Keeping Remote Teams Cohesive, Part 1: 6 Steps to Hiring Remote Employees

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Now more than ever, companies are experimenting with allowing their employees to work from home. Some companies don’t have a physical office at all, while others maintain a balance of onsite and remote employees. Allowing remote teams gives companies access to talent all over the world, opening the organization to new opportunities, networks, and skill sets than would be available to them in their local area. Being part of remote teams also presents new challenges, for team members and managers alike.

Great remote teams don’t just happen; they’re built. Building a great remote team begins with strategic, intentional hiring practices. In order to scale your business, this process needs to be thorough, well-documented, and effective at both identifying strong candidates for remote work, and surfacing any potential issues before you make your decision.

In my fifteen years of experience as an App Development and Development Manager, I’ve worked with and managed all types of remote teams. In a series of posts, I’m going to share the important lessons I’ve learned about how to keep remote teams cohesive.

Hire for Alignment

Have you ever been burned when you hired someone? You followed your normal hiring process, found a remote employee with the right experience and skills, and then were shocked when they left your team just a few weeks or months later. What went wrong?

The short answer: Your process. Instead of blaming yourself or your hiring committee, see this as an opportunity to make sure your process helps you meet your hiring goals: Perhaps your process didn’t do enough to ensure that this person had the ability to communicate, collaborate, and contribute without being in the office. Perhaps the role they were hired to do required them to be onsite in order to be effective. Ask yourself: How can we improve our hiring process for remote employees, so that we can ensure better alignment next time?

Slow Down the Process

When an important role is vacant, it’s difficult to take the time to find the right candidate for the job. We feel a sense of urgency, because we know how costly the hiring process can be, in terms of both hiring expenses and lost productivity. However, the cost of hiring and training a poor fit for a role is significantly greater.

Hiring a poor fit for a remote position can drastically impact team morale: If we bring the wrong person in, they can be poisonous to the team and cause good people to leave. Also, this kind of turnover can lead to a distrust of management and your organization. People may start to believe that this kind of haphazard hiring is reflective of how your organization treats people.

Finding someone you trust takes time. I learned this lesson the hard way: On a few of my teams, we moved too fast and had no real process. In order to hire the right people for remote roles, you need to recognize that the process will need to be more extensive and thorough than you might be used to.

Know What You’re Looking For

This starts by writing a job description that has clear, objective personality traits as well as a list of desired skills and experiences. It’s hard to hit the target if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Take the time to outline the attributes of an ideal candidate, so you’ll know it when you see it — and so you’ll be able to articulate it effectively when you don’t think someone is a good fit.

Be sure that everyone on the hiring committee is on the same page about what you need in order to commit to a candidate.

The hiring process for a remote employee should be more intensive than for an onsite role. A remote employee needs the skills and experience necessary for the role they’re filling, but they also need to have the ability to maintain healthy working relationships, based in trust and effective communication, with everyone on your team. Working remotely can be challenging for certain people, and for certain roles. Be sure that the role you’re hiring for can be performed remotely, and that the person you hire is ready to take on the challenges of working remotely.

Look for Self-Starters

Finding self-starters can be hard to pinpoint in the hiring process. Everyone wants to believe they are communicative, team players, etc. — but you can’t just take their word for it.

With a remote employee, you have far fewer touchpoints to build trust, establish effective communication, and develop a healthy working relationship. You don’t have the luxury of watercooler conversations, lunch meetings, and other ways of getting to know each other. And it’s harder to see the signs of misalignment through emails, Slack messages, and video calls than it would be face-to-face.

Being a self-starter is an essential trait for remote employees. Unlike onsite employees, remotes won’t have the energy of the office encouraging them to work quickly, stay focused, and solve problems collaboratively. They won’t have someone looking over their shoulders making sure they are working toward team goals. Although it’s up to every member of a team to keep it cohesive, remote employees should be able to over-communicate with their team and manager, so that they are never “out of the loop.”

A while ago, I read an article by Michael Hyatt regarding this issue. He spoke about how people he hires must have the batteries included. I am sure we have all worked with or known someone who was a drain on your time and energy. We want to avoid these people at all costs, especially for remote positions.

Observe Collaboration

When hiring a remote employee, I’ve found it helpful to have candidates come in and do a few sample activities to see how they work. First, have them solve a problem with the people they’d be working most closely with. Then, have them solve a different problem alone and have them explain their thought process afterwards. Ideal candidates will know when to ask questions, will understand their limitations, and will work to collaborate with their new team members to find the best solution to each problem. If you see signs of someone isolating or “siloing” themselves, they might not be well-suited for a remote role.

Seek Remote Experience

Working with a remote team is a very different experience than being in an office. Remote workers need to have the right personality to stay engaged, motivated, and productive outside of a typical office environment. They need to know how to create a healthy work-life balance inside their homes, which usually means having the discipline to create boundaries with family, home life, and other potential distractions.

Working from home can sound appealing from the sense that you can work at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home, without wasting any time commuting. The problem lies in having the focus, stamina, and drive to stay engaged with your new company, team, and role. Working remotely is not for everyone — and determining whether a candidate is suited for remote work should be an honest conversation between the candidate and the hiring committee.

Keep Reading

In the second installment of this series, I share how to proactively build cohesive teams — by developing a clear, comprehensive onboarding process. Learn about how onboarding remote employees is different from on-site employees, and how to leverage onboarding to promote cohesion on your team. Read part 2 here.

Tom Henricksen

Tom Henricksen is a technology professional, career coach, and speaker. He has worked in various roles in technology for over fifteen years. He helps technology professionals at MyITCareerCoach.com. Follow him at https://twitter.com/TomHenricksen.