There’s nothing wrong with employees working together in an office. It’s the way things have always worked.
If the idea of remote work conjures the image of overpaid employees slacking off in pajamas, you’re not alone. The concept can be unsettling for some companies. Uncharted territory.
Or it could be a goldmine of global talent, capable of catapulting your company to heights you’ve never imagined.
Remote work has arrived, and it’s here to stay. 74% of American employees say they would quit their jobs for companies that offer remote, flexible work hours.
For the brave few like job boards that cater to top online talent Buffer and Doist, it’s a massive opportunity that they’re learning and refining every day.
It’s simply giving someone the autonomy to choose their best working conditions (within reason, of course).
Is your company ready to take on the challenge? Here’s an overview of what it takes to attract, manage and retain a bankable, remote workforce.
Attract the Best
One of the powerful benefits of ‘running remote’ is being able to fill the skills gap in your location without having to relocate A-players from theirs.
You want to hire the best and brightest? First, you have to attract them.
Develop a strong digital presence so that remote candidates can get to know, like and trust your company enough to want to work for you.
Use online channels to establish credibility and company culture, then make your vision so visceral that they can see themselves working there. Include descriptions of:
- job specs
- a typical day
- employer and employee testimonials
Happy, productive employees make the best brand advocates. Encourage them to share company experiences and open roles with their networks.
Most importantly, advertise on job boards that cater to top online talent. If you want candidates from a specific location, be sure to advertise on their local job boards.
Define Your Hiring Process
Recruiting A-players has its own set of nuances, especially online. Let’s look at how a few remote companies have done it.
Doist is the software company behind popular productivity apps like Todoist and Twist. They get a ton of job applications and their employees tend to stay. They hire more employees every year to support their rapidly growing business.
No in-person meetings. No central office. Fully-remote. All that’s required of their employees is a healthy internet connection.
A sneak peek into their hiring process:
- They hire for ‘passion’ and shared values.
- They hire as a team (of at least three people) to prevent bias.
- They test candidates on specific tasks and pay for their time.
- They offer excellent perks and benefits.
Adopt a hiring process that speaks to your values and needs as a company. Don’t be afraid to revise it as you go along.
Balsamiq has its candidates fill out a lengthy Google form. Shortlisted candidates then go for a 30-minute interview on Google Hangouts.
Automattic, the company behind WordPress, conducts its interviews over text messages, then takes their shortlisted candidates through a paid trial.
What’s your hiring process going to look like?
We all know that training promotes positivity, leadership, and performance. It’s a valuable means of fostering a cohesive and competent workforce.
It’s no different for remote employees. Help them see the bigger picture and their part in it.
Remote workers don’t get the same contextual cues they would by being in the same office with peers and management. All the more reason remote employers have to be explicit about their expectations. This means deadlines, metrics, progress reports, response windows, etc.
Set regular training schedules and feedback loops to assess effectiveness. Identify training outcomes, then carefully plan individual studies (e.g., policies and processes) and group sessions (best practices and skills).
Use technology to your advantage:
- online training course/curriculum. Check out this example
- management tools like Asana or Trello
- create webinars
- quizzes and worksheets
Managing Remote Teams
Remote employees need engagement just as much as everyone else.
If they’re in a specific location, have them gather to improve teamwork and support. If possible, schedule in-person meet-ups once or twice a year.
A successful remote workforce depends on communication and teamwork. This can be fostered through remote employee monitoring, training and team building activities.
A few fun ideas:
- A vlogging channel: it’s a fun way for teams to cyber-connect with each other and feel less isolated. Members can post short, weekly short videos about their lives.
- Challenges: keep your teams healthy and motivated through various challenges, e.g., 10,000-steps-a-day challenge where they have to post screenshots of their pedometer apps.
- Gaming: it may seem counterproductive, but this is a fun way for employees to bond and foster their teamwork.
Finally, take the time to understand your employees. Individualizing each person’s needs helps them feel ‘heard’ and skyrocket their engagement. It will also help you assign work according to individual talents.
There’s a difference between a fully-engaged employee and one who is barely keeping their head above water.
Here are the basics:
- choose productivity and tracking tools that foster collaboration.
- use realistic deadlines and reminders.
- regularly check up on all project activities.
- for remote employees, it’s even more important to include assessments.
Then there’s the age-old question of time vs. deliverables. What do you really care about: the time your employee spends ‘at the desk’ or the quality and quota of their deliverables?
If you’re worried that full-time employees aren’t using their working time efficiently, use tools like Timedoctor to monitor internet usage and actual working hours. It can even take screenshots at intervals.
Exercise caution and transparency if you choose to use monitoring software, however. It may be too invasive for some.
If your employees are doing a great job in less time, they shouldn’t be punished for it. A-players tend to jump ship when scrutinized and micromanaged.
Submitting an end-of-day report could suffice. Or progress reports at specific points during the day to keep them accountable and goal-oriented.
Ask for honest feedback when things go awry. It’s possible that the instructions were not clear enough or too complex to accomplish in the allotted time frame (realistic deadlines matter).
At Buffer, everyone picks a work schedule that works for them.
This type of self-management may sound alarming, but it goes in line with their core values: ‘live smarter, not harder.’
Buffer employees work fewer hours but get more work done, according to their co-founder and COO, Leo Widrich.
How do their employees do it?
- use time tracking tools to stay on task until you find your balance.
- define a set of goals at the beginning of each week.
- take plenty of outdoor breaks.
- use themed working days.
- have open communication.
- less meetings, more focus.
- less office politics – empowered to contribute and brainstorm.
Free drinks and pool tables won’t work. The best way to design benefits and packages for remote employees is to ask them.
- get them into external training courses and conferences
- vacation time – just because they work from home doesn’t mean they don’t need a vacation (they probably need more)
- offer health and insurance plans
- membership to shared offices or libraries
- gift cards for drinks and snacks
- mobile or data plans
- weekly productivity prizes
Find ways to include your remote workforce in soft in-office benefits like free lunches, holiday parties, company swag, etc.
The key is to give your employees the resources they need to be happy and productive, even if they’re thousands of miles away from you.
Ensure that your salary or payment is attractive, or at least fair, considering where they live and market rates. Buffer even made a salary calculator for this.
Many of us are still glued to our cubicles and meetings-that-should-have-been-emails. Change can be difficult.
Nevertheless, working conditions set last century are not going to fly for this generation. There’s a whole world of talented and passionate individuals ready and eager to work for you.
Collaboration and innovation are not dependent on physical togetherness. Do you really want to limit your talent pool to commuting distance?
Equip yourself with actionable strategies and get started on growing a robust, profitable remote workforce.
About the Author – Katrina McKinnon
Katrina founded one of Australia’s first web development agencies in 1996. An experienced entrepreneur and eCommerce innovator, Katrina’s first-hand knowledge of what it takes to run a successful online business helps McKinnon Group’s clients to capitalise on their online assets.
As a pioneer of practises now standard in eCommerce, including off-shoring and content marketing, Katrina is an educator and presenter at high-profile start-up and eCommerce events, such as Fishburners and eCommerce Fuel Live conferences.