The world of work has changed. Ushered in by the start of the 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic, remote work has gone from a rare working arrangement to a common operating structure. In a 2020 survey conducted by Growmotely, 74% of professionals and 76% of entrepreneurs felt remote work would be the new normal. Since then, companies—both large and small—have embraced becoming distributed teams. Furthermore, some startups are establishing themselves as fully-remote teams from day one. As a result, businesses are now looking beyond their cities, states, and even countries to hire talent.
With this phenomenon comes the opportunity to attract global talent to your startup and build an innovative remote-first company culture. But it also comes with challenges like setting up legal hiring entities and coordinating a remote hiring process. For entrepreneurs and founding teams considering a remote structure for their startups, we’re providing advice on how to hire remote employees—with tips on everything from creating a remote-friendly job posting to welcoming new team members with cybersecurity in mind.
Given the growing popularity of remote work, splurging on an office and hiring local employees is no longer the assumed default.
Employees, now having experienced working from home, are less willing to put up with long commutes that bookend each workday and give up newfound flexibility. Employers, observing steady productivity from employees working from home, are more hesitant to pay for physical space when they can work from the digital cloud… Both employees and employers are opting out of the office and embracing the benefits of remote work.
Increasingly, remote work is the preferred employment structure for employees—a 2021 survey found that only 36% of people believe the office is best suited for individual work
while the same survey uncovered that 33% of employees would be willing to take a 5% pay cut to work remotely at least part of the time. From technical talent to creative hires, many are looking to remote environments that allow them greater flexibility, increased work-life balance, and the focus and productivity that comes with cultivating your own working environment. In a 2021 survey conducted by Owl Labs, surveying 2,050 full-time workers in the U.S., 83% reported they are at the same productivity level, or higher, working from home compared to the office.
Businesses that operate as a distributed team have a competitive edge when it comes to attracting talent, even if your company isn’t a household name. Running as a remote company—and building a strong remote culture—can be a strong perk that gets potential hires to strongly consider your business as their next professional home.
Being an office-bound business means hiring from within a particular city, limited by the residents who live within a few kilometers or those willing to relocate. For companies with specialized technical or creative needs, this can be limiting. Remote work, and the ability to hire beyond your municipality, unlocks a wealth of talent your business wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
Opening up your hiring process to candidates in different cities, states, and countries could mean finding the perfect product designer in Seoul, South Korea or the ideal infrastructure engineer in Lisbon, Portugal.
One of the biggest expenses for a business can be the cost of leasing or buying office space for your company headquarters. Remote work is changing this. A 2021 survey found that since the start of the pandemic, 22% of companies have reduced their office space—an expense eliminated from the balance sheet.
However, remote businesses have their own unique expenses. For instance, your business may want to introduce employee offsites and retreats for team members to occasionally meet in person or remote work stipends to help employees set up a home office that allows them to do their best work.
Hiring more broadly—including from other countries—will likely increase the cultural diversity of your team, creating a workforce with a blend of unique backgrounds that will inform your company’s product or service offerings.
The flexibility of remote work also allows frequently underemployed groups—parents, primary caregivers, military spouses, people with disabilities—to consider your company. A 2022 study from the Economic Innovation Group found that rates of employment for workers with disabilities was 3.5% higher in Q2 2022 than pre-pandemic.
Employees who work remotely generally report higher levels of happiness compared to their office-bound counterparts. A 2022 study from Pew Research found that of employees who work from home at least some of the time, 64% reported it was easier to balance their work and personal life. This can lead to higher levels of retention at remote companies.
As a business, low retention can be costly. Hiring a new employee to fill a previous role requires both time and money. Perhaps more importantly, a departing worker also leaves with the knowledge and expertise they hold and the relationships they’ve built over time… A remote culture can be the difference between a company that has a revolving door of employees to one where people stay to build an enduring business.
There are barriers and complex considerations to figure out how to hire remote employees. Adding an employee from a different country to payroll isn’t straightforward. Fairly compensating employees across the world can be opaque. Ensuring the security of your company’s data against breaches with remote devices requires robust processes. Luckily, with more companies embracing remote work, there are practices that you can adopt and adapt for your own business.
While we provide common advice below on how to hire remote employees, this should not be considered legal or financial advice. Always consult with your company’s legal counsel, accounting experts, and tax specialists for advice on expanding your hiring footprint while staying in compliance with local, state and federal laws.
Remote work is a spectrum. Some companies might simply allow local employees to work from home while others hire across continents. While it can be worthwhile to hire far and wide, the further away you hire from, the more complex your employment processes will necessarily be.
With different employment laws, tax regulations, and payroll requirements in different states and countries, you’ll need to remain compliant of these guidelines with everywhere you hire from.
Here are a few options for hiring remotely:
When it comes to remote compensation, there are several options for how much to compensate employees around the world.
Having 100 remote employees is similar to having 100 mini headquarters around the world. Your company will need to ensure the security of each working hub to protect your company’s data to prevent breaches.
