6 remote staffing challenges and how to tackle them
The digital agency field is one that’s in constant flux. It’s very difficult to predict the scope of your work several months in advance. But, of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t take on the project, even if your resources are lacking. What are you going to do, then?
One possibility is to outsource the project or parts of it to remote partners. You actually have two options here; you can either hire a freelancer or get your developers from an agency that specializes in staff augmentation.
Naturally, however, working with remote partners is a different process than managing the entire project in-house. Remote staffing entails its own unique challenges that demand adjusting your approach to some degree in order to get the most out of everyone involved in the project.
But, let us put your mind at ease - even these newly incurred challenges can be managed perfectly well. Lucky for you, we know the ins and outs of remote staffing, and have tailored our workflow specifically to accommodate a team of developers working on projects for diverse international clients.
In this post, then, we’ll dive into the most common remote staffing challenges. Our extensive experience on the matter at hand also enables us to provide efficient solutions to all of the challenges that we’ll enumerate and discuss in this post. After reading it, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to effectively manage your remote teammates without having to worry about all the details of the working arrangement.
The first and foremost challenge of remote staffing - or any kind of remote work, for that matter - is almost certainly communication. Good communication is an absolute must in order for a project to progress smoothly and launch successfully. We could even go so far as to say that poor communication is what lies at the heart of a lot of unsuccessful projects.
It’s something that’s extremely important even when managing an in-house team - you can then logically assume that communicating smoothly and effectively with your remote partners is even more essential.
One of the most frustrating things that can happen when communicating with remote partners is them not responding. Just think of it - hours can go by with you unaware of the progress of their tasks. Naturally, you’ll want some reassurance that you’ll be able to reach your remote workers when you need them.
We at Agiledrop understand how great a concern this is. As such, we make it a point to relay the importance of good communication to all new employees.
Our developers are always available to the client during their working hours, and they inform the client of any absences (e.g. lunch breaks) they may have. They also synchronize twice each day, once when they begin their day and once when they’re getting ready to leave.
This way, the client is always brought up to speed on any recent issues and developments, and has a much better overview of the project, as well as a much stronger relationship with the developer themselves. And, as we know, it’s always easier and more satisfying to work with someone you have a good relationship with.
Another communication-related issue that we need to address is also the remoteness itself. An in-house team is much better at exchanging ideas and sharing their expertise in order to solve problems swiftly and more efficiently; however, a freelancer that you’ve hired, for example, doesn’t have the luxury of discussing things with peers that share a workspace.
It’s true that the remote workers will usually have access to all of your communication tools, meaning they will technically be able to ask your in-house developers for guidance and/or help. Very often, though, they will instead try to solve the problem on their own - and spend copious amounts of time doing so, resulting in greater costs to you.
Fortunately, this is rarely the case when working with a team of remote partners such as one provided by Agiledrop. While they will be separate from your in-house team and hence not so prone to exchanging knowledge with them, they will always have their own teammates to turn to and get inspiration from, despite them working on different projects for different clients.
Therein lies the magic of outsourcing your work to an agency that puts huge emphasis on collaboration and teamwork. Even when hiring just one or two developers, you will benefit from the collective knowledge of their entire team. In this way, you will save both time and money, while at the same time not compromising the quality of the project at all.
2. Culture and location
A challenge that’s still very much tied to communication is the elimination of cultural breach. Logically, it becomes increasingly important the more your remote partner’s culture differs from yours.
Huge distances between locations - and consequently huge time zone differences - can lead to unwanted hindrances to the project. Fortunately, even seemingly insurmountable cultural differences can be managed perfectly well if you tackle them appropriately.
The first step in eliminating cultural breach is knowing your remote partner possesses an adequate level of expertise in English. Granted, with English becoming progressively more prevalent and leveraged as a means of international communication (English as a lingua franca), this is likely not something that you’ll need to worry about.
Very often, a certain level of English is a prerequisite for working at an outsourcing agency. It’s the same at Agiledrop: English proficiency is one of our top priorities when hiring developers. This way we’re able to preselect those that are both fluent in English as well as sociable and outspoken.
