Accountant & Bookkeeper Guides

Five tips for hiring remote workers at your firm

7 min read

The way we work and the way we hire has changed a lot in recent years. Technology has created an ‘always-on’ culture where many people work on and off around the clock. Employees also expect more flexibility in how they work. This guide explains how your accounting or bookkeeping firm can make the most from hiring remote workers.

Remote working – you already do it

You’ve probably let staff work remotely before, or worked remotely yourself. If you’ve ever checked your email when you were on leave, you’re familiar with the concept of remote working.

There is a shrinking gap between work time and personal time. Your staff may conduct personal business while at the office or during work hours. But they probably do work on their own time as well.

The benefits of hiring remote workers

Hiring remote workers can be good for your firm. Consider the benefits before you decide:

  • Offer your staff more flexibility
    If you offer your staff more flexibility in the way they work, it’s likely to increase their job satisfaction. Today’s working environment is about results and delivery. It’s not about who’s the first one at their desk in the morning or the last to leave.
    Offering flexibility shows you’re a modern firm that rewards performance. If your best staff have great relationships with key clients and other staff, extra flexibility may stop them leaving. And being more flexible is a great incentive that won’t cost you a fortune. The savings you’ll make by not having to rehire will add up.
  • Access the world
    The skills you require may not be available in your local market, but by offering remote working you cast your net for talent far and wide. When you create a role that can be done remotely, there are no limits to the number and quality of applicants.
  • Improve morale and productivity
    People do their best work when they are happy. Remote workers can structure and prioritise their day as they see fit. When you place your trust in them and make your expectations clear, they’ll be as eager to perform well as anyone based in the office. Plus, they won’t have the usual office distractions and water cooler chit-chat that can reduce productivity.
  • Reduce your overheads
    Think about the costs per worker in your office:
    • power (such as heating, aircon, electricity, data)
    • food and drink
    • space (rent)
    • telecommunications
    • hardware and software.
    With remote workers, these overheads will be a lot lower, or nothing at all.
  • Benefit from lower costs
    If you’re hiring remote workers from other countries, you may benefit from lower hourly rates. Although you may pay contractors more, they don’t receive employee benefits and pay their own taxes. This can reduce your employee benefit costs and tax bill.
  • Be more efficient
    For many professionals, it’s very satisfying to send a task to a remote worker and have it done by the next morning. If you have remote workers in different time zones, work continues around the clock, and productivity get a big boost. Just be sure that if your remote workers operate during your night time, you can still connect with them for at least a portion of your own working day.
  • Enjoy feeling green
    If you have staff working remotely, they’ll appreciate not making the daily commute. That may mean one less car on the road. Remote workers usually pay for their own equipment and expenses, so they’re likely to use utilities like lighting and heating carefully. And you may find your office consumption of utilities is less too.
It’s clear that remote working is a trend that will only increase. In fact, many people already expect it as an option when they are employed.

The risks of hiring remote workers

Don’t be put off by the risks of hiring remote workers. But make sure you include them in your thinking.

  • They become isolated
    Even if you’re using a shared chat or video service, remote employees are still distanced from office conversations, social occasions and other events. Without regular social, emotional and professional interaction, their performance and enthusiasm may decline. Consider inviting your contractors into the office to meet the team when they start, and at other times if it’s practical. You may find their work improves when they understand the context of their work.
  • Scheduling conflicts
    Trying to talk to remote workers while factoring in their time zone can be a challenge. This is even harder if they’re all in different time zones. The temptation to skip their input can disrupt communication between team members.
  • Language barriers
    If you hire remote workers who don’t speak your language, there can be problems when translating project instructions. Remote workers may not understand local terminology, field-specific phrases or cultural nuances.
  • Lost in (technical) translation
    Even if your remote employees speak the same language, there are other communications challenges. When interacting face-to-face, you’re able to provide clarification, worked examples, and further details about projects. But when all communication is via email, video, chat, or sharing apps, explanations may be misunderstood, leading to delays or cost overruns.
  • Turnover and training time
    Remote employees may also lack the same level of commitment, enthusiasm and loyalty as traditional employees. You’re more likely to encounter higher turnover, training costs and onboarding time while working with remote employees.

Five things to consider when you’re ready to hire remote workers

Once you’ve considered the pros and cons of hiring remote workers in your firm and you’re ready to hire, make sure you cover the following with your new employee:

  1. Choose the right location
    If the person will be working from home, do they have an appropriate setting, such as a home office or separate space, as opposed to a kitchen table or in their living room? Depending on their role with your firm, your employee may need to meet with clients at home or another location. Firms often find that regular phone or video conferences help maintain a professional working relationship.
  2. Establish specific hours that your employee will be available
    While the lines between work and home continue to blur, it’s critical to establish specific hours when your employee will be available to colleagues and clients. Depending on time zone differences, this will likely be during the core office hours of your main office.
  3. Make sure shared technology is secure and data is protected
    Your new staff member may be more comfortable using their own computer, but your firm still has a responsibility to ensure they have the right technology for their job. Be sure to address data security issues as well. You should reach agreement on which technology he or she is responsible for. Be clear about what the firm will pay for (such as fast internet, software applications and licenses, mobile devices and associated costs) and what costs are their responsibility.
  4. Always agree on the required tasks
    With any staff hire, your firm should clearly describe the job requirements. These should include specific goals and deadlines and reporting requirements like time tracking and expense reporting. You'll also need to agree on expectations about client interactions and travel and expected standard of behavior.
  5. Maintain open and honest communication
    Working remotely isn’t for everyone. The ability to maintain work-life balance is a challenge even in normal professional situations, and can be more so when working remotely. Make sure both your firm and your remote workers clearly understand each other before you begin.

Work-life integration is the new work-life balance

Like any business decision there are pros and cons. But it’s clear that the rise in remote working is a trend that will only increase. Many people already expect it as an option in any job they take. Talk to your staff and directors about how you can use remote workers to improve the performance of your firm.