5 Reasons why your next developer hire should be a remote worker

I believe many companies would thrive if they offered fully remote developer positions.

Posted on November 5th, 2019 - read

Written by John Blackmore. John is a freelance PHP and frontend developer who works remotely from his studio in Taunton, UK and is available to hire

I have been working remotely since January 2016, both as a member of a team and as a manager. Since working "100% remote" I have learned a lot about hiring and managing people remotely.

When I talk to other team managers it surprises me how many problems they face that I don't seem to have experienced. Maybe I've been lucky, or perhaps it was down to hiring remote workers?

I've had such a positive experience of managing remote developers that I am convinced that many companies would thrive if they consider offering fully remote developer positions. Here are my top 5 reasons.

1. Access to an Increased Talent Pool

When you constrain your employees to work in an office location, you immediately limit your access to top talent.

You are placing an artificial geographical boundary to access talent, you will only be able to only access the best people you can within your local area.

Even when you have "excellent travel links" you place a burden on your workers by forcing them to take time out their day to commute. This "cost" to workers is both time and money.

Opening up to remote workers allows you access to the best developers without being constrained by geography. Now I am not advocating that you suddenly run out to hire developers from the other side of the globe, but you should consider applications that are a few hours travel from your office.

The UK is fairly well connected, you can still meet people face to face (and you should), and if you do need people to come in for "touch time" on a monthly or quarterly basis, that is still possible.

2. Remote Workers Costs You Less

Before you think otherwise, this point is not about paying developers less for being remote. It is quite the opposite, you should pay them more. Hear me out on this.

You can use geography to your advantage to get much better developers for less money. For example, a Mid-level PHP developer in London is going to set you back about £50k a year, in Bristol maybe that is £40k, but in Somerset, I see these jobs regularly advertised at £25-30k.

Are the mid-level developers in Somerset any worse than the mid-level developers in London? They are not. Are you going to hire a remote developer in Somerset for half the rates you would pay in London? No, you should not!

My take on this, and how I have hired remote developers in the past, is to offer more than your remote workers would be able to get in the local market. By doing this you are showing them that you value their input, pay well and you can buy their loyalty. Pay employees what they are worth to you, not what their local area mandates.

You don't need to pay London rates for rural developers, strike a compromise and split the difference between what you would have paid for an office worker and what that developer could make locally.

Also, you should not forget that every employee working from your office costs you more money. On top of salaries, you also need to pay rent on office space, provide furniture, pay for utilities and all kinds of other costs. You have to provide for your remote workers, but the costs are often much less.

3. Remote Workers are Better Communicators

By the very nature of not being in the office, remote developers cannot simply shout across the open-plan office when they need help or clarification on a poorly defined requirement. As a result, I have found that remote workers are significantly better at communicating to ensure that no time is wasted waiting for clarifications.

Remote workers tend to have excellent written and verbal communication skills. They will know that any emails they send or tickets that are written need to be clearly-worded and unambiguous. Good remote developers will think carefully about everything they convey because they appreciate that time should not be wasted.

The very best developers I have worked with can take fairly loose project requirements and scope them out in detail before starting any coding. They will then report back to ensure that they are about to build exactly what is required. This has saved days of work in the past when it becomes clear that perhaps what we asked them to do wasn't actually what needed to be done.

4. Higher Staff Retention

In my first 3 years of managing remote teams, I only had 2 developers leave. One of them came from an agency background, it was their first fully remote role and they struggled to adapt to less micromanaged working conditions. We offered help but they decided that office-based work was better for them. It was a sad time, they were a good developer, but we respected their wishes. The other developer was offered their dream role working at a triple-A games publisher, we weren't going to deny them that once in a lifetime offer.

On the whole, my experience of hiring remote developers is that as long as you are giving them good work and paying them well, they are going to stay. Working remotely is a huge benefit for many, for me, in particular, it allows me to spend more time with my young family. I can do the school run in the morning and still be at my desk for 9 am, and I can take my lunch break around school pickup time. Many of my remote-working co-workers have similar commitments.

It is worth mentioning here that just because your remote workers are not in the office together, it doesn't mean they shouldn't ever be seen. The last company I worked at was based in London but the tech team was 100% remote. Once a month we would get together for a few days in London, partly to prove to the rest of the company that we existed, but also to socialise and embrace the company culture.

During that time the tech team lived together. We would book an AirBnB and spend those 3 days in each other's pockets, and we survived! In all the time I worked in an office, rarely would I socialise outside of core hours, and not once did I "live with" my co-workers. The bond I had with my remote team was stronger than any other team I've worked with.

5. Remote Workers are More Productive

In my career, nothing has been more disruptive to my productivity than the open-plan office. Offices are great for many things but not for developers, and here is just one example why:

As a developer when you are tracing a request or a bug through an application you are often dealing with a large number of classes or method calls in your memory (we are talking brain memory here, not computer memory). That can take several minutes to process and could involve remembering more than 30 things and the order in which they are executed. You are just getting the root of the problem when... a tap on the shoulder, someone is asking you to spend "just a minute" helping them with a problem. Chances are it's something you can't even help with, like a printer jam (you work in tech right? You must know how to fix the printer?). It will now take 15 minutes for that developer to get back to the point where they were before the interruption.

This was a constant struggle for me before I went "fully remote". I could lose up to 30-40% of my day on distractions in the office. Working remotely removes the distractions of the office, allowing developers to "get work done" without constant context-switching. As a rule, developers are not all anti-social, but I would place money on betting that most anti-social office developers would be much more palatable if they were not distracted so often by their well-meaning co-workers.

My final thoughts

The points made above are based on my own experiences. When I started working remotely full-time it was hard going at times. There are physical and emotional hurdles to working remote, especially in teams that have not fully embraced remote workers.

I previously worked in an office team that also used remote workers, but they did not embrace their remote workers as equals and left them out of meetings and discussions that happened in the office. As a result of this, we lost some excellent remote workers because they were badly managed. Luckily I kept in touch with some of these colleagues and talking with them inspired me to switch to fully remote working.

One final point, for those who might be thinking, "I can't let my developers work remotely, I can't see what they are doing" I have a little secret for you... If you are worried about developers not working when they are not in the office, those developers are most likely not working while they are in the office! In nearly every conversation I've had with managers who trialled remote working and found their developers to be "slacking off" I also found those same managers having to micro-manage the same developers in the office.

In almost all cases, a developer who is working hard in the office without constant supervision will be absolutely fine working remotely without supervision. If you have concerns over remote worker productivity, consider getting new developers.

If you have any further questions about remote working, hiring remote developers, or working as a remote developer please just ask. I am on Twitter as @johnblackmore and you can find me as John Blackmore on LinkedIn.

Thank you for reading!

Written by John Blackmore. John is a freelance PHP and frontend developer who works remotely from his studio in Taunton, UK and is available to hire