With a freelancer, this is slightly different, as there is no supervisor that sets those demands - but, seeing how freelancers are self-managed, you can pretty much expect them to have good communication (and English) skills, since, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to work effectively.
Still, it’s wise to get to speak to your remote partner to-be in person, not just via email, but through some form of video chat. Usually, agency leaders will have no problem scheduling a video chat where the potential outsourced developer(s) will also be present.
However, overcoming cultural breach takes more than just being able to understand one another. A remote worker’s extensive knowledge of English will be of little help to you if you’re unable to reach them. Here, we come to probably the biggest issue in establishing smooth cross-cultural communication: synchronizing both parties and scheduling meetings accordingly.
This is especially important in the case of large time zone differences, e.g. six hours or more. With an on-site team, this problem wouldn’t even exist; the team share workspaces and, to some extent, also working hours. In this way, even those more spontaneous, unscheduled meetings are possible.
With a remote worker or a team of remote workers, however, this can prove very hard to achieve. If, for example, your company is based in the US and you decide to outsource a project to a European development agency, you can’t expect the remote developers to be available during the same time slots as your on-site developers.
But what if the needs of your project demand they be present for a meeting that takes place, from their perspective, late in the evening or even at night? You can be almost 100% sure that you won’t get the same quality of input; either they won’t be able to make it to the meeting, or, if they will, their subsequent work may suffer because of a disrupted biorhythm.
The solution is to coordinate well with your remote partner and establish beforehand what the optimal hours to schedule meetings are. In the case of a large time difference, schedule your meetings for hours which still fall in the scope of your remote partner’s workday. This will give them more than adequate time to both be present at the meeting and continue with their work undisrupted.
Last, but not least, you’ll probably want to make sure that your remote developers share the values of your in-house team, or at least hold similar ones. Those values can differ greatly from culture to culture, from location to location. Some cultures hold different views on punctuality than others; the same is true for values such as quality and transparency.
The best thing to do is speak with your partner’s leadership about these issues. By learning about the values of your potential partner agency, you’ll be able to select a partner whose vision, mission and values are aligned with those of your organization.
Another major challenge of remote staffing is the inherent uncertainty of it. Ever heard of the expression “don’t buy a pig in a poke”? Well, this is exactly what hiring remote partners can feel like - like buying a pig in a poke, or having no reassurance that what you’re getting is really what you paid for.
And it’s a perfectly legitimate hesitation. How can you ensure that your remote workers are trustworthy and reliable? How do you know they are as committed to the work and as experienced as your in-house team? Actually - how do you know that your in-house developers are reliable and committed, at that?
The short answer is that you just have to take their word for it. Usually, you won’t make a final hiring decision until thoroughly researching your new potential employee. But even CVs can be deceiving (pun almost intended) and dishonest.
You’ll of course have to fact-check the information supplied in the CV. But, even if you find that everything checks out, how can you know that they’re really responsible for, say, the frontend of a website or application? You likely won’t find their signature hiding in the code or even cleverly concealed in the site’s design.
At least with in-house developers, you’ll get a much better overview of their day-to-day and month-to-month performance. Granted, this will only be possible after they’ve been working with you for some time, i.e. after the investment has already been made. Still, it gives you more power and more control over the progress of the project(s) in which they are involved.
But, with a remote partner, you pretty much have to gamble, right? Well, yes - and, also, no. There might be some risk involved with hiring a freelancer - but you have all their references to check, which will help you make a more informed choice. Also, it’s relatively easy and straightforward to stop working with a freelancer if you’re dissatisfied with their work.
The biggest risk of hiring a freelancer is actually something else - but we’ll address and discuss it a bit later, when we come to the relevant challenge. Right now, let’s concentrate on how you can make sure that your newly-hired remote partner or team possesses adequate expertise to effectively augment your staff rather than hinder their work.
