Picture this: you’ve started your own business, and it’s going well. You’re gaining more clients and customers and it’s looking like you might be ready to hire an employee. But…you’ve been working out of your cramped home office and have no place for another desk. You need that employee faster than you’d be able to find and set up a new office space.
The solution? A remote employee.
Workplace technologies are rapidly eliminating the barriers geography typically presents, making it easier than ever to have a cohesive office without actually sharing a physical space. And as employees, particularly millennials, increasingly seek flexibility in the workplace, remote offices are more desirable and more common.
Establishing a remote office saves on overhead costs and opens up the talent pool from your city to your entire state, country, or even the globe. However, hiring and managing remote workers can present unique challenges. Scheduling meetings, maintaining a cohesive company culture, and ensuring continuity of work becomes far more difficult when employees aren’t located in the same office.
Below are some surefire best practices and valuable tools to can help minimize these challenges, ensure clear communication, and allow for strong remote collaboration.
Hiring and Onboarding
When choosing to hire remote workers, leverage available tools to gain as much information as possible, and pay close attention to factors that help assess the ability of a candidate to work remotely. Use email and phone calls for initial screening, but be sure to conduct a video interview to round out your picture of the candidate. (It’s also welcoming to speak face-to-face!) CareerAddict has a great list of tips for conducting a video interview.
During this initial communication, pay attention to their professionalism and timeliness in responding to phone calls and emails. In a remote office, these will be the primary means of communication, so they carry far more weight than they might for a traditional employee. If the candidate is in a different time zone, note their ability to keep times straight, as this will be a constant and necessary adaptation.
Once a hiring decision is made, be sure to do your due diligence by conducting reference checks and pre-employment screening. Since you’re operating on less information than an in-person interview would allow, make use of every possible source of knowledge. TransUnion ShareAble for Hires or other online background check services, like the ones listed here, virtualize the paperwork and make it easy to conduct a background check across state lines.
Onboarding paperwork can be easily accomplished through an online software such as Zenefits or Bamboo HR. If your business is too small to justify purchasing this kind of software initially, less comprehensive tools are available to accomplish necessary tasks. DocuSign and Adobe Acrobat support digital signatures to eliminate piles of paperwork and using a cloud-based shared drive such as Dropbox or Google Drive makes important documents easy to find and store.
Establishing Culture and Workflow
One of the biggest hurdles in establishing a remote office is developing a cohesive workflow and company culture. In a traditional office setting, new employees learn and adjust to the patterns of the office by simply observing and participating; in a remote office, these expectations must be explicitly spelled out.
As a remote manager, provide clear guidance and define expectations for employees, and then set forth a method for measuring productivity. It may seem overbearing and obvious to spell out these expectations, but keep in mind that a remote employee is less able to pick up on the norms of an office through interaction and observation, and the more expectations are defined, the less room there is for confusion. Mitel has a list of ways to measure remote employee productivity, and Todoist offers some further dos and don’ts.
Outlining these new procedures can initially be difficult, and adjustments can and should be made as experience is gained with telecommuting for both manager and employee. Make sure that the lines of communication remain open, both to and from the employee, to encourage sharing best practices. Be open to input from remote workers, who can provide valuable insights from another perspective and help suggest policy adjustments.
When it comes to establishing a company culture, remember that work style is just as important as fun and games, as this article from Zapier points out. Read more tips on establishing a remote company culture from High Five here.
Equipment and Technology Needs
While remote employees can save money by eliminating costs such as rent and utilities, this doesn’t mean employees are entirely responsible for all of their work and equipment costs. Be very clear at the time of hire what technology the employee will need to provide and what the company will provide. It’s not unreasonable to expect the employee to use their personal phone or computer and have their own internet connection, but make sure that is clearly discussed during the hiring process to allow for any questions about privacy and security.
Employers should also expect to foot the bill for any software licenses or collaborative tools that are required specifically by the role, such as specialized design software or an employer-decided instant messaging platform.
To ensure that employees are well-prepared for their role, consider providing a small monthly or yearly allowance for work-related needs that the employee can use at their discretion, as this article from Forbes suggests. Employers should also educate their employees on what tax deductions can be taken as a work-at-home employee, which you can read more about here at Lifehacker.
Communication and Meetings
Because communication is such an important aspect of remote work, it’s advisable to have a communication strategy and meeting cadence in place to make sure employees are kept in the loop. Scheduling regular phone calls with remote employees – whether daily, weekly, or at another interval – helps minimize geographic distance and ensure employee productivity and success.
Remote offices will inevitably use more than one method of communication throughout the day. Part of establishing the company workflow will be determining what conversations are appropriate for phone calls, emails, and chat messages. What platform is used to talk to coworkers, clients, or stakeholders? Consider whether you will need to include multiple participants, share documents and files, or demonstrate tasks via screen share.
Slack is widely considered the best instant messaging platform for offices, as it is a simple platform with ways to integrate other applications and create customized channels for different teams and purposes. For other option, check out this review article of different Slack competitors.
For more in-depth conversations or meetings with clients, an easily accessible video conferencing app is an important investment. Skype is typically the first video software people think of, but check out Zoom or Join.me for other options with screen-sharing and conference calling.
Multiple tools and platforms for different purposes will likely be necessary, but make an effort to select multi-functional tools to keep the number of different platforms your office uses to a minimum. This will help set a foundation of streamlined work processes.
As with every aspect of setting up a remote office, be attentive to employee needs and adjust where needed. If a platform is not working as expected, experiment with a new one or brainstorm ways to make the existing one more effective.
The leap to hiring a remote employee and establishing a remote workforce is not one to be taken lightly, but given the advances in workplace technology, it’s worth considering the potential financial and environmental benefits of such a leap. In addition to retaining productivity, offering a flexible work environment makes for a desirable employer and opens your company up to a wider pool of talent. Be attentive to employee needs and willing to make adjustments to meet those needs when something isn’t working. By implementing the right tools and procedures, bringing on a remote employee can be a smooth and productive transition to grow your business.