Guide to Hiring Remote Employees
A positive team culture starts (and ends) with the people. That’s why it’s so important – possibly the most crucial step you can take as a manager – to hire people who embody the right qualities for the roles you need to fill.
You’re likely already looking for folks who are responsible, empathetic, have a growth mindset and communicate well. But are these the same qualities you should seek out when hiring for distributed teams, or completely remote positions? And how do you find these elusive remote-friendly employees?
Are you ready to hire remote employees?
Let’s start with the basics. Hiring remote employees doesn’t require a complete mindset shift, but it does involve a bit of upfront work to make sure you’re setting new hires up for success. Laying this foundation will help you avoid potential pitfalls along the employment journey.
Decide what type of remote situation you’ll be offering
First and foremost, you need to ask yourself whether your team will be fully remote, work from different offices, or simply have a flexible, work-from-home schedule. If you don’t have policies in place already, start thinking about them now.
Based on your decision, you can decide whether having previous experience working remotely is a necessity. For example, if occasional remote work is more of a perk, you probably don’t need someone who’s been based out of their home office for years. But if you’re building a remote team from scratch, hiring people with remote experience first may be a good idea.
Figure out which time zones to hire in
When it comes to collaboration, considering time zone differences becomes crucial. If you cluster employees in a certain time zone, it’s definitely easier to hop on a spontaneous video call or give live, real-time feedback on a project. But you can also set up processes and adopt tools that facilitate asynchronous collaboration, in order to smooth out the challenges of working cross-functionally from different parts of the globe. Weighing the pros and cons of each approach can help you narrow down a list of locations where you can look for potential hires.
Choose your tech stack (and get buy-in from potential hires)
To make sure your team is productive no matter what location they’re working from, make sure you choose applications that will make their jobs easier. This means considering a number of different categories of tools: video conferencing, chat, project management, online whiteboard, file management, and more.
"When we are hiring people who are going to be distributed, we check basic things like, 'Do you have enough internet bandwidth to work? Can I talk to you on a video call?' Not having these things can really be a barrier."
—Jessica Tiwari, VP of Product Management at Upwork
Learn different communication styles
Time zones aren’t the only barrier to successful communication. If you’re hiring people from different countries and backgrounds, you need to be ready to invest extra time and resources into understanding where they’re coming from, their style of communication, and their approach to work and collaboration.
It may sound like a major challenge, but in the end you can get a major advantage by hiring people with diverse backgrounds, because some studies show that diverse teams are more likely to come up with more creative solutions.
Create a budget for IRL (in real life) get-togethers
Fully remote companies like Zapier and Github know that face-time is still vital for teams to bond, collaborate, and understand each other. That’s why they still fly the whole company to one location for a team offsite, annual planning session, or something else.
At Miro, we’ve gotten a ton of value from our yearly offsite, where employees from all of our hubs come together – often meeting the people we collaborate with on a daily basis for the first time. These events help us deepen our connections, build empathy, and develop a collective understanding of the company’s vision and direction
Where to find remote workers
Fortunately for hiring managers, remote jobs are in high demand by workers all over the world. Here are a few places where you can find prospective employees looking for a role like yours.
AngelList is a startup community that allows its users to invest in companies, research the fastest-growing companies, and find a startup job. AngelList also has a section dedicated to remote jobs. The company shares data about what remote roles are trending, where do remote teams hire, and what skills are in demand.
Remote.co is a job board for companies and candidates. The company also has a blog that aims to ‘provide expert insight, best practices, and valuable support for organizations exploring or already embracing a remote team as a significant portion of their workforce.’
Upwork is a platform for hiring experienced freelancers (for contractor work). Upwork’s search functionality uses data science to highlight the best freelancers and agencies based on their skills, helping customers find talent that’s a good match. Upwork’s team is also distributed across several locations and it relies on contractors and remote workers.
YouTeam is a platform for hiring remote engineers. The company vets each engineer in their talent pool and also helps the companies with all contracts and invoicing. You can also get in touch with a dedicated manager from YouTeam, so he or she can facilitate communication between two parties.
We Work Remotely
We Work Remotely is one of the largest remote work communities in the world, with over 2.5M monthly visitors. WWR has Google, Amazon, GitHub, Basecamp, and InVision among its customers. It also regularly updates its Top 100 Companies, a sequential list of global companies that have the most experience hiring remote workers.
6nomads is a remote-focused job platform for tech talent. It focuses on full-time remote jobs as opposed to freelance opportunities and mostly works with companies looking for developers and data scientists.
