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There is a growing trend among companies of all types to utilize remote teams of employees or contractors, in order to fill specific business roles or complete shared technical or design projects. For a company considering this step, we have assembled this thorough guide to effectively recruiting, onboarding and managing a remote team.
A remote team is comprised of employees or independent contractors that work and live in different geographical locations, but still function to fulfill a shared business purpose for the employer. Their physical location is less important than their skill set and ability to work independently, while maintaining communication and productivity over the long term.
There is an important distinction between remote work and remote teams. Remote work (commonly referred to as ‘telecommuting’) can be performed by any employee as a part of their position, and may be necessary due to family responsibilities or simple logistical convenience.
For example, an employee could be allowed to work from home a few days a week, saving the need to commute to the home office. This type of flexible work arrangement may be solely for the benefit of a single employee, and unrelated to others working on similar projects.
In contrast, remote teams are assembled with the strategic intention to have an entire area of the business handled by team members. The purpose will usually revolve around cost savings, access to talent pools or the need to have team members positioned in different locations for expansion into new markets.
In some cases, the remote team members may all be within their home country, but spread out over different cities or states. Usually, the team will be coordinated by a manager in the local home office.
Remote teams can also operate across international borders, which can be an advantage for a company that is looking for specialized skills, or simply the ability to service a foreign market during its business hours. The challenge with international remote teams is the difference in time zones, language barriers and complying with foreign payroll and employment laws.
Remote teams are growing in every industry, and may become the norm in the future for global companies who master the recruitment, management and communication tools needed to set up an effective remote team. The importance of remote teams to a company lies in the flexibility in hiring based on talent rather than location, as well as reducing in-office management costs
Companies may still be hesitant and are not always receptive towards the idea of having members of a team that are located in multiple locations. Managing remote teams for technical, sales or creative work may seem to entail greater risk, and runs counter to the traditional office based environment that is easier to manage and control.
Nonetheless, the advantages of hiring remote employees or contractors are hard to ignore, and more companies are turning toward forming remote teams for fill certain types of work roles. In some cases, they are evolving toward it by using “hybrid” teams, with some workers in-office and other working remotely.
Remote team member may be located in almost any country, but some locations are popular for recruiting specialized employees. In some regions, the local economy may allow a company to pay a lower wage than in the developed economy of the home country.
Setting up and managing an effective remote team requires concerted effort and planning, just as with any broad business strategy. Taking an ad hoc approach (i.e. some members working remotely and others in-office) could undermine the benefits of a remote team for a company. In general, effective remote teams are made up of skilled and self-motivating workers who are able to interact and cooperate with the team as a whole, while still advancing their own individual work product.
The rest of this guide will show you how to set up and manage an effective remote team to benefit your business
There is not one optimal method of managing a remote team, as the differences in business models and purposes will determine how a remote team needs to perform. For this reason, prior to setting up a remote team, there has to be a clear and specific plan of how the team will be recruited, managed and evaluated. This guide to remote teams will detail each of those steps and offer specific guidelines to ensure that you create a high performing remote team.Subscribe to get more insights like this.
Most companies will want to know what the exact benefits are of remote teams. The benefits of remote teams generally outweigh the challenges, although each company will have to assess how they use remote teams most effectively. The benefits for a business can include:
There can be cost savings with using a remote team, since there is no need to maintain multiple office locations with the use of technology based communication tools. A remote team can be managed from one central office, even when team members are located in other countries.
A company that is expanding overseas can use remote team members in the host country for marketing, sales and other initial business activity. This allows exploratory research and effort into a new market without establishing a branch office right away. The team member may need to be employed by a GEO local employer of record, but that is an easy step to implement as will be discussed.
Hiring remote workers allows access to some of the most highly skilled talent in a given industry. Companies are no longer bound by geographical restrictions and may expand the hiring pool to extend across state and regional lines, or even international borders. In essence, you can recruit anywhere that you find the right talent mix in a worker, and engage them remotely.
One of the overlooked advantages of remote teams is the ability to have a 24 hour a day work force, which allows for customer service, technical support and sales contacts in any region of the world. Teams located in one country or city, are limited to normal work hours and may be forced to hire employees for night shifts to meet foreign demand.
There is a misperception that remote teams are less productive than those located in a centralized office environment, however surveys of companies that use remote teams suggest the opposite is true. Remote team members may often work more efficiently for longer hours, and the real challenge is avoiding burnout.
Just like any innovative business strategy, managing a remote team and maintaining productivity can bring challenges.
The downside to remote team members in distant locations is that they may become disconnected from the home office and lose either motivation or productivity. There are ways to overcome this through the use of technology based communication and management tools, as well as occasional visits to the home office for real time interaction and support.
Training is a critical aspect of initiating a remote team, due to the fact that team members are working independently without direct supervision and oversight. Training is essential for remote sales teams, technical support and customer service. Technical or mechanical training can be achieved fairly easily since those methods will remain fairly consistent. However, that may not be the case with remote sales teams, or other customer interactive positions.
For example, one challenge is that remote salespeople may not have the same training opportunities as office based staff. Certain training elements can be offered via webinars or other online methods, but this lacks the face-to-face interaction and opportunity to participate in real time learning from other sales team members. There is also the absence of reinforcement of successful techniques or methods, since the only positive feedback available to a remote member is the closing of a sale.
