The future of work is remote.
Back in 2014, Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom declared in Harvard Business Review: “To raise productivity, let your employees work from home”.
Earlier this year, Diane Mulcahy wondered aloud in the same publication: “Will the gig economy make the office obsolete?”
Pontification aside, most trends indicate the increasingly remote nature of knowledge work. According to NY Times, nearly 43% of employed Americans spent some time working remotely in 2016, a number that’s surely to rise.
The benefits of remote work certainly sound promising – access to a global talent pool, low office costs, and flexibility.
The problem, however, is hiring and managing remote workers.
I’ll show you how to solve this problem in this post.
4 Steps to Building a High-Performance Remote Team
Although it might sound complex, building a remote team isn’t any different from hiring workers for a local office. The fundamentals are still the same: look for good fit, create an enticing offer, and use strong managerial practices.
I’ll share four crucial steps to get this right below:
#1: Identify Your Requirements
Before you write a single job ad, take some time to figure out what kind of workers you actually want.
Your ideal workers would have:
- Skills to get the job done (and an appetite to learn more)
- Cultural fit to get along with the rest of your team (remote or on-site)
- Personality traits and training necessary for remote work
The first part – skills – is relatively easy to evaluate. Make a list of your must-have and nice-to-have skills. Don’t compromise on the must-have skills, and give candidates a bonus for your nice-to-have skills.
The second part – cultural fit – can be hard to figure out. You first need to figure out your own company culture and what makes your team “tick”. Look for commonalities between your other team members and the candidate. It’s a good idea to invite your team leaders to the evaluation process as well.
The third part – a “remote-friendly” personality – is particularly important. Not every person makes a good remote employee. Distractions and loneliness can cause even otherwise talented people to be unproductive when working remotely.
To weed out poor remote workers, look for the following:
- A history of remote work, either as a contractor or as a full-time employee (the latter is better)
- Self-starters who’ve either freelanced or built businesses
- People who have a social support system at home, or are in the habit of working from coworking spaces where they have access to social groups
- People with strong written and verbal communication skills
Make a list of these requirements before you start the hiring process. Evaluate candidates against them to find your ideal remote workers.
#2: Write an Attractive Job Ad
The hiring process is essentially an elaborate matchmaking ritual. While you evaluate candidates, candidates also evaluate you. They worry about the kind of work you do and the kind of people they’ll work with.
Assuage your would-be employees by writing a job ad that shows your business in the best possible light. The harder the position is to fill, the more you’ll have to sell your company to potential hires.
Here’s how you can write an attractive job ad:
1. Focus on Your Culture
Culture – that intangible thing that defines a business – is a top priority for talented workers. They don’t just want to work at any business; they want to work with people who are similarly talented and passionate as them.
Emphasize your culture in your job ads by telling candidates about your values, your business philosophy and the kind of colleagues they’ll work with. Create a culture deck if you have to (see the Netflix culture deck below for inspiration).
Try directing potential hires to a dedicated landing page where you can expand on your work culture. Share your work philosophy, testimonials from current employees, and any team building activities they take part in (remote or on-site).
2. Be Clear in Your Job Description
Candidates – at least the good ones – want to know exactly what the job requires them to do. They want to know the challenges they’ll face, the skills they’ll need, and of course, the job’s pay and perks.
Make sure that you list the following in your job ad:
- Core responsibilities
- Preferred experience
- Key skills and technologies they should know
- Who they’ll work with (clients, team leaders, senior managers, etc.)
- What kind of candidates should apply (including any degrees, work-experience, etc.)
- How to apply (via email, contact form, etc.)
- What to include in the application (cover letter, resume, portfolio, etc.)
Most importantly, make sure to specify that it’s a remote-only job.
#3: Use the Right Job Sites
While you can certainly use mainstream job boards (Monster, Indeed, etc.), remote job ads are better served by sites that cater specifically to remote workers.
Three reasons why:
- Remote-only job sites tend to attract candidates who are already familiar with remote work.
- Remote-only job sites tend to be smaller and thus, won’t have the flood of irrelevant applications that mainstream sites send your way.
- Since they’re smaller, remote-only job sites tend to be much cheaper to advertise on than mainstream job boards.
The good part is that there is a growing list of remote-only job sites and newsletters. Their customers are usually businesses like yours – small, growing and looking for talent from all over the world.
Some job sites cater to niche talent, while others are open for every position.
Here are a few sites you can try: SkipTheDrive, VirtualVocations, FlexJobs, WeWorkRemotely, DribbleJobs (for design jobs), RemoteOK, Remote Developer Jobs.
Besides these websites, you can also advertise your position on remote job newsletters such as JobScribe and Remotive.
#4: Use the Right Management Practices
Compared to on-site workers, managing remote workers requires an altogether different approach. You can’t just walk up to your employees and inquire about their day (or their work). You have to adopt managerial practices where you can oversee their work without getting in their way.
Here are some ways you can better manage your remote employees:
1. Create a ‘Digital Watercooler’
It can be hard to build rapport and team cohesiveness when your employees can’t get together in the same physical space. It’s easy to fall into the trap of handing over work, then logging out and focusing on execution.
While this might be productive, it will impact long-term performance and team strength.
Solve this problem by creating a “digital watercooler”, i.e. a place where your people can talk without the pressure of being productive.
Something like Slack is ideal for this. Create a dedicated Slack channel for idle chit-chats. Leave this channel unmonitored so your employees can communicate freely.
2. Use Video Regularly
Video chat is the closest you can get to sharing a physical space. An “always-on” video connection where people can pop-in and out can replicate the ‘presence’ of being together.
Video chat is also the best way to communicate (both formally and informally) with remote workers. You miss a lot of nonverbal cues in written communication. Video chat ensures that your message doesn’t get lost.
Consider holding daily standup meetings via video. You can also have informal video chat sessions outside of work hours.
Use Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. to host these video chats.
3. Use Project Management Tools
Staying on top of work while working remotely can be hard. You can’t just pop into a coworker’s office and ask about a project status.
Project and task management tools that let you assign tasks and get updates from your team automatically can give you a big productivity boost. These tools will help you stay on top of every project while also letting you break down complex tasks into smaller to-dos.
Over to You
Hiring remote workers to grow your team promises a range of benefits. From better talent to lower costs, it’s a great way to scale your team with your growth.
The challenge, of course, is to hire the right people, and to manage them remotely.
The four steps I’ve shared above should give you a blueprint to start your remote team building process.
I would love to hear your results, questions and doubts about hiring people remotely in the comments below!