Managing Remote Workers – Part 4, Recruitment and Onboarding

I set out to jot down my experiences of remote management. It quickly began to sprawl so I’ve broken it out into multiple parts. Part 4 recaps the scene for remote workers/management and discusses expanding the team.

Introduction

Over the past few years I have been a remote manager of remote workers and remote teams. That is to say myself and my staff were all remote workers spread around the world. Our working environments could be our homes, company offices or customer sites.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about my experiences as a remote worker. This is a follow up to discuss managing remote workers.

What is Remote Management

First up some qualifiers on what I mean by remote management and remote workers.

Remote Workers are workers who are not office based. They are based at home and either work there or at customer sites. They may also visit company offices occasionally.

Remote Management is where the manager is based at home and either work there, at customer sites or at company offices. Predominantly they work from home. It can also be where you manage workers in different countries.

I have spent several years being a “Remote Manager” of “Remote Workers”. Here are my experiences.

Emphasis for Building a Team for Remote Management / Working

Recruitment

Recruitment is not easy and is not to be underestimated. It’s a skill that comes with experience and understanding. Being able to recruit effectively is the difference between a good manager and a great manager.

There are a lot of parallels with selling. You have to be detective, social engineer and persuader. On top of all that you have to be likeable to the people you hire.

There are three main aspects to recruiting. You have to be a good detective to tease out the info you need to be able to suss out the people you want. You have to sell the role, your team, yourself and your company to persuade the high quality candidates to say yes. Finally you need to be able to negotiate the right deal.

Job Descriptions (JDs)

First step in finding the right candidates is to be sure of what you want and being able to articulate it in a way that is simple to understand and attractive.

Your JD needs to read like a story. Start with a short intro to your company. Follow on with a short description of the role and where it fits in the team. Put the reader in the role. Let them read it as if they already had it. For example “you’ll be responsible for technical mentoring for your team mates, working with them to continuously update and improve their skills”, is much better than “the candidate will be responsible for ensuring technical skills of the team are kept up to date”.

Finish with the skills you need to drive excellence, and the desirable skills that would enhance. It doesn’t need to be any more than a couple of pages.

The JD will be listed or presented to prospective candidates. DO NOT MAKE SPELLING OR GRAMMATICAL MISTAKES. To be frank this is unforgivable and will be picked up by the candidates. This will lead them to think you accept mistakes and/or aren’t investing much effort into recruiting (them). The number of JDs I see that contain mistakes never ceases to amaze me.

Briefing Recruitment Agents

These guys are there to help. Yes they are persistent and keep you on your toes (well the good ones will), but they have to. It’s important to understand their psychology.

Most operate quota’s and/or commission topped salaries. So they will be keen to fill positions quickly, but this isn’t all they are about. The closer the match, the better the relationship between them and you, which in turn means repeat business. Like you they are passionate about their jobs and finding the right candidates for the right roles. It isn’t all about filling quota’s and making money. Like you it’s about being good at something, it’s about job fulfilment, it’s about connecting people and making people happy.

So, point illustrated, they aren’t your enemy, they are on your side.

Which leads me to the briefing. Competition for good candidates (at least in the tech space) is extremely high. It’s likely that in the enterprise you’ll be dealing with multiple recruitment agencies. When you have a new opening, I recommend pulling them all together on one call and briefing all at once. I’ve had positive success with this. Everyone knows there is competition and everyone gets to hear what you want and what questions have been asked. Ensure they have a copy of the JD beforehand.

Finally, don’t be afraid of course correcting. If you feel the wrong types of candidates are being put forward on a regular basis, get in touch with the agent and talk it through with them.

CVs

Golden rule; accept the fact that hardly anyone will format CVs the way you want to read them. Learn to read information about a person from the way they have constructed their CV and then discard a lot of it. CVs are like a book and you wouldn’t advise people to judge a book by its cover. Don’t use them to find the perfect candidate. Use them to discount those that just don’t fit the bill.

Interviewing

First rule of interviewing, it’s a two way street. The candidate is interviewing you just as much as you are them. Remember it’s a competitive space with the highest ranking attributes being culture and the type of work, rather than a badge, money or compensation.

Interview Stages

Stage 1 – Screening

I have lost hours and hours and hours to conducting technical screening interviews so I’m not wasting time on people that have seriously embellished or out and out lied to agents or on their CV. Unfortunately, this results in a high number of candidates not passing the screening interview. The result is it puts pressure on vetting CVs and in turn recruitment agencies.

Enter the online SaaS testing system. A system you can use to put together you’re own tests, create private and time restricted links and ask prospective candidates to take.

These systems have saved me a huge amount of time. They’ve allowed me to tailor questions to tease out the right characteristics and set a benchmark.

I don’t set demanding tests, simply what I’d expect people to know that matches their CV and our minimum requirements.

I’ve found it to be highly effective.

Stage 2 – Technical Interview

Typically over teleconference or video conference (always in the current new-norm).

