The virtual worker business model is now well-proven and works well for all sorts of small businesses, whether with just some people working remotely or the whole team.

It is not surprising that it’s attractive for many small businesses as it has lots of benefits. Gone are expensive office costs and all the commuting, for one. It also allows all sorts of people to be brought in, such as those with childcare responsibilities who would not be able to commute, and also specialists who only want to work on a part-time or freelance basis.

However, there are also plenty of downsides if it is not managed correctly.

Many virtual businesses comprise staff who previously worked together, and there is a big difference between creating a virtual team from former colleagues and recruiting strangers.

With former colleagues you trust them, you know how each other works. With a new recruit it is a bigger step. Not only are there the normal selection considerations and challenges, but you also have the additional dynamics of can they work effectively remotely (not everyone can) and can you provide the additional leadership and appropriate management to keep them on course (again, not everyone can).

Hiring the first person is a major milestone for an entrepreneur, and hiring your first true remote worker is a similarly big step. Many won’t have recruited before, let alone recruited and managed a remote worker.

When hiring a remote worker, the key steps are similar to office staff, but with important extra considerations and the main steps for you are being clear:

  • on the role and the requirements
  • on the additional characteristics the candidate needs to make the remote working a success
  • how the remote worker will be led and managed
  • how you will attract plenty of suitable applicants.

Be clear on the role and the requirements

Think clearly about the skills they need for this job if the person were located in the office. You may come up with a long list. If so, prioritise the key ones. If you gold-plate the job description then it will be hard to find the right person.

Be clear on the additional characteristics needed to make the remote working a success

This is the key bit to think about for your first virtual hire and subsequent ones too. What are the characteristics that will allow someone to be a successful remote worker as you won’t be there to look over their shoulder and keep an eye on them?

You will want people who are self-starters so they stay on-task and meet deadlines. Past experience of working remotely is a good indicator here, as is a psychometric test such as DISC personality profiles, which are very good at identifying people’s underlying behaviours.

On top of this, remote workers need to be ‘results rather than process’ people who are good at moving projects forward. A good indicator is their ability to put together a clear plan of action for a project that they are working on, so it is clear to everyone what needs to be done, when and who is accountable…ideally on a daily basis.

When selecting, put your favoured candidates to the test. Get them to complete a test project in as realistic a situation as possible.

Slow responses from a remote colleague can be frustrating and unproductive since you don’t have regular contact with them and can’t just go over and ask for something. The worst thing is to be stuck waiting for something with no sense of how long for a response, and for them to be slow answering their phone or email. If you experience such problems during the recruitment process it is a warning sign for the future. The best ones over-communicate and understand how their work fits in with other team members.

Be clear how the remote worker will be led and managed

There is a huge difference between delegation and abdication. As the manager will you be in contact with them daily (a good plan), weekly or maybe less often. If not frequently, how will you be monitoring success and accountability?
You as a manager need to be comfortable setting goals and letting them get on with it, but you must also hold them to account. Just because someone is out of the office, does not mean you as the manager must not be monitoring and motivating. Make sure you are clear on how you and your other employees will be adapting your role to get the best out of this new team member.

Working remotely without regular contact can result in your employee feeling isolated so arranging monthly or quarterly visits (depending on what is appropriate) will help them feel included and will give you both a chance to ‘catch up’ in a less formal environment.

Attracting plenty of suitable applicants

The biggest hiring mistake is to appoint someone ‘who is the best of a bad bunch’. Everyone makes this mistake at some point, thinking there is so much work you need to get someone (anyone!) to take the strain off you. It always backfires! It will be even more of a problem if you get a poor remote employee as you are less able to support them and keep them on track.

The key step to getting a good employee is getting lots of suitable applicants.

Promote the role as widely as possible on your website, social media and elsewhere. Be on as many job sites as possible and in as many locations as possible to offer yourself a wider candidate pool and keep applications rolling in.

Particularly for remote workers, make sure your business is attractive online. They are likely to be tech-savvy and will look you up online. Make sure you are creating a great impression.

Just because someone is working remotely, this does not mean you shouldn’t meet them.

Certainly, part of the selection process should be done remotely as this is how you will be interacting, with them. But meet them too… if they cannot come to you, go to meet them. This may seem a big investment of time, but selecting a team member is really important. Do not treat hiring a virtual employee in a slap-dash manner or your will regret it later.

Alex Lawrence, is head of recruitment advertising at ThatRecruit.com. 

Further reading on remote working

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