By Roy Rasmussen

Talent shortage is a major problem for companies today. With qualified workers in short supply and more positions than workers available, many businesses are struggling to fill key positions. Improvements in the economy have actually aggravated the issue by reducing unemployment and intensifying competition for available workers. The number of employers struggling to fill open positions rose from 40 percent to 45 percent globally between 2017 and 2018, rising to the highest level in over a decade, according to ManpowerGroup research.

To close the skills gap, one solution that is proving effective for many companies is employing remote workers. Remote workers enable companies to tap into resources beyond the local talent pool, expanding both the number of workers available and the range of skill sets accessible. Nearly two-thirds of companies now employ remote workers, an Upwork survey found.

But despite the prevalence of remote workers, most companies don’t have a well-defined strategy for managing this part of their workforce. Upwork’s survey also found that half of companies don’t have a remote work policy, even though a third of full-time employees will be remote within the next ten years. If you employ remote workers, it’s important to approach management of your remote team as systematically as you would your on-site workforce. Here are some key strategies for handling all phases of managing remote workers, including recruitment, onboarding, collaboration, retention, and payments.

Recruiting Remote Workers

The foundation of an effective remote worker recruitment effort is a winning employee value proposition (EVP), says entrepreneur Edward Daciuk. An EVP, similar to a unique selling proposition in marketing, is a recruiting message that summarize what makes working for your company beneficial for workers you’re trying to attract. When developing an EVP, think of what values will appeal specifically to remote workers, such as the ability to work from home, flexible hours, ability to take care of kids while working, and work-life balance. Create a job description that emphasizes your EVP, along with the qualifications you’re seeking.

Once you have a well-crafted description, the next step is to promote it to prospective recruits. Promotional channels can include:

  • Your own network of contacts
  • Recruitment agencies
  • Job boards geared towards remote workers, such as Outsourcely
  • Sites for freelance contractors, such as Upwork

Once you’ve received some applications, it’s time to evaluate your candidates. If you need to conduct a thorough evaluation, you can use a four-step process to screen candidates, recommends contributor Gráinne Forde:

  • Give your top 10 to 12 recruits a skills test to measure their proficiency.
  • Hold a video chat interview with candidates to evaluate their personal aptitude for the job.
  • Conduct a simulated workday by having candidates spend the day working with your team members on short tasks that involve written communication and collaboration. If you need more time for a good evaluation, consider a 45-day paid trial period.
  • Team assessment can then be conducted by having team members who worked with the candidate submit a scoring evaluation to the hiring decision-maker on your team.

After going through this process, you should have a good feel for each candidate’s suitability for the position, and you’ll be in a position to make selections for hiring.

Onboarding Remote Workers

After hiring new candidates, the best way to integrate them into your workforce is to have a formal onboarding process. This process should include routine steps such as obtaining necessary tax forms, obtaining bank account information for direct deposits, doing background checks if appropriate, and setting up benefits packages. It also should include the process of training new workers in your procedures and your company culture.

Along with this, it’s important for new workers to start building a good working relationship with fellow team members. This can help counteract the tendency for remote workers to become disengaged due to lack of contact with their coworkers. One way to promote engagement is to introduce new remote workers to other team members through online conference calling or a video conference. Holding periodic online conference calls and video meetings can help consolidate remote connections.

A complementary strategy is for supervisors to discuss onboarding goals with new hires during their initial video meeting. Discuss goals such as completing paperwork, meeting new team members, setting up software accounts for communications and collaboration, and introducing workflow procedures.

Collaborating with Remote Workers

The heart of a winning remote working strategy is an effective collaboration process. A viable collaboration process depends on selecting the right software for your communications infrastructure. Elements of your remote communications infrastructure can include:

  • Phone numbers
  • Email
  • Instant messaging
  • Video chat

Each of these elements can be set up separately, or they can be integrated in a unified communications environment. Communications tools can be used both for one-on-one communication and for holding meetings. Scheduling periodic meetings can both help keep remote projects on track and help keep remote workers engaged.