Again, this is a concern that we at Agiledrop have already pinpointed and successfully eliminated. Our approach guarantees that our clients always get the best possible people for a certain project; let us briefly describe how we have achieved this.
The key component of this approach is our very effective training program: all our new developers go through an in-house onboarding project under the supervision of skilled mentors before they start working on any client project. This ensures that they familiarize themselves with all the state-of-the-art tools and practices, and can consequently seamlessly integrate themselves into the client’s team.
Our development leads are the ones responsible for the training of new employees - as such, they are also the ones who can best gauge the competency level and the suitability of a developer for a specific client and/or project. They select the most appropriate person based on actual hands-on experience of working with them, not just on a list of references.
What this means for you, the client deciding to work with such a remote partner, is that the remote workers’ employers essentially do the fact-checking for you beforehand. All you have to do is check the references of the agency itself, which are quite often much more salient and informative than those listed in a CV.
And, this agency that others have already been satisfied with then vouches for their personnel - naturally, they would want only competent people on their team, and the careful selection made by the leadership assures that you are provided with only the best of the best.
The greatest thing about this approach is that it eliminates most of the risk for you. It transforms project outsourcing into an informed purchase rather than a gamble - and, going back to the point made in the intro about the constantly shifting nature of the digital, any degree of reassurance is more than welcome in this era of uncertainty and overabundance of choices.
Right - we’ve covered the main issue associated with trust, namely, trusting in the competency of your remote partner(s). What about the next step, though - trusting these newly integrated teammates with access to your communication channels, with sensitive private information, trade secrets etc.?
An employee of an agency will probably have an internal moral obligation to protect the privacy of their enterprise. It’s less likely, however, that their moral compass will be as strict when they work on projects for the agency’s clients.
Again, the focus shifts to the agency itself: what is their company culture? What values do they hold? Is the importance of privacy clearly communicated to all their new employees? And, are there steps taken to ensure the maximum protection of privacy?
These are all questions you’ll need answers to, especially if the nature of your work demands a very high level of security. It’s vital that you find about out your potential partner’s attitude towards privacy. E.g., if they make their employees sign non-disclosure agreements, this is already a good sign that privacy is something they value.
It’s even better if they reassure you of their protection of privacy without you having to even ask - if this happens, you can be almost 100% certain that your privacy is in good hands.
At Agiledrop, newly hired developers sign an NDA pretty much at the same time as their employment contract. Additionally, we handle all our passwords - as well as any clients’ passwords - with password management tools such as LastPass, especially when working from home. And, because of our strong company culture, the moral obligation to our company is extended to all the clients we work with.
If you want additional protection, you can always add extra security layers to your own channels and services, such as obliging everyone to set up multi-factor authentication or change their password(s) every few months in the case of a longer-term partnership.
This next challenge of remote staffing is actually still tied to trust: effective monitoring of someone who is working remotely. The main difference here is that the meaning of trustworthiness is actually closer to conscientiousness than to honesty; this is why we’re addressing it as a separate challenge.
Even in the case of international or offshore offices, you’re generally able to monitor all your employees in-house. Having to monitor a team of outsourced remote workers, however, is a completely different beast to tame.
Without actual physical supervision from your side, how can you be sure that developers working on your project remotely are actually doing the job? How can you know that they don’t just slack off when they turn Slack off? Even with a time-tracking tool such as JIRA or Teamwork, you can never really be certain; and finding out about their inactivity only after seeing a project not completed is not exactly helpful.
This is likely a bigger issue when hiring a freelancer. Being self-managed, they are left to their own devices, which means you have only negligible supervision over their work. Admittedly, since they are most often experts of a specific field, and since they’re able to work extremely flexible working hours, you can probably expect the work to be done even with very little monitoring from your side.
Well, but … What if it isn’t? What can you do if the remotely-working freelancer turns out to be a poor investment? Besides already having spent precious resources on them, you will now have to invest even more time and money into rehiring - which will, of course, come neatly packaged with all the hesitations and extra work we’ve outlined before: interviewing, fact-checking, uncertainty - and then some.