One solution is to offer periodic remote team training in the home office, or even in sales regions, where all members can gather for a few days of intensive training and meetings. This provides a more balanced approach to training, and also give team members a vital opportunity to interact in person.
Despite the trend to solve technical glitches by phone or computer-access programs, there may be times when on-site support personnel are needed. Even the most talented remote technical staff cannot resolve every potential issue by phone or internet, and at time there will be a need for on-site customer service. Problems with hardware, servers, firewalls and other network issues can inhibit the effectiveness of the remote technician.
Even a lack of a reliable internet connection on the customer end can require an on-site visit to remedy any technical hardware or software issues. For this reason, some type of localized customer support will be necessary, in addition to the remote technical staff.
The application of remote team best practices must include measures to counter technology ‘threats’. Data security is a paramount concern for many tech oriented companies, and remote staff need to be monitored for potential data breaches or misuse of information. Training modules should cover this area in detail, with regular refreshers.
Sensitive customer data, encryption methods and proprietary computer programs can all be accessed by technical staff with the correct authentication codes and passwords, which must be guarded against intrusion or theft.
Obviously, it is essential that new remote team members be fully informed of data security protocols as well as the consequences for any inappropriate use of confidential data or intellectual property.
The use of international remote teams for sales, technical and other business functions can have advantages for a company. Even if team members are located in different countries, there are communication and management tools available that can give a remote team a sense of cohesion and shared purpose. In this way, a business can secure the best talent available without regard to geographical location or having many local offices.
However, the management and business objectives of using a remote team must be weighed against potential compliance issues with each country involved. These challenges must be met in both the company’s home country as well as the team member’s locale, including complying with immigration, tax and employment laws.
Hiring an independent contractor as a remote team member has benefits for a business, given the ease of engaging a contractor instead of a full-time employee. It can also be one way to hire a worker for a trial period, prior to offering full time employment. This decision should be based primarily on the type and scope of the worker’s role, and the degree of autonomy in their position.
The compliance risk of using a contractor is that of misclassification, where they actually function as an employee under the rules of their own country.
Some of the factors for classification include:
Work Role and Activity: Sales and marketing efforts can often be safely conducted by contractors, but if there are contracts being concluded, this type of revenue generating activity could be seen as an employee function.
Technical support team members are often hired as contractors, and depending on how they are engaged and paid, and if their work is project based then this should be a valid contractor role.
Method of Engagement: If the team member is solicited through a third party freelancer network or agency, the risk of misclassification is low. Any contractors hired directly should function as a credible business to avoid the appearance of an employee.
Payment: How a worker is paid will also influence classification, since most contractors will work on a project basis, rather than a monthly salary. If a business starts to pay a worker monthly, offers benefits and leave, then the relationship starts to look like that of an employee.
More countries are taking classification seriously due to the lost tax revenues and low worker protection for contractors, so each work role should be evaluated and managed for compliance with local standards. If all work is performed remotely, then the company’s home country laws will probably not apply for purposes of classification.
For some companies, one of the greatest hazards in using remote workers is the protection of intellectual property. This can be an issue with technical workers that have access to software, are developing new tools or may not be adequately safeguarding passwords or customer data.
Typically, non-disclosure clauses would be part of any employment contract, but these may be difficult to enforce with contractors living in a remote location. In any instance, non-disclosure policies and agreements should be clarified before work begins, and checks put in place to either monitor or limit a worker’s access to sensitive proprietary information.
Some countries will refuse to enforce broad-based non-compete or non-disclosure clauses, an important consideration for international remote teams.
Whether the worker is engaged with an employment contract or as an independent contractor, the terms of the agreement will be influenced by the company’s home country as well as the worker’s country of residence.
Worker located in a foreign country may also require a contract drafted to comply with local labor and employment laws, a fact often overlooked when employing remote workers.
There are several types of contract clauses that may not be enforceable in some countries, including:
Confidentiality: Non-disclosure of trade secrets and protection of intellectual property usually have to be spelled out in the contract. The key is to not make the provisions too onerous, or unnecessarily restrict the worker.
Non-compete: Some countries do not favor non-compete clauses, and may limit the scope of a non-compete to a geographical region or a specific time frame. This is especially true for employees, since there is a common policy to allow a worker to seek similar positions in the same industry.
Notice and Termination for Employees: The employment laws of the worker’s own country or where the work is performed may override any contractual notice periods or cause for termination.
Severance: Severance payments are also statutory in some jurisdictions, and companies should be vigilant about ICs seeking employee classification to obtain some type of severance payment.
“Permanent establishment (PE) can occur when an employee on foreign assignment conducts business activity that would trigger corporate tax liability within the host country.”
While this may seem an unlikely result of using a remote team member to make sales calls or fix technical problems, many countries are increasing their scrutiny of business activity by local representatives, and even concluding contracts ‘virtually’ or online can be enough to fall under local PE laws.
Many companies avoid establishing a legal entity by using contractors for these roles, but if a contractor is reclassified as an employee then PE could be triggered for the company. The bottom line test for PE has been “revenue creation” but there is movement toward a broader definition that could include remote workers in various business functions, even consulting or marketing.
There are distinct risks for companies or the local corporate entity that may be non-compliant with tax regulations due to having workers in a foreign country. In many cases, the company could be found liable for both the employee and employer portions of unpaid statutory contributions, as well as unpaid taxes.
When formally employing a remote worker in their own country, running a remote payroll from the home country may not be permitted, and some type of local entity to run payroll or GEO solution may be necessary to avoid non-compliance.
