The trend toward remote staffing has been growing for the last few years, but it’s seen a massive boost in 2020 as remote work has become a necessity for many businesses.
A recent study found that it is possible to perform 37 percent of jobs entirely from home. Nonetheless, many businesses for which remote work was always a possibility are only now embracing the concept.
For some companies, remote staffing is a temporary solution. Others have found that the benefits far outweigh the challenges and may end up creating a permanent remote workforce.
No matter which category your business falls into, it’s important to understand the basics of managing a remote team before you make the switch.
What Do We Mean By Remote Staff?
Before we go any further, we need to be clear about the meaning of remote staff.
Anyone who works where they please, rather than in a traditional office space belonging to their company, is a remote employee. But remote work goes beyond location: it allows staff to choose their hours (at least to some extent) and fit their jobs around other commitments, such as family life and education.
The Benefits of Remote Staff
For employees, the advantages of working remotely include greater freedom, the lack of a commute, and the possibility to live anywhere, including where living costs are lower. There are just as many benefits of remote staffing for employers.
1. A Scalable Workforce
One of the greatest challenges businesses face is scaling. It can be difficult to find new employees with the specific skills you need when you’re restricted to people in your local area. In addition, every time you add a new member to your team, you need to make space in the office and purchase more equipment.
With remote staff, there are almost no limits to who you can employ. Plus, you can add members to your team much faster. This is particularly important for startups who are growing into small businesses as well as just about any company that wants to expand.
2. Greater Productivity
Employers are often concerned that remote staff will be less productive than in-house workers. It is true that a home environment can be distracting and there is less oversight. Staff could spend many of their work hours doing something other than work.
However, research has found the opposite. The average remote employee works 1.4 days more every month than an office-based employee. This adds up to an extra 16.8 days of work a year.
3. Higher Engagement
Part of the reason for greater productivity from remote staff is higher engagement. Close to two-thirds of workers want to work remotely. They appreciate the opportunity to fit other requirements around work and the chance to eliminate a time-wasting commute. All this leads to a greater commitment to work and ultimately a lower turnover.
How Much Does It Cost to Employ Remote Staff?
There’s no standard remote staff salary — what you’ll pay your remote workers will be close to what you pay staff who work in house.
Some employers do offer staff a salary cut for the chance to work from home, as they know that the flexibility is appealing. Plus, employees may save money by cutting out costs like transportation and buying lunch.
However, you should be aware that proposing a salary cut could mean you lose an employee. You need to decide if it’s worth the effort and expense of searching for someone else who is willing to work for a lower salary — and, of course, this new employee will need onboarding, including training.
The situation is different if you’re expanding your team and looking to hire employees who will work remotely from the start. You can advertise the chance to work remotely as a perk of the job and offer a salary that’s slightly lower than the industry average.
Bear in mind that even if you don’t reduce employee salaries, you will save money. If you have a fully remote team, you may be able to eliminate the need for a physical space entirely. At the very least, you’ll require a smaller office and will have no need to pay for office furniture for employees.
Tips for Working with Remote Staff
Just because remote staffing can lead to higher productivity, lower costs, greater engagement, and other benefits doesn’t mean it automatically will. It’s just as much effort to manage a remote team as in-house employees, although it requires a different strategy.
1. Keep Your Remote Staff Engaged
Remote staff engagement is not a given — you need to take action to ensure that your remote staff feel motivated. There are several things you can do to keep them engaged:
- Check in with your team often to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This can prevent misunderstandings and errors that are frustrating for everyone.
- Provide remote staff with support to progress in their careers.
- Give employees feedback, whether about areas for improvement or words of encouragement when they do a great job.
- Acknowledge accomplishments with the whole team, perhaps setting up a reward system.
- Ask employees where you need to improve and constantly make changes to enhance the work environment.
2. Hold Remote Staff Meetings
A remote staff meeting is a great way for everyone on your team to get to know each other, discuss collaboration for the project, and talk about your business strategy. Avoid unnecessary meetings (no one likes these any more than they like boring in-person meetings), but hold enough to prevent isolation. Occasional video chats just to socialize are great for building a sense of belonging.
3. Monitor Your Remote Staff
With remote staff monitoring software, you can check that your employees are working the hours they should. This is important if you are unsure about how long a project should take or you expect employees to spend a certain number of hours a week on work tasks. Some top tools for this purpose include:
- Time Doctor — As well as tracking time, this tool takes screenshots and monitors website and app usage to give you a clear picture of how employees are spending their time.
- Hubstaff — This tool has similar features to Time Doctor, including reports showing productivity data.
- WorkPuls — Allowing you to choose between periodic and rules-based screenshots (such as suspicious activity), you can quickly find out if everyone is spending time as they should.
- ActivTrak — This software is excellent if you want a better idea of how your team works as a whole, as you can compare performance of different team members, find success patterns, and detect signs of burnout.
4. Be Flexible
Avoid going too far with time tracking. You may find that employees work completely different hours when they’re at home than when they’re at the office. As long as they are submitting work by deadlines, attending meetings, and maintaining a level of productivity you’re happy with, this shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s unreasonable to ask employees to work from 9 to 5, unless you need them to be available at this time. Similarly, you may find that employees take longer or more frequent breaks. If this has no negative impact on the quality or quantity of their work, it’s a non-issue.
Remote Staff vs Outsourcing
One last thing to mention is that remote staffing is not the same as outsourcing. There are a few key differences between the two.
Permanent Employees vs Contract Workers
Your remote staff are permanent employees, whereas your outsourced staff work for you on a contract basis. For employees to leave the company, they need to resign or be dismissed. Outsourcing means there is nothing tying the worker to your company after the contract ends. You may be able to start a new contract with the worker, but there are no guarantees.
Set vs Flexible Hours
Remote staff are on your payroll and receive a salary no matter how much work you actually have for them. There may be stretches of time when you have no work, but you’ll need to keep paying them. Outsourcing, in contrast, means you just contract a professional when you have work. You pay a set rate per hour or for the project.
Suitability for Different Activities
Certain roles are more appropriate for a remote team member, whereas other activities are more suited for outsourcing. For instance, you may decide to hire a remote worker for sales or recruitment, but you may like to outsource PPC and web design.
Whether you want all your new hires to work remotely or you’re transitioning from a traditional work environment to a remote setup, it’s critical that you’re clear about the challenges and benefits of remote staffing. You also need to assess if remote staffing is the right choice for you, as many small businesses find that outsourcing is the better option, particularly for certain activities.