The shift towards remote work has gained momentum, particularly after the COVID-19 outbreak. A FlexJobs survey reveals that 65% of participants prefer to work remotely full-time after the pandemic, while 31% are inclined towards a blend of office and remote working.
While remote work presents certain challenges in business operation, many have thrived with its incorporation. Look at the case of Cisco.
Back in 2009, Cisco released their telecommuting study results declaring $277M in annual savings for the company. Here are some key metrics outlined in their press release:
- The average Cisco employee now telecommutes 2.0 days per week.
- 60 percent of the time saved by telecommuting is spent working and 40 percent is spent on personal time.
- 1,992 Cisco employees across five regions (Asia Pacific, emerging markets, European markets, Japan and U.S./Canada) participated in the study.
- 67 percent of survey respondents said their overall work quality improved when telecommuting.
- In 2008, Cisco teleworkers prevented approximately 47,320 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the environment due to avoided travel.
In the first couple of years, remote working was limited and accessible to a small percentage of people. Usually, tech startups looking for top talent or other organizations expanding on outsourcing and offshore activities.
It was effective, exciting, motivating – and results were speaking for themselves.
More and more companies introduced some forms of remote working. Some were shy and offered that as a bonus. Others provided telecommuting options for a day or two a week. Some jumped right in – experimentally, for some departments.
Remote Work Can Be Very Beneficial
Telecommuting or remote work could be beneficial for the company – given the established business ethics by employees who appreciate the office environments and are already used to spending a focused full-time day spent on work with limited distractions. In fact, office chit-chat and commute may have a worse impact on employees when compared to working from home with the right setup.
Different rules apply to companies of different sizes and structures.
Some are fully remote, others have offices in different locations, or headquarters with freelancers, consultants, and remote employees around the world. Also, some stick to the same time zone (or country/continent) while others are… well, fully distributed.
Strategic Ways in Hiring Remote Workers
When it comes to making remote work effective with the workforce that you will be hiring, actual commitment to the job is a significant primary factor.
It entails a number of different skills – communication, team effort, following processes. But finding determined remote peers who are actually ready to work is not easy.
1. Hunt Talents from the Right Sources
In an office environment, applicants come from several sources:
With referrals, you tend to get the best results. They are already familiar with the company culture through your contact. And there’s a better chance they are a decent fit.
Other “testimonials” that you can verify help. If someone relies on their job and has a reputation to uphold, they’re less likely to slack and waste your time. There’s more at stake.
With remote referrals, it’s still a win — for the most part. Having a warm lead through a recommendation by a reliable employee of yours tends to work well. It has failed us once or twice but it’s within the acceptable margin of error.
Random applicants are trickier. It’s a hit or miss unless your recruitment process is really outstanding. Test trial weeks are not a thing yet, and credibility is subjective, even if you call references.
These could be community people or workers in well-known companies. This is also a better option for those who want to ensure that they get quality and committed hires. Sourcing people from your community or business connections with a proven positive track record in remote working can work for your company.
2. Look for High Self-Management Skills
Remote employees must be excellent communicators with incredible self-management skills. Remote training programs are not worth the effort 90%+ of the time.
It takes 3–5 times longer and while a traditional onboarding process may take 3–5 months on-site for junior hires automatically translates to years’ worth of investment (without any guaranteed retention).
Yes, companies like Automattic employ 700-something people remotely. Some corporations allow for limited telecommuting (working remotely a couple of days a week).
Most large companies don’t hire remotely. Distributed companies are mostly teams of 20–50 people (with several known exceptions) which means fewer “mentors” or “leaders” to learn from, which is why remote employees are expected to perform efficiently with limited supervision.
3. Offer Flexibility in Work Schedules
Some roles require fixed hours due to the nature of the work – think of customer support or working remotely for an outbound call center.
Most remote roles revolve around completing a daily amount of work of 8 hours or so. That usually involves project managers or team leaders distributing assignments to different team members and estimating the effort.
The actual 8 hours may be fixed if you are working closely with a team – or somewhat flexible. Most traditional organizations rely on fixed hours for collaboration reasons. It’s tricky when you’re off for 3 hours in the middle of the day and someone depends on your work to proceed.
Some companies offer a level of flexibility even for collaborative roles. This may be due to time zone difference or the ability to ping you later in the evening in case someone needs help or assistance.
Other roles like content marketing or accounting may be more ‘flexible’. You are still required to complete your piece (or a volume of work) within the day/week but you can slack during business hours and catch up in the evening.
4. Set Conditions and Clear Expectations
Communication is always troubling for new applicants. Regardless of how great your onboarding process is, very few jobs allow for seamless training and measurable results.
