The sun is shining, the weather is warm, and we’re now safely into summer weather and BBQs.
We’re also mid-way through a pandemic with a quarter of the North American population stuck in an at-home work purgatory, millions of newly unemployed looking for work, and a virtual shut-down of many malls, retailers, hotels, and restaurants.
For those restaurants that are open, many are operating at significantly reduced volumes, and likely will continue to do so until people feel more comfortable socializing, or government regulations allow them to open to 100% capacity.
The world is waiting for a vaccine before officially returning to normal, and although things are definitely getting better, the question for many small business owners is, what will your business look like at the other end of this pandemic?
And to that end, some of the big considerations for many small business owners are:
- whether to open the office
- when to open the office
- how to safely open the office while still following guidelines
And the biggest question of all … DO YOU EVEN OPEN YOUR OFFICE, AT ALL, EVER?
My sense from many of the entrepreneurs I speak with (and keeping in mind my perspective is quite anecdotal), is that many are considering downsizing their real estate footprint considerably, and some are even contemplating closing their office down completely to move their entire staff to a 100% virtual environment.
Just a few months ago, for many small business owners, the notion of not having an office was unfathomable. Today, recognizing how well their teams have performed and how seamless technology has allowed them to transition to a virtual environment, not having an office is a very real option.
And therein lurks what could potentially be one of the biggest pivotal, cost-saving, and strategic opportunities you’ve experienced in your business … ever.
The Geographically Distributed Remote Workforce. How to Build a Remote Team
I must admit, I’ve always had a strong aversion to allowing staff to work remotely. My thinking was if I couldn’t see them working at their desks, then they probably weren’t working. My perspective changed quite considerably over the years, especially since I met Naren Arulrajah in 2015.
Naren is the president of Ekwa, a marketing company that helps doctors build and maintain their online presence.
Naren runs an extremely profitable multi-million-dollar operation and has been in business since 2005. Ekwa has a staff of approximately 160 full-time employees.
None of the above seems out of the ordinary.
What is out of the ordinary is that Ekwa doesn’t have an office and never has.
Naren has built his business around providing amazing service to his clients, but, from his perspective, it doesn’t matter whether his staff member servicing his client is in New York or Sri Lanka. It’s about making sure the client’s needs are met. It’s about building the best team with people located from anywhere in the world, not necessarily based on geography, but, on their talents and customer focus. Naren has built a fully remote team.
Much as any CEO is concerned about the company culture, it’s particularly important when your staff are all working remotely and rarely get a chance to meet each other in person, and that’s why Ekwa has adopted a number of initiatives to keep people connected, and that includes “remote” get-togethers, birthday celebrations, contests, prizes, and more.
Naren has spent a considerable amount of time working on how to build a culture in a remote team, and how to work with a remote team. And that’s why they’ve adopted many of the tools that the rest of the world are now just starting to use … video conferencing, and other collaboration and technology tools. Ekwa has been using those tools for years, and that has helped in the remote team building.
Hire for Skill, Not Geography
One of the hardest roles for our company to fill when I was managing my business was for a technical role as a senior Avaya technician. We would often place ads in various publications and job boards only to be extremely disappointed with the results, and unless we got lucky with an experienced candidate with the background and skills we required, we would end up hiring someone with technical telecom skills, not necessarily with the product background we needed, and would train that individual ourselves.
Last summer, when I was back at my old business for a short three-month stint as president, I decided that we would try a different approach to hiring these candidates.
The labor market was tight, and we were facing challenges with hiring local talent across all business disciplines including service, accounting, and sales. In light of this, we decided to assemble a team of remote workers, and because our HR manager didn’t have experience in building a remote team, we hired someone with skills who knew how to do just that.
It so happens that the person we hired to assemble the remote team, was herself…remote.
She had skills in building remote teams and understood the foreign job boards, salaries, and how to initiate team-building exercises that would help the remote staff feel like they were a part of the company. She knew how to build a remote team since she’s built remote teams in the past.
Before we knew it, and within a few weeks of starting the remote hiring process, we found multiple senior candidates with the technical skills needed to do the job. And that’s when I had my Aha moment.
The salaries for these individuals were often a quarter to a third of what we were paying for similar skills of local talent.
For me, the salary savings weren’t the best part.
The best part was that our hiring pool was no longer what we could find in the local market, but the best candidate we could find worldwide.
The real challenge was onboarding, training, and helping these new employees feel like they were a part of our team, and doing all of that remotely.
Given our success with the first hire, I decided that we could fill our next role in the same manner, so we hired an accounts receivable clerk, and once again, for a fraction of what we would pay for a local employee.
There were challenges and definitely learning experiences with managing these employees remotely, especially for the staff who were tasked with managing these remote teams, but it was all part of the learning experience. What we came to learn is that it didn’t matter whether the person was remote or local—what mattered was hiring for skill, culture, and fit.
What I came to realize is that once you overcome the difficulties associated with remote collaboration, given that labor costs vary tremendously around the world, with North American talent being particularly expensive, it makes sense to leverage the potential labor arbitrage, depending on the position, and hire remotely when are where possible. Plus, and even more importantly, once you extend your talent pool outside your own geographic boundaries, you can find the best candidate to do the job from anywhere in the world.
