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How to Hire People for Remote Work

Posted by Bob Corlett on July 23, 2020

What predicts whether your new hire will be successful in a fully remote position? Four things:

  • You need to have a hiring process that accurately predicts whether your new hires will be successful (in any work setting). Most experts recommend an evidence-based approach to interviewing that focuses on key job skills, instead of personal attributes. If your hiring practices did not predict success in hiring before the pandemic, virtual interviewing and onboarding will likely make things worse.
  • You need hiring managers to learn how to avoid the pitfalls inherent in video interviewing. If your hiring managers are not alert to the differences in video interviewing, you’ll make some predictable mistakes.
  • You need to be clear about the realities of your remote work environment – what stage of remote work autonomy you are actually in. (This is an excellent guide: https://ma.tt/2020/04/five-levels-of-autonomy/.) If you don’t have a clear understanding of the expectations you have in your remote work environment, you won’t know what to look for in from the candidates.
  • But this is probably why you are here: you need to assess whether people have the specific competencies related to remote work. Once you have managed the first three elements, then you are ready to start the remote work dance between the hiring manager and prospective employee.

Whether someone is going to be successful in remote work involves a bundle of skills. Remote work has a physical component and a job competency component.

The physical component is simple. Ideally the candidate has a quiet, ergonomically appropriate place to work, free from distractions and external noise like barking dogs. During the pandemic, the ideal setup may not always be possible for every candidate, so you need to choose wisely about the short term vs long term goal you have in hiring. If you want the best candidates, you might need to show some flexibility on whether someone has the physical environment over the next few months.

For the job competency component, you are ideally looking for skills and prior work experience that mirrors some of the elements of remote work as you are practicing it. For example, even if the candidate has never worked remotely, you might ask if they have ever worked in a setting where their supervisor traveled a lot or where key members of their team were vendors or other kinds of staff who worked offsite. How did they communicate, and track project status and what kinds of metrics did they use? And then you need to decide if those approaches mirror what you are doing.

Ideally, you are looking for someone who can be successful with the resources, constraints, and work styles you have. And each organization and team is unique in their approach to work. If your organization is new to remote work, are you all still trying to mimic traditional office behavior? Are you trying to leave your video cameras on all day, and popping by for quick chats? Or are you evolving your communications approaches to be more autonomous (see the link in bullet #3 above). You need to be clear about how you actually work, because no two organizations are the same, and each approach to work requires different skills from candidates.

In general, the key job competency elements of remote work are (in no particular order):

Performance management: This involves clarity about performance expectations. How do you track activity, outcomes, metrics, due dates, project timelines? How does everyone know when work is due? When the work is turned in, what does “good” look like: a fast first draft, a client-ready deliverable, etc.? You need to explore whether someone can work on projects the way you work on projects.

Communications: What are your practices for how you share progress, or completed work? And how do you prefer to share work (chat, email, presentation in a video call, etc.)? Do you use email for some things and chat for others? How do you acknowledge receipt (a quick thumbs up, a reply)? How transparent are you with work in progress? Are all your files on a shared drive? Who can see work in progress? Some remote work practices are more transparent than people are comfortable with.

In general, remote work demands a very strong ability to communicate substance AND tone through various communications tools. Each organization and each tool has its own etiquette for the speed and appropriateness of each response. Is “reply all” a horrible breach of time management, or is it a friendly courtesy? Is a quick “thumbs up” in Teams or Slack really efficient or is it rude?

How fast are people are expected to respond to emails, chats, calls, etc.? And how frequently do people like to communicate: hourly, daily, weekly, only when there is a problem? To avoid misunderstandings, remote work generally requires excellent digital communication skills via email, chat and videoconferencing. Each team has its own norms for frequency of communications: How often can you interrupt someone with a question? Are meetings all scheduled or are they ad hoc? And who else do you communicate with outside the organization, and for what?

We share a few thoughts on our eighteen years of experience with remote work here: https://blog.staffingadvisors.com/enduring-advantage-of-remote-work.

Self management: Self-management is a bundle of skills and behaviors that include learning styles, time management, and emotional management. You want to understand how people tend to learn new skills. (Do they look it up on the web, find a free webinar, talk to a friend, or do they prefer formal training? Are they able to self teach, and deal with frustration and delays from partial knowledge? When a fast answer is not forthcoming, how good are they at dealing with ambiguity? Are they willing to ask for help, and willing to help others when they sense a need?)

You need to look for people whose self management approach matches your leadership style. When people work remotely, the managerial focus usually shifts from how much time they spend in the office to what they’re getting done every day. But not every manager is ready for that. Are you trying to keep to rigid office hours, or is it OK for people to go offline for a few hours during the day? When and how should people communicate that? Do you expect people to be at their desks 9 – 5?

Basic technology troubleshooting skills and the ability to access information: It can be surprisingly hard to figure out where to find information, and to get a fast answer to even simple questions... particularly if teams are getting used to new communications platforms. People need to be able to sort out when to ask for help, and when to reboot their computer and hope it works.

How are you using your technology? For example, our team rarely uses video, rarely has status meetings and we communicate mostly through Teams, with just a little bit of email. Our shared file systems and shared project documents give us the information we need to stay in sync. So we need people who can adopt our tools and communications strategies, communicate the way we like and be willing to schedule a huddle, share a document, collaborate, and use Outlook to manage their day.

Personally, I am a huge fan of remote work, but the competencies you need will depend on how you are working, and that varies widely between different teams.

Topics: Remote Work, Virtual Interviews, Video Interviews