How to hire a remote employee

Our approach to building and working with remote teams

Introduction

Remote work is no longer a trend, but a reality. One that is here to stay. People nowadays work together and create amazing products together without ever meeting face-to-face.

Over the course of the last decade, I have hired a great number of people remotely, but I am far from being an expert in the topic. I share here my approach to finding and hiring people remotely based on the experiences and lessons I’ve learned.

This will be the first blog entry in a series of entries about remote work.

Identifying the right person

Be it local or remote, finding the correct person for your team is a very difficult and guess-based work. When you hire someone, you are basically making a bet. In order to succeed, you need understand the person who is sitting behind the computer, without ever meeting them face-to-face.

There are two aspects that need to be considered, the technical skills and the behavioral skills. When hiring a remote employee, people often make the mistake of focusing only on the technical side.

Technical skills are easy to judge, as they are very objective. It determines whether a person has the right skill for the job. This can be measures by the work history of that person, and the history of job performance reviews that person has.

However, even more important, are behavioral skills. My main interest when hiring someone is not “can that person do the job?” but “will that person finish the job?”. I like to ask the following questions to my candidates:

  1. How do you manage your time? Is this a side-job or your main source of income?
  2. Can you tell me about conflicts you have had in the past with remote employers and what was the outcome?
  3. How do you prefer to communicate with other team members?

It is important to create a team which likes to communicate in the same way. If your current team prefers to communicate mainly via Instant Messaging, a person who prefers to communicate mainly via Voice will have trouble integrating that team.

Equally important is conflict resolution. You should always be aware of how that person likes to resolve conflicts, to avoid surprises. I also find it very good when you also explain how YOU prefer, so that both parties have the correct level of expectations from each other. Most conflicts can be resolved before-handed just by having all cards on the table.

Finding that person

The best hire is usually the one that happens via personal reference. Not always we can find someone in our network, though, with the exact technical skills we are looking for. Lucky for us, there is a plethora of platforms available that make this job much easier.

In THIS LINK you can find a community curated list of freelancing/remote employer platforms, made by developers and for developers. It is a fantastic starting point to start searching. There are platforms focusing on design, specific technologies or more generalist platforms.

There are 3 aspects to working in such platforms:

  1. The job offer
  2. Screening / interviewing process
  3. Setting a contract

In this article and the next I will cover these 3 topics.

Writing a good job offer

This is something that requires some practice. You need to find the right amount of details to include. I have seen offers with full UML diagrams explaining every interaction possible. And I have seen offers which are just one slide with text.

The job offer should contain enough details, so that you never find yourself in the situation when someone says “this was not in the briefing”. You can eliminate a lot of headaches by having a good briefing. However, the briefing should also be concise and not put too much information, making it harder for developers to digest and understand.

Every kind of job, will require a different amount of details, of course:

  • A mobile app or a webpage would require a workflow explaining how you go from each screen to each other screen, as well as a detail of what happens when the user clicks each button.
  • A programming job would require some code showing the example (if possible) or a very good description of what happens. If the problem is an error, try to attach the error message. If the problem is performance, explains how the system behaves under different loads, and state what your expectation is.
  • If you are hiring for a long (or big) project, then it is good to explain a bit of the business behind it, how it is supposed to be used, what your expectations are regarding performance and responsiveness.

If, however, you are looking for someone to create or think through the user interface for you, then you should explain as much as possible. Most designers and UX will have a questionnaire for you with standard questions, asking for references of how you imagine, who are the people using it, etc. Be wary of designers who do not do this.

 

Candidate selection and inverview

Selecting candidates is the most critical part in the process of hiring a remote employee. If you don’t take the time needed, you may find yourself with the wrong person hired. On the other hand, you cannot allow this process to take too much time.

Initial cleaning

When you post a job, the first task you have is to clean “the weeds”. This is my concept for agencies or people who just apply to all jobs posted, independent of what they are. Also, they are usually very cheap. My advice from experience, run away from them.

What we do when posting a job, is to include a small requirement somewhere. Example: “Please include the code YIHRT in your reply or you will not be considered for the job.”. If this is not included, chances are very high the candidate didn’t even read the job description.

