Location-independent hiring and distributed team management are not completely new concepts to most business leaders, but it is only a few weeks ago since they have become an actual reality for many companies around the world, as a consequence of the ongoing corona crisis.
Working full-time hours from the provisionally established home office, conference calls via zoom while sitting in ones living room and self-organized working schedules without any coworker around - what was previously unthinkable for many companies and rather critically rejected by many has become the new normality after only a couple of weeks. By now at the latest, smart companies need to understand that distributed teams are not just a faraway vision but will be a significant characteristic of the near-term future of work.
Companies that already have experience working with distributed teams have a clear advantage nowadays. Within the IT sector, distributed teams are on the rise and many software development teams nowadays only come together for quick virtual stand-ups or sprint planning meetings - many located in a different city or even in a completely different part of the world. And yet even companies for which terms like 'distributed' or 'remote' are not foreign words still often face challenges when hiring employees for distributed teams. So how can companies find and recruit qualified employees for distributed teams, and what is important when establishing and managing a team distributed across different geographical locations?
1. Why hiring remote is the future
The current corona crisis is not the only reason why remote work will play a major role and will become a clear trend in the near-term future.
While remote work is already relatively widespread in the US where people in rural areas far from Silicon Valley and the major tech hubs rely on remote opportunities, the trend of a regularly remote working, all virtual workforce has not yet reached most European countries and is still not considered common.
Will this change? With the advancement of new means of digital collaboration and a growing lack of IT professionals in Europe, this could change sooner than expected. Under high, global competition, hiring remotely means high access to IT talent worldwide, increased flexibility, higher attractiveness as an employer and reduced fixed costs.
Advantages of remote work and distributed teams
Going distributed or remote means more than just hiring and working from anywhere, done correctly, includes a big amount of advantages for both companies and employees:
● Reduced costs: companies need less office space and equipment and can reduce their fixed costs.
● More flexibility: working hours and working time models can be flexibly agreed and coordinated - this enables increased compatibility of work and family and ultimately more satisfaction among the employees.
● Access to talent: relocations due to job changes are superfluous - instead, if at all, commuting becomes sporadic. In particular, companies that are located in less attractive locations and have been challenged by recruiting qualified young people in the past now have access to talent in other parts of the country or different countries.
● Increased mobility: the office becomes superfluous, or at least optional. Employees can work from any location of their choice.
● Shorter response time: employees located in different time zones can handle customer requests or react to incidents immediately.
● Increased diversity: companies can create a diverse workforce based on their own needs, geographic restrictions are no longer an issue.
● Raised productivity: distributed teams tend to be more productive than regular teams.
● Better job satisfaction: remote workers spend less time commuting, can adapt their schedules to their family life and focus on the actual work, instead of administrational tasks and travel. Raised autonomy is experienced as positive by most remote workers.
2.Challenges of recruiting for a remote software development team
Companies wanting to recruit a remote workforce should have in mind that their working environment and processes are different from regular companies - and so should the recruiting process be. Here are some important questions recruiters and managers should have in mind when recruiting talent remotely:
Is the new employee really suitable for the job and able to work remotely?
Working successfully as part of a distributed team oftentimes entails the need for an increased level of independence by the employees compared to a classic work setting. Remote work, therefore, generally requires a high level of organizational skills, good time management skills, discipline and a suitable work environment. Not everyone can easily structure their day on their one and is happy to forego social life in the office community. If you work remotely, you have to set your own milestones, plan your breaks consciously, use time responsibly, know how to deal with distractions while separating work and private life not only mentally but also spatially.
However, it needs to be noted that this varies a lot depending on the model of remote work companies choose. If companies e.g. opt to work with a service provider that manages distributed teams and provides a suitable work environment, they can evade a lot of risks involved in hiring completely remote. Nevertheless, a high level of independence and proactiveness from all members is a characteristic of a distributed team regardless of the specific approach chosen towards remote work.
Does the employee fit into the company and its culture?
It has always been difficult to determine whether an employee really fits into the company. However, especially in distributed teams, it is of immense importance that the employees have a strong bond with their employer and the other team members. Despite the geographical distance, employees should identify with the company's vision and enjoy working as a valuable part of its team. Companies that successfully employ remote talent communicate their corporate values and ensure that candidates identify with their vision and culture - for this, they rely on special personality tests or interviews.
Does the employee have the right skills and attitude for the job?
To perform well in an agile software development environment and in distributed teams in general, the employee obviously needs to have the right technical skills or hard skills to perform the job. However, it could be even more important that she has a positive attitude and willingness to learn quickly and adapt to different circumstances. In agile software development, nothing is written in stone and constant change is part of everyday working life. The right candidate has a learning mindset, contributes with new creative solutions and can adapt to change quickly.
How do we communicate properly with our employees?
Proper communication is one of the main success factors in a setting where a team is spread across different locations. However, hardly anything is more difficult than communicating in a targeted and clear manner. Spontaneous coffee breaks in the coffee kitchen, hall conversations, lunch breaks together with the team or networking in the after office - all these moments in which communication occurs naturally that don't work in distributed teams traditionally. Companies that want to be well-positioned virtually should create alternative communication channels and give their employees tools that enable everyday communication but also facilitate social interaction.
How to improve the recruitment process and what to look for in candidates
Working remotely or working from the home office places specific demands on employees. So how can team members of a remote and agile team deliver successfully?
