Log on to a site like Odesk.com and you’ll quickly see profiles for the tens of thousands of workers based around the globe, ready to hire out their services for as little as $.50/hour. A few easy mental calculations reveal that this hourly rate works out to just $20/week and $1,020/year for a full-time staff member – numbers that sound awfully appealing compared to standard Western salary and compensation packages.
But the maxim that “most things that sound too good to be true, usually are” should certainly be applied to this situation. While remote workers have their place in an increasingly global labor market, hiring outside staff members isn’t the right fit for every company. Much depends on the job itself, too -- for example, you may not want to outsource your core competencies.
If you're considering hiring remote staff for your business, consider the following pros and cons first.
Advantages to Hiring Remote Workers
Costs: To be clear, it is possible to hire both domestic and foreign remote workers (and there are certainly pros and cons to each alternative). If you hire remote workers from developing countries, you’ll see the greatest cost savings in terms of hourly rates. But even if you hire remote workers from within your own country, you may still see some salary relief by hiring on an independent contractor basis (which minimizes your benefits and tax expenses) or by hiring remote workers from areas with lower costs of living.
Skill set access: Beyond the potential cost savings remote workers represent, hiring external employees may also give you access to skill sets that aren’t represented in your area. As an example, if you live in a rural community, your local employment pool may not have a good supply of digital media artists or developers using up-and-coming languages. Hiring remotely enables you to find the right people for your needs – no matter where on the planet they’re located.
Time utilization: For most professionals, there’s something tremendously appealing about the idea of firing off a project request to an international worker and having the same task completed by the time they’re waking up for coffee in the morning. And indeed, when managed correctly, remote workers in different time zones can maximize your ability to ensure that productive work is occurring at all hours of the day – whether you’re at the office, at the gym, out to dinner or asleep in bed. Just be sure that, even if your remote workers operate during your time zone’s night hours, you’re able to communicate with these remote employees throughout your own work day!
Disadvantages to Working With Remote Staff Members
Language barriers: If you choose to hire remote workers for whom your native language is a second language, be prepared to encounter at least a few challenges when it comes to translating project instructions across boundaries. Although foreign workers may be educated in basic English, they may not grasp the subtleties and complexities associated with U.S. slang or industry-specific business jargon.
Internet-based miscommunications: Even if your remote employees speak perfect, fluent English, get ready to face yet another communications challenge – the trouble associated with giving instructions for Internet-based work. When interacting with in-person employees, you’re able to provide clarifications, examples and further details on your project-based expectations. When all of your communications occur via email or online video or Web chat, some of these explanations may be misunderstood, leading to project delays and/or extra costs.
Turnover and training time: Finally, be aware that remote employees may lack the same level of buy-in as traditional employees. While it’s possible that you’ll find a worker who’s as dedicated to your success as you are, it’s much more likely that you’ll work primarily with short-term remote workers on a per-project basis. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (depending on your company’s needs), you’ll almost certainly encounter higher turnover and training costs while working with remote employees than you would by hiring a full-time alternative.
Again, this list isn’t meant to either sway you towards or deter you from hiring remote workers. There are plenty of cases in which hiring outsourced labor makes more sense than bringing on full-time employees -- and vice-versa.
However, hiring virtual employees isn’t all cheap labor and round-the-clock productivity – despite what popular books like “The 4-Hour Work Week” would have you believe. Doing your due diligence will help you plan appropriately so you can avoid some of the common pitfalls associated with taking on remote workers.
AJ Kumar is the co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media and various other marketing strategies.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program.