According to a Gallup survey from 1995, only 9% of the US workforce was working remotely. By 2017, the trend had dramatically altered so that over 43% of Americans work remotely at least part of the time. That number is set to keep rising, and so as a team leader, project manager, or manager in charge of hiring, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of hiring remote software development team members.

It was once considered that remote working was something isolating for the employee, and would lead to a sense of isolation, deprecated value, and a lack of reliability. Yet reports now show that remote workers are reportedly happier and more productive than their office-based counterparts, and actually feel more valued.

Which, when it comes to your hiring decisions, doesn’t mean that the opportunity to create a remote workforce is to be considered lightly. In large part, the suitability of looking for remote workers to fill your software development team gaps will depend on the business culture of your office, and how it is that you build and share collaboration and feedback. The truth is, your company may prefer to find a team and keep the same staff in the same physical location to enhance creativity and collaboration.

But as more and more offices become cloud-based - relying less on a physical space and more in the collaborative cloud, could you be being left behind by failing to consider a distributed workforce? The potential to locate a worker who has the exact skills you’re looking for, regardless of time or distance, is an opportunity which does not come along very often.

What has become clear is that remote working is now becoming far more part of the norm, and it’s important to consider how best to make this work for you.

Hiring a Remote Team: The Cons

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Output Issues

One of the biggest misconceptions about remote workers comes from concerns that people have that they may be unmotivated, unreliable, or disconnected from the goals and deadlines of the company. Yet this stubborn fallacy seems to have little to no basis in reality. Instead, 91% of remote workers claim to get more done outside of the office environment than they do inside it.

Some tips to help make sure you get the hiring process right can also alleviate your concerns about reliability and productivity.

Check References

The age of the internet means that it’s easier to get honest reviews about people - particularly if they’re less than glowing. Make sure to check the references for your remote employees to get a feel for how they perform their tasks.

Create Standard Operating Procedures

By keeping detailed documentation of processes and necessary steps, should you want to check how a task is being performed, or if you need to hire somebody new, you will have clear guidelines to access?

Management

The challenges of successfully managing a remote team can involve a different set of tools depending on the way in which your existing team is structured. If you have a combination of office-based developers and remote developers, it would be prudent to ensure you have a manager specifically dealing with the remote team.

The path to success here is the same as the management of any team. Clear and coherent communication is vital to ensure that everybody knows what is expected, what’s being worked on, and which developer is responsible for which part of the task.

Keep having meetings

Just because you’re not physically in the same space doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy virtual face to face meetings. Various meeting software exists now which means you can enjoy the benefits of a meeting environment, with the added bonus of being able to record the meeting for note taking purposes afterward.

Clarify communication routes

Your software developer is waiting in Slack for a message that was sent via Basecamp. Finally, they send an angry email, which doesn’t get picked up because it wasn’t in the chat. Sounds like a nightmare, right? Make sure people know and understand where and how it is that they are supposed to communicate, and how they can get in touch with other team members.

Use project management software

By setting and prioritizing tasks, you’ll find it’s easier to get a decent overview of the project and allows every staff member to see how their individual tasks feed into a bigger part of the work culture. This emphasis on their value also allows for a healthy and appreciated team.

Supervision Issues

Of course, everything might be easier if people are in the same building, but worrying about control of your team and the impact of their work is something which tends to overstate the number of control people perceive they have in an office environment.

Instead, setting accountability goals and a culture of transparency, while respecting people to fulfill their duties creates a far healthier and productive working environment.

Define and delineate areas of authority and responsibilities

Remote work relies on having clear contracts and mandates so that people understand what it is that they need to do in order to reach the right level of achievement. Being accountable and understanding the need to work independently means that nobody can be unpleasantly surprised by work that should have been done, but hasn’t been. Systems like Jira, or Trello can help in making sure tasks and assignments have clearly defined owners.

Time-tracking software

If you want to see where time is being spent on a granular level, ask your workers to monitor their billable hours. By seeing how and where they’re spending their time, and measuring the results, you’ll get a decent idea of how much time is being spent on the project. This allows you to see where you might be needed, or if there’s a risk of a trouble spot. Many project management platforms like Jira have features built in that can help with this, or else you can use specialized software like Clockify. Many governments offer rebates and incentives to track project specific hours, so it wouldn't be far off to track this time for a team. Platforms like Gitalytics can help you validate these hours and commit levels through Git metrics for teams.

Hiring a Remote Software Development Team: The Pros

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Flexibility

When it comes to finding the best people for your job post, offering remote work is an enticing option and will encourage a diverse range of people to apply. Offering remote work opens up your pool to those who have homecare responsibilities, while other workers are drawn to the ease with which they can create a work-life balance outside of the standard 9-5 office-based employment model.

This then offers an overlooked bonus for your team: if people enjoy their working environment, they’re more likely to stay with the company. While big industry can offer huge amounts of salary and benefits, software developers are just as likely to be won over by a sense of flexibility and openness to alternate working styles.

Large talent pool

Depending on where in the world you’re based, searching for local candidates may find you sifting through resumes of people who are lacking the range of breadth and experience you’d find desirable in the role - particularly as your local experts are more than likely going to be already working for a company.

Hiring for a remote team instantly opens up the number of candidates you are exposed to - and who are encouraged to apply for the job. Rather than looking for a specific set of skills in a very narrow lane, you’re now in a much better place to find the specific skill set you need.

Cost saving benefits

With the rise in coworking spaces and freedom from having a geographical base, hiring a remote team can cut down on the cost of needing an office at all, or drastically reducing the space that you need.

When it comes to paying your team members, most remote employees are more comfortable billing for a specific set of hours, it also saves you paying monthly or yearly wages, taxes, and insurance, thereby reducing the running costs of your team.

Reduced risk of missing deadlines or failing to meet client specifications

With a correct management process in place and the right tools to help you with the overview of your project management, it drastically reduces the risk that you’ll miss a deadline, or fail to meet certain client specifications.

Fundamentally, hiring a team based on their skill sets rather than their location means that you’re more likely to find the qualified people you need to complete larger or more complex projects than you may have been comfortable taking on before.

Of course, when it comes to hiring a remote team, the cons should be considered opportunities to sharpen your team management process, and making the best of available tools. There is a huge reason that remote work is becoming more and more popular: it works. Perhaps best of all, when you incorporate all of these benefits into a cohesive team, you’ll find that you are also getting a more vibrant and diverse team. This team can then work collaboratively to provide a fresh perspective on your projects and help you to present more interesting work.

If you're interested in getting more visibility into current or future remote software engineering teams, consider Gitalytics. Gitalytics is a Git metrics dashboarding tool that shows leadership and engineers what the work pattern of their teams and repos are. Learn more at http://gitalytics.com.