll go over a few common strategies for balancing remote vs. in-office work, and what each means for your office.

Distributed companies may not have an office

With distributed work, at least some of the organization works remotely and there may not even be an office. Distributed teams were already on the rise prior to 2020. In 2017 Automattic, (the company behind Wordpress) got rid of their office entirely because most people would work from home or nearby coworking spaces. This move later led to an entire new product line "Happy Tools", designed to share what Automattic learned in the process.

Not every company can make such a dramatic move and drop their office entirely (just ask any commercial real estate agent). A little further down the spectrum is Stripe's take on remote work. In 2019 Stripe opened "remote" as their fifth office location for engineering talent, making remote work a first class citizen instead of an awkward satellite to their San Francisco headquarters.

Remote-first companies use the office for collaboration

With remote-first work (aka “digital-first work”), most people work from home by default and choose to work in the office when their work supports it — typically at least once per week for most roles. In these environments, the office becomes a hub for collaborative work with your team.

This style of work is easier for companies to adopt, and isn't a lifestyle change for the average employee. Remote doesn't mean "only working from home", even if that was the only option available to most during the pandemic. You aren't "a remote employee" — just not working in the office today, and that's normal. In 2021, the office isn't for attendance anymore.

Next up: the hybrid work week

A hybrid work week integrates both remote and in-office work. It changes the relationship between headcount and real estate, because not everyone will work in the office at the same time — which lowers the facilities costs to support a growing team. Remote-first work means an office can support more people than before without impacting the quality of life for those working in it.

The pandemic accelerated how quickly companies experimented with this approach. Reopening is an opportunity to revisit the role of a modern office, focusing on flexibility and collaborative space for employees instead — even if it’s just a single department to start.

Reopening your office this year? Robin gives companies the tools to manage a safe return to the office, and people the power to make the most of their workplace again. Get started with a demo.