As CEO of a fully remote company, I’m often approached by job candidates who say, “I would love to work from home!”. That’s great – and part of my goal to hire for fit – but that’s only part of the “fit.” People who power a remote business must dovetail with three criteria: an affinity for company values; the talent to meet specific job requirements; and the ability to work without supervision, apart from the rest of the crew. Those abilities all have their beginnings in the mind, each stemming from different intellectual capacities.
Let’s say that two workers are equally qualified in the first two areas. They’ve demonstrated that they’re aligned with the company’s mission and values, and they have the chops to do their jobs. If we hire on those benchmarks alone, though, we may still make the very wrong choice. For example:
“Mia” does her job via Wi-Fi at the local Starbucks. As her focus shifts from her laptop to the patrons, baristas, and the delicious smell of coffee, she forgets to return emails and compiles her report in bits and pieces. By lunchtime, she still isn’t finished. She heads to the nearby McDonald’s to work through lunch, only to catch up with her friends on social media instead. Her report will be late.
“Paul” built a compact office in a corner of his great room at home. He put in a glass door so he can see the kids when they come home from school—but he also hired a nanny to supervise them until dinnertime. Paul goes for a run in the morning, finishes his paperwork by noon, and enjoys a restful lunch hour. Coworkers never have to wait long for phone or email replies, and Paul still has time to prep for the next day’s agenda before quitting time.
Sure, discipline exists in different supply in different people. But that’s only part of the remote equation. Dedicating our focus to our tasks—by creating a quiet workspace and managing time well—shows respect for the freedom and obligations that come with teleworking. That’s a plus for Paul, but Mia has another problem. She may love the idea of working from a chosen location, but she doesn’t like to be alone.
There are workarounds for that, such as shared office space with other remote workers. But that doesn’t mean Mia can hang around the water cooler all day and still perform her job. This isn’t a knock-on social people; it just means that working remotely takes a bit more effort at setting boundaries for ourselves. We don’t have the peer pressure of a coworker saying, “Well, we’d better get back to work,” after a chat in the break room.
The remote meeting format is another protocol that virtual workers must embrace. People who are big talkers and poor listeners won’t cut it. Those who veer off topic or interrupt proceedings to attend to matters at home—or the coffee shop—won’t do, either. An active listener, respectful of who is speaking and of the time invested by colleagues, is a great communicator whom any remote operation would love to have.
These are just the most obvious requirements of teleworkers. Running down details may take more effort from afar, so employees who follow up and follow through without having to be reminded are well suited to remote roles. Being technologically inclined or willing to learn is also a must unless the job is stuffing envelopes. Digital communication becomes more sophisticated every day, and staying connected is essential.
There’s another need related to that—in the opposite direction. The ability to switch off and regenerate is something that remote workers must have and be able to do on their own. To help them, companies can strongly encourage or require that employees take breaks. Research shows that productivity depends on that. Poor Mia will always be underproductive because she never really hits her working stride amid all the distractions, so she tries to catch up by skipping breaks.
At my company, one boost for productivity that teleworkers have is that they can get their work done whenever they are sharpest. If they’re morning people, they can get started early and finish early. If they’re night owls, they’re just finishing up when the morning folks rise. The only caveat is meeting fixed deadlines and mutual conferencing times, small concessions to gain additional freedoms.
This brings us back around to the other two hiring-for-fit criteria: candidates who align with a company’s culture and who are qualified to do the assigned work. The best remote employees will be able to tie these things together with their brand of self-management. All three criteria, combined, actually strengthen one another when the hiring fit is right.
So our HR process includes a peek into the mindset of job candidates. They take a personality test and are interviewed for their responses to our company’s business mission, core values, and work culture. We assess them for the skills we’re looking for and the capacity to learn new things. And when we get around to what it takes to work from a virtual office, we ask a trick question. We ask them where they get their coffee.
Chris will be speaking at the 2019 HR + L&D Innovation & Tech Fest in Johannesburg on 26-27 August.
About the Author
Chris Dyer is a recognised performance expert. Constantly intrigued by what makes some businesses and individuals more successful, Chris has dedicated years of research to what drives productivity and profits. As a sought-after speaker and consultant, Chris works with organisations to help them transform their cultures. Chris is the author of The Power of Company Culture. He is also the Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a company that has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of the Fastest Growing Companies three times.