The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Remote Employees
Remote working is becoming increasingly common in the modern age as both employers and employees take advantage of the different ways of distributing and managing workloads electronically.
A recent Gallup study of US workers found that 43 per cent of the workforce now do at least some of their work remotely while 37 per cent said that they would switch to a job that enabled them to work from home at least some of the time.
Furthermore, a 2015 study of millennials found that 68 per cent would be more interested in potential employers if remote working was offered. The hiring of remote employees is something that many startups consider as a way of reducing costs and managerial time as well as sourcing the best available talent from across the globe.
This guide to hiring remote employees will look at both the positives and negatives as well as examining how to deal with the challenges of remote hiring. If you are a new or established business looking to go down the route of hiring a virtual team, this guide will cover all of the key areas regarding remote recruiting. Topics covered include:
- Why Choose a Remote Work Setting
- What Characteristics and Skills Should a Remote Employee Have
- How to Find Remote Candidates
- How to Hire Remote Employees
- Useful Tools for a Remote Team
Why choose a remote work setting
Positives of hiring remote staff
1. Lowering business costs
Hiring a remote team means that businesses can look to reduce certain costs such as premises costs, equipment costs and employee travel costs.
If 100 per cent of your workforce works remotely then you can eliminate these costs altogether. If you operate on a mixed model, where some staff are office-based and a portion of the work is outsourced to remote workers, you can reduce costs by operating out of smaller units. Large firms such as Cisco and Aetna have reported savings of $277 million and $78 million a year respectively due to hiring remote workers.
2. Widening the talent pool
If you hire remotely, you instantly expand your recruiting net from those from within a particular geographical area to anyone across the globe with internet access. This can be of particular relevance to firms seeking high-level niche skills who might need to go further afield than the local talent pool.
3. More engaged workforce
Although some employers might fear that creating remote jobs means relinquishing control over staff and jobs not getting done properly, it appears that the opposite is true. Remote workers have shown higher levels of productivity and engagement with their work.
People working away from the office have fewer distractions and the flexibility of the work means they can often choose hours which are best for them.
A Global Workplace Analytics study found that 53 per cent of remote workers are likely to work overtime compared to 28 per cent of office-based workers. In another PGI study, 80% of remote workers reported improved morale.
4. Flexibility to staff
In addition to the benefits to employers, remote working can also be advantageous to employees. The flexibility enables remote employees to plan their own schedule and create a better work-life balance, as well as work in an environment tailored to their own preferences.
There are health benefits, with 82% of remote employees reporting reduced levels of stress, and the savings in time and money due to not having to commute.
5. More diverse workforce
Remote recruiting from across the globe enables businesses to assemble a more diverse team of employees than if they are hiring from their own geographic area. This can ultimately expand the knowledge pool of the company, bring in new perspectives and experiences and perhaps open the company up to new markets and opportunities.
6. Better retention rates
If managed properly, there is evidence that remote hiring can improve employee retention rates. It eliminates the risk of losing employees due to relocation or issues with a work colleague. It also lessens the risk of losing staff to health-related issues.
A study carried out by Stanford University found that offering remote work opportunities can reduce staff turnover rates by around 50 per cent.
7. Environmental benefits
A final benefit worth mentioning is the environmental benefit of moving to a remote hiring model. The more remote employees a company has, the smaller its carbon footprint is likely to be.
Negatives of remote hiring
1. Communication problems
Probably the most obvious issue with remote hiring is the limited ability to communicate face-to-face with your remote team. You are unlikely to be able to communicate as frequently or as intimately with remote staff as you are with office-based staff and this can lead to problems, especially if there is a language barrier.
The best ways to avoid problems arising are to make sure instructions to remote staff are as clear as possible, keep in regular contact and make sure you resolve any problems that arise as early as possible.
Using Skype, Google Hangouts, Appear.in etc will make it easier to have occasional contact with remote employees.
2. Less interaction and collaboration
With a remote team, you lose out on things such as team meetings, brainstorming sessions, work away days and opportunities for workers to interact socially and build relationships. This makes it harder to forge a distinctive company culture.
But if you want to create opportunities for remote staff to communicate and interact, you can still do this by creating different non work-related Slack channels in your Slack account, for instance.
