Remote-First Culture: What Is It And How Cheesecake Labs Embraced It?

woman smiling in front of a notebook

In March 2020, Cheesecake Labs — like so many other businesses — had to find a way to work remotely. It wasn’t always easy, but many companies now realize the benefits of being remote-first. 

So what does it mean to be a remote-first company? And how can organizations create a remote-first work culture that keeps everyone motivated and productive?

Here’s how we’ve done things at Cheesecake Labs. 

What is Remote-First Culture?

At a remote-first company, the default is for employees to work remotely (whether that’s at home or in a separate office space) rather than at the company’s HQ. Remote-first companies create a culture that facilitates remote working while allowing employees to work in the office if they want to. 

Building a successful remote-first culture requires time and effort; you need to create an inclusive, safe, and collaborative work environment that helps employees do their best work no matter where they are. 

But once you establish that culture, remote-first working brings so many benefits to employees and businesses. 

Companies who have chosen a remote-first work strategy

Some of the world’s biggest companies have shifted from working in the office to being remote-first. Here are just a few. 

  • Coinbase

In May 2020, Coinbase announced that they would embrace remote-first culture after all COVID restrictions were lifted. CEO Brian Armstrong said that being remote-first offered a “huge opportunity and strategic advantage” for the company. 

  • Dropbox

Dropbox announced they would become a “virtual-first” company in October 2020. They wrote on their blog that remote work outside of an office would be the primary working experience for everyone at the company, but that they would continue to facilitate in-person collaboration and team gatherings for those who wanted to participate.

  • Pinterest

Pinterest takes a remote-first approach with PinFlex. PinFlex allows people working at Pinterest to live and work anywhere and even encourages employees to travel around the world and work from different locations. 

  • Shopify

Shopify’s CEO Tobi Lütke tweeted in May 2020 that Shopify would become a “digital by default” company. He said that most employees would permanently work remotely and that Shopify would be reworking their offices to better align with a new working reality. 

  • Cheesecake Labs

You can add Cheesecake Labs to the list of remote-first tech companies, and we’ll tell you more about our transformation in a little bit!

Remote-first vs. remote-friendly vs. remote-only vs. hybrid

There are many different ways to describe the world of work these days. In the examples above, each company has a different way of defining their approach to remote work.

So what are the differences between being remote-first or remote-friendly

How does hybrid working fit in? Here’s a handy chart to help you compare some common terms: 

1. Employees primarily work remotely.

2. Companies maintain some form of office space HQ.

3. Employees can come work in the office if they want.

4. Remote-first companies tailor the employee experience to be excellent no matter where an employee works
1. Employees always work remotely.

2. Companies don’t retain any central office.

3. Remote-only companies may come together to meet in person occasionally, but working together in person isn’t standard
1. Employees have the option to work remotely.

2. In remote-friendly organizations, some employees are allowed to work remotely some of the time.

3. However, most employees will work in the office
1. Employees spend a mix of their time working in the office and working remotely.

2. Different companies will have different hybrid schedules including certain days each week in the office or a number of days each month employees need to work in the office.
What’s the difference between remote-first vs. remote-friendly vs. remote-only vs. hybrid?

6 Benefits of remote-first culture

Why are so many companies choosing to be remote-first? For those considering remote-first culture, here are a few benefits you can expect when you give workers more flexibility and choice over where they log in from.

1. Productivity

Studies show that remote-first companies with effective leadership see stable or increased productivity levels, and working from home can increase productivity by 13%.

With remote-first working, employees can work when they feel most productive and better fit their work around the other things happening in their lives. This freedom leads to better productivity overall. 

2. Reduced costs

Building a remote culture means businesses and employees can save money.

  • In a survey of tech company leaders, 90% said they were prioritizing or reprioritizing remote work to save money. 
  • And a 2021 study found that employers can save $11,000 annually for every employee that works remotely for two to three days each week. If you go with a remote-first culture, those savings increase. 

Remote work isn’t just good for businesses; it’s also great for employees’ wallets. The average employee can save $6,000 each year by working remotely. Those savings come from lower commuting and transportation costs, less money spent on childcare, and even savings on work wardrobes. 

3. Engagement

87% of people choose to work remotely when given the chance and remote workers are 22% happier than people in an office environment. So offering remote work as a standard can go a long way toward creating more engaged teams. 

We’ve found that creating a remote-first culture can be hard work, but getting it right pays off. 

4. Recruitment and retention

Employees are looking for flexibility and autonomy in their work.

  • 77% of workers want flexible work hours
  • and 58% want a remote work-from-anywhere policy. 

