Four Tips to Build Your Remote Technology Team

May 21, 2014
This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.

It has been over a year since Yahoo! announced it would no longer allow employees to work remotely. While industry analysts warned of the impact this could have on other companies’ remote work programs, hiring trends suggest the opposite. According to Forrester Research, 34 million Americans currently work from home. In just two years, this number is expected to top 63 million – or 43 percent of the entire US workforce.

Companies that require a specialized or skilled workforce – especially those located outside of the largest metropolitan areas – are going to have to move beyond merely considering a remote option and actually develop a process to hire and successfully build a team of remote employees. Here are four tips to help you source remote candidates and set them up for success:

Sourcing remote tech talent

The obvious benefit of sourcing remote talent is the ability to look anywhere. Because you’re not limited to one geographical area, you are able to recruit candidates from any location. Although this can substantially increase your applicant pool, it is easy for managers to become overwhelmed by the number of resumes flooding in.

In my experience, managers who receive a massive influx of candidate applications tend to rush through the screening process. Due to time constraints, they disregard all but the first 20 resumes, and ultimately settle for a new hire from that limited candidate pool. In some cases, the outcome is good, but the data suggests that managers who rush the process tend to produce lower hiring success rates than their peers who follow a defined process and timeline.

Luckily, there is a solution – find candidates through highly targeted sources. Instead of advertising the open position on large job aggregators, focus on smaller, niche job boards, such as We Work Remote (formerly 37Signals) or StackOverflow. This helps to target a smaller yet more qualified audience of job seekers. It also puts you in a better position to appeal to passive job seekers – people who likely have a job but are casually looking for a better opportunity.

Narrowing your candidate pool

The more targeted your approach is to sourcing, the fewer resumes you will have to sort through. So whether you have five or 55 applicants, it is imperative that you take the time to sort through every single resume. While this aspect of the hiring process does require a significant time investment, it is critical to helping you make the best hiring decision.

There are numerous ways you can narrow your candidate pool, but the most effective approach is to assign “homework,” or a project that shows their ability to solve a problem and work independently within a specified timeframe. In doing so, you often eliminate a handful of candidates who are not willing to dedicate time to the task at hand. Upon review of their homework it is likely that a few more candidates will be eliminated based upon incorrect results.

Whether you create a hypothetical project or give them an assignment that has already been completed by one of your employees is up to you, but it is important that each candidate is given the same homework. That way each candidate is judged based on the same criteria, and you can most accurately determine which candidates should move forward in the hiring process.

Determining whether remote work is right for your candidate

Having remote employees requires a significant amount of trust. Just because someone has worked remotely before does not mean they will excel in your remote role. Therefore you need to have a discussion with your candidate to determine their likelihood for success in a remote position.

I always build the following questions into my interview script:

–       What tools do you use to stay organized and prioritize tasks?

–       How do you prefer to communicate with colleagues?

–       What are you concerns about working for this team remotely?

–       Describe the best manager you ever had in a remote role.  What made them great?

By asking these questions, you are able to gather more information as to whether the candidate would be a good fit for your company. Because the questions are so direct, it helps to reduce the risk of a candidate trying to give an answer they think you want to hear versus their actual answer.

I also recommend bringing a colleague into the process once you begin interviewing. With a second interviewer involved, they are likely to pick up on strongpoints or risks that you missed and vice versa. Additionally, you can share notes, discuss hesitations, and ultimately feel more comfortable with your hiring decision.

Ensuring their role in your company culture

Just as it is normal for managers to be hesitant about hiring remote employees, remote job seekers have concerns of their own – the most common of which is company culture. While they may be hundreds of miles away from company headquarters, just like your on-site employees, they want to feel a sense of community and know that their ideas are impacting the company. So it is important that you prepare to answer potentially tough questions about the role in order to keep your candidates interested.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend focusing on the employee’s value to the company in their answers to questions related to culture, their role in the company’s future, and any concerns about joining the team. Discuss the value the role will bring to your company and explain why you are confident that a remote employee will excel just as an on-site employee would. If you have already offered a candidate the job, explain why they are the best fit for the position.

To really sell the candidate on the role, take your answers a step further and show them how their role will be a key part of both your company culture and future success. Walk them through what a typical day or week would look like, focusing mainly on video calls and meetings in order to give them an idea of how much face time there would be. If you currently have remote employees, set up some time for them to speak with the candidate to discuss their experience working for your company remotely. Finally, discuss how often they would be brought into town to work from the office.

Remote employees are moving from optional to essential for most technology companies. If you want to hire the best talent, you’re going to have to make a further effort to source remote job seekers and show them just how much of an impact they could have while working remotely for the company.

image credit: bigstock

This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.
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