It may sound odd given that improved turnover featured among the positives, but high turnover and weaker attachment when hiring remote staff can be a problem if you don't keep them sufficiently engaged and valued. This is where planning an effective remote hiring strategy is important.
4. Technology problems
Remote hiring and working is pretty much dependent on technology working well so that work can be carried out and instructions given. However, there will inevitably be times when things break down. If you're working with a globally dispersed team, you may have staff in regions where internet isn't as good or technology is more prone to hiccups.
The best way around this is to build potential problems into your planning strategy so that you can mitigate any risks.
What characteristics and skills should a remote employee have
The exact skills and characteristics you will be looking for will depend on the nature of the role advertised and of your company, but there are several general skills and characteristics that good remote workers should possess:
1. Communication skills
Good communication underpins a successful remote team and a recent McKinsey Global Institute study showed that improved communication through social technologies can improve productivity by 20-25 per cent. You'll want to hire a remote team that is both skilled in communicating and responsive.
“If regular contact on Slack or Skype is important to you, suggest having a chat with candidates early on in the hiring process. If they show reluctance or are evasive, then maybe they are not a good fit for the remote role.”
You could test the communication skills of remote employees by setting up a small written test (if writing skills will be particularly important for the role), or you could ask some specific questions to test communication skills, like:
- Tell us about a time when you successfully promoted an idea on behalf of yourself or others?
- Tell us about a situation when you failed to communicate appropriately?
- Describe a situation where you were able to influence others on an important issue. What approaches or strategies did you use?
See more sample questions here.
2. Organizational skills
Remote employees will need to be highly organized as they will be working unsupervised and largely according to their own schedules. This will require a good ability to prioritize and manage their time in order to meet deadlines. The last thing you'll want is an 11th hour email from someone saying they're unable to meet an important deadline as something has cropped up or they've got too much work on.
Organization and time management is seen as a key skill in the modern workplace, with 57 per cent of employers viewing it as essential in a recent study.
To test the organizational skills of remote candidates, you could set a small task with a tight deadline. You could also ask questions about how they plan their work and prioritize tasks, like:
- Are you a perfectionist?
- How would you manage a coworker who asks so many questions that you can't get your own work done?
- How do you identify tasks that are a waste of time?
See more sample questions here.
3. Technical skills
This isn't just about the job-specific skills you'll need your remote employees to have. The nature of remote work and communicating as part of a remote team involves being fairly tech savvy.
If you are using specific systems or programs, you can test the aptitude of candidates by getting them to use this as part of your skills assessment when hiring remote employees. For instance, as part of the hiring process, let remote candidates communicate with you via Slack, present their written work in Google Docs, push their code in Github etc.
For some inspiration of which skill-based questions to ask for specific positions, check these guides:
- How to hire Backend Developers
- How to hire SEO Managers
- How to hire Marketing Managers
- How to hire Customer Support Agents
- How to hire Project Managers
If you're paying people to carry out work from a remote location unsupervised, you'll need high levels of trust and will want to hire honest workers who will deliver what they're supposed to deliver, will produce original work without cutting corners and will bill for the correct amount. This can be a trickier characteristic to assess as dishonest people will do their best to conceal their dishonesty when trying to get a job.
A good way to make sure that prospective remote employees are not lying about their work experience and skills is to use a tailored pre-employment test, where you can also ask questions to assess honesty, like:
- Tell me about the time when you spoke up within a situation that was unfavorable to you.
- Was there any situation where you had to admit your mistakes to your fellow colleagues and coworkers?
- Explain a time when you were seen as a disappointment by your employees and supervisors?
See more sample questions here.
5. Good culture match
A good way of ensuring a strong cultural fit when remote hiring is to use pre-employment testing where you can use questions or tests tailored to find the most suitable candidates and weed out any who won't fit into your environment. You can ask open-ended questions like:
- Describe the management style that will bring forth your best work and efforts.
- Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy.
- Do you have a best friend at work? How do you feel about becoming friends with your coworkers? Is this a wise practice?
Find more sample questions here.
Remote employees need to be highly self-motivated as nobody is around to make sure that they're knuckling down and working hard. You'll want to hire a remote team that can not only get the job done but will be proactive in coming up with ideas, inputting without being asked and have good critical thinking skills.