Trying to stay as objective as we can, we believe a better and safer solution would be to partner with a staffing agency. Granted, you’ll face the same issues as with freelancers when it comes to management from your side; but, at the same time, you’ll benefit from the management coming from the agency’s side.
Of course, your own project managers will be responsible for the project’s smooth progression - but you’ll be able to leave the management of your remote workers to the partner agency. While it’s true that this kind of dual monitoring demands a little extra synchronization, it definitely pays off. And, since the agency’s reputation is at stake, you can expect them to have a well-established system which guarantees the top-notch performance of their employees.
Yep, you guessed it - we have such a system at Agiledrop, and we’re very pleased with its results. The satisfaction of our clients is of paramount importance to us; at the same time, however, we realize how crucial the well-being of our employees is to the success of our clients’ projects. This is why we have devised a company culture that provides only the best for both clients and employees.
We hold weekly sync meetings and collect feedback from both sides to ensure smooth communication throughout the duration of the project. This also enables us to spot and resolve issues quickly, before they turn into a detriment to the project. If you want to find out more about our company culture, we discuss it in more detail here.
Also, we take the meaning of “remote partners” at face value. After joining your team as a remote teammate, the developer assigned to you will dedicate themselves exclusively to working on your project. As such, you will essentially benefit from their full-time work without the need to micromanage and without worrying about any additional costs.
5. Cost and ROI
This leads neatly into the next challenge that we wanted to point out. While the previous ones were relevant to any kind of remote work, this one is actually more specifically a challenge of remote staffing. We’re talking about the costs incurred by hiring remote teammates via staff augmentation and the return of investment of deciding on this option.
Here, the questions that you’re probably asking yourself are: how fast will my new remote worker adopt my tools, practices and workflow? How much will I have to invest into them before they are able to do the job that I’m paying for? Will the investment be a worthwhile one - or would I have been better off just growing my in-house team?
We admit that these are indeed important and difficult questions. There’s no universal all-around answer to them, except for “it depends”. As such, we can only speak from our own experience.
Fortunately, though, experience in this field is something we have loads of. Having worked with a wide range of clients, our developers have familiarized themselves with all the most up-to-date development tools and practices - well, at least with those they haven’t already mastered during their onboarding.
The entire cost of onboarding is thus already taken care of from our side; all you need to do is to integrate the new developer(s) into your in-house team - but you would’ve had to do this even with a new full-time employee.
What’s more relevant to you, however, is what else you’ll have to take care of when hiring a full-time employee - and, in contrast, what you won’t have to worry about when hiring remote partners. This is likely the main and most attractive reason for outsourcing your work.
Because, let’s face it - you’ve read through some 2000 words about the challenges of remote staffing - there have to be some glaring benefits to it, too, right? Cause, otherwise, why would so many businesses outsource their work to remote partners?
That’s right - there are obvious benefits! Actually, these are so great that we don’t even have to make a compelling case for them; they just speak for themselves. You probably know what we’re getting at, huh?
While a daily rate for your in-house employee may be lower than that of a remote hire, with the latter this is pretty much the only expense that you’ll have - not as much can be said about the former, though.
Travel expenses, health insurance, vacation and sick days, the costs associated with onboarding, let alone the necessary equipment… These are just the basics. Don’t forget about teambuildings, healthy office snacks and all the various perks that create a pleasant working environment and take care of the motivation and well-being of your in-house team. It sure adds up - as you’re probably well aware of.
So, your top priority - or one of them, at least - is cutting down on expenses whenever possible; why not go for an option that comes prepackaged with all additional expenses, save the salary, already excluded?
But wait - there’s more! Referring back to the intro and the unstable nature of the digital - how can you know that you’ll have as much work in, say, half a year as you do now? And, more importantly, what will you do if you don’t?
You likely won’t want to get rid of your talented employees - but, at the same time, it won’t make sense to keep paying their salaries and all their expenses if there’s no work to be done for an indefinite amount of time.