Remote teams can be used for a wide range of business purposes, depending on the industry and market locations. Some companies have historically chosen to outsource some of these roles, such as the use of call centers abroad for 24-hour customer service. However, due to complaints and varying levels of competence, businesses are choosing to use their own employees to implement quality and management controls.
The development of modern web-based technology and communication tools has made the use of remote virtual teams possible, where 100% of the team member work remotely. The primary barrier is the misconception that remote virtual teams cannot be as effective or productive as office-based staff.
The most common types of remotes teams include:
Technical: Businesses that specialize in hardware, software, internet or other technology-based products and services often use remote team members for troubleshooting and customer support.
Remote Project Teams: Project teams may be assembled for a finite period of time to work on a single project for the company. This may be part of their regular employment, or they could be engaged as short term contractor.
Sales: Remote team members can be useful for entering new markets, where they can pursue leads, develop prospect relationships and conclude contracts in person. Since most salespeople are used to working independently this type of remote team can succeed even where members are spread out geographically.
Customer Service and Support: Probably the more traditional use of remote employees is for customer service, where the employee provides telephone or internet support for customer questions or inquiries.
Professional / Consulting: A growing area for remote teams is in professional roles such as accounting, legal services and business consulting. It is more cost effective to contract these services as needed, and fill roles that have normally been relegated to the principal office. For example, a remote virtual finance team can be effective since most of the work can be completed by computer and data interface programs.
The increased use of remote workers by businesses worldwide has created the need for effective employee onboarding processes. The role of the remote worker carries unique challenges, and modern companies are developing specific approaches to hiring and onboarding to address those needs. It is helpful to review how remote work differs, and what employee onboarding processes will be needed.
There are significant differences in the onboarding of remote employees. The traditional steps of office orientation and personal introductions are not available, and need to be replaced with other means of assimilating the new employee into company culture and practices.
The employee onboarding process for a remote worker should begin during hiring, with clear explanations of how the worker will be managed and developed when they begin employment. By creating defined expectations early on, onboarding should go more smoothly for both the company and worker.
Some of the basic steps of onboarding still remain the same for remote workers, with some important differences due to the fact that the employee is in another location. Most of these items are easily accomplished via email or video calls to the worker, depending on time zone differences.
1. Send the new employee a detailed offer letter highlighting the terms of contract, benefit package and payroll method.
2. Welcome the employee onboard and establish their point of contact for both HR issues and work projects.
3. Inform the employee about company policies relating to diversity, tax and payroll compliance, grievances and termination.
4. Provide them with authorization to access specific software and communication platforms used by company to ensure they are ready to fulfil their remote role.
5. Set up phone/voice/email and add them to the employee directory and distribution list.
6. Introduce new employee to other employees which can be done by email, online messaging platforms or online conference.
A new remote worker may not be prepared for the challenges of their new role, especially if they are located in a different region or country. The sense of physical separation places new importance on the onboarding process to accommodate the time and distance differences.
“Although it may seem like a perk to work remotely, it can present difficulties for some workers that are used to a traditional work environment. Even when workers are located in the same locale as the main office, they can feel estranged or isolated by the apparent separation. Remote workers may perform their role from a home office, or even some type of serviced office space provided by the company.”
Just as with in-office employees it is necessary to have some type of checklist for onboarding remote team members. There are several items that are unique to remote workers, or take on greater importance because of the work role.
Intellectual Property, Data Access, Security: When a worker is in a remote location access to data and use of intellectual property becomes a priority. Since there is no onsite supervision to secure data, the worker needs to be informed about data storage, use of customer data and security measures.
Project Management Tools and Expectations: A remote employee needs to be oriented in the tools used to monitor their progress on projects, including the use of milestones and collaboration methods. For this reason, it is best to hire self-motivated remote workers who can manage their own time and deadlines.
Communication Protocols: Communication takes on new significance with the remote worker, since their primary contact with the company is by telephone or internet. It is essential to apprise the worker of when they should be available for communication, and by what method.
Payroll Method: Some remote workers may be located in other countries, requiring a different payroll method than in office employees. They should be clear about the method of payment and payroll withholdings based on country of residency. If the worker’s residence does not permit remote payroll, it may be necessary to outsource employment to a third party such as Shield GEO.
The nature of remote work has spurred HR departments to begin developing a set of best practices for the onboarding process. Most of these go beyond standard HR practices and are designed specifically to meet the needs of remote workers.
Virtual Onboarding for Remote Teams
Virtual methods of onboarding are essential for remote teams due to the fact they may be spread out over wide geographical areas. There should be some method in place for accommodating this reality including online conferencing and communication apps such as intercall.
These web-based meeting tools can be used for group orientations, team introductions and ongoing team member training sessions.
Automating the Process with Employee Onboarding Software
The simple administration steps of onboarding a remote worker can take more time and involve electronic transmission of paperwork. The more automated this is, the more quickly and easily an new worker can settle into their role. “Online automation also allows new hires to complete all the necessary paperwork and preparation before Day 1, reducing the time it takes for employees to become effective…”
Keeping Remote Workers Engaged
There is no one way to keep new workers engaged while onboarding and awaiting their first assignment. Offering opportunities to interact with other team members through message boards such as Slack can give a new employee some social connection before beginning work. It is also important to maintain a basic level of communication with HR and management so that they continue to feel valued and involved even after they have been hired.