You can ask candidates about their preferred working and management styles to assess this. If they say they're happy with autonomous working and minimal supervision, you're on the right track. Some other good questions to ask are:
- Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?
- What career goals have you set for your life?
- If you find yourself working with a team that is not motivated, how do you keep yourself motivated and motivate others?
See more sample questions on self-motivation here.
Self-discipline is extremely important for remote staff as this is about minimizing distractions, taking regular breaks and having a healthy routine. To assess self-discipline levels, you can ask questions about work routines, how distractions are dealt with, how candidates ensure that things get done in stressful circumstances.
8. Flexibility and adaptability
You may be thinking that flexibility in remote employees is a given but the remote work environment is about both employer and employee showing mutual respect and to an extent adapting to work in partnership with each other. You will want to allow remote staff as much autonomy and flexibility as you can, but at the same time you may want them to check in for an online meeting once in awhile or you may need to know you can rely on them to occasionally carry out work at short notice. At the same time you might require remote staff to learn new skills, use new software or implement new ways of working from time to time.
To find out about how a candidate would react to short-notice requests or changes to their set schedules, you can ask questions like:
- You have been working on a client’s project for a while, when your manager informs you that the project’s requirements changed suddenly. How do you react?
- Your teammate is working in different timezone which means you’ll have to run meetings at 9 pm. How do you cope with that?
- Your boss has a “this is how we’ve always done it” attitude. What do you do?
More sample questions on adaptability can be found here.
9. Ability to respond to feedback
There is likely to be occasions when you need to ask remote employees to amend work or inform them that it's not up to standard. The employer-employee relationship is typically not as hierarchical as traditional work relationships and asking remote staff, especially skilled staff, to re-do a task or offering (constructive) criticism might feel awkward. You'll want to be sure that you're not hiring a remote worker who will throw down their tools and leave a job uncompleted if unsatisfactory feedback is offered, no matter how talented they may be.
You can test a candidate by asking them how they deal with criticism, or asking them about their weaknesses or times that they have failed on something. You could even put this to the test by giving them a short task and offering constructive critical feedback on it.
10. Remote working experience
This isn't an essential requirement but, unless the candidate is exceptionally well-suited to the role, it might be wise to try and find someone who has experience of working remotely. Autonomous working is very different from normal work environments and it's not for everyone. It's safer to go with someone familiar with the requirements than someone wanting to give it a go who thinks they might be good at it.
How to find remote candidates
1. Employee referrals
One effective way of sourcing remote employees is to use your existing employees as a referral source. Research suggests that employee referrals are the best way to hire. For example:
Employee referrals can nearly halve your recruiting time, with one study showing it takes an average of 29 days to hire this way compared to 55 days using career sites.
Hiring this way is far cheaper as you save on advertising costs, agency fees, etc.
Referred hires have found to stay with the job for longer, with one study showing that 46 per cent of referred hires stayed for at least a year, compared to 33 per cent through career sites.
This can be extended to other people through your work networks, e.g. partners, investors, clients, ex-employees, even family and friends.
2. Advertising through social media
According to research, nine out of ten companies now use some form of social media to attract and source candidates and around a quarter of all job seekers use social media as their main tool when looking for work. This means having a strong presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook is very important when it comes to remote job posting and sharing your opportunities as wide as possible.
Toggl is actively promoting their job posting on Twitter and Facebook:
3. Local meetup groups
Although remote hiring is more focused on the global than the local, you shouldn't eschew local resources completely. Many remote recruiters have reported good success rates through using influential meetup groups in their area. You can find out about recruiter meetup groups close to you, or even start your own meetup group, through the Meetup website.
4. Your company website and blog
You can also advertise remote job posts through your own website and blog. Using your own website as a remote recruiting tool is a good way of attracting candidates who are interested in your brand, which may help you with finding people who are a good fit with your company culture.
Teamweek is promoting their current backend position straight on their web’s front page.
5. Remote job boards
There are also a number of job boards that specialise in sourcing remote employees. Most of them cost quite a bit, but might still be worth trying out:
How to hire remote employees
The first thing to consider is to ditch the CV/resume. This has long been the favoured measure of employee talent but there are two key reasons why hiring based on CV's doesn't work for remote companies.
