What is a fully remote business?
A fully remote business is a business without a physical office or headquarters. Employees work from home, coffee shops, coworking spaces and sometimes anywhere in the world, as long as they have a laptop and an internet connection. In a fully remote business, in-person meetings and cubicles are replaced with video calls and home offices.
Benefits of fully remote businesses
Starting a remote business can bring benefits like efficiency, a competitive advantage and business continuity (i.e., the ability to maintain core business functions during and after a disaster or major disruption). Even companies in traditionally offline industries have been successfully going online in the past several months and even before COVID-19 — from retail and real estate to personal training and healthcare.
Here are some of the advantages of starting or switching to a 100% remote business:
- Wider variety of talent to choose from: Because you won’t be limited by a single location (unless you still need local workers), starting a remote business can help you recruit more diverse candidates and access a larger pool of talent so you can hire employees who are a great culture and skill match.
- Lower startup and overhead costs: Starting a remote business saves you the cost of renting a commercial space and paying for utilities, office furniture, food and beverages and other workplace necessities.
- Faster business growth: With significantly lower overhead and better access to high-quality talent, running a remote business can help you scale your business quickly.
- Fewer missed days: According to an Indeed remote work survey, more than half of remote employees say working from home has resulted in fewer absences and sick days.
- Better employee retention, satisfaction and productivity: In that same Indeed survey, three-quarters of remote workers say work/life balance is the top benefit of working remotely. With little to no commute (30 seconds from bed to desk), the chance to get more sleep and the ability to choose their own work environment, remote employees are generally happier, more productive and loyal.
Remote business ideas
Many successful businesses started during a recession, including Airbnb, General Electric, HP, Slack and Venmo. In fact, more than half of Fortune 500 companies started during a bear market or recession. Offering products and services people needed at the time contributed to their success. Not only that, but because many people are reluctant to launch a business in uncertain economic times, these businesses stood out.
Here’s a list of business ideas and industries to consider. Each one includes an online business model and is typically recession-proof. On top of it, each is currently experiencing increased demand during the pandemic:
- Accounting services
- Box subscription business
- Dropshipping company
- E-commerce business (especially baby, pet, fitness and home office products)
- Internet marketing company
- IT and cybersecurity
- Online fitness training
- Online tutoring agency
- Resume writing and career coaching
- Social media management company
- Video conferencing and collaborative apps
- Virtual assistant business
Choose a business idea that aligns with your interests, passion and knowledge. If you’re converting your traditional business to a fully remote model, you may need to tweak your products and services and the way you sell them (e.g., offering virtual consultations, moving from in-store to online).
How to start a fully remote business
If your business isn’t already established, there are a few things you’ll want to do to get it up and running:
1. Develop a remote business plan
Entrepreneurs who write formal business plans are 16% more likely to build successful businesses than entrepreneurs who don’t plan. A business plan is typically a 30- to 50-page document that outlines your business’s goals and how you plan on reaching them. It’s also often the first impression potential investors get about your company.
Your remote business plan should include the same key information that in-person businesses include in theirs, such as a business description, your purpose and vision, a unique selling proposition (USP), internal structure and procedures and your financial projections. Here’s a business plan template to get you started.
2. Claim a virtual business address
You’ll need a business address to register your business, receive business mail and set up a business bank account. In every state, LLCs, corporations, sole proprietorships and similar business types must have a physical mailing address in the state where the company is registered. A PO Box is usually not accepted. One option is to use your home address. However, if you want to keep your personal address confidential for privacy (or want to boost your business’s credibility), another option is to use a virtual business address through a virtual mailbox service.
A virtual business address is a physical street address at a mail center or in an office building in the city you select. To use a virtual address, fill out the U.S. Postal Service’s form 1583, which will give the virtual mailbox provider permission to receive mail and packages on your behalf as your registered agent.
3. Register your remote business
In addition to a business address, you’ll also need to choose a name and structure before you can register your remote business. After you settle on a business name, choose a business structure that fits your needs, such as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), corporation or non-profit.
Consider consulting with an attorney or accountant since the business structure you choose will have an impact on taxes, your personal liability and funding options.
Depending on the business structure you choose, you may need to register your business name with federal, state and local governments. The Small Business Administration (SBA) outlines the steps to register your business here.
4. Get funding to launch your remote business
While you won’t have to worry about furnishing offices or paying rent and utilities, it’s important to decide how you’ll pay for other business equipment, supplies and staff. First, figure out how much money you’ll need by doing a break-even analysis. Include every expense you anticipate, such as equipment, employee salaries and marketing.
Keep in mind that remote businesses often come with their own unique expenses. For example, you may choose to provide company laptops or offer work from home reimbursements for your employees. Paying for online collaboration tools like video conferencing software, instant messaging services and time tracking tools can also add up.
There are various ways you can fund your remote business including:
5. Create a remote work policy
Make sure your remote business is set up for success. Before hiring your first employee, consider creating a remote work policy that outlines your expectations regarding availability, responsiveness and communication. For example, can remote employees choose their own hours or do you expect them to be online from 9 to 5?