As a company begins to build a remote work team across multiple geographic regions, one central issue is how to pay remote workers. A remote work team might have members that are all in several different countries, which presents a challenge in running payroll. There are various alternatives depending on the worker’s location; including remote payroll, payment to a local partner or outsourcing payroll to a third party ‘employer of record’ such as a GEO service.
There are several factors that will guide a company in selecting a method of paying remote workers.
If the remote worker is a contractor, payment is simpler due to the fact that there are no withholding or tax obligations for the company. Employees will require withholding from payroll, depending on residency and payroll location.
An employee in another country may require a company to either outsource or run a local payroll, unless a remote payroll is permitted under local laws.
Sometimes a remote worker will expect payment based on their own local currency, and depending on exchange rates and currency fluctuations it can be difficult to equalize the pay rate among team members.
Full time employees can be paid on a regular basis, and once the payment method is set up it can be largely automated. Project based contractors will need to be paid on completion, requiring manual payment methods.
For most remote workers, there are four payment solutions that are available, assuming that the company does not have a subsidiary or office in the worker’s location. It is not really feasible to set up an office where every remote team member is located, so one of these four solutions will be easier and more cost-effective.
If a company works with a local partner or affiliate in the worker’s country of residence, then they might be willing to place the employee on their payroll. In essence, the worker would be a legal employee of the partner, and part of their payroll, withholding and benefits system. The home company would continue to direct and supervise the employees work.
Remote employees can be paid via the company’s home country payroll under certain circumstances. Some countries do not allow remote payrolls from a foreign company, but there may be specific laws that permit it as long as the company registers the employee. In that case, payment can be made to the employee while complying with host country withholding requirements.
The use of third parties for outsourcing payroll is an effective solution for paying a remote worker in a foreign country (or even between states and regions within the home country).
The first choice is to use a local payroll provider that primarily computes withholding, compensation and then issues the check. The second outsourcing option is a GEO service, that offers full payroll and employment compliance in the worker’s country. The GEO service differs from payroll providers, since the GEO has a legal entity in place that functions as the local employer of record for the remote worker.
Often companies will use independent contractors for remote work, and this can simplify the payment process. Since the contractor is responsible for their own taxes and benefits, the company simply needs to remit payment to the worker under the agreed terms and schedule.
The best tools for independent contractors include:
Tax withholding can be problematic for remote workers depending on their country of residence and where payroll is being run. There are tax treaties that cover potential double taxation of employees, with tax credits and offsets available.
If a remote worker is a resident of the country, it will be necessary to withhold local taxes if either outsourcing payroll or using a local partner. If the worker is paid from the home country payroll, the home employer may have to withhold taxes even though the worker lives abroad. The worker would then have to file a claim for a tax refund from the home country as a non-resident, as well as pay required taxes in their country of residence.
Statutory benefits such as social security and workers’ compensation are usually offered wherever the payroll is being run. If a company is paying a remote worker on a home country payroll option, then the worker may not be able to participate in statutory benefits as a non-resident (but might have access to some social security benefits).
Both the tax issue and statutory benefits can be solved most easily by using a GEO solution to run the payroll where the worker resides. The GEO acts as local employer of record, and can handle all tax withholding and benefits for the worker, while running a fully compliant payroll. This service can be duplicated in multiple countries simultaneously for a remote work team, saving the company the time and expense of customizing payroll for each remote worker.
Technological advances have enabled the rise of remote teams across the world, which means that multiple team members may be working from different cities or even countries. While this allows for selecting the best team members based on talent rather than location, it does create challenges for those setting up and managing the team.
There are three essential areas to pay attention to when setting up a remote team: 1.) hiring the right members, 2. ) communication and 3.) ongoing management.
Successful members of a remote team will have a few key characteristics. Because there is a lack of direct daily oversight, you must hire people who are self-starting and can accomplish tasks independently. This also means that they are the type who can operate without the typical work environment that offers social interaction.
Other important qualities for remote team members are that they can be trusted to carry out assignments, have the required skills and are generally reliable day to day. Otherwise, team managers will have to spend too much time checking on progress or asking for updates from members that are not executing their role.
To build an effective remote team and onboard the right workers you will “need a clear set of expectations and open communication”. In this way, you can attract the type of worker that you are looking for, and only interview those that are a good fit.
One of the key decisions to be made prior to hiring is whether you are looking for a full time employee, or an independent contractor/freelancer. The choice will depend on the amount of commitment you want from the worker, job parameters and length of assignment. Even remote workers may be subject to misclassification pitfalls as discussed here in this related article on the employee vs. contractor relationship.
The method used to interview candidates for remote work can give you an early indication of their work and communication habits. Most remote work will require both written and verbal communication, so using a combination of email, phone and video interview methods will reveal the candidate’s ability to respond and articulate in each format.
“Even though you are working with a remote worker, you need not make the interview feel distant. The more methods of contact that you use, the higher likelihood you have of making the right hiring decision.”
Once you have assembled the right remote team, the next step is to establish an efficient communication method for ongoing contact. Due to the nature of remote work, this may make the difference in keeping your team members engaged and involved with other members and management.
Remote teams ‘team building’ can be achieved by regular video conferencing, training, impromptu team challenges and other non-business related communication. If team members are allowed to share personal information with each other (birthdays, important events, travel plans, etc.), this can create the feel of a social environment similar to a physical office.
