Hiring Remote Employees: A (Nearly) Unlimited Pool of Top Talent

Whether you’re talking to the founder of an early-stage startup or the VP of Marketing at a mid-sized enterprise, the topic of hiring always brings up the same discussion. “We really need the best talent for this role,” which is then followed by a collective shake of the head and mutterings about how incredibly difficult it is to hire great people in this city or market.

Hiring top talent has been described as the “war for talent” by Steven Hankin of McKinsey & Company. And in one sense, that phrase is true. There are a variety of hurdles a hiring manager must overcome to secure a good fit for their company. At a minimum, the potential candidate must meet all or most of the following qualifications:

  • They must know the role exists.
  • They must be within a specific geographical range of the company.
  • They must have the skillset and experience required to do the job well.
  • They must be interested in the opportunity.
  • They must be a good culture fit (though not enough firms prioritize this).

Pair these qualifications with the fact that the U.S. is currently experiencing its tightest job market since 1969—with unemployment at 3.7% in 2019—and this whole “war for talent” thing starts to make sense.

But does it, really?

At Avra, we believe this is a common case of scarcity thinking. And as with most instances of scarcity thinking, it’s not actually an issue of scarcity! It’s a problem of perspective. 

People are dying of hunger and thirst all over the world—but not because of a global lack of food or water. It’s a distribution problem. It’s an extreme analogy, but the same principle applies to this “war of talent.” This type of thinking implies that there is such a severe lack of top talent that companies need to go to war with each other to secure the talent they need. This could not be farther from the truth.

In reality, there is a nearly unlimited spring of excellent talent available. The problem is that most companies are limiting themselves to their own narrow geography. 

In our global hunger analogy, there is a lack of food in developing countries—but there is an excess of food in the United States and other developed countries. In the job market, there may be a lack of talent in one geographic area—but there is an excess of talent in others. 

The only difference? Hiring remote talent is a lot easier than disrupting the global food supply. It’s just a matter of opening your recruiting efforts (fully or partially) to hiring remote employees.

Okay, but who can tap this resource?

There are two types of firms that are tapping into the massive talent pool by hiring remote employees or contractors.

  1. Remote-first companies.
  2. Companies that are distributed by necessity.

Remote-first

“Remote-first means working remotely is the default. It means making sure your remote employees are as much a part of the team as those in the office.” — As defined by Stack Overflow.

Every business I have built has been remote-first. In my case, this happened organically—it was not a conscious choice. My companies were remote-first because I was a college student who couldn’t afford full-time employees but needed help building and managing my e-commerce websites.

Nowadays, when I launch a new business, remote-first is a very conscious choice that gives me a massive competitive advantage. My initial startup costs are lower—I have no office and often start my people out as contractors or part-time employees—and I have access to a talent pool that spans across six time zones and dozens of countries.

Not all businesses can, or should, be remote-first—or even remote at all. At Avra, we believe that at least a quarter of technology startups have the products and culture to support remote-first if they so choose.

Distributed by necessity

It’s no secret: companies who need to hire top talent in “hot” job markets are having an increasingly hard time… 

Angel.co lists 3,316 startups in New York City and San Francisco, respectively, who list their marketing roles as “Remote possible,” meaning they are open to the idea of hiring remote employees for specific roles but would prefer to have those hires in-office.

Many of these companies find themselves in this position of needing to distribute because they’ve realized that there is a two-fold problem with talent acquisition and retention in the white-hot markets of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago:

  1. Tech giants will overpay for even mediocre talent, thus draining the local market and creating an ecosystem where candidates sometimes have unrealistic ideas around cash compensation.
  2. “Poachers” or recruiters (both agencies and in-house teams) are filling roles mostly through “wooing” of already employed talent, thus creating an environment where the average employee tenure (calculated from ten of the top tech companies) is only 1.76 years.

Hiring remote employees can solve both problems. 

I recently chatted with a cloud collaboration service that is based out of the Bay Area and growing like crazy. They have a fully remote SRE (Site Reliability Engineering) team, even though the rest of their company is headquartered locally. Why? Because hiring local engineers was out of their budget and there was no guarantee they’d stick around.

Meanwhile, companies based in smaller markets are experiencing the opposite problem.

There are excellent, high-potential startups all over the world. Silicon Valley does not have a monopoly on smart entrepreneurs! (Though their investors would like to make you think so.)

But there aren’t as many “product designers” in Denton, Texas, as there are in other areas. As a result, startups in second- and third-tier cities often find the need to expand their recruiting efforts remotely as well.