Here’s a non-exhaustive checklist for helping to ensure the cybersecurity of your company:
Remote companies are often more competitive to applicants. But with so many teams embracing remote work, it’s vital to stand out from the crowd and attract applicants to your company by sharing your job postings far and wide.
As a small business or startup, your website may not be the first place an applicant finds your job postings. However, they will likely visit it before they apply for a role they find elsewhere. Your website—specifically your Careers and About pages—should serve as a spotlight for your company culture and convey to prospective applicants that you’re a business worth taking a career chance on.
Go beyond simply listing your open roles with these website tips::
As a startup, often your first employees will be individuals paying attention to your company or customers who have already tried your service. Many of those people may already follow you on social media. Leverage your company’s social media channels—from Twitter to Instagram—to share your job postings with your audience.
Additionally, ask hiring managers and teammates if they’re willing to share job postings to their personal social media platforms. Often, early hires can come from the existing networks of your current employees.
With many people looking for remote jobs, there’s a bevy of work-from-home specific job boards and services that are worth posting your roles to. Note that many job boards charge a fee to list your role.
Fully remote job boards:
Remote-friendly job boards:
As with any role, don’t be afraid to reach out to prospective hires directly. Use LinkedIn to filter for prospective candidates, messaging them on the platform or sending an email that tells them about your company and the posted role.
Your hiring process is your first introduction to a prospective employee—it’s worth setting up a sequence that allows you to learn as much as possible about candidates, helps you assess prospective employees fairly, and puts your company’s best foot forward.
Find the balance between keeping your hiring committee large enough to get a 360° view of the candidate, but small enough that team panelists can reach a decision within a reasonable time frame while respecting a candidate’s time. The size and scope of your hiring committee will vary depending on the role and team size, but a panel should include a prospective employee’s immediate manager and at least one teammate they’ll be working with.
Here’s a potential hiring committee and their potential roles on the panel:
For transparency, and to allow candidates to prepare adequately, outline your team’s hiring process in your job posting.
A job posting for a remote-friendly job won’t be entirely different from a non-remote job, with these exceptions:
When hiring remote employees, your entire process will be conducted remotely—including your interviews. For a smooth process, opt for a video platform like Google Meet or Zoom, sending candidates calendar invites with the time of their interview and a link to the meeting room.
While remote work is increasingly common, not everyone has worked remotely. You may encounter candidates who are new to remote work.
Here’s a few tips for helping candidates proceed smoothly through the interview process:
As a startup, coordinating processes over email may be adequate. But as you scale, consider using a recruitment platform like Bamboo HR or Workday that allows you to do everything from create and share job postings to sending candidates automated emails to streamline your hiring process.
Without a manager over an employee’s shoulders in the office, working remotely can mean more autonomy and less micromanagement. Hiring assessments can help your recruitment committee understand if a candidate can produce high-quality work under a deadline with minimal guidance.
Use these guidelines to create an appropriate hiring assessment:
Hiring remotely can mean back-and-forth asynchronous communication and a process that feels cold to your candidates. Give prospective hires an elevated interviewing experience by staying in close communication and forging a genuine connection—both with applicants who are eliminated and those who proceed.
Chung Yu, a Senior Recruiter at DigitalOcean, is a remote hiring expert who has set up recruitment processes for our own fully-remote team. “I often see candidate feedback on forums where a recruiter might ‘ghost’ on candidates. I believe that follow-up is key and keeping a candidate updated means a lot,” says Yu. “Picking up the phone and calling the candidate adds a very enjoyable experience. Just because we are in a remote environment does not mean we can’t do the simplest of things such as using the phone. Don’t hide behind the email.”
Alongside role-specific questions that determine a candidate’s expertise and experience, try to get a holistic view of applicants. Yu recommends that companies ask questions that aim to understand how a person operates in a remote environment. These questions should assess whether an employee is capable of working independently, can work with a broad range of people, and is self-motivated.
“I look for whether a candidate had worked in such an environment prior. I also ask how they would prioritize their days and projects,” says Yu. “This gives me a sense of how a person would thrive in a virtual environment like ours.”
One of the dangers of remote work is overworking and Yu also recommends asking candidates questions that get a sense of how they approach work-life balance and avoid burnout. “We truly care about our Sharks. So, I also ask how candidates unplug and what they might enjoy doing on their time off,” says Yu. “This gives me an indication on how a candidate recharges.”
Of course, interviewing is a two-way conversation. Leave room during each interview for the candidate to ask questions about the role and the company. Be prepared to answer questions about team culture, role responsibilities and expectations, travel requirements, and company perks.
Creating an ideal hiring process and recruiting team members from around the world is only the first step in building a world-class remote company. To keep them for the long-haul, you need to build a remote-first culture where everyone—regardless of country or timezone—is included and feels well-equipped to do their best work.
Navigating how to hire remote employees is just one of many new areas that startup founders need to learn about on their journey. Check out all of DigitalOcean’s resources for startups and SMBs in The Wave, our startup resource hub, and sign up for a DigitalOcean account to start building your product on DigitalOcean’s virtual servers, databases, and more.
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