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Interviewing Remote Employees: How to Measure and Manage the Unseen

A woman is using a computer to make a video call.

This is the second in a two-part series of excerpts from the newly published third edition of Paul Falcone's best-selling book, 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire (Amacom/HarperCollins, 2018).

With better and faster technology, remote employment is on the rise, bringing with it greater flexibility in corporate hiring practices and workers' career management goals. It also requires a different set of interviewing skills to find the candidates most likely to succeed in the role. Like its counterpart article that focuses on hiring freelancers and independent contractors, this piece is intended to be a starting point to help you formulate ideas for interviewing and hiring people who won't be working in the same office, building or even state as you do. The goal is to save you time and help identify workers' key attributes so that you can hire more effectively across this broad spectrum of workers.   

When hiring for a remote role, having a list of ideal candidate's skills, knowledge and experience isn't enough. The general nature of working with a distributed workforce makes hiring and managing more complex and requires different sets of leadership skills and worker attributes. It is critical to arm yourself with sets of questions that best ferret out individuals who can thrive in this unique working relationship.

"These dispersed employees may work in different cities, states, countries, and time zones, and all rely heavily on technology to communicate," said Charles M. Vance, professor of management and human resources at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. "Determining the best strategy to manage remote teams depends on a variety of factors: the company's business model, its culture and values, the strength of its leadership team, and the employees' needs and attributes." Other challenges and disadvantages unique to remote reporting relationships can include managers' fear that they cannot account for workers' time and efforts and workers' sense of isolation due to being "out of sight, out of mind." They may feel insecure and disengaged or think that their career options are limited.

Hiring and selecting remote workers, therefore, takes on special considerations that simply don't come into play when hiring people who work in the office, side-by-side with their supervisors and co-workers. 

"Workers may think they've won the lotto if they're fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work from home.  It doesn't take long, however, before they realize that they miss the social element of work and the general camaraderie with peers that make the day go by," said Angela Gardner, partner, media, entertainment, and digital practice at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles in Los Angeles. Your goal in hiring remote workers is to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of the unique nature of remote working relationships. These questions can help you find the remote workers who can get the job done.

If Candidates Have Prior Remote Working Experience (Preferred)

  • Why do you like to work remotely, and what does a successful remote-work relationship look and feel like in your experience?
  • Share with me what the specific expectations were for the prior positions where you've worked remotely.
  • I've always found that the best remote team members are self-starters who are able to motivate themselves and work independently. How close is that to describing you? Can you give me an example of how you typically motivate yourself to feel engaged about your work?
  • In your experience, is it more difficult to feel engaged if you're remote? If so, how have you successfully overcome that?   
  • If you accept this job and you're successful in it one year from now, what will that success look and feel like? 

If Candidates Have No Prior Remote Working Experience (Not Preferred/Riskier)

  • What are some of the advantages and disadvantages that you suspect may be at play in terms of a long-distance working relationship?
  • What interests you most about the possibility of working remotely? 
  • What are your biggest concerns about not being in the same building as your boss and peers?
  • Most people don't have the organization, focus, or motivation to be productive working remotely. Successfully working from home is a skill that takes time and commitment. How do you see yourself succeeding in this if you've never done it before?
  • What do you think it takes to deliver A-level performance on a consistent basis when you're working remotely?  

Establishing a Rhythm and Cadence of Feedback and Communication

  • Share with me how you've maintained a sense of community and connectedness with your manager and co-workers. Did you have virtual and in-person meetings and get-togethers at your prior companies?
  • How do you go about establishing relationships and communication hubs with your peers to keep from feeling alienated or disconnected from the group?
  • Some leaders worry about being effective in a virtual environment because if they can't physically oversee what's happening, they can't know that work is getting done.  How could you allay that concern?
  • How often would you prefer to have feedback from me? What's the right amount of structure, direction and feedback that you prefer from your supervisors regarding your workload? 
  • Communication and accountability go hand in hand. How would you structure your communications with me to ensure that I feel confident in your work and that you will meet and exceed expectations?


Setting Expectations Correctly and Measuring Results

  • What kinds of measurement standards—scorecards, key performance indicators or customer satisfaction surveys, for example—have you been accountable for in the past? Which ones work best for you?
  • Job descriptions outline what you're supposed to be doing; performance expectations outline when you're doing something well. What kinds of performance expectations have you been held to in the past, and how did you quantify your results?
  • When it comes to local versus remote performance, I find that successful remote workers create goals for themselves—checklists, personal metrics dashboards, quarterly achievement calendars, and the like. What have you used in the past to gauge your performance? (If none, "What could you see yourself creating to demonstrate your results?") 
  • In terms of prior performance reviews or one-on-one feedback that you've received from past supervisors about your ability to perform and excel in a remote environment, what were your strongest attributes as well as your key areas for development?
  • When was the last time one of your supervisors engaged in a surprise review of your work? What did the random evaluation reveal, and what takeaways or advice did you gain from their feedback? 

Aim for clarity, transparency, and over-communication when supervising remote workers. Teamwork and operational coordination standards will likely need to be higher for them than for those whom you see and oversee on a day-to-day basis. Such flexible working arrangements can create a much bigger talent pool in which you can cast your recruiting net, giving you with significant advantages and opportunities in today's tight labor market. Remember: Out of sight cannot be out of mind, and as these questions demonstrate, you may need to focus on developing your own communication and teambuilding muscles to master the art of remote leadership.

Paul Falcone is vice president of HR at the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills, Calif. This is the second in a two-part series of excerpts from the new, third edition of his best-selling book, 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire (Amacom/ HarperCollins, 2018). Part one covered interviewing and evaluating freelance workers.


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