Communications tools can also be integrated into your collaboration software, another critical component of your remote work infrastructure. A good collaboration platform should allow you to manage projects, assign tasks, schedule deadlines, share files, and track progress. Today’s leading collaboration tools include Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Slack, and Google Hangouts.

Paying Remote Workers

If you are paying your remote workers by the hour, it’s necessary to set up some type of time tracking system. One of the most efficient ways to do this is by using a time tracking app. For instance, one of today’s most popular tools is TSheets, which not only lets workers punch in and out, but also lets employers track worker GPS location, see what remote workers are working, see how long they’ve been working, and send automated alerts and reminders.

When paying workers, there are a number of methods you can use. The least efficient is to send checks through the mail. A better way to do it is to schedule automated ACH direct deposits through your bank. Another popular method is to use payment services such as PayPal to send payments to your workers’ email accounts for transfer to the bank.

Financial planning and bookkeeping are also important aspects of paying remote workers. Budgeting payroll into your expenses and making sure your bank account has money to pay your workers as scheduled will help avoid cash-flow and payment issues. Calculating taxes is another aspect of paying remote workers, which can be simplified by using cloud-based payroll apps that integrate with accounting software such as QuickBooks Online. Using a cloud-based app lets you keep up with the latest updates in tax regulations.

Retaining Remote Workers

Paying remote workers efficiently on time is a key to worker retention. Recruiting new remote workers to replace ones who leave is expensive, and can also cost you lost labor, so it’s in your best interest to have a remote worker retention policy.

One of the most important factors influencing retention is worker engagement. Remote workers who work from home tend to be less engaged than office employees due to the lack of human contact with coworkers, a Gallup poll found. To offset this, you can take steps to promote a greater sense of connection between remote workers and other workers. These steps can include:

  • Assigning mentors to new remote workers
  • Holding regular videoconference meetings to give remote workers the opportunity to see other workers face-to-face
  • Creating social media groups where remote workers can chat with other workers about topics of mutual interest such as sports or cooking
  • Inviting remote workers to events where they can meet other workers

Supporting remote workers in their career goals is also important for retention. The biggest reason employees quit is because of a perceived lack of career advancement potential, Gallup research found. Having a mentor or supervisor periodically discuss career goals and development opportunities with workers dramatically increases retention, Gallup’s study shows. Offering employees challenging tasks that let them grow their skill set and providing training opportunities are other ways to help workers feel like they have a future with your company.

Of course, not all remote workers will work out, so it’s also a best practice to have a standard policy for terminating remote working relationships. The Society for Human Resource Management recommends that when remote employees are hired, their hiring offer should include terms stipulating that they are being hired at will and can be fired at will, just as they may choose to resign. Consider discussing performance issues with workers before terminating them. When a decision is made to terminate, firing the person in person or over the phone is preferable to email or text to avoid ill will. There should be a checklist of follow-up steps, such as final pay requirements, closing worker software accounts, and retrieving any company data. Be sure to consult any applicable state laws regarding final pay issues such as paid vacation time.

Cover All Your Bases

Using remote workers can be an efficient and cost-effective solution for closing skills gaps if you follow a strategy based on best practices. Careful recruitment lays a foundation for attracting top talent. Well-managed onboarding procedures integrate remote workers smoothly into your existing team. Smart use of communications and project management technology promotes productive workflow. Payroll automation reduces your bookkeeping load. A solid retention strategy helps you keep remote workers at your company. Making sure your bases are covered in each of these areas will help ensure that your remote workforce stays productive and your company stays profitable.

Roy Rasmussen, coauthor of Publishing for Publicity, is a freelance writer who helps select clients write quality content to reach business and technology audiences. His clients have included Fortune 500 companies and bestselling authors. His most recent projects include books on cloud computing, small business management, sales, business coaching, social media marketing, and career planning.

Remote worker stock photo by fizkes/Shutterstock