Remote work policies usually cover data security rules, legal considerations, guidelines for setting up home offices and any travel requirements (e.g., for occasional in-person meetings or annual retreats).
How to hire remote employees
After you’ve set up your remote business, it’s time to hire your first employee(s). Whether you’re starting a new online business or have recently transitioned to a remote workforce, here’s how to hire qualified remote employees.
1. Identify the roles you need to fill
Think about the roles you need to fill and prioritize based on your immediate needs and budget. Many remote businesses also hire for ancillary roles, such as IT specialist or even head of remote work to help their employees succeed in a virtual environment.
2. Come up with a list of ideal candidate skills and qualities
Before you post your first job, think about the qualities or skills your ideal remote candidates have. Remember, you’re not just looking for a person who can do the job, you’re looking for someone who can do it remotely. Skills that indicate a candidate will be successful in a virtual position may include:
- Ability to work independently
- Proactive communication
- Strong work ethic
- Time management
Identifying the attributes you’re looking for in your ideal candidate can help you create a job description that attracts the most suitable applicants and ask the right interview questions.
3. Write and post your job descriptions
After you’ve determined the roles and skills you need, write your job descriptions. Use relevant keywords that remote job seekers are likely searching for (e.g., “work from home,” “remote,” “telecommute”). In fact, Indeed reports that searches for these remote work keywords doubled as a share of all searches since February 2020. When posting your jobs on Indeed, you can also add a “remote work available” tag to help you connect with the right candidates.
Additionally, make sure your job description aligns with your remote work policy. For example, while the position may be remote, your remote work policy may require employees to live in a certain city or state for tax purposes, to perform job tasks or to be available for occasional in-person meetings. Include this information upfront in your job descriptions to attract appropriate candidates. It’s also a smart idea to add your expectations around availability and productivity while working remotely and what equipment you’ll provide (if any).
Other ways to find and attract remote candidates beyond a job posting include:
4. Adapt your hiring process for video interviewing
Update your standard interview questions to dig into remote work experience and skills. Ask questions that reveal how a candidate communicates, deals with distractions, handles time and task management and stays motivated while working from home.
Here are a few questions to consider asking remote candidates:
- Have you ever worked remotely before?
- How do you stay motivated when working remotely?
- What types of remote tools and software have you used in the past?
- How do you manage your time and prioritize tasks?
- How do you stay focused on your tasks at home?
- How do you avoid miscommunication in emails and instant messages?
- What do you think is the biggest challenge about working remotely?
Keep in mind that even if a candidate doesn’t have remote work experience, they may still have transferable skills that will help them succeed in a remote role. For candidates who haven’t worked remotely, ask for examples of times when they worked with coworkers or clients in different time zones or if they have any experience working as a freelancer or consultant.
5. Watch for red flags
Throughout the hiring process, take note of how quickly candidates respond to your recruiting emails and how well they communicate during the interview process. For example, if it takes them several days to respond to an email, it may be an indicator that their asynchronous communication skills aren’t up to par.
Tips for managing a remote workforce
Heading up remote teams comes with new and unique challenges. Things that work in person don’t always work remotely. For example, you can’t poke your head over a cubicle to ask and answer questions and a lack of face-to-face interaction can breed mistrust.
Use these tips to help you get the best performance out of your remote employees, strengthen employee-employer relationships and improve employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity:
Develop a virtual onboarding experience. Prepare your new employees for success through virtual onboarding. Here’s a 16-step virtual onboarding checklist to get you started.
Adopt remote work tools. Video conferencing software like Zoom, team communication tools, collaborative document storage, workflow management tools and virtual private networks (VPNs) are important to keep your employees organized, productive, secure and engaged while working from home.
Encourage employees to set up a dedicated workspace. Remote employees are 140% more likely to report a decline in their work performance without a set workspace. Encourage employees to create a space used specifically for work and consider contributing to home office expenses.
Avoid micromanaging. Part of the appeal of remote work is autonomy and ownership. If possible, consider focusing on outcomes and results rather than hours worked, visible activity levels or micromanaging.
Schedule regular virtual team meetings. Having daily or weekly check-ins can help clarify miscommunications and identify potential issues early on. Make your distributed team meetings more action-driven and engaging with icebreakers, team-building activities and by creating an environment of psychological safety.
Give and ask for feedback. Providing both constructive and positive feedback can help employees stay on track and improve their job performance. Additionally, asking employees how you can support them better from a distance can help you identify blindspots in your management style.
Celebrate wins. Reward employees for a job well done and keep your remote team motivated by recognizing successes, sending appreciation letters and offering unique incentives, like extra time off or a voucher for a free house cleaning.
Find more tips for managing remote employees in our article 11 Tips to Effectively Manage Remote Employees.
The process of starting (or switching to) a remote business isn’t easy, but it may not be as complicated or overwhelming as many people think. Take it a step at a time: Come up with a business or pivot idea, complete the paperwork to get your remote business off the ground, and build a successful and engaged remote team that will be inspired to help you reach your business goals.
Your next step? Develop your values, mission and vision and start building a great remote company culture.