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When hiring in remote locations makes sense

You've probably heard about Canadian companies with employees in far-away places such as India, but it's probably fair to say few of them have remote staff in Cape Breton.

Toronto-based Homezilla may be breaking new ground there with a group of software developers who work on the company's online home-buying research tool.

Sandy Ward, founder and CEO, says hiring people in remote locations made a lot of sense because it was difficult to find developers in Toronto with experience in geo-location technology a couple of years ago.

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Mr. Ward says some of the benefits include salaries that can be 20- to 80-per-cent lower than employees in large cities. And employees who live in rural communities offer a different perspective than those living in larger ones. "If you are willing to have a remote team you can have happier employees because they are living where they want, and that can cost less," he says. "This is a huge win-win for companies and employees."

The biggest disadvantage to having workers far from home office, Mr. Ward says, is that the speed of development can be slower because you don't get the same "aha" moments that come when everyone works together. One of the big challenges is making sure they feel motivated, engaged and part of the team. Mr. Ward says the solution can be as simple as having a monthly meeting, or making impromptu calls on a regular basis to have a chat.

"Regular person visits are always good but a visit every three months isn't going to do much if there isn't ongoing support," he says. "Two tips: find out a remote works love (sports team, wine, hobbies) and make sure they are discussed. If the team knows more personal stuff it is easier to build a relationship.

"Something as simple as them running a monthly meeting, having their manager over-communicate some of their achievements, and impromptu personal calls to chat ( not check in) can all help. A big part of the visibility is connection to other team members; team members chatting in the hall over doughnuts doesn't happen to remote workers. But the impromptu call, if done regularly, can really help bridge this gap."

To read the first two installments on hiring, click here and here.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences .

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