How to Interview Remote Team Members

Telecommuting is on the rise. Some high profile companies have turned their backs on working from home. Others are increasingly turning to remote workers to answer their staffing problems.

We’re the first to admit that remote working isn’t right for every role, or every company. We do believe that, if you take having a remote team seriously, you’ll reap the benefits. Unsurprisingly, we think that great virtual teams begin with the hiring process.

Unless your company is a startup, you probably already have a recruitment process set up. Chances are, that you went through that process yourself. But hiring digital nomads is a little different to hiring on-site workers.

Candidates for remote work need different skill sets than their desk-bound counterparts. The technical skills will still be the same. But the success of remote work depends more on personal qualities than programming knowledge.

Hiring someone to work from home is more about the person than the role. You’re not just looking for a great programmer, you’re looking for a great programmer who can work without supervision. You’re looking for someone who can manage their own workload, and who can contribute to the team whilst still working remotely.

Like all hires, if you’re hiring someone to work from home you start with a CV. Once you’ve selected the most promising, you might move on to a less formal telephone interview to get a feel for the person. Or you might go straight to an in-person interview – or if your candidate is on a different continent you might choose a video interview.

But how can you ask the right questions to ensure you get the right person? Read on.

Remote Culture

Before you go into the interview stage, it’s helpful if you know what you want from your remote employees. What are your remote working policies? How will you measure performance? What communication channels do you expect your staff to use, and when.

The more you know about the sort of remote manager you’re going to be, the easier it will be to see if the person you’re talking to has a place on your team.

Technical Ability

We’ve talked before about how we think the way most interviews for programming skills are broken. If you’ve got a technical background, you’ve probably been through a whiteboard test at some point in your career. How did it feel for you?

Yes, there are virtual whiteboard tools which you can use to reproduce this technique if you must (hint: you musn’t). It’s probably more useful to take a little time to come up with a small, self-contained technical challenge instead. You can learn a lot more about a developer by looking at how they approach a problem, and what their code looks like.

Some companies use logic problems to assess technical skills (perhaps most famously, Microsoft). It’s tempting to think this will get you candidates with great programming skills. The truth is there is a lot of difference between being able to solve puzzles and being able to develop code.

Questions For a Remote Interview

When you meet a candidate in person, you will quickly make a judgement about them. The rest of the interview is really about them confirming or altering that first impression. The one quality that is most likely to sway an interviewer? Likeability. That impression is formed by the way the candidate dresses and makes small talk on the way to the interview itself.

When you’re interviewing via video conference, the candidate has much more control over what they show of themselves. If they’ve read any one of the many guides out there to ‘acing a skype interview’, you’ll see only their head and shoulders, set against a neutral background.

That’s why it’s important to ask slightly different questions. Not just because you want to make sure that the candidate will be successful working in a remote role, but because you need to know if this person will be a good fit for your company culture.

The trend for remote interview questions is to ask things about the applicants time and work management approach. Questions like: How do you schedule your day? What does a day working from home look like for you? and, Describe your physical workspace? are among those often posed in interviews for remote roles.

We’ve talked in the past about how to come up with questions that tell you what you need to know. You’re looking to identify someone who will fit your organisation, and will cope with the challenges of remote work. Take some time to come up with your own twist on those questions to find that out.

Communication

Remote workers need to be able to write. I don’t mean that you’re looking for the next Hemingway, but distributed teams rely heavily on written communication. This is particularly true if your team works asynchronously, in different time zones. Where they only really ‘chat’ via Trello, Asana or whichever PM solution you’re using.

Can your candidate write a brief email that explains what they’ve done in the last day? If there is a problem, are they able to let the right person know and give them complete information so the fix can be working for them when they next log in? Are they able to deal with inevitable miscommunications that happen in text-based communication? As founders of Basecamp, David Hansson and Jason Fried suggest in their book, ‘No asshole-y behaviour allowed. No drama allowed. No bad vibes allowed.’

Previous Remote Experience

One area worth exploring in detail with the applicant are any previous remote roles. They will give you the chance to hear examples of how the challenges of working from home have been met and managed in the past. Questions like: Can you tell us about something that didn’t go well for you in your last project, and how you handled that? will tell you a lot about the person you’re interviewing.

Don’t rule out people who haven’t worked from home before, though. As the old adage goes, a good worker is a good worker. The lure of Netflix isn’t enough to compromise a great work ethic. Instead it’s likely to allow that worker to become even more productive, as they can now fit their hours around their most productive hours of the day. We don’t all work best between 9 and 5.

Great Candidates

One way in which you can make the interview process simpler is to make sure you’ve got the very best candidates. Here at DistantJob we spend our days headhunting and pre-vetting remote developers. So, if we send you a CV you can rest assured the hard work is already done.
If you’d like us to do the same for you, get in touch today.

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