Thinking of hiring remote employees? This guide will cover all of the key areas regarding remote recruiting, including why choose a remote work setting, what characteristics and skills should a remote employee have, how to find and hire remote candidates, and a list of useful tools for remote teams.
Remote working is becoming increasingly common as technology enables communication, collaboration, and workload management across distributed teams.
This guide to hiring remote employees will look at both the positive and negative aspects of working remotely, as well as exploring hiring challenges, recruiting software for remote companies, and more. If you are a new or established business looking to go down the route of hiring a distributed team, this guide is for you.
Topics Covered Include
- Why Choose a Remote Work Setting?
- What Characteristics and Skills to Look for when Hiring Remote Employees
- How to Find Remote Candidates?
- Hiring Remote Employees: The Basics
- Useful Tools for a Remote Team
- Further Reading On Remote Work
Why Choose A Remote Work Setting?
Positives Of Hiring Remote Employees
1) Lowering business costs
Hiring a remote team means that businesses can look to reduce certain costs such as office rent, equipment costs, and certain employee travel costs.
If 100% of your workforce works remotely, then you can eliminate these costs altogether. If you operate on a mixed model, where some staff are office-based and a portion of the work is outsourced to remote workers, you can reduce costs by operating out of smaller units. Large firms such as Cisco and Aetna have reported savings of $277 million and $78 million a year respectively due to hiring remote employees.
2) Widening the talent pool
If you hire remotely, you instantly expand your recruiting net from those living a few miles from your office, to a global network of talent. This can be of particular relevance to firms seeking talent with high-level skills that are also quite niche, and so may be hard to find in the immediate vicinity.
3) More engaged workforce
Although some employers might fear that creating remote jobs means relinquishing control over staff and therefore a slip in efficiency, it appears that the opposite is true. Remote workers have shown higher levels of productivity and engagement with their work.
People working away from the office have fewer distractions and the flexibility of the work means they can often choose hours which are best for them.
A Global Workplace Analytics study found that 53% of remote workers are likely to work overtime compared to 28% of office-based workers. In another PGI study, 80% of remote workers reported improved morale.
4) Flexibility to staff
In addition to the benefits to employers, remote working can also be advantageous to employees. The flexibility enables remote employees to plan their own schedule and create a better work-life balance, as well as work in an environment tailored to their own preferences.
There are health benefits, with 82% of remote employees reporting reduced levels of stress and the savings in time and money due to not having to commute.
5) More diverse workforce
Remote recruiting from across the globe enables businesses to assemble a more diverse team of employees than if they are hiring from their own geographic area. This can ultimately expand the knowledge pool of the company, bring in new perspectives and experiences, and perhaps open the company up to new markets and opportunities.
6) Better retention rates
If managed properly, there is evidence that hiring remote employees can improve employee retention rates. It eliminates the risk of losing employees due to relocation. It also lessens the risk of losing staff to health-related issues.
A study carried out by Stanford University found that offering remote work opportunities can reduce staff turnover rates by around 50%.
7) Environmental benefits
A final benefit worth mentioning is the environmental benefit of hiring remote employees. The more remote employees a company has, the smaller its carbon footprint is likely to be.
“Large firms such as Cisco and Aetna have reported savings of $277 million and $78 million a year respectively due to hiring remote workers.”
Negatives Of Remote Hiring
1) Communication problems
Probably the most obvious issue with hiring remote employees is the limited face-to-face communication with your team. It can be trickier to build a rapport as quicky or intimately as in an office environment where you are in close proximity to your colleagues for the better part of the day.
However, with a bit of focus and effort, this can easily be overcome. For example, at Toggl Hire, we hold daily morning standups which are very informal and serve as a coffee chat at the start of our days. We also play team games every Friday morning, and organise meetups around Europe every 6-8 weeks, so we can spend some time together in person exploring a new city.
2) Less interaction and collaboration
With a remote team, you can lose out on things such as team meetings, brainstorming sessions, work away days and opportunities for workers to interact socially and build relationships. This makes it harder to forge a distinctive company culture.
