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An increasing number of business owners are taking advantage of technological advances and opting to augment their workforces with remote employees. Online and cloud-based tools make it possible for them to communicate and collaborate with their employees regardless of where in the world they’re located. These business owners are no longer limited to local talent.
Employing remote workers has become a popular staffing solution because it also allows business owners to reduce overhead (i.e. rent, equipment), but it isn’t without challenges. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of hiring remote employees as well as the challenges. We’ll also look at ways to effectively manage the challenges in order to successfully build a remote team.
The increasing popularity of remote working is largely due to its positive attributes. What was once seen as an occasional employee perk has become a valued staffing option. For many business owners, this hiring model just makes sense.
Office space is where most companies will realize the greatest reduction in overhead. By hiring remote employees, a business can save $10,000 per employee per year in office space costs. Multiply that by 25 employees and that’s a substantial savings.
There are other overhead costs associated with having on-site employees. The cost of computers, furniture, office supplies, heating and cooling, electricity, and janitorial services are all reduced with remote employees. Also, when employees work from home, fewer will call in due to slight illness or inclement weather. Unscheduled absences can cost a business close to $2,000 in lost production.
If you require employment candidates to be located within your geographic area, you may not end up with the best person for the job. By relaxing the geographic restrictions and considering remote employees, you gain access to a global talent pool. There’s a lot of exceptional talent outside of your “own backyard” that may be willing to take on projects for less compensation.
The costs of replacing a highly-trained, highly-educated employee can be greater than 20 percent of the employee’s salary. In order to retain their top talent, more companies are offering remote work options. Being able to work from home and eliminating the commute greatly impacts an employee’s decision to stay with a company.
Businesses aren’t the only ones saving money in a remote work arrangement. By not having to work at an employer’s place of business, remote employees save on gas or public transportation, car repair/maintenance (since it’s being driven less), dry cleaning, and professional wardrobe. The average person can save $4,000 per year by working from home
Anyone who has ever been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic travelling to and from work knows that commutes can be horrible. What’s worse is that employees aren’t paid for this time. This, no doubt, adds to an employee’s frustration with the commute.
Being able to avoid a commute makes for a more contented employee. If an employee is more contented, he or she is likely to be more productive which ultimately boosts your bottom line.
If you’re insightful during the interview process and hire remote employees who are self-motivated and competent, they’ll be more productive than their on-site counterparts. This may seem counterintuitive, because some business owners feel employees produce more when they’re closely monitored. However, remote employees are more likely to work overtime than on-site employees. Working from home also allows them to avoid the distractions of working in a traditional office setting; they aren’t called into last-minute meetings or engaged in idle office chatter.
Working from home also allows employees to work during their most productive hours. Not everyone performs best during traditional office hours; some employees are night owls and their energy peaks during evening hours while others are more productive before traditional office hours start.
Again, insight during the interview process will help you hire the right team members so you don’t have to contend with employees who view their new found autonomy as a way to be less productive.
When you hear the term “remote work”, what’s your perception of it? Remote work has multiple versions and the business owners who have embraced it have done so to varying degrees. Some are just testing the waters while others have gone full throttle and operate as a completely distributed organization. Here are the different options for adding remote employees to your workforce.
Some companies choose to experiment with a remote working culture and start by giving employees the option to work from home one or more days per week. On the days that employees are working from home, the team will need to mostly communicate via email, online chat or use other communication tools. This setup requires taking steps to ensure that employees who work from home feel connected to the on-site team.
In this setup, the entire organization works remotely and is mostly in one time zone, or very few overlapping time zones. The way work is performed will be different from that of a team based within an office. Communication and collaboration tools will be more heavily relied upon. However, when the team is located mostly within the same time zone, you can rely on team members being available when you need them; projects can be completed in a more synchronous manner.
When a remote team is spread across different time zones, you’ll likely have only a few hours of overlap with other team members. In this setup, you’ll need to foster an environment where effective communication and synchronous collaboration can occur. Companies often choose to concentrate certain positions in the same time zone to allow team members to effectively collaborate. For example, all marketing staff may be intentionally located in the same time zone.
The objective of this remote work option is to allow employees to live and work smarter. In this setup, team members aren’t just spread across different time zones; some are migrant, or travelling. Imagine a journalist who is living his or her dream of travelling the world but regularly contributes articles to The New Yorker.
Because some team members are moving from place to place, working collaboratively can be challenging and productivity adversely affected. With the right communication and collaboration tools, however, projects can still be completed efficiently with nomadic team members on board.
