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How to use remote workers to scale your marketing without killing your culture

It seems like hiring remote workers continues to be a hot topic, at least in online marketing circles. Why do I say this? Well for starters, there has been a flurry of posts in recent weeks (one positive, two negative) from fairly high profile industry bloggers.

Interestingly, the two negative stances both come from folks that:

a) working in an agency environment

b) Have a somewhat primary focus on organic channels like SEO

Having spent half a decade in a similar situation, and seeing the good, bad, and very ugly sides of remote work arrangements (both domestic and overseas) I can totally relate to John and Wil’s points of view. Further still, I have direct experience dealing with very ineffective (and downright ugly) employee/employer conflicts that were the direct result of a remote work arrangement.

The lone positive stance comes from someone with more of a design and development background, and based on my experience with that particular neck of the digital woods, I can definitely appreciate his plea for a more open-minded and accepting viewpoint on remote work. Moreover, having had a three-year stint with a fairly successful startup that boasted a strong culture and operational efficiency despite having over 90 percent of their workers operate on a completely remote basis (I think that at it’s peak, there were like 15 remote employees/contributors) there’s a certain part of me that wants to completely dismiss John and Wil’s arguments.

So gun to my head, what would I recommend to someone weighing their options with regards to remote work?

I’d say go for it.

But before you do, please keep a few things in mind:

  1. Culture is always paramount. It leads to improved employee morale and employee retention, both of which can have a very real impact on operational efficiency and ROI. So figure out ways to include/indoctrinate your remote worker(s) into the  company culture even if they’re not physically in the office (P.S. Sometimes, just encouraging funny, edgy mass email strings can do the trick in my experience)
  2. Preferably, only offer remote work arrangements to employees that have proven their ability to be self-directed, entrepreneurial, and organized while working in the physical office environment. This is doubly beneficial because a) there’s a much better chance that said individual will continue to produce at a high level outside of the office b) said individual has a chance to truly absorb the company culture and is therefore more likely to retain it and reflect it even after they’ve departed from the physical office environment
  3. If you do have to bring someone in on a remote basis from the get go, consider bringing them on as a contractor at first. This will give you some wiggle room in terms of compensation structure and incentives (and I find that folks open to this arrangement are usually very entrepreneurial in nature, which is almost always a good thing in my experience). Once they’ve proven that they are a good long-term fit, you can bring them on as an official employee.
  4. Consider going the outsource route (including overseas). In other words, if remote is the best fit for whatever reason (cost efficiency, lack of local talent, etc.) you might be better served to find an agency or freelancer that can do the work. If you find the right partner, it could prove to be a real boost for your business, since said outsource partner will be able to leverage learnings and expertise garnered from having worked in different business verticals outside of your niche.

Note: More often than not, when it comes to U.S. based SEO, outsourcing overseas will result in a mixture of heart break and frustration. The only exception that I’ve come across is when you find a U.S. or Canadian expatriot living overseas. SEO requires a high degree of English proficiency and a strong understanding of Western cultural idioms. If your remote/outsource resource doesn’t have these things, you’ll end up doing a ridiculous amount of proofreading and cultural education.

One final thing that I feel is worth pointing out is that remote work has benefits that expand beyond the marketing and business realm. When you allow someone to work remotely, you often accomplish the following things:

-help that individual save money (less gas, less eating out for lunch, etc.)

-help that individual cultivate a better home life (this is especially true for folks with spouses and kids)

-help ease traffic in places that are not walkable and have crappy public transportation (one less car on the road)

-help the environment (one less car emitting crap into the air)

Please remember to weigh these facets as well. They matter too, even if they don’t impact the bottom line.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Julie Joyce

    I like this article a lot…we have most of our link builders in our office every day but we have a few who work offsite full time because the drive in isn’t worth it, and they kick ass at home. They’re of course included in anything we do but they don’t always make it in for all the quick meetings, for example. I’m happy with people working where they’re productive.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Julie! Even though we haven’t worked together on an “official” client project, I have the utmost respect for you as a link builder, so I’m glad to hear that you can relate to my stance on remote workers.

  • LJB

    I don’t necessarily disagree with John and Wil, but it is important to remember that culture has a dark side too. People get so used to “this is the way we do it” they tend to forget to review aspects to culture that were once useful, are now actually harming an organization. Again, it comes down to balance and thinking outside our normal mental models. If you are used to f2f conversations with employees but your organization is in a position where remote employees are a necessity, you now have a fantastic opportunity to review company culture figure out what works, why, and what needs to change. Also, instead of just dictating, ask both your remote and in-house employees questions like: What do you think about our corporate culture? How would you define it? and/or How can I support you so you feel that you are included/apart of our company culture? Lastly, while I know the topic of the blogs were on corporate culture, well-rounded leaders never focus on just one view. They view issues from multiple perspectives. These gentlemen (http://www.tnellen.com/ted/tc/bolman.html, http://www.leebolman.com/index.html) explain it much better than I, but the gist of some of their research (and book “Reframing Organizations”) is multiple lenses help you manage organizational challenges more affectively.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting perspective, LJB. Thanks for sharing it! I’ll make sure to check out some of the resources you shared.

  • Jw

    So Canadian and US SEO people only – So UK isn’t an option then ?

    • Anonymous

      Yes, UK is an option too.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IDEB4QKKJOD5WZNTEVKDHMKJAM James

    Hiring remote workers really had an advantage in small and large scale business but one thing I would share on the part of those remote workers a negative aspect of it like healthcare benefits, retirement benefits and leaves.

    Most company hiring remote workers are not entitled to rules and regulations or any taxes or levies that they pay and so they aren’t too open on hiring and getting rid of employees easily.

    Working and been dedicated to the company for almost 3 years and it comes up to nothing, it’s easy for them to say that they not need of my service.

    • Anonymous

      Sorry to hear about your experience, James. I’m assuming that you were a contractor and not an official employee.

  • Gilber R.

    Hiring remote workers is a great way to save cost rather than hiring an employee. Philippines is one of the countries where you could hire remote workers for an affordable cost. I’ve recently hire virtual assistants or VA from Staff.com, where they have a large pool of Filipino workers.

    However, there is one thing you must remember when hiring remote workers. You need to screen them first, which could help you see their potential at work and find the right person for the job even you acquire them on legit sites.