What Makes A Great Remote Worker?

What Makes A Great Remote Worker

Most leaders probably didn’t head into the great work-from-home experiment of 2020 assuming we’d need to know anything about hiring people remotely. In fact, most leaders struggled with the opposite issues when the initial economic downturn began. But now, as organizations stand nine months out from the beginning of the pandemic and continue adjusting to the “work from anywhere” world we’re now living in, more and more leaders are finding they have to make hiring decisions about candidates they’ve never met—to work on teams that will rarely meet in person.

In addition to the normal methods we use to screen job candidates, and the tactics we use to judge whether those candidates are a fit for the organization, those same leaders have found that hiring remote workers and setting them up for success, requires candidates are evaluated for more than just their knowledge, skills, abilities, and past experience.

In this article, we’ll review the three biggest questions that leaders need to answer when evaluating potential new hires. Beyond just “Can they do the job?” these questions answer the even bigger question of “Can they do the job remotely?”

Are they collaborators?

The first question we need to answer when evaluating potential new teammates is “Are they collaborators?” You might think that collaboration isn’t all that important in remote team, but the truth is collaboration is actually more important. Talent flows from teams. Individual performance is almost always most influenced by the team a performer is on, as well as the resources and information provided by the organization. And just because your people are working remotely, doesn’t mean they’re working alone. They will still need access to those same resources and the ability to collaborate with the team to get work done. And the remote, asynchronous nature of these teams means they’ll need to find a cadence to their collaboration even more quickly.

We can assess whether someone is a good collaborator in a variety of ways. We want to invite as many people on the current team into the interview process as we can. If you’re going to be working with the new hire, then you should probably have a say in who gets hired. Many teams and organizations go even further and invite the potential candidates to work with the team on a trial basis—like an internship but for more than just university students. If you can’t go that far, then you can at least ask questions about how they collaborated on past teams, such as what it was like to work with a team that collaborated well and maybe even one that collaborated poorly, as well as what the differences are. If you’re assessing collaboration through questions, remember that there are not “right” answers to these questions—just answers that indicate whether a potential new hire has the same collaboration style as the existing team.

Are they communicators?

The second question we need to answer when evaluating potential new teammates is “Are they communicators?” Or rather, are they great communicators—because everyone communicates and, even on a remote team, you cannot not communicate. Communication is oxygen of any relationship, especially someone’s relationship with a team. Your ability to collaborate and coordinate work will depend on your ability to communicate with everyone on the team—including any new hires. And that doesn’t just mean communicate synchronously like on an audio or video call—it also means written communication in long and short form.

And if we’re looking to assess someone’s communication ability across a variety of mediums than we need to conduct the selection process over a variety of mediums. Not every interview should be a video call. Some will need to be audio only and some might even be through text chat. It’s also worth noting that the need to assess communication brings new importance to an old relic of the hiring process: the cover letter. A cover letter attached to a resume or CV is literally an example of how well a candidate can express herself clearly and concisely and make an argument—the argument for why she should be hired. Clear writing is clear thinking. And you want to make sure you find a new teammate with both. But just as with collaboration, it doesn’t matter if a candidate is skilled in the rules of grammar, as much as it matters that her communication style matches the existing team.

Are they self-motivated?

The last question we need to answer when evaluating potential new teammates is “Are they self-motivated?” And this might seem like it’s the most important question and hence should have been first. But remote work isn’t just work done alone—it’s work done alone together. Still, being self-motivated is a necessary quality because of that alone part. We want to know how well potential new teammates can get themselves up and focused on work without the threat of a boss waiting by their cubicles to see if they arrived on time. They don’t need to stay focused and engaged from 9-5 on Monday through Friday—there’s a freedom and flexibility to remote work. But that freedom can easily be a liability unless employees are self-motivated.

Fortunately, there are several places we can examine job candidates’ levels of self-motivation beyond just asking the easily-gamed question “are you self-motivated?” Past work experience is a major indicator. If they worked remotely before (especially before we all got forced to work remotely) and they performed well (or at least performed for the same company for multiple years), then that’s an indicator that they have the skills to stay motivated alone. But also, if their work history includes time as a freelancer or solopreneur. Just because that didn’t work out and now they’re looking to be employees doesn’t mean they weren’t self-motivated. But it does provide a space to ask questions about how they get themselves working when they worked by themselves. If their work history includes neither of those things, we can still ask about hobbies or other activities they’re engaged in. If they’re training for an Ironman triathlon by themselves, that’s a pretty strong indicator that they are self-motivated even if they’ve never worked remotely before.

If you take the answers to these three questions together—and especially if you compare candidates answers to how your existing team would answer—then you can get a pretty good picture of how well someone will fit on your remote team. And you’ll know not just whether they are a great remote worker. You’ll know whether or not they are your new remote teammate.





About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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