FlexJobs is a source for discovering flexible and remote jobs. The company helps candidates access job search checklists, award-winning career content, one-on-one career coaching, resume review, expert skills tests, video introductions, and more.
What to look for in a remote worker
Of course, each company, team, and role is unique and will require a specific set of skills and qualities. However, we’ve identified some specific traits that can add up to a top-notch remote employee:
1. Able to work autonomously
When you are building a remote team (and especially if you are starting from scratch), you need to bring people on board who can manage their own time and make decisions independently, with little oversight.
This might mean initially hiring senior people, rather than entry-level employees who need more face time, coaching, and structure. It might also mean looking to those who’ve worked as consultants or freelancers in the past. Having a background at startups can also help encourage autonomy. Once you’ve built up a strong remote culture with your initial hires and processes in place, you can build out the team with junior-level employees.
“In order to be successful, you have to be enormously autonomous. We give all of our distributed employees test projects and evaluate this quality.”
—Jessica Tiwari, VP of Product Management at Upwork
2. Strong collaboration skills
You’ll want to bring people who have strong collaboration skills (we recommend experience with agile or design thinking frameworks). Adaptability, open-mindedness, accountability, and good project management skills will help your new team members thrive in a remote environment.
3. Proactive communication
When you’re not in the same location as your teammates, you need to communicate a lot. Whether it’s status updates, clarifying questions, action items, or something else – a remote employee needs to constantly be thinking about how to make sure they're on the same page as their teammates via meetings or other modes of communication.
Look for someone who is good at articulating their ideas (strong writing skills or a blogging background are a plus) and is also a good listener. This requirement doesn’t mean that you should only look for extroverts. Some people are way better at asynchronous communication than at real-time discussions – in remote teams, they can lean into their strengths and make sure their voice is heard, even if they are not the loudest voice in the room.
Being self-motivated is always a good quality, but it’s crucial when working remotely. From taking initiative on different projects to being self-disciplined and organizing their workload – remote employees will have to accomplish all types of tasks without anyone looking over their shoulder. And if they see a process that needs to be improved? They should be the kind of person who tackles it themselves!
Does remote experience matter when hiring?
We’ve found that a lack of experience working remotely isn’t a deal-breaker when you’re choosing the right candidate. It’s more of a bonus than a requirement. Plus, if you’re only looking for people with this background, you’re narrowing down your pool of candidates (which basically cancels out one major benefit of looking for remote candidates – tapping into a bigger pool of talent).
When you start interviewing, it’s useful to think about the competencies that will lead to success, and try to assess how the candidate would perform in a real situation. These competencies may differ depending on your team setup. A team that’s distributed across different hubs might require a different set of skills compared to a fully remote team.
Here at Miro, we work from several hubs spread across different countries and timezones. When we need to understand if the person will be successful in this distributed environment, we look for someone who can build rapport in virtual relationships, is disciplined about documenting decisions and processes, and is comfortable asking for help and providing coaching even if they’re communicating online.
5 questions to ask a candidate in a remote interview
Screening remote candidates is a bit different from in-person employees. Aside from learning whether or not they’re qualified for the specific role, it’s a good idea to test their communication and problem-solving abilities. Here are our favorite questions to ask when interviewing a potential remote hire.
1. What skills do you think are important for remote workers?
You’re not looking for canned answers like “being organized” here. A savvy remote worker should highlight things like striving for open communication, being proactive, or being a problem solver. These are necessary qualities to look for in any distributed employee.
2. Does the idea of working remotely raise any concerns for you?
Gauge their feelings about being remote – especially if they’ve never worked like this before. If they gloss over the question and tell you they don’t have any concerns, that doesn’t mean the concerns aren’t there. There are many challenges to working remotely – it’s a fact. Dig to learn more about what some of those might be for them and how they plan to overcome them.
3. How do you stay productive at home?
It’s important for candidates to be honest and transparent about challenges that come up at home, so it’s great to hear about potential distractions and how the candidate overcomes them to stay productive and organize.
4. How do you avoid miscommunication? How do you address it when it happens?
Being a good writer and communicator is key for a remote employee. They don’t have the luxury of being able to read people’s body language in the office, or be around for every conversation, so miscommunication happens. See what strategies they use to prevent misunderstandings (like mirroring back information or sending email summaries of conversations, for example), and how they handle it when it happens.
5. When do you prefer to work during the day?
One of the benefits of working remotely is that you can often create your own schedule. Not everyone is productive during the same times of day, so it’s good to know what each candidate prefers. This information may also inform how you manage and set deadlines with them once they’ve been hired.
Next up: How to Onboard Remote Employees