Outsourcing, offshoring, remote staffing, virtual assistants—depending on context, all the aforementioned terms might be used interchangeably, yet in reality, each term means something slightly different. I thought therefore, that it might be worth sharing my take on the difference between two of these terms; outsourcing and remote staffing.
The use of resources external to your own organization is known as outsourcing. You can outsource a task to an independent freelance contractor or a virtual assistant. You can outsource a group of tasks or a project to the same. You can outsource a business process to a company that specialises in performing that process or you can outsource an entire operation to a third-party enterprise.
Outsourcing doesn’t have to involve the use of remote workers. For example, you can outsource your company’s health and safety management to a specialist organisation that will place its manager or management team on your premises.
However, perhaps the greatest differentiator between outsourcing and remote staffing is the fact that outsourced activities are generally performed by human resources that have no direct contract of employment with your organization.
In other words, the people that perform your outsourced activity are not your staff.
When you outsource, unless you work with individual freelancers, you’re not really interested in who does the work—that’s the responsibility of the organisation to which you contract out your activities.
When you use remote staff though, you hire them, manage their performance directly, and you fire them if they don’t comply with their contracts of employment.
The only difference between remote staff and regular staff is that the remote staff works from a location outside the immediate confines of your registered business premises. Remote staff-members may work from home, from a remote office or from their vehicles at no fixed location. They may work a few miles from your premises or in a country on the other side of the world.
The Blurred Line Between Outsourcing and Remote Staffing
Of course, it’s not always a clear-cut matter as to whether you are outsourcing or remote staffing. Your company may for example, employ its own remote management staff to oversee an outsourced manufacturing operation. Your field sales staff might work remotely for so many days of the week, but be required to be at your offices on other days. Your outsourced virtual assistant might take his work instructions directly from you, but be trained and paid by his actual employer. It’s always possible to mix and match and blur the line between remote staffing and outsourcing.
More than Just Semantics
Outsourcing and remote staffing practices each offer their own potential benefits to your company, but those are for exploration in a future post. Suffice to say that the difference between the two is more than a matter of semantics. That’s why, if you were in any doubt before, this short guide has hopefully clarified the difference between the two terms and will help you make future decisions about effective sourcing of operational assets and resources.