Most companies hiring remotely tend to cover both extremes:
- A short and painful onboarding process aiming to filter non-perfect fits.
- A long and rewarding one, taking forever, in the hope of ending up with great hires.
The first one can easily impact great talent that thinks differently. It’s not uncommon that a hire is used to a different process and workflow.
Longer processes can be dodged and exploited easily. This is the reason why you need to set the conditions upfront and be clear about your expectations when they are “supposedly” in their working hours.
Even with time tracking or screen recording, I’ve seen tons of “dodgy” scenarios whereas fake applicants move their mouse every couple minutes or just scroll a long document/line of code while dealing with something else in the meantime.
I’m not even talking about the obvious “gotcha” moments with remote hires applying for other jobs while “on the job”, browsing Facebook for 3–4 hours a day, being idle with a tracker on for another couple of hours _after_ their lunch break.
You can reason with them, put them on a performance improvement plan, or get rid of them. There’s always that seemingly legit excuse on the horizon.
That cat-and-mouse game can be tiring, stressful, and cause interruptions to the workflow of the business.
Whatever channels or mediums you use, it is important that it offers a win-win solution in line with the aim of getting tasks done. As well, it must be a win-win solution that helps project managers effectively move forward with the projects with arrangements that is not too strict nor too lenient for the workers.
5. Consider Micromanagement
Even though micromanagement is labeled as a bad practice, it’s easier to track progress and commitment at the office. Sure, everyone may slack and hide their side activities – but it simply isn’t as easy if everyone else is giving their best on a project.
With remote workers, you never know how much time they actually spend on their activity. We’ve fired dozens of remote workers who responded to a Slack message a couple of hours later, reported a work problem at the end of the day (after starting in the morning), and generally prevented a project from moving forward.
And we have a number of remote peers who excel at their job. They pay attention to their weekly sprint and report as early as possible whenever they notice an unclear task or a problematic assignment. They participate in Slack discussions, make sure that they complete their work on time, coordinate QA and management process with the corresponding team members.
6. Maintain Necessary Communication Protocols
Communication issues should be discussed as early as the job interview, brought up later on (as needed), and tackled on an ongoing basis.
Communication protocol, frequency, and mediums in use are to be defined as well. Common pitfalls are on-site office discussions which aren’t recorded or summarized publicly for remote team members. This – again – is a management decision (or a senior leadership one).
Once everyone is on the same page, remote employees should keep in touch and be kept in the loop at all times, thus treated equally – the best way possible.
Yet, there are water cooler conversations, Friday evening drinks, on-site meeting jokes and things like that. Inevitably, those would be missed. And that has to be accounted for early on.
Dealing With Common Remote Working Issues
With teams where the majority of the workforce is remote, communication is one of the main problems. Keeping everyone in the loop without sacrificing time or missing details are crucial.
Engagement is a problematic point as well. Given the small number of organizations offering remote work, plenty of employees apply for those jobs simply because they want to juggle family activities or work from home. Often times, there’s little to no investment in the organization or the brand.
This also reveals other problems when it comes to competition. Companies formed in metropolitan areas struggle with keeping talent as there are thousands of tech companies (or other forms of competitors) in the same area.
Still, employees may consider other factors – office, team, brand, company perks, team-building events and more that may keep someone engaged for a longer period of time. With remote, the brand element is weakened and people are often inclined to switch back to freelancing or just job-hopping.
Productivity may be lower in some cases when working in a remote team. Pushing hard to deploy a project or launch a new version of a product is simply more efficient at the office. Local peers get excited and work hard in order to get the work done. The communication overhead, time zone, and cultural differences may slow things down – at times.
While there are other factors, those are often the problems for companies considering remote work or evaluating their experiments before their next round of job postings.
The Bottom Line in Hiring and Managing Remote Workers
Adhering to the expected work process makes the office presence obsolete – especially when you account for video or Skype calls as needed.
But sticking to a regular schedule while working from home may be rough.
The bottom line, finding outstanding remote talent usually works great. But random applicants can appear as great during an interview (or their CV), which doesn’t always translate to a perfect fit at work. And this can be an expensive experiment that keeps happening over and over until you add a long number of constraints to your interviews and potentially miss some great candidates this way.
Hiring responsible remote workers is a craft. I haven’t met many hiring managers or CEOs who have mastered that completely. Some of the top-notch companies manage to filter through thousands and thousands of CVs which makes it a bit easier.
Get to know how to combat the other challenges most companies are facing with regard to remote working by checking out the guide to how remote teams work together.