But if you want to create opportunities for remote staff to communicate and interact, you can still do this by creating different non work-related Slack channels in your Slack account. For instance, we have channels ranging from health and fitness, to food, to a book club, gaming, and even crytocurrency chats.
“But you said this was a perk not 500 words ago!” We know, but hear us out. As with most things, there are two sides to this coin. High turnover and weaker attachment to a role can be a problem when hiring remote employees if you don’t keep them sufficiently engaged and valued.
The best way to avoid this, is to give your complete trust to your employees. This is vital with any position, remote or not, but in a distributed team setting, where it can be tempting to try to overcompensate for a perceived loss of control with micromanagement, don’t. Trust your team, let them take ownership of projects, praise them when they do well, and support them where they need improvement.
4) Technology problems
No matter how you slice it, remote work is 100% dependent on various technologies working smoothly. However, there will inevitably be times when things break down. If you’re working with a globally dispersed team, you may have staff in regions where internet isn’t as good or technology is more prone to hiccups.
The best way around this is to build potential problems into your planning strategy so that you can mitigate any risks. If budgets allows, providing all employees with basic equipment like laptops, or offering to cover their wifi costs can be a good place to start.
What Characteristics and Skills to Look for when Hiring Remote Employees?
Of course, the exact skills and characteristics you will be looking for will vary from role to role. However, there are several general skills and characteristics that good remote workers should possess:
1) Communication skills
Good communication underpins a successful remote team. You’ll want to hire a remote team that communicates clearly and is responsive. You could test the communication skills of remote employees by setting up a small written test (if writing skills will be particularly important for the role), or you could ask some specific questions to test communication skills, like:
- Tell us about a time when you successfully promoted an idea on behalf of yourself or others?
- Tell us about a situation when you failed to communicate appropriately?
- Describe a situation where you were able to influence others on an important issue. What approaches or strategies did you use?
If regular contact through team collaboration software is an important part of the daily job, ask candidates to use this tool during the hiring process. If the candidate shows reluctance or isn’t collaborative, then maybe they are not a good fit for the remote role.
2) Organizational skills
Remote employees will need to be highly organized as they will be working unsupervised and largely according to their own schedules.
This will require a good ability to prioritize and manage their time in order to meet deadlines. The last thing you’ll want is the 11th-hour email from someone saying they’re unable to meet an important deadline as something has cropped up or they’ve got too much work on.
To test the organizational skills of remote candidates, you could set a small task with a tight deadline. You could also ask questions about how they plan their work and prioritize tasks, like:
- Are you a perfectionist?
- How would you manage a coworker who asks so many questions that you can’t get your own work done?
- How do you identify tasks that are a waste of time?
3) Technical skills
This isn’t just about the job-specific skills you’ll need your remote employees to have. The nature of remote work and communicating as part of a remote team involves being fairly tech savvy.
If you are using specific systems or programs, you can test the aptitude of candidates by getting them to use this as part of your skills assessment when hiring remote employees. For instance, as part of the hiring process, let remote candidates communicate with you via Slack, present their written work in Google Docs, push their code in Github etc.
As previously mentioned, trust is the bedrock of any successful remote team. This can be a tricky characteristic to assess, and you almost have to trust they are bieng honest about being honest.
The best you can do is make sure they can actually do what they say they can do. Pre-employment skills tests like Toggl Hire is one good way to assess this. While these predominantly test for hard skills, we have found throwing in 1 or 2 open-ended questions to be highly effective.
- Describe a time when you spoke up in a situation that was unfavorable to you.
- Tell us about a time you had to admit your mistakes to your fellow colleagues and coworkers.
- Explain a time when you failed, and how you handled it.
See more sample questions here.
5) Good culture match
A good way of ensuring a strong cultural fit when hiring remote workers is to use pre-employment testing where you can use questions or tests tailored to find the most suitable candidates and weed out any who won’t fit into your environment. You can ask open-ended questions like:
- Describe the management style that will bring forth your best work and efforts.
- Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy.