The potential savings are huge. And you can use those savings to:
- increase your bottom line
- provide back to the client by way of lower-cost product making your firm more competitive
- retain in the business and invest in innovative new ideas and products
Building a Remote Team
Now that many small business owners have decided that they don’t necessarily need an office, and they’re going to continue to work remotely, what I suspect is going to happen are two things:
- Because commuting to the office is no longer necessary, employees will now have the opportunity to work well outside of the geographical limits of the office, won’t have to commute to work for hours every day, and will now have a better work-life balance.
- Business owners will now come to realize that they don’t need to hire someone who is close to the “office” because the office doesn’t exist. Instead, the talent pool becomes global, not local, improves overall candidate quality, with potentially significantly lower costs.
All of the software firms in Silicon Valley, Toronto, New York…who formerly struggled to hire local software developers at salaries sometimes double, triple and even more what they would otherwise pay for people with similar skills from cities outside their city, can now open their candidate pool to a much broader group of individuals for a fraction of the price, and not compromise on skill. And given that the entire team is now going to be remote, it doesn’t matter which city, or for that matter country, the person is in.
There are some very clear benefits:
- There could be huge cost savings. Labor is probably the largest line item on your income statement, so the savings could be tremendous.
- You can now broaden your search for the best candidate from all over the world, not just your own backyard.
- Having a globally diversified, ethnically diverse team brings a new perspective to business problems.
Building a Culture and Engagement with Your Remote Workers
According to this Gallop poll, 50% of workers would prefer to continue to work from home, and that presents some challenges in regards to maintaining and building a corporate culture. It’s certainly easier when you can host a BBQ lunch, or an after-work party, but, now that more companies are working remotely, you need to get creative with building these bridges virtually.
Focus on Employee Wellness
Just because people are working from home doesn’t mean you need to stop connecting. You can get creative by doing things like hosting an early morning yoga or fitness class, open to all staff, every morning at 8 am, for example. You can even combine that with a stair-stepper or Fitbit challenge, and post those results weekly, with a monthly prize for the person with the most steps.
You can combine the employees into teams, and the team with the highest score each quarter gets an extra day off work, for example.
You can even hire a professional to train your staff in other areas, like finance, for example, or dance lessons, meditation, art, or any other similar initiative. You can have these sessions hosted during the day, or, after hours.
At the end of every week, you can host, virtually, a wine and cheese, and include some sort of trivia contest. The person or team with the highest score wins a prize. You can even sing a virtual happy birthday for any staff member(s) who might have had a birthday that week and make arrangements to send a birthday cake to their home.
Just because we’re now working virtually doesn’t mean you have to stop the team building and get together. You just have to get creative with your approach.
The Canary in the Coal Mine for the North American Governments
I have to throw this into the article because it’s extremely relevant, and speaks to costs, legislation, and compliance.
Canada now has a minority government, the Liberals, and because they wanted to limit the number of house of commons sittings between June and September, they needed support from one of the other parties. The NDP, Canada’s socialist party, agreed to support The Liberal’s request to essentially prorogue government on the condition that all Canadians receive up to ten paid sick days per year.
The Liberals agreed, and here’s what the Prime Minister said shortly thereafter: “Nobody should have to choose between taking a day off due to illness or being able to pay their bills, just like nobody should have to choose between staying home with COVID-19 symptoms or being able to afford rent or groceries.”
He said the government “will continue discussions with the provinces, without delay, on ensuring that as we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, every worker in Canada who needs it, has access to ten days of paid sick leave a year.”
This new government policy is coming off the heels of what is now a literally decimated small business community in Canada. Millions of people are now unemployed, and many small businesses can barely afford to pay their bills. Yet, many of these small businesses must, under legislation, agree to what will likely be an expensive new government initiative that businesses cannot afford.
These types of anti-business initiatives aren’t unique to Canada. The small business “love” is shared equally between governments in the US and Europe.
So what does this have to do with hiring remote workers from far-off destinations?
A lot actually.
What these countries might come to realize is that businesses vote with their pocketbook, not by leaving the country necessarily, and not by skipping taxes, but by hiring someone from outside their own country who isn’t subject to the whims of the local labor boards and tax policies.
Enacting new legislation that hurts small businesses, stifles innovation, and increases taxes might win votes initially, but will hurt the very people they’re trying to ultimately help.
How to Hire a Remote Team
There are many tools you can use to build a remote team. I’ve used Upwork and Fiverr extensively. I’ve also worked with remote agencies to hire staff remotely.
Your Business’s Next Step?
If you’re looking for an opportunity to bring some fresh new perspective to your team, potentially increase your business’s service hours, pivot into some new directions, and save some dollars all the while, learning how to build a remote team is perhaps your next new strategic initiative.
Are you trying to build your business? You might find this article helpful: 9 Steps to Build a Sales Team From The Ground Up – Both Inside Sales Team and Outside Sales Team
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Also, I published a book during the summer of 2018, “The Kickass Entrepreneur’s Guide to Investing, Three Simple Steps to Create Massive Wealth with Your Business’s Profits.” It was number 1 on Amazon in both the business and non-fiction sections. You can get a free copy here.