You’ve read the news and done your homework: organizations that employ remote workers enjoy better outcomes in finding and retaining high-caliber talent, while positioning themselves to capitalize on a global trend with a growing impact on the workforce.
But when you pitch the idea of hiring remote employees or consultants to your management team, you hit a wall of questions—why should we take this risk? Doesn’t remote talent dilute team culture? How will going remote make us a more competitive business?
This article is a resource for teams or executives who want to hire remote teammates but face internal or managerial friction. Below, you’ll find a list of frequently asked questions and our suggested responses—talking points and observations, grounded in hard data and our own experience, that you can use to convey the value of working with remote teams.
Q: “Why should I care about remote teams? Why is this urgent and worth my attention?”
There are two reasons why you should care: your organization can benefit from remote help, and global workforce trends are changing—creating new opportunities to hire stellar talent while increasing the risk in failing to use a remote model.
We’ll discuss team and project needs in detail below. For now, let’s focus on the second point, starting with some data:
- More than 53 million Americans, or one-third of the U.S. workforce, currently participate in non-traditional work beyond the typical in-office nine to five (US Department of Labor)
- By 2020, an estimated 50% of talent will work remotely (Global Leadership Summit)
- Online talent platforms are predicted to contribute $2.7 trillion, or 2%, to global GDP by 2025 (McKinsey)
From the Industrial Revolution to the PC, evolutions in technology and norms often catalyze changes in our workforce and how employers and employees interact. During these transitions, companies have an opportunity to adapt—or fail accordingly.
Traditional hiring methods will increasingly exclude top talent and restrict teams from accessing the best workers. In order to survive and thrive, organizations will need to include remote talent or risk compromising their teams through unnecessary geographical constrictions.
An example of a recent trend is a systemic decrease in employee tenure and increase in turnover. It is now well accepted that typical workers no longer spend their careers climbing the ladder at a single company, instead exhibiting a median tenure of just 4.2 years. A few generations earlier, individuals who hopped between companies would have struggled to advance in their career. But we now view seniority and experience differently, as employer expectations have shifted to keep pace with top talent.
Our next evolution is the normalization of remote work, catalyzed by progress in communication technology and management practices. Traditional hiring methods will increasingly exclude top talent and restrict teams from accessing the best workers. In order to survive and thrive, organizations will need to include remote talent or risk compromising their teams through unnecessary geographical constrictions.
Q: “Why can’t we focus on local talent?”
Well, is your local talent pool delivering stellar results consistently and efficiently? Put another way, how likely is it that the best fit for your project happens to live nearby?
A good response to this question is to look at historical data. If your team is consistently able to fill hiring needs quickly and boasts high retention rates, perhaps there isn’t much to change.
If, however, your team is filling positions in weeks or months instead of days, if your local cost of living is driving up salaries (i.e. San Francisco), if business-critical initiatives are dragging along, if your team’s capacity is noticeably limited—in other words, if you’re compromising world-class quality for butts in seats—then you should consider evolving your hiring processes.
The decision to evaluate remote teams ultimately converges on a bigger question than “where can we fill gaps in our local market?” It’s a question of “how can we structure our business to embody the agility and ability necessary to flourish in our competitive landscape and execute on important initiatives?”
When geography isn’t a constraint, organizations can tap into otherwise unavailable resources. How could your competitiveness increase if you selected from the best on a global basis?
Q: “How should we use remote consultants?”
A mature remote organization can use remote talent to fulfill a wide variety of business needs. Organizations in the early stages of integrating remote workers can manage the transition and establish proof-of-concept by assigning remote consultants to the right projects:
- Pick a role or project where the tech stack or required skills are difficult to find locally.
- Choose a short-term need with defined deliverables and a straightforward road map.
- Focus on skill sets new to your team. For instance, if you aren’t struggling to find local Ruby developers, then pitching remote Ruby experts may be an uphill battle, compared to the case for finding remote Machine Learning engineers if your team isn’t optimized to find them.
- Consider specialized needs—instances where hiring a long-term employee is often not the right fit. For example, if your team is lacking a Machine Learning expert or Senior UI Designer with industry experience, but an upcoming project requires those skills, then it may make sense to bring in short-term help with the right toolkit for the task.
Q: “Which metrics demonstrate the ROI of remote consultants versus local talent?”