In order to achieve true team collaboration it will be necessary to rely on technology for real-time interactive communication. While it may be tempting to use email or one- on-one phone conversations, it is preferable to set up visual and audio meetings via videoconferencing. This is also a better alternative than phone conferencing since it is hard to gauge attention and participation when there is no video feed.
There is also a need to establish clear meeting schedules and agendas ahead of time, so that all are prepared for the topics discussed. Scheduling videoconferencing can be a challenge depending on worker location and time of day or night, and it may be necessary to record it for some members.
Although it may seem like a perk to work remotely, it can present difficulties for some workers that are used to a traditional work environment. Even when workers are located in the same locale as the main office, they can feel estranged or isolated by the apparent separation. Remote workers may perform their role from a home office, or even some type of serviced office space provided by the company.
A key consideration is to accommodate for time differences between the worker, the home office and others in collaboration. This can be a significant factor in a large country such as the US with four time zones, and is amplified when workers may be located overseas. Fortunately, there are management apps that can account for the time zones of all workers at any given hour, allowing for easier communication and planning.
At times a remote worker may be relocated to the country where the company is located, or to a foreign location for a specific project or assignment. However, the worker may lack the typical social and cultural introduction associated with office employment. It is essential to ensure a smooth transition into the country if an employee is relocating, and there may be a need for additional support and orientation. It is recommended to bring remote workers into the company headquarters periodically to offer a real time interaction and sense of being part of the overall mission.
For company management, hiring and connecting a team of remote workers is only the beginning. The primary task will be monitoring work output, oversight of quality and timelines, and management of worker time and activity.
While there is not a single formula for managing remote teams, there are several acknowledged best practices to keep in mind, as outlined in the Harvard Business Review:
Keeping team members connected is an essential part of managing a successful remote team. The use of the communication tools listed in the next section of this guide will help to create a sense of “virtual teamwork” and shared purpose.
Motivation of remote teams will depend upon the degree of inclusiveness and connection they feel. Some team members may initially be motivated by the income and relative freedom of remote work, but over time will also require reinforcement of their value to the team and company. Regular reviews and evaluations can help individual team members to stay motivated, and working toward clear team goals will keep the remote team motivated as a whole.
Training a geographically disparate remote team can pose a challenge, and if feasible it may be best to offer regular trainings in the home office (if there is one). Otherwise, the only other option is to conduct training via voice or video chat, webinars and other internet based mediums. This can be fine for technical workers, but other roles may require some type of personal interface to convey company culture, principles and methods.
Individual and team performance will be the ultimate measure of the remote team’s success, and reaching established goals should be a constant priority. Remote employees should be hired with the expectation that they will be compensated and retained based on performance and productivity, similar to an office-based worker.
If you hire contractors or freelancers, this may alter the management process, since they are typically paid on a project basis or hourly and might not share the same income motivation as employees. However, they can be encouraged with the promise of future projects if they meet certain performance objectives.
For every type of team member, it will be helpful to set either daily or weekly milestones for each worker within their assignment, as well as team milestones. It may be necessary to check in on remote team members more frequently than office staff, to offer support and clarify project direction.
One way to establish and monitor milestones is through online checklist boards such as Trello or Basecamp, which allow team members to communicate, post work product and signal project progress. These resources are far more preferable than the classic group email that can go to many pages of replies from team members.
Slack is another messaging app for teams with real time message boards similar to Skype, but with the ability to integrate multiple teams and give a sense of a virtual workplace.
Invision is a workflow and project design platform primarily developed for those creative or design fields, but also used by companies such as UBER who employ a remote workforce.
Idonethis is a visually simple productivity app that offers status reports, updates and management tools for any type of remote team.
Even the use of technology and communication tools can be excessive, as more and more offerings are available to accommodate the rise of remote team work. There are apps that can help manage the array of tools available, and some will integrate the use of messaging and communication apps into one centralized place.
Managing the productivity of remote workers relies on both external and internal factors. The external factors such as work progress, motivation, collaboration and benchmarking can all be managed with some of the tools outlined above, along with consistent communication and oversight.
However, some of the pitfalls of remote work are distractions and maintaining personal energy while working independently. Savvy businesses that use remote teams will encourage workers to use tools such as Saent which uses a mouse-like device that blocks distracting computer apps, social media and websites, sends alerts for “time blocking” strategies and suggests methods to increase productivity for the individual worker.
Another site adjusts the color temperature and screen brightness of the user’s computer depending on the time of day and available light sources. The purpose is to minimize the fatigue from ‘blue light’ that can be associated with long hours looking at a screen.
Traditional communication methods can work just as well with remote teams, such as email, mobile phones and landlines. Popular apps such as Skype or Yahoo can function well for simple messages to individual team members. However, team-wide communication maybe be better suited to apps like Slack that allow for multiple conversations and participants over an unlimited number of topics or themes.
Regardless of the method, communication remain a core element in managing a remote team, given the distances and time zone differences involved. This is especially true when communication and collaboration are ‘asynchronous’, where contributions, messages and ideas may occur with predictable time delays, and workers have to be prepared to handle the lack of instant replies and uninterrupted work flow. The use of team communication apps and workflow management tools should help to smooth out any adaptation to this special challenge facing international remote teams.
Remote work is gaining popularity globally as more skilled employees and contractors look for autonomous positions, but it is a trend that is being slowly adopted by some businesses. Companies may still be hesitant and are not always receptive towards the idea of having members of a team that are located in multiple geographical locations. Using remote team members for technical, sales or creative work may seem to entail greater risk, and runs counter to the traditional office based environment that is easier to manage and control.