So, the more flexibility you can offer while still providing a great remote culture, the better you’ll be able to recruit new employees and retain the ones you have.

5. Diversity

Embracing a remote-first culture can go a long way toward making companies more diverse and inclusive. When you remove the requirement that everyone works in the same office, you open up more opportunities for diverse hiring. Instead of hiring based on location, you can find the best candidates based on their skills. And studies show that candidates from underrepresented backgrounds tend to prefer flexible or remote work.

6. Clients

When you look at all of these benefits together, it’s clear that being remote-first can really improve your workplace experience and productivity. When you have happier, more productive employees, you’re bound to have happier clients as well. 

At Cheesecake Labs, we’ve noticed that overall performance has improved since switching to remote working, meaning we’re passing along those benefits directly to our clients. 

Tips for building a strong culture with a remote team

There’s no one way to build a strong culture when your whole team is remote; it’s always best to tailor your approach to the needs of your team. 

That said, there are a number of core considerations for any company looking to make the switch. 


Companies need to have the right tools in place to support remote working. That includes your standard messaging apps like Slack, meeting software like Zoom, and email and scheduling software. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with how you communicate. At Cheesecake Labs, we use Discord to create an informal virtual “office” where people can come work together and chat informally to help recreate the social aspects of the office.

It’s also a good idea to create a formal people and culture ‘hub’ where employees can give feedback on how well their remote experience is going, ask questions, and access resources. You can build one of these hubs or partner with a provider like

However, tools aren’t just about tech. You should also focus on how you’ll measure the success of your remote-first initiatives. Using methodologies like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) can help you analyze your efforts and show you where you need to make changes and improve.


Strong, compassionate leadership is the true key to successfully building culture in a remote environment. Here are just a few things that leaders need to carefully consider and manage. 

  • Communication
  • Inclusion
  • Time management
  • Team engagement

How you approach that will look different depending on your company, so we can’t tell you exactly how to do it. But we can tell you a bit more about how we approached this challenge at Cheesecake Labs. 

How Cheesecake Labs became a remote-first company

Cheesecake Labs’ team in a remote event celebrating a traditional festival from Brazil

Within a week of COVID lockdowns starting, we knew we had to create an effective remote working environment. Prior to the pandemic, we all worked in the office.

So shifting to fully remote work was a big change. Thankfully, we already knew how to communicate successfully and collaborate remotely because that’s what we already did with most of our clients.

This gave us an outline to work from. We began adapting the processes we were already using with our clients and found ways to make them work for Cheesecake Labs internally. As time passed, we tweaked and changed those processes to better support our employees (a.k.a Cakers) as they settled into remote-first working.

As lockdowns began to ease and many companies brought people back to the office, we knew we had a big choice to make.

Should we stay remote-first or shift back to requiring more time working in-office? Ultimately, we decided that being a remote company had opened up too many amazing opportunities for us to head back to the office.

For example, since switching to a remote-first culture, we’ve been able to hire people throughout Brazil rather than just hiring people who live close to our offices in Florianopolis.

We’ve found new ways to communicate and improve the relationships between employees and leadership. And we’ve worked hard to improve the employee experience to align with how people want to work right now.

We’re not willing to give up any of these fantastic benefits! So, we decided Cheesecake Labs would remain a remote-first company. But, just like always, we’re doing it our way. 

How leadership supported and embraced the switch to remote work

We knew that leadership was key to creating a thriving remote-first culture. The big cheeses at Cheesecake Labs had to pull together and make sure everyone in the company felt safe and heard during this transition process. And it was essential to us that everyone had everything they needed to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

How we’re making that happen is constantly evolving, but here are a few things we’ve done over the last few years to create a robust remote-first environment. 

  • Rethink company organization

With everyone working remotely, it’s harder to interact informally with coworkers throughout the day. When we worked in the office, those “water cooler moments” were a lot easier to come by; when you’re working from home, you’re much less likely to run into a coworker in your kitchen! 

Initially, the company was organized into teams based on department (named after different cheeses, of course!) but working remotely has meant that many Cakers had less interaction with coworkers outside their cheese groups.

We’re currently transitioning to a new chapter and guild structure. Of course, we have to put our own spin on things, so our chapters are called Bakeries and include Cakers with similar backgrounds, skill sets, and expertise.

We’re forming Bakeries around what people do within the company. For example, for a group that develops mobile apps, we could have a Mobile Bakery with people from different departments that feed into the end goal of creating amazing mobile apps. 

We’re also putting together Guilds that focus on specific Cheesecake Labs initiatives like Respect & Inclusion or Internal Process Innovation.

