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Hiring remote workers: 4 things you must do before getting started

Say your best talent is out of commuting range. Or, a new parent wants to work from home for a couple of years. Or, you need to add staff but don’t have the space. Could adding remote workers be the answer to your hiring woes?

Many businesses today look at the technology available and decide that, yes, adding remote workers to their traditional employee mix makes sense.

However, incorporating remote employees into your traditional office requires deliberation, planning and, likely, some investment in technology. Here’s what you need to know to develop a successful offsite workforce.

1. Define the work, expectations

It’s important to recognize that not every job is suitable for remote work.

For example, a receptionist, warehouse workers or warehouse manager all require a physical presence. Customer service reps, salespeople and IT specialists may be entirely successful conducting business in another location, whether that’s a home office or a co-working space.

Nor is every employee well-suited to remote work. New employees may need weeks or months of working in your office to learn systems and absorb company culture. Other characteristics to look for in remote workers are a self-starting attitude, maturity, ability to communicate and collaborate, and a commitment to their work.

For those jobs and employees who are suited to offsite work, you need to define expectations. Without clear expectations of the work to be accomplished, you cannot accurately judge whether that employee is successful. Think through these questions:

  • Does the employee need to come into the office once a week, or only for key meetings?
  • Should the person in this position be available during certain hours? What does “being available” mean?
  • Will the remote employee work in an area with little to no background noise while on calls?
  • How will projects be assigned and deadlines determined?
  • Is there a checklist for all the critical tasks associated with this position?
  • What is the standard required turnaround time when replying to emails and telephone calls?

Answering these questions will lay the foundation for how you define accountability for remote workers.

2. Technology: The secret sauce 

Technology plays a big role in the success of remote teams. These employees will need the same full, easy access to the information those in your office have. Calendars, phone lists and other resources will need to be accessible by everyone.

To make this happen, you may need to invest in an intranet, file sharing software, remote access software, a client management system, video conferencing or communication apps, such as Slack.

This investment doesn’t have to be expensive, just properly organized for the work at hand. For instance, Google Hangouts or Skype can be used for small, informal chats, while GoToMeeting can be used for larger, more formal meetings.

Literally, hundreds of technology options exist, so your company will need to analyze which combination of software investments will work best for your situation. For instance, Salesforce.com is a popular option to manage and track sales teams, Jumpchart is used by teams building websites and Basecamp is used for project management.

3. Consider a test case

A test case can be a good way to determine how remote operations might work for your company.

Such a test will generate questions that need to be answered, identify what software or office supplies need to be made available and what training and documentation need to be developed to prepare employees to work from home or in a co-working space.

Once you’ve identified which positions might be good candidates for remote work, choose one person in each department for the experiment. That person should be prepared to document things like:

  • What office supplies are needed to work remotely? For example, does this person need company stationery and a selection of FedEx delivery labels and boxes? How will those supplies be restocked?
  • What are the steps to gain remote access to company files?
  • What software, URLs and telephone numbers are needed to communicate through email, video conference and file sharing systems?
  • What are the work-arounds if a system or software goes down?
  • Does the company’s current technology operate smoothly in a remote situation? Are upgrades or different technology needed? Are there firewall issues?
  • What are the annoyances and difficulties of working remotely and can these be resolved?

4. Building remote into your culture

It’s important to make sure remote workers align with your culture and feel a part of your company. This, again, requires thought and planning. You need to identify your company’s culture before hiring a remote employee.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s more important – speed or quality of work?
  • How does your team communicate most often – by email, phone or in person?
  • How does visibility and meeting conduct impact an employee’s rise in the company?
  • How much does your team work? 40 hours? 80 hours?

The answers to these questions will help you as you interview potential candidates who will work outside your office.

Once your remote employees are hired, you need to remember that out-of-sight doesn’t mean out-of-mind. You need to schedule regular check-in calls or in-person meetings, depending on the job.

Since nothing beats face-to-face time, you also need to arrange for remote workers to join in a team activity or meeting. Again, it depends on the job and your culture whether these whole-team events take place weekly or twice a year.

Other ideas for remote team-building include:

  • Pair remote workers with a different “buddy” weekly or monthly to encourage social interaction.
  • Provide funds for remote workers to sponsor relevant, professional meetings where they live. For instance, a remote HR specialist may want to sponsor a local Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) luncheon.
  • Make sure remote workers get the same swag in-office employees get, such as pens and golf shirts with logos on them.

With planning and the right technology, you may find superstar employees who work far outside your old geographic boundaries.

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