The ultimate employer’s guide to remote-first recruitment and hiring
The growing popularity of remote work
Have you been working remotely – from home or another destination – within the last year or so? Due to national lockdown restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s likely. Where possible, employees were asked to work from home for over a year. But if we had asked the same question back in 2019, your answer would have probably been different. A handful of people might have had remote jobs, and some may have negotiated a couple of days working from home a week.
But we’re now seeing people – both employees and employers – realise the full potential of remote working. After all, we’ve proved that work still gets done outside of an office environment.
For employees, remote working means a much greater work-life balance, thanks to swapping a potentially long and stressful commute for more free time. It gives employees the flexibility to choose how to spend their time, whether that’s more time with their family and friends or newly available time to prioritise exercise.
It’s hardly surprising that more and more employees want to work remotely. According to a YouGov report, 57% of working adults want to be able to continue working from home after the pandemic – 18% who want to be able to work from home the whole time, and 39% who want to be able to work from home some of the time.
Statistics on the perception of remote working
Even if it’s pretty clear that remote work is something that a large majority of employees want, it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll all be granted their wishes. For bosses and managers who are used to seeing their employees in an office, the idea of having them work from home can feel unfamiliar. Some may assume work isn’t getting done to the same standards.
While there are plenty of companies operating a hybrid set-up and requiring office presence for the right reasons – for example, to build a stronger working culture or for data security reasons – old-fashioned ways of thinking do exist. And there’s probably still some adjustment needed away from thinking that work only gets done when employees are watched. We all heard of horror stories during the national lockdowns where suspicious employers used various tactics to keep track of their staff. A TUC report, Technology managing people: the worker experience, revealed that 15% of workers said monitoring and surveillance at work increased since COVID-19.
So how do companies use technology to track their employees? Whenever you’re working online, systems can tell if you’re logged on or not. Tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams can report when you’re active – but only if employers use them in that way. One employee told WIRED that his employers set the screensaver timeouts on all employee computers to the smallest setting. They then track the number of timeouts to see whether you’ve been at your desk or not.
According to TUC, more than half of workers (56%) say introducing new technologies to monitor the workplace damages trust between workers and employers.
But it is important to place these stories in the context of COVID-19. David Heinemeier Hansson, a co-founder of Basecamp, told The Guardian he regularly has to turn down requests from potential clients to come up with ways of spying on their employees. “There is a depressing amount of demand and it’s mostly coming from dinosaur companies who have been forced through Covid to go remote,” he says.
In other words, a lot of these companies weren’t prepared for the switch to remote working. In fact, according to the YouGov report, 68% of British employees had never worked from home prior to the outbreak. It was a huge adjustment for workers and bosses. For employers, their hand was forced because of a global pandemic, rather than starting with the right motivation.
Indeed, there was a lot to learn about remote working or working from home. CIPD research found that perceptions of productivity differed between businesses that had offered line manager training in managing remote workers and those that hadn’t. When training had been provided, 43% said productivity had increased during homeworking, compared to only 29% in those which hadn’t offered training.
Remote working seems to be here to stay in some way, with almost all 50 of the UK's biggest employers questioned by the BBC having no plans to bring staff back to the office full-time. Instead, they said they’d be favouring a mix of home and office working; actively encouraging employees to work from home some days during the week.
There seems to be a general consensus that, where possible, a more flexible approach to where people can work is the way forward. And if this is the case, two things need to happen:
1. Educate people who remain distrustful of remote working
2. Provide the tools needed to support employees to work remotely
There’s plenty of good news on this front, though. Plenty of businesses are welcoming the changes that remote working offers and are demonstrating a much greater trust in their employees. As indicated by these studies, they are backing remote working opportunities:
Is remote working a competitive advantage?
The working environment has been changing for some time. We can join meetings with colleagues from all over the world, receive our emails wherever we are, and access all the documentation we need securely online – all without ever entering an office building.
But for some time, we’ve stuck to the same working pattern. The norm for most employees tends to be working at a fixed location for a fixed amount of hours – even in companies with the ability to work at any place, and at any time.
It took a global pandemic for widespread change to happen.
