The Coronavirus lockdown boosted a growing trend for remote working. It’s shown us how quickly we can move from an office to a more flexible working environment and, more importantly, that it needn’t reflect negatively on the bottom line.
In fact, creating a remote working start-up team can actually save you money by reducing office rental, utility, and cleaning costs. Plus, as you’re not geographically restricted, you have greater access to the best talent. That said, building a remote working start-up team from scratch is never a breeze. You have to overcome challenges unique to remote working, such as hiring people, often without meeting in person; sourcing the best software to enable your workforce to work together and sell your service or product from multiple locations; and creating a virtual team spirit.
Use this guide to ensure that you cover every aspect required to build an effective, efficient, and ambitious remote working start-up team.
Be certain you’re ready to hire a remote team
You must be confident that your work can be done off-site. Aside from manufacturing, some distribution and offline retail, most jobs can be carried out away from the ‘office.’ Whether you’re hiring remote or onsite staff for the first time, however, you must ensure that you have the cash flow to support their wages and the infrastructure to pay them and handle the tax and benefits implications. You also must know exactly which jobs you need to fill and the job specifications of each.
Payroll and benefits can be handled by external accountancy, employment solicitors and HR advisors. The job descriptions are down to you and if these roles are to be carried out remotely, they must be particularly detailed. Finally, crucially, you must have work ready for processing. You don’t want to pay people to sit in their home offices browsing Instagram while they wait for you to give them something to do.
Plan your remote hiring process
When it comes to hiring remote employees, the process is similar to hiring onsite staff. You create a job spec, determine the salary and benefits, and advertise the role through your networks, job boards or a recruitment agency. If the candidates live close to you, you may interview them in person at your offices, a coffee shop, or a rented meeting space. If they don’t live nearby or if you want to start as you wish to go on, carry out the interview over videolink.
Choose a quiet room where you won’t be interrupted for this interview and dress in your standard work attire, whether that’s jeans and a t-shirt or a suit. Don’t be late for the call either and note if the candidate arrives late without a reasonable excuse.
As explained in greater detail in How to source the best talent for a start-up, ask a selection of ‘hard’ questions, which determine the candidate’s ability to carry out specific tasks, such as: 'give me an example of when you have used Hootsuite to boost a business’s social media interactions?' and a series of ‘soft’ questions, which focus more on the candidate’s personality, such as: 'How do you think we can create a fun working environment when we’re all working from our own homes?'
You may also want to set each candidate a task, similar to what they’ll be asked to do as part of the job, and test how they handle it remotely. If they are going to be working closely with you or another member of the team, set a task that involves collaborating with you or this person, so you can ascertain how they may work as part of the team.
Before making a final selection, as always when recruiting, get references.
Work out how to distribute and monitor remote work
There are several free and premium apps designed to assign and monitor remote working and allow team members to chat to each other about specific tasks. Slack, for example, bills itself as: 'bringing the team together wherever you are.' While project management app Trello is designed to: 'organise and prioritise your projects in a fun, flexible, and rewarding way.' Consider employing some of these tools and also look to see how remote workers will access other bespoke or off-the-shelf software that they need to regularly use in their roles.
Equip your remote team
While having everyone working remotely saves on office costs, hiring remote employees entails other expenses. Your team probably needs to be equipped with mobile phones, computers, related software and possibly printers. While you can ask staff to use their own devices, to mitigate cyber security risks it’s advisable that the computers are supplied by you, linked to a secure virtual private network (VPN) and used only for work purposes. You must insure this kit and a reasonable employer will make a fair contribution to staff member’s utility, and phone costs, as well as miscellaneous expenses, such as printer ink.
Trust your remote workers
When you don’t see your staff at the coffee station daily, regularly pass their desks or have them frequently pop over for a chat, it’s easy to worry that they are not doing their fair share of work. Your new remote workers will be aware that they must earn your trust, but you also must earn theirs.
One of the benefits of remote working is it often allows staff to work flexibly. They may start work at 6am and pop out at 8.30am to drop the kids at school and walk the dog. This isn’t conducive to a remote role requiring an employee to answer the customer service line from 9am until 5pm with an hour for lunch, but if the work doesn’t require fixed hours, let staff work flexibly within reason. They will trust you more as a result and, once you can see that the work is being done effectively and on time, you will trust them more too.
If their work isn’t up to standard, then you can have a chat with them to reiterate what is expected of them and find out why it’s not happening. If there are no improvements, then you may have to start disciplinary procedures and possibly part company. There will always be instances where things don’t work out, that goes for remote work start-ups and those with only onsite staff.
Help your remote staff develop their careers with you
When people beaver away remotely, it’s easy to let them get on with their jobs. To build a loyal, long-term remote workforce, however, you must invest in your team’s careers. Schedule regular one-to-one performance reviews with each team member’s line manager or yourself, set key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure productivity and create a professional training programme. Remote work start-ups often enlist an HR consultant on an adhoc or part-time basis to help with staff development.
Create a fun remote working culture
Whether your staff are dotted around the country or even the world - if you need a Spanish speaker, you may find the best in Spain - it’s still possible to create a fun and sociable remote-working culture. This won’t happen on its own though; you must nurture it.
Schedule regular weekly video meetings where you update your team on the latest business developments, introduce new starters and give everyone a chance to talk about what they are working on and discuss any challenges they might be having or opportunities that they have chanced upon. If you’re all in the same time zone, set a regular weekly social lunch, perhaps even organise for a pizza to be delivered to each of your co-worker’s remote offices for this.
Once there are a few of you on the team, create a work-buddy system where buddies call or message each other daily and set up a mentor scheme to help new starters develop their careers with you. Once the pandemic is over, you can also think about regular meetups in person too, a mix of formal conference table meetings and fun team building away days. We hope that these tips for building a remote working start-up team prove invaluable. Due to the unique expenses and insurance implications of different home-working situations, a remote-working employment contract must be drawn up. Our team of specialist employment law solicitors are ready to assist you with this and all your employment needs.