hiring decisions soft skills

Vetting remote workers: 6 questions to ask

By Merhawi Kidane on October, 27 2021

States may be slowly reopening, but we won’t be back to pre-pandemic normalcy for months. And even when life does get back to business as usual, it is likely that remote work won’t go away.

Demand for remote work options has been on the rise for years, and COVID-19 is only accelerating interest. A new survey found 43% of full-time American employees want to work remotely more often even after the economy has reopened, and nearly 20% said their employer is actively discussing how they can make remote work more of an option in the future.

If remote work is going to be the new normal, companies will need to do more than just hand-out laptops and launch more Zoom meetings. They need to rethink who they hire, and how they vet whether candidates will be able to thrive in a remote environment.

That is putting a lot of pressure on recruiters. They are getting few specifics from hiring managers about what a successful remote candidate looks like or how to find them in the growing stack of job applications.

Our recruiting experts offered this advice on what it takes to be a good remote worker, and what interview questions will tell you if it’s a good fit. Here’s what they said:

Remote workers: Who they are and how to find them

Successful remote workers have a few key attributes in common: They are self-motivated, excellent communicators, moderately extroverted (they need to be able to engage, but not require constant interaction). And most importantly, they are highly trustworthy. These candidates do not need a lot of handholding, prodding, or constant feedback. They have an internal drive to meet deadlines and to deliver quality work, and they will benefit from a hands-off management approach.

The challenge is figuring out who has these traits.

They won’t show up in a resume, but you can tease them out through these interview questions, which give recruits a chance to ‘show and tell’ how they will perform in a remote work environment.

  1. Tell me about a time you worked with a distributed team.
    Even if they’ve never worked remotely before, how they deal with remote teammates will show you if they can handle that environment. Ask follow-up questions about how they stayed connected, what challenges they faced and how they addressed them, and what they learned from the experience.
  2. How do you juggle multiple deadlines?
    Remote workers need to be able to prioritize tasks, especially if they are feeling pressure to get everything done at once. Look for indications that they have a reliable strategy for time management – to-do lists, assigning chunks of time to key tasks, or using project management software to manage their time. Also, look for signs that they keep teammates updated on their work and are willing to ask for help when needed.
  3. Tell me about a difficult project you tackled, and how you dealt with it.
    Did they come up with a novel solution, and/or proactively reach out to others for support? Or did they wait to be told what to do? Remote workers need to be self- motivated, which includes having the ability to solve problems under pressure.
  4. Do you have any concerns about working remotely? If so, how will you overcome them?
    If the position is remote, even part-of-the-time, then talk about it. Look for proof that they’ve thought through what it will be like and whether they have strategies and the personality to handle it. Then dig deeper into their concerns. If they are worried about feeling isolated, how do they plan to address it? If they are worried about distractions, what will they do to tune them out so they can get their work done? The important thing is that they are self-aware and thinking about solutions, not just problems. If they can’t answer these questions, that should be a red flag.
  5. How do you collaborate with your current team?
    Remote work requires more formal efforts to engage and interact with team members. Look for signs that they proactively seek out team members to keep them updated on progress, to problem-solve, and to work as a team. If they only connect when a crisis occurs, it might mean they’ll be especially slow to share information when working remotely.
  6. How do you achieve work/life balance?
    Some remote workers find it impossible to walk away from their desks, which can lead to burnout, loss of creativity, and a high rate of attrition. When asking this question, look for signs that they know how to switch off the workday and recognize that this is an important skill.

To get the most value from these interactions, conduct your interviews via synchronous video. Since these employees will be working remotely, video interviews will show you how well they will communicate with team members and clients from a remote location. Look for signs of confidence, succinct communication, and the level of poise and professionalism you’d expect on the job.

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