- Do you have a best friend at work? How do you feel about becoming friends with your coworkers? Is this a wise practice?
Find more sample questions here.
Remote employees need to be highly self-motivated as nobody is around to make sure that they’re knuckling down and working hard. You’ll want to hire a remote team that can not only get the job done but will be proactive in coming up with ideas, inputting without being asked and has good critical thinking skills.
You can ask candidates about their preferred working and management styles to assess this. If they say they’re happy with autonomous working and minimal supervision, you’re on the right track. Some other good questions to ask are:
- Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?
- What career goals have you set for your life?
- If you find yourself working with a team that is not motivated, how do you keep yourself motivated and motivate others?
See more sample questions on self-motivation here.
Self-discipline is extremely important for remote staff as this is about minimizing distractions, taking regular breaks and having a healthy routine. To assess self-discipline levels, you can ask questions about work routines, how distractions are dealt with, how candidates ensure that things get done in stressful circumstances.
8) Flexibility and adaptability
You may be thinking that flexibility in remote employees is a given. But the remote work environment is about both employer and employee showing mutual respect to each other.
You will want to allow remote staff as much autonomy and flexibility as you can, but at the same time some structure is necessary. This can be in the form of weekly one on ones with your team members, or daily standups within your tight teams were your tasks and goals for the day are discussed. This is a great way to organically foster interaction in what can be an isolating environment at times, and also create accountability without micromanaging.
To get an idea of a candidate’s adaptability, questions like this could come in handy:
- You have been working on a client’s project for a while when your manager informs you that the project’s requirements changed suddenly. How do you react?
- Your teammate is working in a different timezone which means you’ll have to run meetings at 9 pm. How do you cope with that?
- Your boss has a “this is how we’ve always done it” attitude. What do you do?
More sample questions on adaptability can be found here.
9) Ability to respond to feedback
There is likely to be occasions when you need to ask remote employees to amend work or inform them that it’s not up to standard. The employer-employee relationship is typically not as hierarchical as traditional work relationships and asking remote staff, especially skilled staff, to re-do a task or offering (constructive) criticism might feel awkward. You’ll want to be sure that you’re not hiring a remote worker who will throw down their tools and leave a job uncompleted if unsatisfactory feedback is offered, no matter how talented they may be.
You can test a candidate by asking them how they deal with criticism or asking them about their weaknesses or times that they have failed on something. You could even put this to the test by giving them a short task and offering constructive critical feedback on it.
10) Remote working experience
This isn’t an essential requirement but, unless the candidate is exceptionally well-suited to the role, it might be wise to try and find someone who has experience of working remotely. Autonomous working is very different from normal work environments and it’s not for everyone. It’s safer to go with someone familiar with the requirements than someone wanting to give it a go who thinks they might be good at it.
How To Find Remote Candidates?
1) Employee referrals
One effective way of hiring remote employees is to use your existing employees as a referral source. Research suggests that employee referrals are the best way to hire.
- Employee referrals can nearly halve your recruiting time, with one study showing it takes an average of 29 days to hire this way compared to 55 days using career sites.
- Hiring this way is far cheaper as you save on advertising costs, agency fees, etc.
- Referred hires have found to stay with the job for longer, with one study showing that 46% of referred hires stayed for at least a year, compared to 33% through career sites.
This can be extended to other people through your work networks, e.g. partners, investors, clients, ex-employees, even family and friends.
2) Advertising through social media
According to research, nine out of ten companies now use some form of social media to attract and source candidates and around a quarter of all job seekers use social media as their main tool when looking for work. This means having a strong presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook is very important when it comes to the remote job posting and sharing your opportunities as wide as possible.
3) Local meetup groups
Although remote hiring is more focused on the global than the local, you shouldn’t eschew local resources completely. Many remote recruiters have reported good success rates by using influential meetup groups in their area. You can find out about recruiter meetup groups close to you, or even start your own meetup group, through the Meetup website.