These Guilds give Cakers the chance to come together and work on projects and subjects they feel most passionate about, which we believe helps make our company a better place to work. 

And for projects, we assemble Squads. Squads are smaller, agile teams responsible for the end-to-end delivery of our services and are formed based on client and project needs

Squads have been part of Cheesecake Labs since the very beginning, and we knew we needed to keep them in this new framework to help us maintain our values and continue to deliver a WOW service to our clients. 

We believe that this new structure will help more Cakers connect with others outside their departments and help us build a more cohesive company culture. 

  • Changing how our processes work

Keeping the same processes we had when everyone was in the office just wasn’t going to cut it. So we had to rethink how we could better adapt our processes to the remote working experience. 

  • Reimagine how we build relationships

Maintaining relationships between coworkers and between Cakers and our People & Culture department can be challenging. We’re always looking for new ways to keep people connected, even when they’re working miles apart. 

Almost immediately after Brazil went into lockdown, we put together a weekly “better together” meeting that allowed all Cakers to attend and talk about emotional safety and the current pandemic moment. Additionally, Cakers had the chance to voice any concerns and feedback on how we handled the switch to remote work. 

And this part of the process is the one we’re always looking to improve — after all, at this stage, nobody has all the answers. We’re willing to try new and different ways of connecting and communicating to strengthen the bonds between every Caker in the company. 

We’re committed to remote working, but we’re keeping our office

cheesecake labs office
Cheesecake Labs’ Office in Florianopolis, Brasil

We love our office. Step through the doors, and you know you’re in a uniquely Cheesecake Labs place. And pre-pandemic, our office was a thriving testament to the fantastic Cakers who work here. 

So while we’re all in on remote-first culture, we felt it was important to maintain our offices. Our office connects us to our local community and gives our clients a place to meet with us in person. Now that we can all meet up in person more freely, the office will be a place to gather together and continue to make meaningful connections. 

To us, remote-first is all about letting people work where, when, and how they work best. Some Cakers do their best work in the office. So it’s important to us to give them that space and that chance to work where they want. 

We see our offices as our central hub that will be there if and when anyone needs it. 

Great Place to Work Certification

four men and a woman at gptw certification
Cheesecake Labs’ Directors at GPTW Event 2022 in Sao Paulo, Brazil

All these changes had the potential to jeopardize our culture, but we’re proud to say that Cheesecake Labs has been named a Great Place to Work three times in 2022!

Read more about our company’s achievements in 2022: Cheesecake Labs turns nine!

We’ve made efforts to ensure the remote-first transition hasn’t negatively impacted the working experience. These are just a few ways we’re committed to making the remote-first experience at Cheesecake Labs exceptional.

  • Rethinking perks and benefits to be less in-office focused

Not working in the office has required us to review the benefits we offer Cakers. We used to have free food, drinks, and even beer in the office for everyone to enjoy. Now, we offer Cakers a flexible benefits plan that they can use for benefits that are most important to them.

This can include paying for food delivery, gas, or transportation, updating their home office, healthcare, continuing education, and a whole lot more! Ultimately, we want our Cakers to have access to what matters most to them, and providing flexible benefits helps us do exactly that. 

We love a good celebration at Cheesecake Labs, which hasn’t changed since we’re working remotely. We hold regular celebration days and send out swag packages to each Caker to help them celebrate wherever they are.

  • Encourage autonomy and ownership

“Take ownership and be responsible” is one of our core values, and we truly believe that this is one of the main reasons we’ve been so successful in our transition to remote-first working. 

Every Caker is given the space to learn and grow on their own terms. We encourage everyone in the company to take the time to figure out when and where they work best. 

  • Celebrate every win big or small

Sometimes working at home can feel isolating. That’s why it’s so important to us to celebrate all the wins — big and small — that we each experience every day. 

We like using tools like Slack and Kudo Cards to create virtual “appreciation stations” where everyone can talk about the things they’re proud of, congratulate each other, and celebrate everything there is to love about each working day. 

Experience our remote-first culture for yourself

We can talk about designing the perfect working culture and environment forever, but there’s a better way to learn more about what we do at Cheesecake Labs. 

If you think you’re the kind of person who would thrive in our remote-first culture, if you have lots of big ideas and want to have lots of fun working with amazing people, then check out our careers page and our open listings. 

We can’t wait to work with you!

About the author.

Caroline Schmitz
Caroline Schmitz

Believes we are all infinite possibilities. Psychologist (tell me more about it) and business administrator who loves study human relations, only because full-time vampire slayer is not an actual job title.