Firstly, it's very time-consuming. Advertising globally for remote jobs could potentially bring in hundreds of applicants, or even thousands for bigger companies, and wading through hundreds of CV's takes considerable time and effort.
Secondly, it's not the most accurate way of finding suitable candidates. People can embellish their CV's and even lie outright on them and it takes even more time to get information verified by checking with referees.
CV's are more about how someone is able to present themselves rather than a demonstration of their abilities. Someone who is not a good fit for a role might do a good job of presenting themselves as so by crafting a strong resume through the help of a CV writing workshop, while another superior candidate might have poor CV writing skills that fail to highlight their suitability. Judging on CV's would lead you to select the wrong applicant in this case.
A better way of hiring a remote team is to use pre-employment skills testing to screen candidates as the first step. Studies have shown that by using a brief tailored test to initially filter candidates, companies can make sufficient savings in both money and time.
One UK supermarket that switched to pre-employment testing as an initial step was able to save 73,000 hours of managerial time in the recruitment process. Similarly, consumer goods giant Unilever found that pre-employment skills testing saved them 50,000 hours of interview time and reduced the time spent reviewing CV's by 75 per cent. Furthermore, using pre-employment skills testing can also help improve the diversity of your workforce.
“Unilever found that pre-employment skills testing saved them 50,000 hours of interview time and reduced the time spent reviewing CV's by 75 per cent.”
Steps to using skills tests to hire remotely
1. Set up a short skill-based test
First you need to design your skills-based challenge which can be tailored to screen for job-related skills as well as the skills and characteristics a good remote employee should possess (as listed in the above section). You can use a test template or create your own. Hundred5 skills test allows you to take full control over the process, from setting the time limit to complete the test to determining the points threshold.
2. Source remote candidates
Using the sourcing routes listed above, you can now use your tailored skills test to advertise your job post(s) and attract candidates. Important tip: try to make the test fairly short (10-15 minutes max.) and as fun as possible to lower the barrier to apply. People generally prefer taking little quizzes and tests over writing arduous cover letters and if you can market your skills test as a fun way to spend a few minutes, you'll get more applicants.
3. Contact applicants fast
It's important to engage with applicants fairly quickly, especially those who score high in the test. You need to capitalize on the excitement they may be feeling having taken the test. Set up automated follow-up emails to send out after the test has been completed. Don't forget to reject unsuccessful applicants gently and quickly. You can use your own application tracking system or our hiring pipeline to sort through and manage applications.
4. Invite the best candidates for a video interview
You'll want to assess the strongest candidates for remote job posts face-to-face via video calls. This is your chance to probe prospective remote employees a little deeper, find out what their goals are and get a better feel for who might be best for the role.
5. Sort out the best performers and assign them a longer task
You should now have whittled the field down to 2-4 candidates for the remote job post. If you have time and you think it's necessary, you can give the remaining applicants a longer, more in-depth task to test their abilities. Something like a mini-project that takes around 2-4 days to complete. This could be a writing, designing or problem-solving task, or perhaps a combination of tasks, depending on the role. If it's something that will take a few hours to complete, it's wise to offer payment of some sort so as not to look like you're just trying to get free labour.
6. Arrange a final interview with your whole team (or part of the team)
The final stage is to have the remaining applicants meet your team via online interview. This is where the candidates can present their work from the longer task, ask and answer questions. This is useful for getting the candidates to interact with other team members and for everyone to get a feel for things. Following this, you should be able to agree with colleagues on the strongest candidate. You are now in a position to hire your virtual employee.
Useful tools for remote teams
Here is a short list of useful tools that help to maintain a remote team:
Sourcing and hiring:
Further reading on remote work
Interested in more? Check out these articles on remote work:
- Pre-employment Testing: A Helpful Way For Remote Companies To Screen Candidates
- Out of Office
- How to Hire a Remote Team
- Managing Remote Employees: How to Be an Effective Remote Manager
- Running a Remote Workplace: A Guide
- Across The Board
- 5 Must-Read Books for Remote Teams and Leaders
- The Ultimate List of Pre-Employment Testing Tools Vol 1
- The Exact Steps I Use to Hire Amazing Quality Remote Workers for as Little as $1000 per Month
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