It is not without reason that the application of agile methodologies (even though not everything that has agile written on it lives up to the term) are very popular in distributed teams within software development, but also in other industries. Collaborative planning, effective communication and transparency are just as important as flexibility. With all help and tools - agile work can only be successful if employees assume responsibility and organize their work. If the budget is not enough, the customer does not like the new product feature or the deadlines can hardly be reached - only those who take responsibility for the process will be able to survive in the virtual agile environment.
Companies can improve the recruitment process by focussing on the following:
Put the ideal interview process in place
If your company does not have a recruiting strategy for distributed roles in place, make sure to reflect which skills and experience the candidate should have and how to evaluate these to make sure the candidate is a good fit. Interviewing remote candidates does not always allow you to meet the candidate in person before hiring, so make sure your interview process allows enough time to get to know the candidate and decide if she or he is a good fit for the team. You might consider several interview steps and include some of the future teammates to interview the candidate.
Define who you are looking for
Before the job ad is written, make sure you know what you are looking for. Define the required and preferred experience, the salary range and, especially important for remote roles, define where the candidate should be based. Be as transparent as possible about the type of contract, the interviewing process and the benefits your company offers.
Have in mind that technical skills are only one aspect of the candidate's profile - to succeed working remotely in an agile environment, personal skills and personality often compensate for missing technical skills which can be trained easily.
Create the job ad
The content and style of the job ad should reflect your company culture and communication style. It is up to you if you want to ask candidates to submit a traditional application by submitting a CV and cover letter or if you prefer a more casual or creative application.
If you are hiring for a technical or creative role, asking candidates to submit links to their GitHub profile or portfolio can be a good idea.
Make sure to be clear letting the candidate know if this is a fully remote role in a 100% distributed team, a partial or temporary remote role or if working remotely is optional. You might want to include the term remote in the job title.
In case the job ad is getting published on a regular job board, make sure that candidates looking for a remote position can distinguish the location and find your job ad. Include some of the following keywords to make it easier to find the remote opportunity:
● Remote opportunity
● Remote work
● Virtual Job
● Home office
● Work from anywhere
Create and publish the job ad
Rather than publishing job ads on the most common regular job boards, focus on publishing your job ad on a special website for remote work. Most job boards for remote opportunities offer to publish a job based on a specific category such as software development, design, product, project management, dev-ops, marketing, operations, sales etc.
Select a remote candidate
Most job boards allow you to handle the selection of candidates directly. Alternatively, you might want to ask candidates to submit their application through your own website or some external platform.
Screen and schedule interviews
Take some time to review the received applications and pre-select. For many remote-jobs, companies receive a high number of applications - make sure you have some filters in place.
You might want to consider letting pre-selected candidates do some tests or provide sample work to make sure they have the necessary skills and mindset to succeed in your company.
Let the recruiter schedule some initial interviews with qualified candidates - the recruiter is most suited to pre-select candidates and save your team some time. Remember to consider the candidates time zone and let him or her know about any preparation needed for the interview.
Interviews for most distributed teams are done through video calls, however, for some more senior or executive roles you might consider to invite the candidate to meet them personally. In this case, make sure to communicate who will make the arrangements and cover for the cost of travel and accommodation.
The interview setting should be located in a quiet and well-organized environment. The candidate should be interviewed using both video and audio, using a video tool or video conferencing software such as Zoom, Skype or Google HangOut.
Remote interviews require a high level of concentration and active listening. The recruiter will not be able to observe the candidate's body language in the same way as during an interview in the office, the audio might cut off and technical issues can not always be prevented.
The recruiter should take time to warm up before jumping right into the interview. It’s recommendable to try to make eye contact once in a while and take some seconds to let the candidate finish their thoughts.
After the interview, make sure to check in with the team and decide about the next steps. Follow up with the candidate as soon as possible and let the candidate know about next steps if the interview was successful. Don't let candidates wait unnecessarily or even worse, don't inform them at all. Be as open as possible, even if you didn't decide to hire someone.
The onboarding process is often overlooked or not considered part of the hiring process. Nevertheless, smart companies understand that hiring is only successful if you manage to integrate the new team member quickly and make sure she has the right tools and information to get started. Having a well-designed onboarding process in place, connecting to the new team member quickly and helping the newbie to get set up is what makes the difference.
Agile software development teams often follow complex processes and rhythm - make sure the new employee knows what’s expected and who to ask if questions arise. In this context, putting an internal Wiki in place can be a game-changer for any team but even more so for distributed teams. Having a central database of knowledge for your team makes it much easier and less time-intensive for each team member to find the relevant information he is looking for, especially for new hires. A good idea would be to dedicate a whole section of your Wiki exclusively to the onboarding process. Just like the original Wikipedia, your internal Wiki also needs to be updated and contributed to regularly. Ideally, all team members should be involved in this process.
Last but not least, even though your schedule might be super busy make sure to dedicate a specific time frame each week to have 1-on-1 conversations with your team members, specifically with new employees. Try to create a safe atmosphere which allows them to be as open as possible with you. Only in this way, you'll be able to find out how they're really doing and if they have any problems. Besides helping with the onboarding process, regular 1-on-1 conversations are a great way for distributed team managers to build trust and great internal culture.