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The Unique Challenges of Hiring Remotely 

While it has its challenges, by now we can all agree that remote-first companies can work. With a little planning and intention, it’s entirely possible to remain productive, connected and have positive relationships with your remote team.

If we consider the increasingly high demand for remote positions, and the fact that location is no longer relevant, it makes sense that hiring a remote team should be relatively easy too.

And while it’s by no means an impossible task, just as managing a remote team is slightly different to managing a co-located one, hiring one has its own unique challenges too.

To uncover the key differences (and some tactics to overcome them), we chatted to Lance Robbins, founder and CEO of RemotelyConnected a remote talent acquisition service.

He shared what he looks for in candidates and some of the general principles he uses when assisting his clients in building their remote teams. 

“I don’t necessarily think it’s harder, but it’s definitely different,” Lance says of the remote hiring process.

Testing for emotional intelligence

As well as the technical skills required for the specifies role, remote contributors need to exhibit characteristics that make them more suited to remote conditions — namely, high emotional intelligence and communication skills.

“What’s really important for a remote worker is that self-awareness and self-management,” Lance says.

“Someone who might be a real technical whiz – if they’re not able to regulate their day or recognise when they need help could really struggle in a remote environment.”

Discovering whether a candidate possesses these attributes can be a difficult task. Often, it’s less about answers to interview questions and more about how they interact throughout the entire process.

“What stands out for me is if I have an interview with somebody and they reach out ahead of time to confirm the link or they follow up afterwards and say thank you for the call what are the next steps,” Lance says. “Those are really good indications of proactive communication.”

Lance also provides emotional intelligence testing as part of all his services with RemotelyConnected. The self-awareness appraisal is particularly useful when onboarding an employee as it gives a framework for their new manager to work from when creating specific management strategies.

“[Having] a report on areas of opportunity for growth and even some strategies about how they might manage them successfully [is incredibly helpful], particularly in a remote environment,” Lance says.  

Extra requirements 

 “There are other filters that will come into play,” Lance says.

Alongside a different set of favourable characteristics, there are often logistical requirements that matter when hiring someone remotely.

“Things like, do you have a quiet space to work from? Do you have a reliable internet connection? Do you have the equipment that you need?” Lance says

“Those are things that not everybody can say yes to even though they really really want to work remotely.”

This is not to say they can’t be overcome. ShieldGEO, among many other remote-first companies, provides equipment and internet allowances to all employees as well as the opportunity to work from co-working spaces.

Hiring remotely is not an abdication of all responsibility to your employee. Still, these questions will play a big part in the hiring of new team members, particularly during the onboarding process. Something co-located managers don’t need to think about.

Huge numbers of remote applicants

One of the most significant benefits for companies who hire remotely is the greater access to talent. By removing the need to commute to a single location, you’re no longer restricted to only hiring people who live close to your office. This is excellent news for employers who now have access to talent all over the world.

“The longer I’ve been working, the more I realise that a lot of companies are leaving opportunity on the table by not considering remote work as a talent acquisition strategy,” Lance says.

While this increased talent pool is undoubtedly a positive – it does come with some logistical challenges.

The flipside of more talent is a massive increase in applications to wade through before landing on your ideal candidate.

“There are way more people that want to work remotely than there are remote jobs today,” Lance says. “It’s a very competitive market.”

Remote jobs can garner hundreds or even thousands of applicants, for a single role, all needing the attention of the hiring manager.

“That’s a challenge that physically located companies aren’t facing,” Lance says.

He encourages remote hiring managers to create a streamlined hiring process focused on filtering out unqualified applicants early on.

“That’s definitely something that I do and can offer to my clients,” he says.

As with all roles, there will be a large portion of applicants who are not qualified for the position. These are generally the easiest to work through, but it still takes time.  

“It’s great to get a lot of candidates but when we look at the percentage – even in a physically located company – of qualified vs underqualified [applicants], there’s always a big disparity,” Lance says. “It’s just expounded when you’re dealing with a volume of hundreds or thousands.”

Remote roles will often attract people who are interested in the lifestyle of remote work regardless of the requirements of the position. Once again, these applicants are easy to sort but still require time.

There are a few ways to combat this.

  • Take the time to craft thoughtful job listings, and rank your requirements from most-important to least

By taking the time at this early stage, you’ll have a clearer idea of the person you’re looking for. Without the pressure of a pile of resumes to sort through, you can determine what the non-negotiables are. This helps to sort applicants later, as you’ll have a specific set of criteria and won’t be swayed by other positive attributes or internalised biases. If your highest requirement is photoshop skills, this gives you something to look for, only progressing applicants who demonstrate the skill. This simplifies a daunting task by creating a simple pass/fail system for the first stage.

  • Include opportunities for communication before the interview 

Sometimes, high-value requirements aren’t easy to spot on a one-page resume. As mentioned, for remote work, things like over communication, empathy and self-direction are incredibly important traits. You may be looking for other soft skills relevant to your company’s culture too. ShieldGEO sends a short response Typeform before progressing candidates to the interview stage. This allows candidates to showcase how they communicate via text, and specific questions are designed to determine whether they align with our values. Once again, this stage helps to filter out unsuitable candidates before the time-consuming interview process.