This will be even more important when you take into account the costs of finding and hiring a full-time employee. Since the demand for developers is already high - and constantly increasing - you can’t even be sure you’ll be able to find a full-time employee in the same area as your offices, which runs the risk of your search being completely fruitless - though no less expensive.
With a remote teammate, it’s a completely different story altogether. Outsourced remote workers are able to easily join your team and just as easily leave it - no hard feelings, no strings attached. And should you ever need to augment your staff again? No problem - agencies usually love working with clients with whom they’ve already established strong, trusting relationships.
All of this gives you the flexibility to effectively scale when needed, while also greatly reducing most of the costs associated with hiring. And, going back to the “trust” issue, since it’s easier to gauge the competency of the remote hire in such a partnership, this also means that the cost will definitely reflect the quality of the service you are receiving.
6. Unexpected and uncontrollable factors
So far, we’ve covered most of the main questions that likely pop up in your head when deciding for remote staffing. We saved this next challenge for last, though, since it’s a more general one - but, also, just as pertinent. It has to deal with all the various unexpected issues and things that are just, well, out of our control.
For example - what do you do when your newly hired remote worker suddenly falls ill? Or, even worse, what if they’re in an accident? You can’t blame anyone, of course, but the truth of the matter is that your work suffers because of it.
Here, the distinction between outsourcing work to freelancers versus staffing agencies becomes especially relevant. Remember how we promised to talk more about one of the biggest challenges of hiring a freelancer? Well, since a freelancer is a one-man-band, you’re pretty much screwed if they go on sick leave (or, God forbid, just randomly stop responding - remember how crucial communication is).
When this happens, you need to redo the entire hiring process, which is more complicated and time-consuming with a freelancer or an in-house employee to begin with. Plus, depending on your contract, you’ll probably still have to pay for the freelancer’s incomplete work.
When an in-house employee falls ill or has any kind of medical emergency, it’s also not the best thing in the world for you. In fact, it may even be more costly than with a freelancer - you have to cover their health insurance, as well as pay them the salary during their sick leave.
And, while you have some reassurance in the fact that they’ll likely get better soon, you still suffer from staff deficit. You can try to patch things up by distributing the person’s tasks among the rest of the team (and even that on condition that the team have the needed expertise), but that will just lead to burnout and a generally poor employee experience.
The best possible solution, then, is definitely partnering with a staffing agency and outsourcing your project(s) to their developers. Since such an agency specializes in staff augmentation, you can count on them to always provide suitable replacements if anything unexpected happens to your current remote hire.
This is exactly the approach we employ at Agiledrop - and it is only made more effective thanks to the onboarding program that we mentioned earlier. The in-depth knowledge of the competency of our developers allows us to not only provide the most adequate person at the start of a working arrangement, but also to ensure that the skillsets of any replacement we have to make match those of the original hire.
We also do our best to anticipate the unexpected - at least in the realm of what’s under our control. We urge all our employees to notify us of any emergencies as soon as they are made aware of them. In this way, we’re able to remedy the situation and arrange a replacement way before the developer’s emergency can be of any disadvantage to the client.
This approach eliminates any friction of rehiring, saving cost while not compromising the quality of the services in any way. If you’re able to find a partner agency that can guarantee such a level of aptness and dedication, you’ll know you and your project are in good hands.
There you have it - the six most pressing challenges of remote staffing, coupled with the solutions that agencies which specialize in outsourcing, including Agiledrop, have successfully relied on. We hope this comprehensive blog post has armed you with the necessary savvy to make more informed decisions when outsourcing your work and managing outsourced projects.
If you'd like to learn more about staff augmentation, we highly recommend that you check out this great article on Toptal to gain a more in-depth understanding of its different types, its pros and cons, and what to keep in mind when deciding for this approach.
Are you currently looking for remote partners to help with your project and this post just sealed the deal for you? We’d be happy to work with you - contact us and we’ll immediately start working on a solution that best fits your needs!