145: Challenges With Remote Employees

Remote employees create challenges for HR
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A Big challenge with remote employees is communication. Some managers fall victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome.

Having remote employees away from your main or corporate office is nothing new. With today’s technology however, it has become increasingly more prevalent.

Businesses are no longer forced to look in their local market for potential employees. As with most things in life, this can be both a blessing and a curse.

You can really expand your pool of qualified candidates if you’re willing to look beyond your local market, but hiring employees out of state brings additional challenges for HR, as well as the remote employee’s direct supervisor or manager.

Let’s take a look at some of the challenges you’ll face from hiring remote employees.

HR Challenges:

Conducting an interview for a remote employee may be a bit more challenging than a standard in-person interview. A telephone interview may be sufficient, however it’s difficult to get an accurate read on a potential candidate with out being able to see them. A video interview using a service such as Skype, may be a better solution if an in-person interview just isn’t possible.

After the interviews are conducted and the decision is made to hire a remote employee, the on-boarding process comes into play. Some companies may opt to have a newly hired employee come into the office for the first few days of employment for on-boarding and training purposes, even though they will ultimately be working remotely.

This is a great way to go if you can afford it. It’s an opportunity to properly introduce the new hire to their co-workers, as well as go through a proper on-boarding, where the employee learns about the company’s expectations and culture.

You may also find in-person training to be more effective than remote training.

If bringing out a new hire to your corporate location is cost prohibitive, then remote on-boarding is possible. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of remotely on-boarding a new hire is the completion of the Form I-9.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires the employment authorization documents to be physically examined. Because of this, you will need to utilize an authorized representative in the area of the remote employee to complete this process.

The USCIS states: “You may designate an authorized representative to fill out Forms I-9 on behalf of your company, including personnel officers, foremen, agents or notary public. When completing Form I-9, you or authorized representative must physically examine each document presented to determine if it reasonably appears to be genuine and relates to the employee presenting it.  Reviewing or examining documents via webcam is not permissible.”

One additional note to be aware of: “If an authorized representative fills out Form I-9 on your behalf, you are still liable for any violations in connection with the form or the verification process.” Your other on-boarding processes can be completed remotely such as benefits enrollment, delivery and explanation of employee handbook, explanation of company policies, etc.

Supervisor/Manager Challenges:

Managers are tasked with many day to day responsibilities. The most important task is managing their employees. It’s a difficult aspect of the job to begin with. Managing all the different personalities that make up their team. Making sure that you have a cohesive team that works well together and is productive is not always as easy as some may think.

Adding remote employees to the mix does not always make things easier. You may be able to avoid some of the day to day clashes between co-workers that maybe are not a great personality fit, but a new set of challenges may arise.

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to remote employees is the communication. Some managers fall victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. This has happened to me. Not that I forgot that I had employees out of state, but that I would sometimes forget to communicate the same message to the remote employees that I just communicated to the team in the office.

Setting up a process for communication is a key element to managing a remote employee. Consider scheduling a weekly meeting where the remote employees join via phone, or a web video call to discuss important topics or projects. This will help the remote employees feel more like part of the team and also remind the office employees that they have team members away from the office.

Another challenge for managers is to make sure that the remote employees are being as productive as the office employees. Again, don’t let out of site, out of mind creep in. Are your remote employees getting all of the expected tasks done? If they are working from home, that could be a recipe for a lot of distraction that could effect their productivity.

I’ve had great remote employees and some not so great. Some of the great ones were actually more productive than some of my in-office employees.

Make sure you conduct periodic performance reviews and documenting those reviews. They will come in very handy if you find yourself needing to someday terminate a remote employee.

Terminating a remote employee can get tricky. You’ll want to make sure that your supervisor or manager is working closely with your HR team so it’s handled properly. Create a checklist ahead of time so you know exactly what actions need to take place and what equipment if any needs to be returned.

Ideally you will want to handle any termination in person. This will allow for easier retrieval of company property.

Again, if an in-person meeting is not possible, then you may conduct a termination via phone. You should refrain from ever terminating an employee via text. It’s very impersonal and unprofessional.

For a termination performed remotely where you also need to recoup company property, be careful to not withhold the employees final pay while you wait for company property to be returned.

It’s illegal, and in some states entitles your employee to three times the amount in damages.  Instead, pay the employee their final paycheck as required, and perhaps structure a separate severance payout based upon the successful return of company property.

Payroll Challenges:

Hiring remote employees also poses challenges for your payroll team.

If an employee is hired in a new state, then the payroll team will need to make sure that you have all of the proper tax accounts opened in that new state. This would be state income tax (if applicable), state unemployment tax, and in a few states you may have a state disability tax, and/or a local tax.

This adds additional tax payments and reporting every quarter. In addition, the payroll team will need to make sure they understand all of the local regulations for that particular state such as minimum wage, mandatory paid leave, etc.

I went over a few challenges to look out for and it makes it seem like I’m trying to talk you out of hiring remote employees. That not my goal here. If you can find a rock star employee that you must have on your team then it may well be worth fighting through these challenges. I have had some great employees that worked remotely and it was well worth working through any challenges that arose.

About the author, Thomas

I have 20 of years insurance industry experience in C-level management, focusing on all aspects of workers compensation, risk management, loss control, employee benefits, HR, payroll and professional employer organization (“PEO”) operations. Currently, I am the owner and CEO of Humanly HR, and founder and host of SmallBiz Brainiac; a podcast providing employer intelligence to small business owners.

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