  • Utilise panel interviews 

While Lance is a fan of a multi-step hiring process, he is cautious about taking too long.

“I’ve seen companies lose really great candidates that may have wanted to work there because [the process] just took too long,” he says “So optimising it for speed without losing quality is really important.”

To do this, Lance suggests panel-style interviews where multiple team members are present.

“If you base it all on one person’s perspectives – if I interview the same candidate five times, I don’t have any diversity of perspective on this candidate,” Lance says.

“So, a panel interview is a good method – I think it adds diversity of perspective without adding to the time that it takes to move the candidate though.”

Time zone differences 

Once again, remote work allows companies to utilise a global team which, for the most part, can be hugely beneficial. However, this, of course, comes with differing time zones which can sometimes be challenging to manage. In day-to-day workflow, it’s relatively easy to overcome this by implementing asynchronous communication strategies, access to online resources and scattered teammates, ensuring no one is working alone. Unfortunately, the act of hiring doesn’t always fit seamlessly into established processes, particularly if you only have one or two hiring managers. 

For Shield’s head of HR, Talent and Culture, Stella Huang, who is based in Sydney, this is something that requires intentional planning and effort to get around. 

“I’ve had to learn how to manage time zones,” she says. 

“I was doing eight interviews a week of about an hour each plus note-taking afterwards, all at random times. It was very emotionally and mentally draining.”

Now she only opens up her calendar for interviews on three out of five days in the week, and only during specific times. 

“You sort of have to plan your life and work at the same time and make it work together,” she says. 

“In the morning is a really good time for people in the Americas to have a chat with me. I’ll then take a 3- or 4-hour long break in the middle of the day because I know later on I’ll probably work from 5-9 pm because that time is good for people in Europe.”

Stella also recommends bringing on people in other time zones to help out with more general tasks. 

“I’ve already started training a couple of people to start helping me with doing those reference calls, which makes it a lot easier.”

She also plans to train people to help out with values alignment interviews too. 

“That should be something that everyone at Shield should be able to do. Because it is about values alignment, we should all have an idea of what values we are looking for.”

Sharing the load also has the added benefit of speeding up the hiring process and having more input – which, as mentioned above, Lance agrees is helpful. 

“Because I don’t always know what my own biases are so if I continue to complete these values interviews it may well be that I’m only letting one type of person through,” Stella says. 

The logistics of virtual interviews

If you’re already a remote company, you’ll likely be set up for remote interviews. Logistically it will be reasonably similar to any regular meetings you already perform. This may not be the case for the candidates.

“It can be a foreign language or foreign cultural experience to interview with a remote company,” Lance says. “So, helping guide candidates through that process [is considerate].”

He suggests reaching out to them ahead of time with instructions could save time and confusion later.

“If they’ve scheduled an interview, a follow up to let them know where to find the link and what technology platform to be using [is helpful],” he says.

While most people will say interviewing from the comfort of your own home is generally more appealing than travelling to an unknown office, there are still things candidates will need to do to prepare. In this case, they can’t just show up to a location, they’ll have to make sure to have the right programs installed, test microphones and speakers and generally know their way around scheduling programs and video call software like Zoom. Having helpful instructions to guide through this process will help to mitigate any confusion.

“You [don’t want to] miss an interview altogether with somebody that might have been a really good candidate because it was just a little foreign to them.”

Technology issues 

Sometimes, no matter how much you prepare ahead of time, technology simply doesn’t work, and it’s important not to let these unavoidable mishaps cloud your judgement of the candidate. 

Stella came across these issues in her last round of hiring. 

“You’re talking through a microphone, and that’s probably picking up sound from other places, so you can’t always hear clearly or the maybe the person’s earphones aren’t working,” she says. 

This can sometimes lead to questions being misunderstood or answered incorrectly, which skews the interview process. 

“This can happen on my side too,” Stella says. “Sometimes, with all the other aspects of noise, I have to infer what they’re trying to say. I can’t always hear every word. You kind of pick up the main words and try to string them together and hope that the message that you’re getting from your inference is actually what they’re trying to say.”

When this happens, it can be difficult not to let it influence how you thought the interview went. 

“When they misunderstand the question is it that they’re not listening carefully? Are they not understanding, or is it technology that’s not working out?” Stella says. 

This is where including multiple opportunities for communication comes in handy. 

“We try to see a pattern,” Stella says. 

“If we can see that their written communication isn’t great either then that’s probably them as a person. But if their written communication was really great and I was trying to infer lots of things during the interview, we’d probably let that slide, or we’d take a further look at other aspects to try and see whether we push them forward.”

Don’t worry, it’s worth it

While these challenges may be unique to the remote hiring process, Lance is adamant it’s worthwhile. 

“For me, [it’s been a] huge blessing and benefit being able to work remotely,” he says. “I want to help other people enjoy the same experience and have that same opportunity.”

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