Creating a short-list

My next task is to mark which candidates I am willing to give a chance, and which ones are immediately discarded. Most hiring portals have some sort of “thumbs up / thumbs down” feature, to help you accomplish this.

Interviewing candidates

Here the experience differs greatly between hiring someone for a quick-job or for a long-term project. For quick jobs, I usually hire the cheapest person from the thumbs-up list, and that is always enough. For longer projects, however, a detailed examination of the candidate is fundamental.

When hiring someone to be part of your team, you need to assess mainly that 1) the person will fit the team and 2) the person will finish the hob.

As stated in the part 1, of this article, here are some questions which I always ask:

  1. How do you manage your time? Is this a side-job or your main source of income?

If the projects will have a span of several months, it is usually very difficult for someone doing this only as an extra source of income. They tend to do the job tired, from their day time job, and have less availability. This is ok for quick jobs only. When you have a long project, in which you need quality, I prefer hiring people who will be working full time on this job, and which have their finances depending on the job being completed with satisfaction.

  1. Can you tell me about conflicts you have had in the past with remote employers and what was the outcome?

This question exists to set the correct expectations between me and the candidate. I also like to tell about conflicts which I have had in the past to them. Conflict resolution is a two-way street, and most conflicts can be avoided by discussing the unpleasantries before-hand.

  1. How do you prefer to communicate with other team members?

In our team, we need people that, at least, must ENJOY communicating and giving feedback. If the candidate’s preferred method is email, not voice, not IM, then it will be very difficult for him to fit in our team’s dynamics.

Also, I always require a video interview. I like to see how the person acts and communicates. This helps bridging the distance gap, and helps you understand the candidate better. It also allows you to see if he is nervous, if he is paying attention, how his work environment is, and so on. All this information bundles together to help you form a clear picture on how working with this person would be.

A good common sense hint that never hurts to reiterate: Never hired the first person you liked, always interview more than one.

Payments and milestones

Most hiring portals will have tools for making payments. You need to have this very clear before you accept a remote employee for a job. There are two main approaches:

Pay per hour

In this method, a person uses a software that tracks their time, and takes constant screenshots of their screen, so that you can see how the person used each hour tracked, and what was done within that time. This is a great way to setup a project with someone you trust, and when you know a fixed price cannot be determined at the beginning due to too much uncertainty.

You need to have in mind, however, that by selecting this method, the developer gets paid on a weekly basis. This can be very unsafe for long term projects, where you can reach the end of your budget, and still have the project unfinished. That’s why the next approach exists.

Fixed price and milestones

In this method, a person commits to a fixed price before-hand. If the person does not deliver, it does not get paid. The controlling happens not by checking and approving each hour worked, but by checking the quality of release. This is a great way to reduce risks to your budget. In the worst case, if a remote worked is not able to deliver, you lost time, but not money.

In order to do this, most tools provide milestones, which works as payment gateway. Using this method, you split your project in smaller projects, and approve each sub-release.

For example:

  • M1: User admin and authentication
  • M2: Features A and B
  • M3: Features C and D
  • M4: Additional smaller features

This way, you can track the overall progress of our project in your timeline, but also guarantee your budget. If the developer is able to deliver M1 and M2, but not M3, at least, you already have half of your project working, and can replace the worked by someone else. The workers also have the motivation to finish things with a good quality, as their payment depends on the milestone being approved by you.

Conclusion

Finding and hiring remote employees is no longer a global trend, but a stablished reality. One needs to be able to cope with a great deal of uncertainty, and cannot be too attached to a sense of control. You need to learn to trust people you don’t know, and, at the same time, make trust an unnecessary requirement by setting up the correct environment, contracts, boundaries and so on.

The good news is that with time and experience, this job gets increasingly faster and easier, as you set up processes for yourself, learn the behavioral patterns of each community and get more experienced. Technology is advancing fast, with new tools, platforms and methodologies being released on an almost daily basis.

Was this article helpful to you? Do you have your own insights and experiences you would like to share? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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