Why Offer the Remote Option
As the economy recovers, hiring has become more difficult for companies. Salary budgets, however, have not kept pace with the need for additional staff.
Employers have developed a variety of perks that they think will help them attract staff including providing snacks and meals and purchasing foosball tables. However, the one perk that might get you the best new employees doesn’t involve you spending any money. In fact, you may save money by implementing it.
The benefit is having a remote working option.
According to new research from survey software firm Qualtrics and venture capital firm Accel Partners, some millennials are willing to forgo up to 12 percent of their salary to be able to work from home.
Sixty-five percent of millennials say it would take a salary increase of 20 percent to get them to change jobs. But surveys of this same group, 77 percent say they would take a 3 percent pay cut to move to a company with flexible hours or remote working options. Even among older workers, telecommuting is popular with 40 percent of people saying they would take a pay cut if they could work at home.
It makes sense that employees would take a pay cut in exchange for the home work option because they are not incurring work related expenses such as transportation, business clothing, and expensive lunches. Some workers may appreciate the opportunity to avoid child care or elder care expenses if they can supervise family members from their workspace.
Additionally, developing a remote working option allows you to hire employees from around the country and world. This means that you have a broader reach to hire for critical, hard to fill positions. But if your company is located in a city with a high cost of living, it also means you may be able to fill positions with people in lower cost areas who will accept a lower salary.
The question then becomes how to hire and manage remote employees.
How to Hire a Remote Employee
Hiring a remote employee involves more than saying “telecommute okay” in your job posting. There are several things you can do to attract the candidates who would be drawn to the opportunity.
- Highlight the work environment – In the job description, include a description of how the day to day work will be performed. For instance, are employees able to set their own hours as long as their work gets done, or will they be required to be present online during specific times? How do employees communicate with their managers and colleagues? Will you get the entire team together once or twice a year in a specific location, and is that location attractive?
- Use Current Employee Testimonials – If you have any current employees who are telecommuting, provide links in the job description to video testimonials or interviews with them that describe their employment experiences with your company.
- Present the Remote Option as a Company Value – Your job description should position the telecommuting possibility as part of a broader strategy your company is pursuing to diversify, provide work-life balance, or hire people with disabilities. This takes the opening beyond the personal benefit your future employee will receive and showcases your company’s values.
- Post the Listing on Remote Only Job Boards – Your hiring strategy probably includes posting openings on your own website as well as third-party websites like Monster.com or Craigslist. When telecommuting is an option, you should go a step farther and buy a listing on sites where people who want to work remotely gather. There are a number of remote only job boards including FlexJobs, We Work Remotely, and Working Nomads. There are also social network groups where these people gather including Work From and Nomad List on Slack and Digital Nomad Jobs and Remote & Travel Jobs on Facebook.
- Highlight Career Development and Mentorship Opportunities – One fear remote employees have is that they will forfeit career development opportunities including training, networking, and mentorship if they are not in the office. Alleviate this fear by describing how you will foster career growth in a distributed office setting.
Pitfalls to Avoid in Hiring
Sometimes Human Resources takes shortcuts when hiring remote employees. When this happens and the employee is not the right fit for the company, management may sour on the telecommuting option. So, it is important to avoid these pitfalls in Remote hiring.
- Have a Face to Face Meeting – While the candidate may not be sitting across a desk from you, that does not mean that you should forego having a visual interview with you. The non-verbal communication cues you pick up in a live interview can largely be seen in a video chat. Your future employee will need to be able to use Skype or another video program in their daily work, so ask them to engage this way in second and third interviews. Additionally, this will also give you a chance to evaluate how well they can handle the technology that allows the remote option in the first place.
- Ask the Right Questions – Some of your standard interview questions may not apply to the remote worker while other questions become essential for those who are not reporting for duty in the head office on a daily basis. Your questions need to tease out whether a candidate is self-directed enough to work when there is no physical oversight, organized enough to make telecommuting work, and whether they have the technical skills to handle the software that makes remote work possible.
- Hire a Person with the Right Skills – When you are drawing exclusively from the local area, you might find someone who can develop into the position even if they do not have all the skills you currently need. It’s easier to provide skills training for someone when they are onsite. But when you have the entire world to draw from, you should be able to find someone who already has the skill set you need. Additionally, the remote hiring process facilitates having the employee take skills tests and demonstrate their ability to do the job. Require IT staff to complete a freelance project and writers to develop a piece for your blog. While you should compensate your candidates at a rate appropriate for freelancers, this gives you the ability to “try out” employees before committing to a full time position.
- Use Human Communication – Increasingly, companies have switched to a video interview where candidates film videos in response to specific questions. While this allows HR to view the candidates on their own time, it may also reduce the number and quality of applications. Remote workers in particular need to feel that there are people on the other side of the table and job candidates have indicated that this type of video interview is alienating.
How to Manage Remote Employees
If your company is not already operating entirely with virtual staff, you may need to train HR and supervisors in how to manage remote employees.
First, you need to establish clear expectation for the new hire. They need to know what work they will be expected to perform, the hours they need to be available, and how they are to deliver the work. These things often get communicated informally in the office space, but remote workers need clear, documented procedures.
Next, you need to facilitate communication. In an office setting, people see each other in the hallways, gather around the water cooler, and go to lunch together. These “non productive” activities are the glue that makes working together possible. You need to provide some of the same experiences for your remote workers. This can include supervisors having scheduled one on one chats with their virtual charges, providing a Slack discussion board where non-work related discussions are allowed, providing meetups for employees in a local geographic area, and having an event where all employees get together in person once a year.
