Hiring and onboarding new employees can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, particularly when you are hiring remote employees who need to adapt to your style and expectations quickly.
While flexible startups can complete the hiring process (from job posting to first day) in about one month, managers often have to set aside large chunks of their schedule during the first few weeks for training and transitioning.
All of this effort goes to waste if your prospect quits within a few months, or you have to let them go due to poor work.
However, it’s possible to vet your remote employees to find people who will stick with your company and provide your desired results. You just need to hone in your process and know what to look for.
Here’s how the pros hire remotely, and how you can learn to do the same.
A Test Project is Worth a Thousand Interviews
More companies than ever are asking candidates to “put their money where their mouth is” by assigning test projects to vet the top performers.
“The [problem] with hiring based on a resume is that it might just show you that the candidate is really good at writing resumes, but not necessary good at their job,” the team at Time Doctor writes. “Develop a test which exactly matches the type of work they will be doing in their job. For example, I recently hired a marketing team member. To find the best possible candidate I could, I created a task which was exactly what I wanted them to do for the job which I was hiring.”
For a copy editor, this might be a literal test where they’re asked to fix grammar errors and format an article to match a client’s tone. For developers, this could entail building a landing page with certain characteristics.
“When hiring remote employees, candidate interviews mostly happen via a phone interview or a video interview,” Heba Asaad writes at Deltek. “However, many hiring processes should be further refined by asking the remote candidate to do a trial test project or task to test how well they follow instructions, ask questions, and perform in a remote environment.”
This is important: The test is supposed to do more than test their skills. It’s also supposed to provide a window into their work processes and what you can expect when collaborating with them.
When administering the test, make sure you pay your candidates for their work. You could lose top talent if you assign a five-hour project without compensating them for their time.
Ask the Right Questions in the Interviews
Your interview process should certainly cover the hard skills needed for the job, but that’s mainly what the test section is for. The bulk of interview time should be spent asking questions that give employees opportunities to share their qualities to become a good remote employee.
“If you don’t know what you’re looking for (i.e. can you tell if a coder’s PHP is up to snuff?) then you may not be asking the right questions,” Dave Nevogt, co-founder of Hubstaff.com, says. “Spend some time assessing how you can qualify candidates in a field you don’t fully understand, and if you hit too many roadblocks think about contracting a specialized recruiter to vet them for you to start.”
In the meantime, here are three questions to add to your initial interviews:
What Time of Day You Plan to Complete the Work?
“While not all remote employees will need to clock in and out as specific times, it is important to understand the timeframe in which the candidate intends to perform their assignments,” the team at Advance Staffing Solutions explains.
“This allows you to evaluate their availability, ensuring it includes times when they need to be available for contact. Additionally, it provides insights into other obligations they may also need to meet that could cause conflict.”
Many remote teams try to find a “universal hour” when team members are awake and working so they can have meetings. This also helps you determine whether their schedule would match that timeframe.
How Do You React When Faced With Unexpected Crises?
“As a remote worker, it’s easy to run into a problem and feel like you have to solve it on your own,” Randle Browning writes at SkillCrush. “Because you’re not sitting in the same office as your team, you can get off schedule or overwhelmed without anyone else noticing
“… Your future employer is hoping to see your strategies for proactively preventing this situation by letting your co-workers and even your boss know when you need help so that you don’t put yourself or your team at risk.”
Some employees prefer employees to solve problems on their own, while others want to communicate and collaborate even when the plan is failing. Try to gauge their threshold for reaching out to ask for help.
What is Your Process for Approaching a New Project?
“Your hiring documents will give a taste of what you bring to the team, but storytelling will be crucial throughout the verbal interview process to reassure the hiring manager that you can work remotely,” Kavi Guppta writes at Forbes.
“This is your opportunity to discuss concrete examples of how autonomous and organized you can be. Don’t just talk about your ability to produce great work; be explicit about the production process you encountered or were responsible for designing.”
Furthermore, some employees prefer to take a big-picture approach to work, while others only want the first few steps to focus on to avoid getting overwhelmed. Understanding their work process will help the employee-manager relationship right off the bat.
Look for Soft Skills That Remote Employees Need to Thrive
In many cases, vetting candidates based on hard skills is the easy part. Deciding whether they can do this job is a yes-or-no answer.
However, deciding whether they’re right for the job is more complex. In-house as well as remote managers are starting to realize the importance of soft skills in their hires. For remote employees, these soft skills can dictate employee morale, product quality and manager satisfaction.
