Automan_Empire - 10:51 pm on Apr 7, 2012 (gmt 0)
Have you had much experience managing technical people remotely?
Yes, albeit on a piece work or project basis; banners and artwork here, setup or repair a forum or website there. Some of the lessons learned should apply to long term remote employees.
Generally, elancing or telecommuting employees are responsible for managing their own time, and reap their own rewards directly for efficiency and self-motivation. It is nearly impossible to approach the same conditions with in-house employees, even paying straight commission.
Set up the most ingenious, foolproof procedures, and fools will find ingenious ways to drag them out and mess them up. Skilled artists, craftsmen, tradesmen etc. may do technically dazzling work most of the time, but working with them in-house, you sometimes get bad days where they make newbie mistakes, friction with another employee they just don't like, primma donna attitudes, and other frictions that have nothing to do with the core task but generate heat anyhow. This is where the emphasis on hiring for personality comes from. Even with piece work like graphics, when working in person, it always seems to take more time and effort for the same quality finished product.
In contrast, TO A ONE, the jobs I have hired off to elancers were as close to mathematically perfect as possible for effort-->result. Contact is limited to discussing job specs, revisions, then "here's your final pay, thank you." AND THAT'S IT.
Some people thrive on the interpersonal aspects of a workplace, for better and worse, for their own sake. To me this is antithetical to an entrepreneur's necessary mindset, though some successful businesspeople are exceptions I suppose.
system of objectively measuring each worker's productivity...
I'm really interested in this... Are there software packages for this sort of thing?
Not that we can name names here, and there are many industry-specific off the shelf solutions along with customizable systems. Since you're looking to manage a distributed workforce, look for features built into whatever you choose that can measure things like order entry time, email response time, # of orders picked per employee, or whatever metrics are useful in your particular business. Living with too simple of a system for too long, and changing systems when the company has grown, cause productivity and morale problems that no company needs. This is one area where overbuying early and growing into it might be worthwhile.
Hire a good accountant first...
I'm glad you brought this up. I don't see why accounting needs to fill even a single part-time position ...trained my wife to handle payroll and bookkeeping. Income statement preparation is just a click. Payroll taxes are a hassle (and expensive!) but it's only every 3 months. When is a "good" accountant necessary?
You'd need a large company indeed to require your own in-house accountant. You can automate the day to day bookkeeping, payroll, inventory functions, and tax filings and payments. What you need your accountant for is to be sure that all of your necessary filings are made, and that your automated system is set up well and updated as tax codes and regulations change, and they do always change. A good accountant might find you exemptions and deductions you couldn't have known about yourself, which exceed the cost of her services. Any size business will benefit from hiring the services of an accountant.
Does a general liability insurance policy usually cover this sort of thing?
Don't count on it- ask your agent. Aside from the law, your policy requires you to exercise due diligence to prevent a situation from arising, and a payout won't cover intangible costs of defending a case and dealing with the ripples this causes in the rest of the workforce.
Not to sound too pessimistic, as I am striving along the same path here, growing a business. Just make sure that the drive to go to each next level includes the mettle to deal with the often unforseen challenges there.