There remain a few common myths and misconceptions about remote workers that need to be dispelled before a company can embrace this growing business strategy.
One of the leading concerns for a business owner that is contemplating hiring remote workers, is the idea that team members cant possibly be as productive without supervision and on-site management. However, in the modern age of time tracking tools, message boards and websites such as Slack, there are many ways to manage remote workers and monitor productivity. The key is “to hold employees accountable by establishing a process that is flexible, and using tools to follow the process.”
In truth, the businesses that use this strategy find that remote team members are actually more productive than office staff. The larger problem is actually that of over-work and burnout, due to the temptation to work longer hours without the daily support of co-workers and managers.
Another misconception is that the most skilled workers prefer to be in a formal office, while remote workers are those that simply could not qualify for the leading positions. This myth is especially common when a worker is an independent contractor or freelancer, since there is the perception that their work is a hobby, they don’t need the money or they simply could not ‘make it’ in the traditional work world. However, many contractors just prefer the independence and autonomy of self-employment, and often have a high level of skill and motivation developed during their career.
Because of this, hiring remote workers allows access to some of the most highly skilled talent in a given industry. Companies are no longer bound by geographical restrictions and may expand the hiring pool to extend across state and regional lines, or even international borders. “Recruiting talent without geographical boundaries is the only way to get the very best people. If the person who is the very best in her field lives by choice on a sustainable ranch in Montana, do you opt for second best? Or do you take the talent where you can find it?”
A key question that arises for a company contemplating the use of remote teams is how to locate and recruit workers. In some cases, they might be former employees or contractors, but more often a concerted networking approach will be required to locate top talent. Websites such as LinkedIn offer one way to begin growing a pool of potential recruits from the over 200 million users. There are also sites that list a wide range of project-based contractors and freelancers who may be open to a broader commitment.
A company can also access international freelancer networking sites for specific industries such as software development and engineering. Participating in these sites can result in contact with established contractors in a given region or country.
A natural issue with a remote team is that of communication and management across distances and time zones, without losing a sense of connection and inclusion. The primary question that arises for an employer is, “how do I know what my team member is doing, and what progress is being made?” Not every remote worker is skilled at self-management, but fortunately there are apps and tools available that can overcome this potential problem.
“One way to establish and monitor milestones is through online checklist boards such as Trello or Basecamp, which allow team members to communicate, post work product and signal project progress.” Slack, is another messaging app for remote teams with real time message boards similar to Skype, but with the ability to integrate multiple teams and give a sense of a virtual workplace.”
Using these tools can ease the challenges of communication and management for remote teams, shifting the focus onto actual performance and project progress. “Measurable timelines and job conclusion are a lot more telling than out-of-date proxies like, “is my employee in his seat?””
There is a historical acceptance of using remote workers for certain types of technical work, customer service and data entry positions. Because these roles do not depend on physical location or close supervision, businesses realized that projects could be outsourced or contracted hourly on an individual basis.
Remote work teams do not have to be limited to certain categories however, and the online collaboration and communication tools allow the creation of a ‘virtual office’ for a wide range of business functions. While IT development roles remain a popular remote work niche, teams can also be recruited for sales and marketing, product development, creative work and customer interface.
A company’s sales organization may already have members that operate in different geographical locations, even across international borders. Because of this, a company may decide to evolve its overall sales effort by using remote team members, who do not work out of a central office, and have the ability to be self-motivated.
The benefits are significant if a business can rely on remote sales people, saving travel time and cost as well as offering team members more autonomy. However, when this is the case it may require management to implement recruitment and management protocols that reflect the specific challenges of running a remote sales team.
Most effective sales people spend more time working more independently than other staff, given the travel time and on-site customer interaction required for success. Their pay structure also adds to a feeling of independence, since a bulk of compensation comes through commissions generated by their own efforts and skill. These factors can affect the management of remote sales team members, since they may be more difficult to engage in team objectives than other personnel.
When recruiting and setting up a remote sales team it is essential to hire people who have the ability to work remotely, but can also interact as a contributing member of the sales team. In the end, their ability to generate new business will be the most important quality, but even the most independent worker needs to feel a sense of purpose and alignment with the organization. The tone for involvement can be set during the recruitment process by setting clear expectations for their role as an active team member.
It is also essential to clearly define the compensation and benefits being offered, which may differ for remote team members, depending on their location and scope of activity. It is the earning potential that creates the greatest incentive for many good sales people and that will not be different when using remote team members.
Once the remote sales team is assembled, the next priority is to establish a consistent and reliable management and assessment method. These methods are well established, but there may be the need for different approach with a remote sales team. Sales team management can be customized to your organization by addressing the unique needs of remote members, who need a blend of support and independence, coupled with modern communication tools.
Just as with any remote team member, communication with a salesperson is critical, especially if they are in foreign location. Communication through mobile devices, online apps and messaging can create an ongoing link to management and other team members. Periodic sales team meetings via video or phone conferencing can help add to a feeling of inclusiveness and accountability, as members report their results against established goals and benchmarks.
Using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system will allow your team members to track all of the client contacts and activities, without relying on written notes or verbal updates. A CRM system can monitor sales leads, activity, progress and outcomes. The numerous CRM system software programs available can be integrated with other communication modes, and are available with mobile apps and desktop browser capabilities.