“Unless you continually monitor your employees with cameras and network tracking software, you’re still extending a high level of trust, regardless of their location,” writes Todd Ringleman, co-founder of Ray Allen Inc. “One key skill to keep in mind is communication. It seems obvious, but communication really is a group of skills that range from writing simple emails to representation of the company culture. There are nuances to be understood by both sides.”
How your employees communicate with each other and in the chats — from sharing weekend stories or offering criticism — can have just as much of an effect on your company as a poorly constructed sales pitch email.
“The flexibility that working from home allows can be a blessing and a curse,” Kate Van Bremen, Ph.D., writes at Select International. “In order for remote employees to be successful, they need to have strong time management skills. They’ll need to be able to estimate the amount of time and other resources necessary to complete their work and plan and execute accordingly.”
How can employers test this? Include it in the test project. Have an idea of how long the project should take and ask the candidates about their time use when they submit it for completion.
“A candidate with a high level of skill but a low level of self-direction might be fine if he’s in the cubicle down the hall, working closely with other team members to keep him on track,” Josh Tolan, CEO at Spark Hire, says. “But if this candidate is located across the country instead of across the office floor, your all-star hire might quickly turn into a dud.”
In fact, self-direction is hands-down one of the most important traits that managers need to identify during this process. We will talk about it more in the next section.
Self-Motivation Can Compensate for Previous Remote Work
One of the best indicators of a successful remote employee is previous remote experience. However, this doesn’t mean self-motivated individuals working remotely for the first time should be ignored.
“Ideal employees should be able to take on a job or task and figure out a solution without having to be harassed by the manager throughout the entire day,” the team at Quality Logo Products writes. “This takes a ‘get it done’ type of personality in which they are not afraid to help out with things without being asked or constantly nagged. Bosses want to be confident that things are getting done when they turn their back on employees.”
Not all employees are going to come out and call themselves self-motivated, but you can ask them about it and look for clues in their resume or other documents.
“When you are perusing LinkedIn profiles or online resumes, you can usually find self-motivated prospects by looking for the right keywords and phrases,” Dr. John Sullivan says, writing for ERE. “You should begin the process by looking at the resumes and profiles of your own self-motivated employees to see which key indicators they have.”
If you are giving an employee their first remote experience, make sure you set checks to make sure they’re adapting to the new environment well. Remote work can derail even the best workers.
“Employees don’t always know what to expect when working from home,” the team at ARS Backgrounds writes. “For some, it becomes more than they bargained for — the isolation, a humming refrigerator beckoning them to have a snack, an inability to be self-directed, or pure dislike for remote work environments. Working from home or other remote locations simply doesn’t work out for everyone.”
Evaluate Their Interest in Your Company and the Position
Most employers focus on what the employees can do for them, and barely touch on what the company can do for the employee. However, failing to consider what your candidates think of the position can mean rehiring in a few months when they find something better.
“Any recruiter worth their salt knows that it’s important to hire not just any ol’ employee, but one who knows about the company, believes in its mission, and wants to make a positive contribution to the organization,” Brie Reynolds writes for Recruiter.com.
“If a prospective employee seems ho-hum about the possibility of working with your company, chances are they won’t bring much enthusiasm or excitement to the job — which could lead to poor productivity and/or missed deadlines.”
Also, managers need to understand why remote employees choose this path and tailor their pitch toward the fulfilling aspects of the job.
“It’s not about the perks, the office Ping-Pong table, or the stock options,” Nick Francis, co-founder of Help Scout, writes. “These people are most fulfilled when they feel empowered to do their best work. The best remote people have a particular passion for their craft, and one of the biggest reasons they love to work remotely is so they can focus on the work itself.”
To gauge their interest, ask why they chose your company and position to apply to, and then dig deeper into understanding their future goals. If you know where they want to go career-wise, you can decide if your company has the tools to make it happen.
“In traditional hiring, you’ll be focusing on qualification,” Jorge Delgado writes. “While this is still important, keeping remote workers delivering at a level that justifies their salary means they need to be well-motivated by their work as well. For example, picking people who are excited about your specific product or mission is a great way to ensure that you will actually have a remote employee that puts in the hours when they need to.”
This is easier for some companies than others, so you may have to compensate in other ways (through schedule flexibility or project opportunities) if you struggle to retain interested candidates.
The best employees can turn sour a few months after hiring, whether they’re not cut out work remotely or aren’t motivated by your mission. However, these steps cut down the personality factors that could lead to lower retention rates.