People know now what’s possible. Going back to the old ways is an unpleasant thought for many. And without adapting to changes, businesses may lose out on the best talent. The "dinosaur companies" that Basecamp’s David Heinemeier talks about, those who want to spy on their employees at home, or force them back into offices full-time, risk losing their workforce.
As remote working becomes more commonplace, these same employees have a greater choice than ever before about where they work. They are beginning to challenge the boundaries of traditional working styles, the need to be tied to a desk, and the idea of presenteeism.
In fact, in one US survey:
of employees saw flexible work as a must-have, not some special benefit.
saying they would consider changing jobs for greater long-term flexibility.
Remote hiring is a competitive space, but it also gives companies a competitive edge. Those companies which value the work-life balance of their employees and trust them with additional flexibility and freedom are the ones which will attract (and retain) great staff.
An introduction to remote hiring
People are one of – if not the – greatest assets of any company. Hiring new staff is an important business decision. It’s crucial to develop a recruitment strategy with an overview of which roles you want to hire and when you need to kickstart the hiring process.
Whether it’s because of people leaving or increased workloads, keep in mind the hiring process can take months, so it’s smart to be proactive. Don’t hire when there’s too much work, or wait to post a job advert two months into someone’s three-month notice period. Instead, anticipate those future needs and plan accordingly. That way, you’ll prevent workload stress or stagnation in the overall company strategy.
One of the major benefits to working remotely is the dissolving of geographical constraints, significantly widening the available hiring pool. But how can you make the most of this new playing field? The typical recruitment process is as follows:
- Developing a recruitment strategy
- Talent acquisition
- Application form
- Screening Call
- Remote interview
- Candidate assessment
- Reference check
In the next few sections, we’ll address how to approach these in a remote setting.
Accessing the talent pool
Acquiring talent starts with a job description. A good job description should be comprehensive, transparent, and enticing. You want people to apply, but you need to be accurate if you want them to continue with the recruitment process.
For remote jobs, the logistical details are key. Potential employees looking for a fully remote job would be wasting their own and your time applying to a hybrid role. To attract the right kind of candidate, keep the following things in mind when writing a remote job description.
Provide an accurate description of the remote policy.
Are you fully remote, hybrid, distributed, or something else entirely?
Include the company’s (remote) story.
Why is the company remote, or why is this specific job remote?
Are there time zone requirements? Are there travel requirements to, for example, the headquarters on a monthly basis?
Describe your company culture in detail or link to information on your website.
That should provide enough detail to allow potential recruits to make their own decision about whether your company is right for them. Be sure to review what information you provide on your own website too. Companies often provide details on what it’s like to work for them, information on their current employees, and the history of the business. This can all help a candidate choose you over another company.
But how will they find the advert? Some of the most common places to find candidates online include:
Depending on your industry, you might want to think about specific listing sites or recruitment agencies too.
As well as waiting for candidates to apply, you should reach out and be proactive. After all, with remote hiring, you have a huge talent pool to tap into – you don’t have to wait for them to come to you.
Recruiters can help you go looking, but you can use your own resources too. Use your employees’ networks, and ask them if they know people suited for the job. To increase engagement in the hiring process, you might consider having a reward system in place for successful referencing. Plus, if you have engaged, happy employees, they’re more likely to speak positively about their experience working remotely for your company. They can answer key questions curious candidates may have, such as any office presence requirements.
Although you obviously want to create demand for the role, getting hundreds of untailored CVs sent in can be frustrating. This can be quite common for remote positions, where location isn’t an eliminating factor. It’s not always clear why people have applied or whether they’ve got relevant experience. They could just be sending off CVs to any job advert. It can be pretty time-consuming to narrow down the serious applications.
To weed out unqualified candidates, you could use an application form to draw out information that’s important to you. That could include:
- Their location (certain locations might fall outside your time zone requirements)
- A request for a cover letter Salary expectations
- Their earliest available starting date
- A link to their LinkedIn or other relevant social media platforms
- Samples of work
- Any previous experience of remote work
As with any aspect of running a remote company smoothly, technology can be your friend during the recruitment process. There can be a lot to keep track of – how many applicants, which are being moved forwards to an interview, and who has been contacted. You want all of this information to be easily accessible online to anyone involving in the remote recruitment process.