You should be leading with a story about your company, what they’re about, the work they do, their star attributes. Here you can sell your company, emphasising the exciting things they are doing, their accolades and awards.

Following with an intro to your team and the job in question. This is your opportunity to show off and really show your passion for your team and demonstrate how important the role is. You should talk about onboarding and training as they are important factors in a candidates view on how they will be treated. The candidate will buy into you just as much as the company and the role. Remember though, if you over promise and under deliver they will remember and it will tarnish your relationship.

This is the part where I run through my vision for the team. Where I want to take them, how that fits in with the direction of the company and the industry we’re in. Crucially I explain how I’ve come to that vision so they understand I’m not all marketing fluff with no substance.

Finally I describe the interview process so they understand where they are.

That should cover the first 10-15 minutes. I find candidates ask questions during this part, or if they are in the minority that don’t, I give them an opportunity to.

Then it’s time for you to ask your questions. Having already given them a technical test, this is my opportunity to dig into the CV and experience to see how deep it goes. If they are the right candidate this is their opportunity to show off (hopefully without arrogance). This is your opportunity to find out what you need to know about their technical skill and experience.

I use this interview to set out my stall and suss out the candidate. Are they going to be a good fit for the role? Will they be a good fit for the team. Will they be competent in front of the client. Will they be trustworthy and dependable. Most importantly do they have the right attitude?

I always have a member of my team in on this interview. It gives them an opportunity for experience, a second opinion for you, and a chance for the candidate to meet someone else from the team.

Use your instincts. It’s not all about math. Your subconscious will tell you what you’re conscious can’t, whether the alarm bells are ringing and whether there is something off. If you want a thought provoking view for trusting instincts then this book is for you; blink.

Stage 3 – HR Interview

I’ve always described this as the HR interview. The obligatory face to face interview with the tricky HR questions. I believe describing it this way, clearly and honestly, shows transparency with the prospective candidates and demonstrates that there is nothing hidden.

When they arrive don’t leave them waiting. If they are mega early there is no harm in chit chat with them until the allotted time. Ensure they have some water and understand where the rest room is if they’ve had a long journey.

To be frank, I usually take a back seat here. I’ve learned what I need to know and prepped both HR and other members of the panel. I will chip in with questions or comments where I feel necessary but don’t feel any over powering need to prove my worth in front of others by asking an abundance of questions.

Making a Decision

If they are the right person you’ll be excited about them. Listen to the views of the interview panel, discuss the good and the bad. Come to a consensus.

Try never to make a decision when you’re desperate and trust you’re gut. Every single time I’ve made an employment decision under extreme pressure and against my gut it has turned out badly. I’ve had a bad or niggling feeling about them layered with the good at the time. I’ve never had that with any of the success stories. Thankfully the bad experiences have been a minority and I’ve always learned and evolved from them. But guaranteed, when I’ve been under extreme pressure to fill a position due to necessity, I’ve made a mistake.

Handling Counter Offers

You’ve found a great candidate and everyone on the HR interview panel is agreed, offer them the role. You’ve worked out what the package should be and you excitedly make the offer.

Then you get a counter offer. This can feel like an insult. Don’t take it that way. This is a normal part of recruitment and it demonstrates they aren’t all give. There is some steel there.

How you respond is down to you. You will know what your budget constraints are and how you feel about the candidate. If they just keep pushing you up though, or try and play you off against another offer, its likely they aren’t the right candidate.

Onboarding

So, you’ve spent hours reviewing CVs and interviewing. The candidate has accepted the role and they start next week. You can put your feet up with a job well done!

Not quite. You need to pour just as much effort into onboarding your new member of staff. Thankfully this isn’t an art form and is relatively easy with the following steps.

N.B. I’m a big believer in the first week spent in the office. That face time is extremely valuable. However, under current circumstances that isn’t possible so your going to have to be deliberately more communicative.

  1. Make sure your service desk has all the info they need to provision their kit, logins and systems access. They probably do but it doesn’t hurt to check. I’ve had exiting staff members state this as one of the items on the “room for improvement” list during their exit interview. So it can leave a lasting impression.
  2. Buddy them up with one of the senior members of your team. This “buddy” will look after them for the first week or so as a peer. The idea being they will open up to a peer rather than be afraid of asking questions. The buddy should have time allocated to spend with them every day for the first week.
  3. Book a team meeting for their first day. Introduce them to your team.
  4. HR will usually perform their onboarding during the first part of their first day. Make sure you clear your schedule to take over. Meet and greet. Introduce their buddy and let them spend some time together. Book some time later in the afternoon to go through their goals for the year and current quarter.
  5. Check in with them every day for the first couple of weeks. Make sure they have everything they need. Give them opportunities to ask you questions. Their buddy will usually show them round systems, but there may be things you need to demonstrate. Make time for it.
  6. Take them out for a beer (doesn’t have to be alcoholic). Get to know them and let them get to know you. If you can’t do this (current world circumstances) then have a virtual beer over Teams or Zoom. I.E. book some evening time, and video chat with a beer.

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