Management personnel, sales team members and even customers can be allowed to view certain contact and progress activity, giving the sales effort transparency and accountability.
No sales team can succeed with vague or undefined goals, and a part of any management system must include clear team and individual milestones. This is even more important for remote sales team members who are working autonomously. Sales forecasts are only meaningful if they are backed up with clear benchmarks for progress from the sales lead state to closing a new or recurring contract. Milestones can be reviewed at bi-weekly or monthly videoconference meetings to encourage remote sales team members to be prepared with progress reports.
For management charged with leading a remote sales team, there are a few challenges that have to be overcome.
Remote salespeople may not have the same training opportunities as office based staff. Certain training elements can be offered via webinars or other online methods, but this lacks the face-to-face interaction and opportunity to participate in real time learning from other sales team members. There is also the absence of reinforcement of successful techniques or methods, since the only positive feedback available to a remote member is the closing of a sale.
One solution is to offer periodic trainings in the home office, or even in sales regions, where all members can gather for a few days of intensive training and meetings.
When a salesperson is constantly on the road, meeting with prospects and ongoing customers takes priority over the reporting process. Even effective sales people may neglect documenting each meeting and relaying the information to the home office. If they are using a CRM system, this will still require data input at regular intervals. A remote sales team member will have to be self-motivated to provide this information, so that the overall team activity can be tracked and evaluated. Otherwise, the actual sales meetings and efforts may remain vague in terms of content, follow-up and potential for a positive outcome.
One of the core challenges for any remote team member is motivation, when they do not have the personal or social contact that is offered in an office environment. As a result, sales team members may lose their motivation and sense of working toward a collective business result, and may begin to feel isolated or estranged from the sales team and company. Even brief visits to a central or regional office can bring feelings of validation and accomplishment, and it is difficult to replace this by using virtual communication methods.
Addressing all of these challenges will require extra efforts by management to monitor team member satisfaction and performance, and to detect any issues that could interfere with their success. If approached with this awareness, a remote sales team can be a cost-effective means to expand business activity in a new or existing market, in the home country or abroad.
One of the areas that lends itself to remote work is the use of technical teams who can resolve computer hardware and software problems for customers. Companies can also hire remote teams for software development and engineering projects, accessing talent around the globe.
Almost anyone that has had a technical issue knows how important it is to have on-call support person, who can often remedy issues over the phone or online regardless of the day or time. There is a significant customer relations advantage for companies that can offer high-quality technical support without delays, and using a remote team is one way to accomplish this goal.
A remote technical team can fill most support functions, without the constraints of typical business hours, or on-site visits. These services may include interpreting “difficult computer problems and provide technical support for hardware, software and systems.”
Because many technical issues are repetitive and can be resolved with trained guidance, a technical support worker can usually walk a customer through the required steps, or may even be able to manually correct the problem by accessing the customer’s computer. There are many benefits to using a remote technical team for this function, rather than staff based in a central office.
The obvious cost saving is eliminating the need for office space and admin support for technical workers. Most technical issues don’t require personnel to be physically present, and using screen sharing technology and standardized solutions, a remote technical worker can work with a customer directly from any location. This may also save the cost of paying for unnecessary on-site visits, or sending in equipment for repair or replacement.
A remote technical solution can usually be offered instantaneously as long as staff members are available, and if remote workers are in different geographical locations then round the clock support may be possible. In this way the customer does not have to wait for the start of the business day in the company location, and workers can have the option of working flexible hours depending on preference and company needs. Even if a remote team all work in the same country, some members may elect to work night shifts or split shifts to provide 24 hour customer service.
By using a remote technical team, a company can recruit based on a worker’s area of expertise, rather than proximity to the home office. This allows the business to build a technical team that has the range of skills and experience to match customer needs.
When recruiting members of a remote technical team, there are other considerations in addition to their skill set and experience.
Unlike salespeople, technical workers typically spend their time at a desk and in front of a monitor, allowing them to handle customer requests as they arise. At times, they may be required to make a visit on-site, but most work is performed from a home office or other shared work space. The only travel may be to the company headquarters for initial or ongoing training.
Remote technical team members require many of the same attributes as other remote workers, such as independence, communication skills, ability to prioritize and self-discipline.
Also, because of the nature of the work, a certain creative troubleshooting ability is required, since not every situation will follow the norm. So in addition to technical knowledge, a remote worker must have the ability to transfer knowledge to novel problems, and think of new ways to resolve an unforeseen issue.
A business has to be able to rely on the capacity of remote technical team member to handle customer requests, be available and respond appropriately at all times. Otherwise, the company loses the benefit of their role, if the worker needs constant support or are difficult to engage at critical times.
Technical workers must have access to state of the art equipment and a steady high speed internet connection to fulfill their role. While these are readily available in many locations, workers located in countries with weak infrastructure will be challenged respond to the most basic customer service requests, and alternatives will need to be in place as a back-up measure.
If a remote team member is located in another country, there may be compliance issues with local immigration, employment and payroll laws. These items should not be overlooked simply because there is no formal office in the host country, since any non-compliance penalties will fall to the company. If payroll is run from the home country, those employment and tax rules must also be followed by the employer. This includes the common practice of using contractors to fulfill tech positions, but then treating them like employees, leading to a risk of misclassification.