Once you’ve decided on the remote work option that best suits your company, it’s time to find the exceptional talent that will help you reach your goals. Whether working from your office or from their homes, all employees must be capable of performing the jobs for which they were hired. The hiring process for on-site employees can be challenging but you’ll find that recruiting virtual employees can be considerably more challenging:
To manage the challenges involved in hiring remote employees, you’ll need to take a different approach to interviewing than you would with on-site employees.
Conducting live interviews helps you to study candidates’ body language. You’ll get a sense of whether they’re genuinely interested in the position and whether they’re being forthright about their backgrounds and accomplishments. Since the interview process is inherently stressful, you’ll also be able to gauge how they react to pressure.
If the candidate is local, interview them at your office or at a restaurant if your business is home-based. For non-local candidates, conduct a video interview using Skype or another video chat application. You may choose to also interview local candidates by video chat as it’s an effective and efficient interview method used by 60% of hiring managers to shorten the hiring timeframe.
Standard interview questions don’t always provide enough information to adequately assess a candidate’s competencies – especially if you’re interviewing for positions requiring analytical or technical acumen. To ensure that a candidate possesses the required skills, use one of the many online skills assessment tools. Eskill offers over 600 pre-employment assessments for positions in a variety of industries.
Once you’ve shortlisted candidates, create a test project that’s representative of the work that candidates can expect to perform in the position. This is a common practice when hiring remote writers. If you want more assurance that the candidate will be a good fit for your company, check references from previous clients or employers.
When hiring remote employees, it’s extremely important that they be self-motivated. After all, they won’t have encouraging co-workers or managers physically present so they must be able to work independently. To gauge a candidate’s ability to work without in-person direction:
The Internet and advances in technology allow business owners to recruit and work with people from around the world. This is a good thing; however, time zone differences can make it difficult to hold virtual meetings. In job postings, sharp business owners counter this by requiring that applicants be within a certain hour range of their time zone. For example, “you must be within 3 hours of the Pacific Standard Time zone”.
Another challenge you may face when hiring globally is attracting candidates who aren’t fluent in your language. When posting job openings, be mindful to post in countries where your native language is spoken. Or, include the language requirement in the job posting.
Here’s an excerpt from a posting for a remote Technical Writer:
What We’re Looking For (Qualifications)
Employees need to feel they’re part of the company culture, even if they’re spread out around the world. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to foster a culture with a virtual team as it is with on-site employees. Here are some ideas for building a unified workforce where all employees feel valued:
To have a company culture, all of your employees (remote included) need to share a unified purpose and set of principles. As new hires come on board, share your company’s vision and let them know what’s expected of them.
Your company’s vision should include your mission statement which is a short statement of why your business exists, its core values, and its goals. The vision should also include a detailed set of guidelines for all employees to follow.
Create an internal microsite that contains the company’s vision, policies and guidelines. As part of the employee onboarding process, direct new hires to the site. This will give them a clear understanding of what your company seeks to accomplish and the role they’ll play in reaching those goals. This information can also be shared via cloud-based tools like Google Docs or Dropbox Paper. Make it easy for employees to receive clarification if there’s any confusion.
Although there are a lot of benefits to working remotely, off-site employees can feel isolated and disconnected from the team. On-site employees get to bounce ideas off each other over cubicle walls, in break rooms, and in conference rooms. As the business owner, you need to encourage open communication between remote employees and provide solutions for accomplishing this.
Although you want to hire employees who are self-motivated and capable enough to work independently, you still need to communicate regularly with your remote team. You want to ensure that projects are running smoothly and on schedule. Generally, email is an effective form of communication but it isn’t necessarily the most efficient for managing a remote workforce. Email also isn’t the best tool for collaboration. There are numerous tools that make it easy for you to connect with employees and for employees to connect with each other.
Once you’ve added remote employees to your team, it’s important to establish processes and activities that ensure work gets done. You also want to ensure that employees feel they’re in the loop. Here are some practices to consider:
Not sold on the merits of remote working? The 2018 State of Remote Work report found that not only did 90 percent of remote workers plan to continue for the entirety of their careers, but 88% of business owners surveyed see remote work as fitting into their company vision. Since many of the business owners worked from home themselves, they could appreciate the benefits of a remote work arrangement.
Dave Nevogt, CEO of Hubstaff (a company that helps others hire remote talent), states, “The reason we were able to build a bootstrapped software company is because we could hire the best global talent available at the rates we could afford to pay, allowing us to grow the business with the revenue. We were also able to build a business without sacrificing work/life balance. I am able to spend time with my family and friends, enjoy hobbies, and travel all while running a remote team of 30+ people.”
Business owners embrace remote work because they’ve found that remote employees stay longer, work harder, and offer better ROI over on-site employees. Giving employees the freedom to work when and from where they want helps companies keep their attrition rates low.
