Screen for Remote Workers

How to Screen for Remote Workers

The following is an excerpt from the pre-release book “Remote Work”, written by Chris Dyer and Kim Shepherd, renowned remote work and company culture experts who have served as CEOs of successful remote companies.  Remote Work is scheduled to publish in May. The authors have generously allowed us to share this sneak peek of their book, which is available for pre-order on BN.com here  and Amazon here.  Learn more at chrisdyer.com/remotework.

Screening for Remote Success

When you are bringing on new employees, there are ways to help predict whether or not they will be effective in a remote model. One way is to determine whether or not they can follow easy-to-understand instructions. This can be embedded in the recruiting/onboarding process, such as asking them to go online to schedule an interview or take and submit a personality assessment. Good remote employees are self-reliant, and if simple instructions are a challenge, it might be a red flag.

Who can work from home

Chris has a clever assessment tool. He asks candidates to state the difference between Louis Armstrong, Neil Armstrong and Lance Armstrong. It’s a virtual test and the answer is written. Obviously if someone gets the answers wrong, that’s a very bad sign. But the way a candidate answers the question can be insightful.

For example, if concise communication is important in the open position, the ideal answer is something like, ‘trumpeter, astronaut, cyclist’. If research is an important skill for the position, you want to see evidence that the candidate did some digging. On the other hand, if the answer is clearly copied and pasted, that’s a red flag.

With any kind of assigned task, you want to see that a candidate can work independently and resourcefully. At the same time, it can be a good sign when a candidate ‘raises their hand’ to ask for help. This person is showing that their ego doesn’t get in the way of achieving goals. In fact, it takes some courage for a candidate to admit to a prospective employer that they need help with an assignment.

Your process will probably involve a video interview with candidates. If someone struggles with the technology to get into that interview, it may be a bad sign. Someone with high ‘remoteability’ will take time in advance of the interview to make sure everything is good to go.

We do advise against using any single weak spot as the lone deciding  factor. For example, suppose you have a video  interview and notice, in the background, that the candidate’s bed  isn’t made or the living room is a mess.  You might be tempted to think, ‘Well, they didn’t make much effort to put their best foot forward.’ That may be true, but it also may be that they dealt with an emergency earlier that day, and making the bed was simply pushed off the to-do list.

Another way to identify potential remote talent is to consider candidate pools made up of people who often are overlooked or rejected by brick-and-mortar employers. Remote work can provide opportunities that are otherwise unavailable to some, and one would expect that these candidates are highly motivated to make it work. Who are we talking about?

Fishing in new talent pools

We’re talking about military spouses, people with physical disabilities and ‘non-traditional’ employees. Many companies shy away from military spouses because there is a good chance they will be transferred. As a remote employer, you don’t have to worry about this. Even if an employee is transferred to another country, you can make it work with much less effort than it would take to replace that employee.  From our experience, they may need a couple of personal days to make the move and settle in, but that’s barely a bump in the road. 

In Get Scrappy, which Kim co-wrote with Dave Berkus (2015), she relates the story of two very talented but non-traditional employees. One was a military spouse who was director of recruitment quality and client engagement. While this individual’s family lived in Dallas, her husband, a naval officer, was posted to Hawaii for several months. She packed up the kids to be right there with him and didn’t miss a beat with her work.

The other was an accounting/HR assistant who worked six months of the year from on board a clipper ship in Connecticut, and the other six months from the jungles of Costa Rica. She also spent time, including working, on a Coboat excursion – an 82-foot sailing catamaran with satellite connectivity designed for ‘digital nomads and entrepreneurs’.

Another underutilized talent pool is people with physical disabilities. Not every brick-and-mortar facility has the accommodations, and even if they do, transportation may be challenging.  Not only can you engage talent that your competitors miss out on, but you also might develop a reputation for being a disability-friendly employer. Talented  people with disabilities might seek you out.

Writing on Mobility.com, Brian Havens (2016) lists top companies hiring people with disabilities, including IBM, Procter & Gamble, Cisco and others. Monster.com’s list (Martis, 2019) includes  Accenture, Boeing, Disney, KPMG, Wells Fargo and many others. Good company to keep! However, Havens (2016) states that people with disabilities are employed at about half the rate that non-disabled people are. 

There are, no doubt, many reasons for this, but one of them may be that these well-meaning employers don’t offer remote options.  It certainly is possible that neurodiverse people can succeed in a remote model. According to disabled-world.com (2020), neurodiversity is ‘an approach to learning and disability that argues diverse neurological conditions are the result of normal variations in the human genome.’ Such conditions include autism, ADHD and dyslexia.  

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is not an area in which we have deep expertise. These conditions vary widely from individual to individual – one reason that people often speak of autism as a spectrum rather than a single condition. For that reason, you will have to assess neurodiverse candidates on a case-by-case basis.  For example, AutismSpeaks.org (2018) says that many employers don’t realize that people with autism can have ‘intense attention to detail, commitment to quality and consistency, creative and “out of the box” thinking, the ability to excel on repetitive tasks, lower turnover rates, honesty and loyalty.’

On the other hand, those with autism are often challenged in the areas of interpersonal interactions and communication. We’ve already emphasized the importance of these characteristics in the remote model, so there is your challenge as an employer.  There are things you can do, as an employer, to support neurodiverse employees, and it can depend on specific individual needs. Writing on SHRM.org, Taryn Oesch (2019) says that support can range from on-the-job training in communication and interpersonal skills to engaging help from organizations that specialize in helping neurodiverse individuals succeed at work.   The article also recommends pairing neurodiverse individuals with neurotypical ‘buddies’ who can help them. This topic is broader than we can cover in this book, but  if you want more information, we suggest starting with the articles cited here.

Determining which employees can and can’t work from home is not as simple as it seems. There are a lot of factors at play, and a person may have one skill set that outweighs a drawback..  We’re inclined to believe that almost anyone can do it, but it falls to you, as the leader and mentor, to help them be successful. 

This extract from Remote Work  by Chris Dyer and Kim Shepherd is ©2021 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.

You can also pre-order from the Kogan Page website here.

For more on Remote Work, visit chrisdyer.com/remotework.

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