4) Your company website and blog
You can also advertise remote job posts through your own website and blog. Using your own website as a remote recruiting tool is a good way of attracting candidates who are interested in your brand, which may help you with finding people who are a good fit with your company culture.
5) Remote job boards
There are also a number of job boards that specialize in sourcing remote employees. Most of them cost quite a bit, but might still be worth trying out:
Hiring Remote Employees: The Basics
The first thing to consider is ditching the resume. This has long been the favored measure of employee talent but there are two key reasons why hiring based on resumes doesn’t work for remote companies.
Firstly, it’s very time-consuming. Advertising globally for remote jobs could potentially bring in hundreds of applicants, or even thousands for bigger companies, and wading through hundreds of resumes takes considerable time and effort.
Secondly, it’s not a method which guarantees you’ll end up hiring the strongest candidate. Pretty much everyone embellishes their resumes – you should be interested in the content of the person, not the paper. (If you, like us, have strong thoughts on this, we encourage you to check out our Toggl Hire Manifesto).
Resumes are more about how someone is able to present themselves rather than a demonstration of their abilities. Someone who is not a good fit for a role might do a good job of presenting themselves as so by crafting a strong resume, while another superior candidate might seem poor on paper but be far more skilled.
A better way of hiring remote employees is to use pre-employement skills tests. Used at the initial stages of hiring, it can save considerable time and effort.
One UK supermarket that switched to pre-employment testing as an initial step was able to save 73,000 hours of managerial time in the recruitment process. Similarly, consumer goods giant Unilever found that pre-employment skills testing saved them 50,000 hours of interview time and reduced the time spent reviewing CV’s by 75 percent. Furthermore, using pre-employment skills testing can also help improve the diversity of your workforce.
“Unilever found that pre-employment skills testing saved them 50,000 hours of interview time and reduced the time spent reviewing resumes by 75%”
6 Steps to Hiring Remote Employees with Skills Tests
1) Set up a short performance-based test
First, you need to design your skills-based challenge which can be tailored to screen for job-related skills as well as the skills and characteristics a good remote employee should possess (as listed in the above section).
You can use a test template or create your own. Toggl Hire skills test allows you to take full control over the process, from setting the time limit to complete the test to determine the points threshold.
2) Source remote candidates
Using the sourcing routes listed above, you can now use your tailored skills test to advertise your job post(s) and attract candidates.
Important tip: try to make the test fairly short (10-15 minutes max.) and as fun as possible to lower the barrier to apply.
People generally prefer taking little quizzes and tests overwriting arduous cover letters and if you can market your skills test as a fun way to spend a few minutes, you’ll get more applicants.
3) Contact applicants fast
It’s important to engage with applicants fairly quickly, especially those who score high in the test. You need to capitalize on the excitement they may be feeling having taken the test. Set up automated follow-up emails to send out after the test has been completed.
4) Invite the best candidates for a video interview
You’ll want to assess the strongest candidates for remote job posts face-to-face via video calls. This is your chance to probe prospective remote employees a little deeper, find out what their goals are and get a better feel for who might be best for the role.
5) Sort out the best performers and assign them a longer task
You should now have whittled the field down to 2-4 candidates for the remote job post. If you have time and you think it’s necessary, you can give the remaining applicants a longer, more in-depth task to test their abilities. Something like a mini-project that takes around 2-4 days to complete. This could be a writing, designing or problem-solving task, or perhaps a combination of tasks, depending on the role.
If it’s something that will take a few hours to complete, it’s wise to offer payment of some sort so as not to look like you’re just trying to get free labor.
6) Arrange a final interview with your whole team (or part of the team)
The final stage is to have the remaining applicants meet your team via an online interview. This is where the candidates can present their work from the longer task, ask and answer questions. This is useful for getting the candidates to interact with other team members and for everyone to get a feel for things. Following this, you should be able to agree with colleagues on the strongest candidate. You are now in a position to hire your virtual employee.
Useful Tools for Remote Teams
Here is a short list of useful tools that help to maintain a remote team.
Sourcing and hiring
Further Reading on Remote Work
Interested in more? Check out these articles on remote work: