Recruiting for Remote Jobs Requires Focus on Specific Traits

By Roy Maurer Jun 6, 2016
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Working remotely requires different skills than working from company headquarters, and finding workers with these skills requires different techniques than when hiring traditional onsite employees.

Experts agree that successful remote workers are self-motivated, are strong communicators and collaborators, and are metrics-driven. Offsite workers will face the challenge of isolation, and should be cautioned about what a remote work experience is like, warts and all. Applicants may insist that working remotely won’t be a problem, but this kind of position will not work for everyone.

“Remote workers struggle with the limited exposure to co-workers. They struggle with knowing their value to the company and receiving feedback,” said Chris Brown, vice president of human resources for West Corporation, a global telecommunications company headquartered in Omaha, Neb., that regularly hires for remote jobs. About 700 of West’s 10,000 employees work from home.

“There’s not a whole lot of cheerleading happening,” Brown said. “Some people end up saying it’s not for them and tap out.” 

Critical Traits

When considering candidates for remote positions, recruiters should focus on certain skills and attributes that will best align with remote work. These traits include:

Effective communication skills. “The very best remote workers will reach out to co-workers and managers regularly to check in, ask questions and collaborate on projects,” said Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of job site FlexJobs, based in Boulder, Colo. “That includes communicating through e-mail, phone, instant messenger, chat boards, web conferencing and many other tools. They’ll also ask lots of questions to make sure they understand the project, and to show that they’re engaged with the team.”

Self-discipline and self-motivation. Remote workers will have to maintain consistent quality output and be able to work independently with minimal interaction. “Just because they work from home doesn’t mean they can fire off dozens of questions to managers every day,” Brown said. “They need to be able to prepare their questions ahead of time for scheduled [virtual] meetings or the relationship will wear thin.”

Comfort with metrics-based evaluations. “I need to know that the person will be OK with their performance being defined by metrics and not relationships,” Brown said. “With an at-home role, you are what your throughput is.”

Ability to engage socially. Brown said that some remote workers fail because they don’t make an effort to know their colleagues socially. “They’ve got to be able to engage in watercooler small talk via IMs or e-mails or another virtual medium. Remote workers need to be made aware of the bureaucratic pitfalls that every organization has, like who to call to resolve certain issues. The ones who aren’t social won’t get that.”

Previous experience working remotely is not a requirement, but if a candidate does have previous remote experience, “recruiters should drill down on how they were managed, how they were engaged and what their experience was,” Brown said.

Sutton Fell added that candidates without previous remote work experience should be assessed for whether they are truly prepared to work from home. “Do they have a home office space? How do they feel about working alone all day? Are they tech-savvy enough to troubleshoot their own basic technical issues?”

Hiring Tips

The essentials of hiring a worker remotely are similar to in-person hiring, but some tweaking of the interview and skills assessments may be necessary.

“You’re going to have to ask some different questions,” Brown said. “You’re going to want to know some very specific things about the candidate’s personality and work habits because your at-home worker will have a different perception of the company.”

Brown and Sutton Fell provided these tips for hiring remote workers:

Assess for remote-working skills early. “The assessment should start before the interview even takes place,” Sutton Fell said. “When scheduling an interview with a remote candidate, pay attention to how they handle the back-and-forth e-mail process, or how they are able to communicate over the phone and in writing. Are they clear and concise? [Or] do they show a lack of comfort or familiarity with communicating in a virtual way?”

Conduct a video interview. Video conferencing will give hiring managers an idea of what communication will be like with the candidate once he or she is an employee. “I can tell from a video interview if someone will be comfortable with remote working,” Brown said.

Gauge cultural fit. “We look really hard for someone’s personality, their sense of humor and ethics, and their overall ability to communicate openly and effectively during the interview process,” Sutton Fell said. “Those qualities are really important in a remote team.”

Caution the candidate about remote work. Brown advised providing candidates with full disclosure about what it means to be a remote worker. “There’s an acknowledgement that the role is metrics-driven,” he said. “Not everyone likes that. They often also don’t understand what will be lost. Lunch is no longer an activity where you can see your colleagues and interact with them socially.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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