Remote teams are a big deal right now. Not only are business owners recognizing the many benefits of having a telecommuting staff, but employees are also starting to prefer the flexibility and location independence associated with remote work. My company, SaleHoo, has a telecommuting staff that is based all over the world, and going remote was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
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Our Journey to Remote
In 2006, I found the local talent pool coming up short for a certain type of employee. So, I did what any other well-trained millennial would do: resort to the Internet. I was amazed at the quality and experience in the global applicant pool.
As I perused the wealth of potential remote employees, I had what some might call a “lightbulb moment.” In the day-to-day operation of my online business, there are a lot of positions that do not require a local office.
I had been dabbling in the idea of a remote team, hiring a few telecommuting employees here and there, when Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson published Remote: Office Not Required. This book—which I highly recommend to anyone considering a remote workforce—clearly outlines the benefits of telecommuting for employee and employer. I was hooked.
Having a remote team has been hugely successful for my company. I realize that the nature of an online, e-commerce business is far more accommodating to a remote staff than, say, a retail store, but I believe remote hiring can provide benefits to nearly any business owner. A retail store based in New Zealand can still outsource an accounting job to the US.
Why a Remote Team Is Better
The benefits of a remote staff are almost too numerous to list. These include, but are not limited to, reduced overhead, increased staff satisfaction, and higher levels of productivity.
Offices are expensive. The costs of an office—rent, computers, office supplies, electricity, heating, and cooling—really add up. When you eliminate those expenses by having some or all of your staff telecommute, you have more money to put towards business development and higher salaries so you can onboard better talent.
My 24 remote staff members love their jobs, and they especially love that their jobs are remote. Most staff members will appreciate the flexibility associated with the remote job arrangement and their satisfaction translates into a greater investment in the company. A happy staff is good for business.
Many employers are reluctant to allow telecommuting because they are concerned staff will be less productive when left to their own devices. I’ve found the opposite to be true—my remote staff are just as productive, if not more so than my in-office staff.
One often-overlooked reason for this increased productivity is the reduction of sickness. When staff are in an office together, they often spread illness among each other and employers are sometimes faced with weeks on end where multiple employees are missing.
A remote staff doesn’t share germs and can work as they’re ready during recovery from an illness. Even if they just do an hour here and there while they’re getting better, that’s an improvement on traditional sick leave.
Spreading the Word
A remote staff also has the benefit of spreading awareness of your brand. If you have employees based all over the globe, you have company representatives based all over the globe, too.
Building a Successful Remote Team
Now that you’re sold on the superiority of a remote team, let’s talk about how to make it a reality for your business.
Hiring remotely is, of course, very different from hiring locally. While a larger talent pool is one of the major benefits of a remote staff, it is also one of the major challenges. You have access to some of the best in the business, but you also have to sift through some of the worst.
Remote hiring doesn’t start when a position opens up on your team—it’s an ongoing, constant process. Employers should be proactive in tracking industry talent, even if those potential hires are currently employed. That employment could end at any moment for any reason, and you want to be on that person’s radar when they go looking for a new job.
At Doubledot Media, we use LinkedIn Recruiter to meet and chat with candidates. When you have a pool of potential employees, the hiring process goes much more smoothly.
Still, this isn’t a process that can be rushed. Hiring without the benefit of an in-person meeting puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to the gut-instinct factor. Use multiple channels to interact with a candidate, including video chat, phone, and email.
A trial project should be an integral part of the hiring process, because it’s a low-risk way for you to see exactly how the candidate performs within the parameters of the position for which you’re hiring. The project should test for the specific functions of the job as well as the important qualities of a remote worker, such as independence, clarity, and professionalism.
When you hire a remote candidate, you need to be absolutely sure they are a good addition to your team. The onboarding process for a remote employee requires a significant investment of time and energy, so it’s important for you to be confident that training this employee will be worth your while.
There is no shortage of data on the importance of hands-on training. With a remote employee, though, it’s out of the question.
While onboarding remotely, you are denied the face-to-face interaction that can be integral not only to training, but also to inspiring investment in the company. A new employee’s first weeks are highly important to their future success, and it’s important that the onboarding process is enjoyable and productive despite these disadvantages.
The key to a successful remote onboarding process is detailed, consistent documentation. The written training materials for a remote employee must be of a higher standard because they will be more heavily relied upon.
Check out one of the recent FridgeCasts on the subject of how to create systems here.
At SaleHoo, we have a wiki page in our project management software that is dedicated solely to new team members. It provides a general overview of company policies, as well as departmental pages dedicated to outlining specific job duties. Or there are also other options such as System Hub that is a platform dedicated to storing companies standard operating procedures.
Training materials can never become static. These documents should constantly be updated by the staff as positions evolve. New staff can be an integral part of this process, as they can tell you what was missing from the training as they settle into their new roles.
Additionally, higher-level involvement is vital when onboarding a remote employee. Business owners should be available to the new employee to provide advice, make them feel welcome, and answer questions.
Whereas it might be acceptable to outsource training to another employee in a traditional office environment, this can seem far too distant in a remote setting. Direct interaction with the boss can go a long way toward making a new remote team member feel welcome and engaged.
Fostering Engagement for a Remote Team
When your employees are spread across the world, it can be hard for them to communicate, build relationships, and feel united in a company mission.
Company culture drives staff engagement, and staff engagement drives your bottom line. The interactions that happen by accident in a traditional office—a shared cup of coffee or lunch break—don’t happen in a virtual office. That’s why business owners have to be extra proactive in creating a company culture when they have a remote staff.
Traditions are at the root of culture, so it’s important to create and maintain some fun routines for your remote staff. This might be as simple as a funny e-card sent on birthdays or as elaborate as an annual group vacation/company retreat. Find a tradition that everyone can get on board with and be consistent about honoring it.
Provide opportunities for your staff to get to know each other socially, outside of their professional roles. We use a Skype chat room as our virtual watercooler. The chat room is a place for both professional and playful communication, where staff can joke around and share small victories or struggles.
I’ve also found that asking for staff input about large-scale company decisions creates a more engaging environment. When staff are shown that their opinions matter, they are more invested in the company. Furthermore, their ideas can be very productive in moving the company forward.
Remote Is the Future
I recognize that remote hiring isn’t an option for every business owner. But when it is possible, I firmly believe that remote teams provide an excellent return on investment. They require a little more upfront engagement in the hiring and onboarding process, but I’ve found that to be a minor factor compared to the impressive level of productivity my remote team has provided.
A flexible, international team can provide your company with countless benefits. Remote is the way of the future, and it’s time to get on board.