All of the same methods and tools mentioned in previous articles apply equally to technical workers. Because they spend more time at their desk, they may spend more time communicating through message boards such as Trello and Slack as a means to connect with other workers, request assistance or share their own successes.
Despite the obvious advantages of a remote technical team, there are several areas of challenge that will need to be addressed by the company.
Technical staff members have a need for ongoing training sessions to account for revisions in software programs and upgrades to equipment. Offering these trainings to remote staff can be achieved via webinars or other online modules, but it may be necessary to bring staff to a central location for more in depth training. This step gives staff the chance to interact, ask questions and share their own methods with other team members, but does add a cost element to the remote technical team.
Data security is a paramount concern for many tech oriented companies, and remote staff need to be monitored for potential data breaches or misuse of information. Sensitive customer data, encryption methods and proprietary computer programs can all be accessed by technical staff with the correct authentication codes and passwords, which must be guarded against intrusion or theft.
For this reason, it is essential that new remote team members be fully informed of data security protocols as well as the consequences for any inappropriate use of confidential data or intellectual property.
Even the most talented remote technical staff cannot resolve every potential issue by phone or internet, and at time there will be a need for on-site customer service. Problems with hardware, servers, firewalls and other network issues can inhibit the effectiveness of the remote technician. Even a lack of a reliable internet connection on the customer end can require an on-site visit to remedy any technical hardware or software issues.
Aside from customer support and troubleshooting, a remote technical team can also be assembled for new software development and engineering projects. The advantage of having a remote team in this instance is the ability to recruit talent from anywhere in the world, depending on the skills needed. This talent may be available at a lower cost, enhancing the advantage of the remote software team.
This brings up the challenge of managing remote development teams due to differences in time zones, work habits and even language. However, asynchronous work contributions will be less of a problem as long as there are clear timelines and milestones for each team member’s role. If a company chooses to recruit and set up a remote software development team then their will need to be strong central leadership from the home office, as well as reliance on many of the management and communication tools already discussed.
Shield: Our clients are more often than not technology companies that are post startup with funding, that are either looking to set up a remote team of developers. The client either needs our services to employ and pay-roll them, or they are looking to expand into new markets and initially send/or employ a Sales Manager and then a Technical Sales/Engineer to assist the Sales Manager.
Examples of our Client Companies include: Kony, Ibacos, Techstars, Tribridge, PhishMe, Acacia.
Shield: It’s always far harder when the client wishes to employ non-local nationals that require work permit sponsorship. When employing local nationals (or in Europe, members of the EU) it is always far simpler. The clients are already familiar with the employment and pay-roll regulations, are set up locally and have access to the requisite tax and social security details.
For those workers requiring Work Permits, every country has its own rules and restrictions, but the Middle East has proved the most complex, and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in particular.
Shield: The number of team members varies, but we can facilitate local employment for any size team, from 2 to 200
Shield: The largest so far was Techstars with 22, and they were split across about 5 countries. In any one country the largest was about 8-10 in Mexico.
Shield: The first one is the most difficult due to the need to implement every level of local compliance. But on-boarding several people at once is also very challenging. If they are brought on 1 at a time it becomes infinitely easier, especially after the first one.
Shield: Sales Manager. Pre-Sales Engineers, Technical Sales and then Developers. Also Regional Sales Managers.
Shield: In my experience they do generally feel somewhat disenfranchised from the ‘home country’, working with a different client with limited interaction with their ‘team’ in the home country. This is particularly when they are local nationals in the host country (different nationalities than the home country), since there may be differences in language, culture and time zones.
Shield: I think in every case we can assist the client with ensuring that team members are adapting to their role, and that any major employment issues are addressed. We are not directly involved with managing the day to day work of the team, but we are positioned to assist as a committed third party.
Shield: Wage cost and expertise (access to talent) for developers, and expanding into new markets for sales teams.
Shield: I think most of our clients being technology companies (or in a related sector) are looking to expand internationally, and in almost every case they’re looking to access both talent pools and explore new markets. Most of our clients after using us for one local employment contract or team come back and ask us to provide this service in other locations.
Shield: We had an experience in Mexico where we were engaged to properly employ and pay-roll a team of 8 on behalf of a US company, when we found they were not paying their tax or social security properly, didn’t have the right benefits and weren’t on proper employment contracts.
We changed all of this, secured them health insurance, provided them with proper benefits in line with the local employment regulations, etc. to put them in line with their US colleagues. All of this was an enormous benefit to the client since they avoided the risk of non-compliance with a host of regulations.
Shield: Either they’re looking to expand internationally and they use us a way to enter that market without having to setup and manage their own entity, set up pay-roll, source legal and HR support, and administer the company. All of these steps can be both costly and time consuming for a company to complete on their own in a new country
In some cases, they are looking to engage a remote team of local workers in the country and don’t want to set up their own entity to accomplish this. Another example is when they make an acquisition and they want a 3rd party to manage the local employment on their behalf as they don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to manage it themselves.
We’ve managed the remote team of local workers in Mexico, managed a company looking to expand into the Middle East with hiring expats in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Dubai. We also managed the employment for an acquisition in the UK.
Shield: The best answer is that we make local employment simple, cost effective and offer quick deployment of workers. We can have your remote team setup compliantly within a matter of weeks at fixed cost without you having to setup your own entity. You just have one point of contact and pay one invoice every month. A company can’t find an employment solution more simple than that, and we are prepared to offer our services in over 90 countries around the world.
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