Once regarded as a novelty, telecommuting or “remote work” has become a more common alternative for conventional office employment. In 2017 3.9 million U.S. workers, 2.9 percent of the total workforce, performed at least half of their duties from home. If it hasn’t already, it may be time for your company to hire remote employees.

Employing remote workers could help your company achieve unexpected benefits. Data from Gallup says 53 percent of employees believe work-life balance and personal well-being are “very important” for accepting a job offer. In that way, flexibility and the option to work remotely from the office can attract top talent. Companies that allow remote work are not only more desirable to local jobseekers but also to superlative candidates overseas. Smaller companies can hire part-time employees and fill temporary positions. Technology has even made it easier to find previously unreachable candidates to fill positions with strict requirements.

While remote employees provide many advantages, your HR team also needs to prepare for any associated challenges. Whether it means tailoring your existing hiring and onboarding program or developing something new, your company needs a plan. Here are some tips to accommodate a remote workforce.


Prepare for onboarding and maintaining compliance

The procedure for onboarding a remote worker is different than an in-office employee. Whether your business is a corporation or a limited liability company, it may need “foreign qualification” to allow remote employees to operate in their own states or countries. Certain states might also require permits to work in a specific type of zoned building. I-9 forms add another layer of complexity, as they cannot be a copies or facsimiles and need to be sent in three days after the employee’s hire date.

Sherrie Niedermeier, Chief Learning Design Officer for Human Capital Institute, says it’s imperative for hiring managers to prepare a list of FAQs with questions the new remote hire might ask.

“Starting a new job is momentous for everybody,” Niedermeier says. “What people want to know about onboarding are the intangibles. If people are remote, you don’t have the chance to have those initial conversations.”

Finally, to make onboarding easier, consider investing in document management software that can automate processes and securely store resulting documents as well as  monitor compliance documentation and actions for remote workers .


Clearly lay out the ground rules

From the onset, it’s important to set rules and expectations for remote employees.

Kathy Wisniewski, an administrator at the Histiocytosis Association and author of an upcoming book on remote work with the Association for Talent Development, said hiring managers must communicate the job responsibilities effectively.

“Have some really clear performance measures,” Wisniewski says, adding “Remote employees can’t just pop into their boss’ office to clarify something. It has to be a little bit more than ‘Here’s your project. Here’s your deadline.’”

Make sure remote employees get immediate training on the chat applications, video-conferencing, and project management tools they will be using day to day.


Review remote worker safety monitoring

HR teams also need to be mindful of how remote employees are working. Remote work safety monitoring is becoming a top concern as more people begin to work off-site. In a survey conducted by Cisco, 21 percent of remote employees surveyed allowed others to use their work device, 40 percent used work devices for online shopping and about 50 percent accessed company material on personal devices. These behaviors are only a few examples of how sensitive information can be put in harm’s way.

It is important your new remote workers adhere to a strict online security policy. If budget allows, have your company issue equipment only to be used for work purposes as well as proper security software. At a minimum, your business should utilize a VPN for remote employee use.

Your HR or IT department should also address password requirements and implement systems to require frequent changing of passwords. The ideal password is longer than eight characters, is case sensitive and includes special characters and numbers.


Research how to pay your remote workers

Payroll and tax-withholding issues can become more complicated for remote employees, especially if they are out of state.

Often, employees will pay taxes to the state in which the work is performed (known as the “physical presence” rule). This means your company will have to withhold taxes for the state in which the employee works — not where your company is based. Matters become complicated when states require withholdings for both where the work was performed and the physical location of the company. And what if an employee splits time both off-site and in the office?

It’s highly recommended your company consults a tax professional specializing in remote employment. Your HR team may then draft its own framework for payroll to follow.


Once they’re onboard, create a comforting environment

When welcoming a remote worker into your team, err on the side of over-communicating. In Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work Survey, 21 percent of respondents said both lack of communication and loneliness were the two biggest drawbacks to remote working. You will need to train managers to make sure they are ready to interface effectively and build rapport.

When communicating among the whole staff, Niedermeier says to keep things informal so remote workers are on the same level as stationary employees.

“It’s really important to put people on equal footing,” she says. She recommends scheduling a separate set of meetings in which remote employees can experience the social and non-judgmental conversations prevalent in an office setting.

Keeping remote employees engaged will create a sense of community. Your new remote workers can play team building games with company veterans like virtual charades or “Two Truths and a Lie” to build a connection over teleconference.

In addition, you could invite your remote workers in the area to meet ups or gatherings your company already holds. Extending the invitation will ensure your remote employees know they are part of the corporate family and not just secondary help.

Wisniewski suggests budgeting line items for gifts and scheduling times for acknowledgement.

“It’s all about thinking outside the box and thinking about ways you can still get your team together,” she says. “We really will challenge our leaders to think outside the box and not pass something off as impossible because it’s remote.”


Andrea Palumbo has over 20 years of experience in the HR and Payroll industry as both an HRIS client and vendor. Her teams are responsible for implementing and maintaining critical HR technology, data and timely processing of payroll for over 1300 employees globally. Andrea’s in-depth knowledge of HR Technology and sensitive employee data allow her to convey the benefits of having a robust HRIS and data management systems working together side by side.