Application tracking systems – or talent management systems – are software solutions that can help keep the hiring process organised and streamlined. The information in the system can be used to screen candidates, schedule interviews, manage the hiring process, check references, and complete new-hire administration – all remotely. Depending on the size of your company, there are several interesting applicant tracking systems available:
How to handle remote interviews
A lot of candidates can look good on paper. But you need more than that. The only way to establish whether a candidate is qualified for the job, or a great culture fit, is to interview them. In the case of a fully remote job, it’s very rarely possible to meet the candidate in person. It would be strange to ask them to travel for an interview, so you’ll be relying on video interviews.
To make the most out of this time, it’s important to adequately prepare the candidate by explaining what they can expect during the interview. You might have an initial call with more general questions, or you may have a task or presentation assessment as a later interview. Always let the potential employee know what’s coming up.
To set up a remote interview, you should:
- Carefully prepare interview questions beforehand. Have a clear interview goal in mind.
- Set the interview in a quiet space where there will be no interruption on your end.
- Provide a plan B in case the connection cuts out. A phone call is always another option.
- Be the first person present in the virtual room. This will help put the candidate at ease when they arrive.
- Start the interview with some light chit-chat, to calm the nerves and become familiar with the energy of the person.
- Make it clear for candidates how they can follow up with you.
Asking the right questions during a job interview helps you understand who you have in front of you and make the right hiring decision. The kind of questions you’d want to ask greatly depends on the specific sector, the company, and job. However, some questions are good to ask to evaluate certain criteria that are necessary in a remote setting.
To test key skills, these include:
What did you do when a manager was absent, and you had to make a decision? How do you manage balancing work and home life whilst working remotely?
Time management skills
How do you prioritise projects? How do you manage your virtual meetings?
What three things have you done within the last 12 months to improve yourself? What motivates you to stick to your deadlines and stay motivated while working solo?
If you have a problem and don’t know the solution, what do you do? How do you come up with new ideas?
How do you manage working for more than one supervisor? Would you enjoy participating in remote social activities or would you prefer to meet in person?
How do you stay in touch with co-workers and supervisors? What tools have you used before to communicate with remote teams?
Routines and environment
Describe your (potential) remote office and virtual job routine. What times do you work best throughout the day?
What do you do to develop yourself further?
There are some qualities that usually signify that candidates will flourish and be productive in a remote setting. Are they adaptable? Can they communicate well, both verbally and in writing? Are they resilient? Is there a willingness to learn and grow? Are they able to operate in ambiguity? Do they possess high emotional intelligence?
You’ll also want to assess how well someone will fit into your current team. There is nothing worse than hiring a candidate who is qualified for the job, but a terrible cultural fit. Company culture is an important pillar to keep teams happy and productive. The questions you ask to establish if the potential team member fits well will greatly depend on your specific company culture. It can help to get all team members involved to come up with questions that embody this culture.
Following the initial interview, you may decide an assessment is needed or you may go straight to the negotiation stage:
If the interview went well and there is an expectation that a candidate is qualified for the job, it’s time to put this to the test. You could try to have multiple candidates at this stage to measure their strengths and weaknesses against each other.
When they have completed the assessment in a way that assures you they'll be able to do the job and there will be no surprises, it’s time to negotiate the salary, benefits, and other practicalities. Make sure you have up to date information on the average salary for the specific job and sector. If you want to attract truly great talent, it pays off to provide an above average salary compensation.
Things to consider with remote employees
Hiring employees can be quite an exciting time. You’re recruiting new individuals with fresh ideas and plenty of motivation to get going. But there are a few practicalities you’ll need to think about too. We spoke to Oyster, who help companies hire and pay employees across borders, about some of the priority areas you need to consider:
How you’ll pay your employees
Wherever your employees are, you need to pay them. There are a couple of ways to do this:
- One is to open a local legal entity in the country where the employee works. If you decide to do this, you’ll have to open a bank account in that country.
- Another option is to work with an Employer of Record (EOR). This is a third party that will employ and pay your employee. They’re also responsible for benefits, compliance, and so on.
You also need to ask yourself:
- Will you outsource payroll?
- What currency will you pay your remote employees in? Local currency?
- How will you provide pension plans?