Make a plan for career development for virtual employees. This can include online skills training, scheduled one on one coaching, and providing regular performance feedback. If your goal is to keep employees long term (as opposed to a term-limited contract), you need to help them grow into the next position at your company.
Set up a way for the employee to provide feedback to you as well. It is easier for a supervisor to get a feel for their staff’s mood when they are in the office. It is easy to miss employee dissatisfaction when they spend most of their day without contact with the home office.
If you have an onsite and remote team working together, make sure the virtual staff are included in the day to day operations. If decisions are made in informal standup meetings at work, you may be losing the valuable input from the employees who are not present every day.
One of the benefits to offering remote work is that you can hire the best person regardless of where they live. However, this does mean that you have to think about how schedules will work. Will a west coast employee have to start work at 5:00 a.m. in order to be available when your east coast office opens or is time shifting allowed? Even virtual employees in your own time zone may perceive that an advantage to telecommuting is that they can work when they are most productive even if it is not from 9 to 5. Additionally, for some virtual employees, the attraction of telecommuting is that they are location independent. They take advantage of not having to report daily to a home office by traveling around the world. These employees will have shifting personal schedules that need to be addressed by management.
One of the advantages of working from home is that employees feel they are not being supervised every minute. Take advantage of this change in perception by focusing on goals rather than on activity. Also keep in mind that your typical employee is not performing work activities every moment they are on site, so don’t expect that you will get 8 hours of productive work from remote employees.
Similarly, in addition to millennials who are attracted to location independence, another group of people who you might be able to hire are stay at home parents.
These workers appreciate the opportunity to avoid daycare or provide home schooling to their children. This does raise the concern that when children are present, the work might suffer. The most dramatic concern usually focuses on having a child screaming in the background of a company or client meeting. Even for workers without children at home, noise concerns can occur from pets or from household work. And some people may choose to work from a public location such as a coffee shop where loud noises can interfere with voice and video communication. Make sure you have a written policy that addresses whether the remote employee must work in a quiet environment.
Provide an orientation program for remote employees. This could include the company’s president filming a video that greets every new remote worker, having HR provide a briefing on company policy including benefits, and scheduling a one on one conversation with the immediate supervisor about goals and expectations. Make sure that you introduce new employees to everyone they will be working with and have a plan for teammates to welcome a new worker through email or chat.
Finally, when managers have their first virtual reports, make sure they are trained in how to manage the new staff. This could include providing in house training or purchasing outside training from vendors. If you anticipate that supervisors will be extensively managing a virtual staff, then more training is appropriate. In some situations you may go as far as to require managers to get additional education to handle the new staff. For instance, Cornell University Extension has a certificate program for managing virtual staff.
Technology Enables Remote Hiring
Perhaps the most important piece to managing remote employees is having the technology in place to facilitate their work and development. The internet has made it possible for people to work from home, but in most cases, you will need additional technology to make the situation successful.
You may need to provide hardware including computers, phones, and faxes to remote employees. They may also need cabling that is not traditionally available around the house. Your procurement department needs to be able to get these tools to new employees quickly so they can start working. Additionally, you need a plan for recovering your equipment when an employee no longer works for your company.
Your new employee will also need access to the software used by other employees. Sometimes this means that IT needs to provide a login for programs on the virtual server. Other times it means providing software that is specific to the employee’s home.
On top of the hardware and software you provide employees in the home office, you also need to provide ways for the virtual employee to communicate. This can include software that allows for uploading and downloading large files, chat software like Slack, and video conferencing ability. Some companies purchase off the shelf solutions while others develop proprietary software that addresses their specific workflow needs.
Your remote employee is also going to need an internet connection that allows for large amounts of data to be transferred, and the basic home internet service in your employee’s home, especially if they live in an underserved technology area, may not be sufficient.
While this article mentioned that you should focus on goals rather than activity, some managers may want to more closely monitor what an employee is doing on a regular basis. In this case, you may want to purchase time tracking software that takes screenshots at random intervals so you can ensure that the employee is working on your projects during their assigned company time and on their company equipment.
If you have not already invested in virtual server or cloud software, you may want to consider doing so when you add a remote employee. Allowing your workers to access files from anywhere in the world becomes even more essential when your employees really are located around the world.
Likewise, strengthening your computer security becomes even more important when the desktop computers are not all in one location. This can include everything from making sure all employees use antivirus software on their work computers to training employees on phishing schemes. Computer breaches become not only more likely in an offsite environment, they also are harder for your IT staff to remedy when they do not have direct access to the affected machines.
If your employees communicate with clients through the phone, you will need to provide them with quality business telecommunication equipment. This may include a dedicated landline and a multifunction phone. Remember that an increasing number of people, including the type of people who are attracted to remote work, do not have an existing landline and you may have to supply telephone service if you do not want them to rely on cell phones.
Finally, you may want to consider bringing on a computer consultant to put together a comprehensive solution which enables remote work. There are often special considerations for facilitating out of office work and your internal IT staff may not have the experience to foresee challenges and opportunities presented by the technology.
Keep in mind that any additional equipment, software, and consulting costs needed to implement a remote working environment will probably be more than offset by not having to pay for space for the employee to work at the office. If your office real estate budget is 150 square feet per employee at $18 per square foot per year, which are conservative numbers, you can spend $2700 on additional costs for a virtual employee and still come out even.
If you are encountering difficulty finding the right staff at the right price, consider expanding your search to allow for remote work. While there are technology and management considerations to taking on a virtual workforce, these are offset by being able to tap into staff from around the world who want to work offsite.