Joel Gascoigne, CEO at Buffer, says “It is my belief that working to develop a great remote working culture is an investment that will pay dividends for decades to come. If we can make this work over the long-term, we set the company up for many significant advantages and great freedom for us as a team.”
Over the past five years, the number of companies offering flexible or exclusively remote work options has increased by 40%. This practice has allowed companies transitioning to remote work to benefit by attracting top talent and keeping current employees happy. There are also times when external forces such as the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak make it necessary for companies to have employees work remotely. However, ditching a traditional office setting and sending employees off to work from a home office isn’t easy. It often takes a great deal of planning and preparation to make the transition smooth.
Here are some recommendations for a smooth transition to remote work:
Although many companies have the desire and motivation to transition onsite employees to remote work, they don’t necessarily have well-defined policies in place. In order to successfully transition your team to remote work, it’s essential that you clearly communicate expectations and share them with everyone on the team. You should also update expectations as necessary.
The policies you establish will depend on the size of your team and your company’s needs. However, a basic remote work policy should cover the following areas:
If you decide to go remote, you can expect your hiring process to involve some unique challenges. Hiring managers will need to revise their hiring strategies to reflect remote work expectations and responsibilities. For example, a prospective employee’s soft skills such as self-motivation and effective communication may be more important to ensure he or she will be a good fit for the company and the position being applied for.
Before making the move to remote work, it’s important that you have the right tools in place. If not, collaboration and communication between team members and managers can become confusing and disconnected.
Remote working teams will need to be able to easily communicate with each other. Email isn’t always a practical option. Communication tools like Slack, Skype, or Google Hangouts will help remote teams stay connected. These tools offer real-time messaging, video call options, and the ability to organize conversations by project or topic.
Keeping files and information organized and easily accessible to all team members will be key for remote working teams. A cloud-based project management tool will allow for organizing projects among different departments and setting deadline reminders. Some of the most popular cloud-based project management tools for remote teams include Trello and Basecamp. For document management and file sharing, Google Drive and DropBox Paper are favored options.
Managers of remote teams need a way to ensure their remote employees are actually working. Some managers measure their employees’ productivity based on the number of tasks or projects completed and whether or not they’re meeting established goals. The number of hours they clock in is less relevant. It can still, however, be a challenge to keep employees on task. Should managers find that productivity is slipping, there are time-tracking tools such as Toggl and Timesheets that can be used to monitor progress on projects or track the amount of time it takes to complete certain tasks.
Remote work teams may not always perform tasks in their home offices. This means they could be accessing WiFi networks in coffee shops, libraries, and other public places to get their work done. For this reason, it’s important that an information security policy be established before transitioning your team to remote work.
Tools like LastPass should be used by remote teams to create secure passwords and those passwords should be updated frequently. Sensitive information should be stored in a secure cloud-based storage platform like Box and a virtual private network (VPN) is recommended when signing onto public networks.
For a transition to remote work to be successful, managers or team leaders need to be well-prepared. As mentioned earlier, the process can be challenging so it’s important for managers to receive adequate training and support. One way to accomplish this is by ensuring that managers have the right tools to effectively communicate with and monitor employees so that projects are completed on time.
Remote work options allow companies to forego the expenses associated with office space such as rent, utilities, and janitorial services. However, there may be times when it’s necessary to have team or client meetings in person. Temporary office space can be rented in most cities by the hour or day. You can find whatever meets your needs whether it’s a swanky office that will impress clients or a basic meeting room for staff.
For adequate employee engagement, a strong company culture is essential. Transitioning to remote work causes some companies to be concerned that company culture will suffer. This doesn’t have to be the case as long as managers are willing to take the time to preserve it.
A popular way to keep remote teams close is to arrange trips together or host team retreats. The company can either foot the bill entirely or subsidize the cost of these outings. Teams can also stay close and engaged through the use of digital tools such as video conferencing and online chat platforms like Slack. Offering rewards for meeting goals is another way to keep teams motivated.
Generally, remote workers are expected to supply and use their own equipment. Chances are you’ve already provided your employees with some equipment, even if it’s only a laptop. If you want to have control over the equipment your remote employee is using, you may want to cover its cost. Whether your budget allows for covering the entire or partial cost of the following, here’s what typical remote workers will need in their home offices:
Employees’ home office setups don’t have to be exact replicas of their onsite offices. They just need to have the tools necessary for being comfortable and productive.
Hiring remote workers is an ideal way to reduce overhead costs and increase the pool of qualified candidates. It can also help reduce attrition by increasing employee satisfaction. Before considering this staffing option, be aware of the challenges associated with having off-site employees. If you employ effective processes and take advantage of available communication and collaboration tools, however, the challenges are lessened. Study other companies who have successfully built remote teams to see if any of their methods might work for your company.
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