Your tax obligations will depend on whether you hire employees full-time or as independent contractors (Oyster have covered this in greater detail). One of the main obligations to consider as payroll withholding obligations, which are country dependent. Take Canada, for example. Employers in Canada must deduct at least two things: employment insurance and one of two pension plan contributions. Canada has two pension plans - CPP applies everywhere but Quebec and the QPP applies only in Quebec. Employers must contribute a fixed amount to these plans up to a yearly maximum. Beyond that, you must also consider whether your operations in the country are significant enough to trigger a permanent establishment which may require the payment of corporate tax.
Employee compliance and rights
Employers must follow local legislation in regards to things like benefits, parental leave, minimum wage, termination of employment, holiday days, and taxes. Employment contract requirements also vary by country. For example:
Companies with remote employees will need strong IP and inventor protection. In some countries, IP rights automatically are conferred to the employer, but others are specifically held by the employee who creates the intellectual property. In those countries where employees can assign their rights to their employer, the employer may have to provide additional consideration to acquire the IP rights.
Onboarding remote employees
Starting a new job can be scary – and even more daunting when you’re working remotely. Think about it. New employees are sitting at home on their own getting to grips with new platforms, processes and people.
It’s an employer’s responsibility to equip their employees with the right tools and information they need to do their job properly, as well as induct them into the company well. They shouldn’t need to ask questions about login passwords, or not know members of their team after a week. A good onboarding programme should go through all the essentials.
Why is onboarding important?
A successfully onboarded employee should feel welcome, included, prepared, and motivated. During the first days and weeks, it’s the employer’s chance to build the right foundation for successful integration and relationships within the workplace. With the right onboarding process, you can set up the employee for success. Great onboarding programmes create great employee outcomes:
greater productivity among new hires
of new hires are more likely to stay for three years
But what makes an onboarding programme successful? Onboarding an employee remotely requires some rethinking to achieve the same outcomes as in person. Here are some essential factors you need to cover when an employee starts:
Don’t just send a laptop to your new employee’s home. Help them get set up with the right equipment and software. You could create a series of videos to provide step-by-step instructions for getting set up, or enable company-specific software and programs to be loaded remotely with the right credentials. There should also be an option to talk to someone if they’re struggling.
When starting a new role, employees won’t know exactly what you need them to do. The interviews will have established they’re qualified to know how to do specific tasks, but you have to be clear about expectations. What tools do you need them to use? How should they be reporting progress? Are there any other requirements for doing a good job? Be clear with your expectations. Of course, any new employee needs time to settle in, so be patient and provide all the support they need.
Throughout the onboarding process, be clear about any compliance requirements which keep the business running and protected. Also remember that these first few interactions will set the tone for the new employee’s experience in your workplace. It’ll set the expectations for interaction between other company members or customers, for example.
Every business has a culture. Its purpose, principles and people all contribute to this culture. An employee’s behaviour at work will impact that culture, so it’s important to be clear about what you value within your business and which traits you’d like to encourage. For example, you may prioritise transparency within your company, and would therefore expect staff to regularly present to the team on their progress. Or you may value an environment where individuals welcome feedback and challenges. To encourage this kind of collaborative culture, you’d need to demonstrate to new employees how it works in practice.
People need to get to know one another. We spend a lot of time talking to the people we work with, so it’s nice to get along. As well as the opportunities employees have to work together on projects, managers and bosses should also provide social opportunities. Within the onboarding process, this could include assigning new starters a buddy or mentor, or organising a virtual happy hour with the team to get to know co-workers in a more casual setting.
Think of your onboarding programme as a chance to make sure managers or team leaders are accessible and accountable. You need to be clear about who is responsible for the onboarding process, and create chances for the new starter to meet other employees. There should be plenty of opportunities to cultivate teamwork and encourage mentorship.
You also need to think beyond the first week, or even month. After your onboarding process is complete, make sure there are still plenty of opportunities for remote employees to feel valued and heard. It could be providing the space to recognise great work, or regularly asking for feedback. Ask yourself whether you’re continuing to create an environment that allows employees to stay connected to the business and each other.