Our research demonstrates that the real cost of hiring employees can far exceed the cost of working with equivalent freelance talent, even if they receive a higher hourly rate. For both remote consultants and employees, regional differences in costs of living are worth keeping in mind as well—consider the rates of two equally talented developers when one lives in London and the other in Argentina, or even the difference between someone in downtown New York versus suburban Ohio.
Beyond the top-line cost advantage, there are several other benefits to keep in mind:
- Speed to hire: how many days does it typically take to make a traditional hire versus a remote consultant?
- Increased quality: how often are you able to find A-players through traditional, geographically-constrained hiring methods?
- Outside perspective: for businesses with multinational aspirations, how can product development benefit from a diversity of perspectives?
- Leveraging time zones: how can you benefit from round-the-clock coverage when pushing design changes to new products or offering customer support?
In the best case scenario, your team will directly measure the fiscal and productivity advantages of blended and non-traditional teams by pursuing a pilot engagement with remote talent. We recommend using the qualitative analysis above to help your team build enough conviction to greenlight a trial project, so you can collect your own data and draw a compelling conclusion grounded in tangible savings.
Q: “We want teammates, not resources. Collaboration and culture are vital.”
We couldn’t agree more, and figuring out how to maintain close collaboration and a tight-knit team takes careful planning. Breaking this down into three sections, let’s explore preparation, collaboration tools, communication and blended-team culture.
- Preparation: The way you frame remote teammates will have a large impact on how well they ultimately integrate into your team. To encourage trust in communication and collaboration, management should demonstrate that remote employees or consultants are an agile extension of their team and valued partners. They can do this by being deliberate with onboarding, including talent in key meetings, sharing big picture goals, investing in the relationship and training where necessary, and choosing words carefully (for instance ‘partner’ or ‘team’ over ‘resource’ or ‘outsourcing’).
- Collaboration: Remote partners should onboard into the project management and collaboration tools you already use. While micromanaging isn’t appreciated by anyone, you should know what your agile talent are doing on a daily basis, just as you would with in-house staff. Finally, security should not be a roadblock to remote work as you can configure environments to provide necessary access while protecting your privacy to an equal—or greater extent—as onsite employees, through tools like remote VPN login or secure laptops.
- Communication and Culture: To unite your blended team, communication should be deliberately structured but also encouraged to evolve organically. Default to over-communication to promote alignment within your team, especially at first. Try to include remote members in the same ways you would include in-house employees; considerate communication will evolve into a natural rhythm that works for everyone.
We’ve published in-depth features about best practices in management and culture for remote teams. But the truth is that remote communication, collaboration and culture have been proven and trusted at thousands of companies, across thousands of different teams and industries: taking the plunge is a question of will we, not can we.
Q: “What are the cons?”
There can certainly be downsides to working with remote or blended teams. Here are a few items to carefully consider if you’re thinking about making the switch:
- Overhead in tools and communication: If you’re bringing on remote team members you may need to invest in additional tools to keep them in the loop (for example, an enterprise-grade virtual meeting solution like Zoom). But you’ll also save money on overhead in the office, so the net effect may be neutral or even positive.
- Changing project management: If your team isn’t currently set up to support and include remote members, you’ll need to adjust your project management cadence. Time, training and tools should be considered.
- Culture clashes: Not every internal culture is a fit for remote teams. Cultures that tend toward top-down, process-driven decision making may be a more challenging fit for remote work.
- Hiring the right teammates: It should go without saying, but you’ll need to think carefully about who you choose to work with, as your initial selection will set the tone for future opportunities. Note that not all projects require high-end help. For instance, junior-level projects may be a good fit for a wider variety of people.
Have You Convinced Your Team Yet?
No matter how persuasive you are, going remote is never an easy decision—for the simple reason that on-site teams have a hundred years of corporate inertia on their side.
In this article, we’ve armed you with the data and context to provide compelling responses to executives or team leaders who voice concern about hiring remote talent. Our final piece of advice is to build comfort step-by-step. By convincing your team to go remote on projects with a narrow scope—perhaps a defined project that require a rare, unusual skillset—you’ll give the benefits of going remote a chance to speak for themselves.
In case you need more ammunition to make the case for going remote, we’ve listed a number of additional resources that you can examine and share with stakeholders in your organization, from specific tactics to full-fledged case studies of 100% remote organizations.
- Building Trust Between Your Employers and Freelancers (Harvard Business Review)
- The Future of Teams: Managing the Blended Workforce (Toptal)
- Case Study: How WordPress Thrives With A 100% Remote Workforce (Harvard Business Review)
- Agile Talent by Jon Younger (HBR Press)