In companies across America, it's becoming more and more common to have at least a few full-time employees who never set foot in the office. Mobile devices, ubiquitous Wi-Fi and numerous collaborative software products have made full-time remote work not only possible, but also seamless, even across different time zones.
While employers should always look for hard-working, well-qualified employees to fill both in-office and remote positions, hiring someone who will work outside the office full time requires a slightly different approach. When you're entrusting someone to complete his or her work with minimal direct supervision, that person's reliability, communication and self-management skills require even greater consideration than an average employee's skills.
"You have to trust that this person can take direction via email and deliver what you are expecting, and they must be able to self-manage, since other staff won't be around," said Brett Adcock, co-founder of job marketplace Vettery. "Experience also tends to be more important for remote hires than with in-office hires, since there's less one-on-one time."
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of job listing website FlexJobs, also noted that for remote hires, you likely won't get to meet in person. Even if the interview is conducted via videoconference, it's still going to be a different experience from a traditional face-to-face interview.
"With the lack of in-person meetings, hiring managers can't rely on body language, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues to help them determine the best candidate," Sutton Fell told Business News Daily.
If you're planning to hire a remote staff member, here are a few steps to take throughout the interview process that will help you evaluate candidates.
Assess the candidate's communications skills
It may be obvious, but a good remote worker needs to be exceptionally accessible and communicative, since that person won't be reporting to the office every day. Michael Bruch, founder of social media app Willow, said that there are several ways to get a sense of a candidate's ability to communicate before you even interview them.
"See how quickly they respond to emails, how clearly they communicate digitally, how flexible they are in terms of scheduling meetings, etc.," Bruch said. "You need to look for people [who] work both with agility and efficiency."
Give your prospect a trial period or test assignment
If your hiring timeline allows, give a remote candidate a test assignment before you make a final decision. This project or assignment should be easy to complete in a short period of time, so you are able to see the candidate's quality of work as well as his or her ability to stay on schedule.
"Give them real work with short deliverables," said Phyl Georgiou, co-founder of children's learning systems developer Tiggly. "Test their ability to execute to a deadline, their attention to detail and their communication skills. Do this over a period of one to three months before you offer them a more full-time position."
"You can see how they approach a task, and you can see if they ask good questions and stick to the deadline, which speaks to their ability to communicate and to self-manage in a remote environment," Sutton Fell added. "These tests can also help weed out candidates who aren't willing to give 100 percent."
Pay closer attention to past work and references
Has this candidate freelanced or worked other remote positions in the past? If so, he or she likely has a portfolio of work that's been done for other organizations. While most hiring managers consider the past work and previous employers of any type of employee, it's especially important to do so for remote workers.
"[Ask yourself,] what have they done in the past? Who have they worked for? What do other people have to say about the person you're about to spend money on hiring?" Bruch said. "This is all about assessing dependability before deciding who to hire."
Set out crystal-clear expectations during the interview
For in-office employees, expectations about equipment, scheduling and reporting structures are usually clear-cut. But remote employees will likely have a different set of questions that need to be addressed. Sutton Fell reminded employers that it's important to give remote job candidates a real understanding of the expectations in order to make sure that you're both on the same page.
She advised such clarifying points as: Are there set or flexible hours each day? Who will the person be working with and how is oversight from managers conducted? What communication tools and procedures will be used? What is the company culture like, and are all remote workers expected or encouraged to be active participants? Is there any need for occasional in-person meetings, travel, client visits, etc., that would take someone out of his or her home office? These are all details that should be addressed during the interview process, Sutton Fell said. Based on a candidate's questions and reactions, you should be able to tell whether that person will be a good fit for your company's expectations.
"A really good understanding of this role and how it fits within the larger structure of the business is important," Sutton Fell added. "[Discuss] how the role supports overarching business objectives, and the goals that the person hired for this role needs to meet both in the near future and long term."
After the interview
Once you've chosen and hired the right candidate, to help them feel like an important part of the company culture, welcome them to the team just as you would any in-office employee.Anthony Smith, CEO and founder of CRM software company Insightly, recommended flying in remote employees every once in a while to encourage team bonding. He also suggested providing its remote team members with extra services, such as online chat rooms and videoconferencing, to make sure they feel like they're in the loop.
For more advice on engaging remote employees, visit Business News Daily's guide.