Example onboarding strategy
Although onboarding will vary from company to company, it’s useful to have a templated strategy to adjust according to your own priorities. Here are some of the major tasks you need to complete before an employee joins, on their first day, and moving forwards throughout their probationary period.
BEYOND DAY 30
Investing in remote training
Training at work always seems to get mixed reviews. Some people will dread being sent on training days or conferences, while others leap at the opportunity. But one thing is clear: investing in your own staff pays off. If you can equip them with more knowledge, or train them in new skills, it’ll only help them perform better at their job. But to get these benefits, training – especially remote training – must be executed well.
Why career development is important
First things first, why does career development matter? Well, for employers, it can help them retain their staff longer. One report found that 94% of employees would work longer for a company willing to invest in their career. Although hiring outstanding remote workers is a great step, part of creating a culture with high employee engagement and retention requires investing in further professional development. Arguably, the cost savings for remote businesses (largely office costs) can be reinvested in the growth of employees and, in turn, the company.
It’s a win-win situation. Employers experience improved productivity, engagement and retention, and employees feel appreciated and recognised as future leaders. They’re being upskilled as valuable members of the team.
How to approach remote learning
Traditionally, training has heavily relied on face-to-face instructions. But as businesses embrace more flexibility, why wouldn’t they apply the same logic to the training they provide? What kind of employee training and development is necessary depends greatly on the specific function and the size of the company, as well as the available budget. There are plenty of online learning and development platforms offering thousands of training courses to choose from. These include:
You may also choose to organise your own internal sessions. The benefits of doing so include: greater control over what’s covered, the ability to record and re-use content, and cost efficiencies. To ensure training remains effective in a virtual environment, keep in mind the following:
The length of training
More regular, shorter learning sessions may be suitable for online training. You can spread them out over a couple of days if necessary, rather than attempting to cover a lot with only one day.
The time of training
You may decide to provide a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning, so employees can choose the best time to learn for them.
The learning objective
What’s the main aim of the training session? Providing clear learning objectives will help employees understand the goal and keep them engaged.
Levels of interactivity
Try to make the learning as interactive as possible. For example, using polls, quizzes, or breakout sessions.
The nature of remote work may actually require some training too. There are some skills that are essential for an employee to become happier and more effective in a remote setting. It’s easy to assume we all have these skills, but adjusting away from office life to home working can be difficult.
Take video calls, for example. A lot of our working time is spent in meetings. Many of us are used to having productive discussions or successful presentations in person. But the dynamics shift on a video call. The way you engage your audience or get conversations going is different. Investing in employees’ video-conferencing skills increases their effectiveness and efficiency – saving a lot of time, money, and energy.
Other valuable remote working skills include:
It might be easier to get distracted while working from home, especially with flexible working hours. You can teach employees about the importance of setting boundaries at home and how to use a schedule to structure their day.
A lot of remote work still relies on effective collaboration. There are tools, such as Google’s Jamboard, which are designed for sharing ideas online. Investigate your options and give employees a chance to practise more.
To work alone, employees need to believe in their own ability to solve problems, stay motivated, and maintain discipline.
Managers and team members aren’t always available, so each employee has to be able to analyse situations and make the right decision.
In a remote company, organisation is paramount. Only when everybody understands how to logically organise information will it be easy to find – saving a lot of time in the long run. Everyone should learn how to use project management tools and cloud storage correctly.
Basics of cybersecurity and IT
Data breaches are a great concern for many remote companies. Having employees understand the basics of cybersecurity is essential. They need to understand their role in protecting the business when they’re working at home.
When people are working remotely, there is an expectation they’ll have a certain level of self-reliance. But it’s still an employer’s role to provide them with the tools and training they need to maximise their strengths and work from home successfully.
Whether hiring employees, onboarding new starters, or training up existing staff, remote companies that plan ahead and have the right processes in place will be set up for success.
When we talk about remote working, we often discuss it in the context of COVID-19 forcing us all to shift our ways of working sharply. While national lockdowns gave everybody insight into the potentials of remote work, that abrupt and unplanned move isn’t a true reflection of the possibilities of working remotely. If you’re a business owner still thinking about remote work, the best is yet to come – as employees become more adjusted to productive home working, software providers invest heavily in their online platforms, and new innovation arrives.
Examples of remote companies
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