Roles that do well remotely

Remote-first companies will naturally build a culture and working environment geared towards making every role “remote-friendly”; but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy. 

If you are distributed by necessity, then it’s essential to understand what types of roles naturally lend themselves to remote, autonomous, work. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of departments that can function well in a remote capacity:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Engineering
  • Design 
  • Customer Support or Service
  • (Some) Operations
  • (Some) Administrative
  • Finance

Some good questions to ask when determining whether a role will be remote-friendly is: “How do we measure results for this role?” and “How can they be quantified or ‘seen’?” If you can easily answer these questions, the role will likely do well remotely.

For example, a product manager might go through a dozen tests without finding a single one that works. They’ve been hard at work for months and the work they’re doing is valuable, but they don’t have much (or anything) to show for it. This is easier to “see” in an office than when that person is out of sight, working remotely.

But a content creator, on the other hand, can be easily measured by their output. Was the piece of content created on time? Was it well received? Did it move the needle or hit the goal?

For companies that are distributed by necessity, these types of questions and situations will help determine what roles can be sourced remotely and what must be done in-house.

Setting remote workers up for success 

Just because a role can work well remotely doesn’t mean it will always work well remotely. In an office, new hires are surrounded by a team of coworkers who can mentor and guide them through the onboarding process. This acts as a sort of “safety net” that allows for a clean transition.

In a remote environment, there is no such safety net—unless you intentionally create it. 

The best way to set up a remote worker for success is to create an environment where both remote and in-house employees are on equal footing. That means everyone—regardless of where they’re located—is using the same tools, following the same procedures, and using the same best practices. 

Creating an inclusive environment

To start, remote employees need to gain insight into the company as a whole. That means they need to understand the full layout of the company (beyond their role or department), the company’s mission and values, and the language used. Something as simple as a company-wide acronym can be alienating to a remote employee while an in-house employee would quickly pick up on it. 

Communication tools like Slack and Zoom can help remote workers get accustomed to their “virtual” working environments. And to create a truly inclusive environment, it’s vital that all employees—remote and in-house—use these tools. 

If an announcement is made in the office, it must also be sent out to remote workers via slack or email. And similarly, having nine people in a conference room while one person dials in is less effective than if everyone were to dial in—even if the majority of them are in the office.

Documenting everything

The next step is to document everything within your company. There must be “points of truth” that are always up to date and that everyone—remote or in-house—can follow and abide by.

This means everything needs to live somewhere. In an office, you can go next door and ask, “Where can I find the company logo file?” or “What size font do we use on the newsletter?” but in a remote environment, those simple questions can prove difficult and time-consuming. All company policies, procedures, and best practices need to be easily accessible.

The Avra knowledge base (in Notion) houses everything a new employee needs to understand how we work.

Process documentation can be done in a tool like Process St, which allows you to create simple (or complex) checklists for any process in your company while making them accessible to everyone who needs them. Notion is a knowledge base tool that we use at Avra, which can be used to store company policies, best practices, and other essential information for both in-house and remote employees.

Proper documentation ensures everyone in a company is on the same page. The key, however, is keeping all of this documentation up to date. If a remote worker starts using an out-of-date process, they’ve wasted everyone’s time.

These two principles, in conjunction with a clear roadmap containing basic goals and KPIs, will set up any remote employee for success. Remote-first companies will need to build these systems from the ground up if they want to succeed. Companies that are distributed by necessity, on the other hand, may need to simply update their systems and onboarding procedures to ensure they’re providing the right environment for all of their employees, not just those in the office.

The Avra approach

I do not think hiring remote employees or creating remote-first companies is THE future of work, but I do whole-heartedly believe it is ONE of the major work trends that will continue to flourish and play a central role in the future of work.

At Avra, we believe that early-stage startups would be wise to consider the pros (and cons) of building a fully-remote company. There are many potential competitive advantages that tapping into a global pool of top talent can bestow on your venture—to ignore these would be to start your company at a disadvantage. 

Creating a successful startup is hard enough as it is. Why limit yourself?

That is one reason why we’ve begun narrowing our focus to helping startups and companies hire remote professionals across a variety of fields—including marketing and sales, two notoriously hard fields to recruit and retain talent in first-tier job markets.

Regardless of company size, age, or revenue, hiring remote employees can provide opportunities you won’t find anywhere else. And that is becoming increasingly hard to ignore.

Questions, comments, or experiences with remote work? I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me a line @marenkate.

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