As many businesses around the world become 100% remote overnight (Stack Overflow recently went to 100% work from home across all of our offices), every team is challenged to conduct their normal work under very different circumstances.
Even if you were someone who is used to working remotely or managing a remote team, hiring remotely is a whole different ballgame and takes some getting used to. For the time being at least, as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, companies looking to fill open positions will have to handle interviewing, recruiting, and planning new roles in a fully remote world. To help you navigate this new world, we have put together some of the best advice from hiring managers and the People team members here at Stack Overflow and from experienced remote recruiters across the web.
How to make it work for yourself
Atlassian’s Sarah Goff-Dupont believes getting breaks in allows you to be more productive in the long run. “I didn’t understand the value of interludes like that until I went remote,” she wrote. “At first, I would blast through my tasks for the week in about three days because there were so few interruptions. Sounds great, except I’d be completely out of gas by Thursday.” Being mindful about breaks is key right now. If you have a pet, or are now sharing your home office with your extended family, it will be easy to incorporate a little non-work chat. But if you are in a room or apartment by yourself for hours, it pays to be serious about breaks.
Use tools like the Pomodoro technique
Some people might feel this remote period is a refreshing opportunity to get into some ‘deep work’, but it can be easy to overdo it. In an interview with Erkan Kasap, we spoke about the Pomodoro technique. “Twenty minutes of concentrated work followed by a six to seven-minute break. This gives you strength for the next 20 minutes.”
Consider a remote buddy system
With everyone adjusting, it might help to talk to someone in the same boat who is not your manager, your direct report, or even on your team. Set up a ten-minute call with a person just to chat about something unrelated to work. It will help you share tips around managing the new situation and give you a place to just relax with a friendly face.
How to make it work for your team
Get into the habit of overcommunication
As we all went remote, our team of veteran remote workers at Stack Overflow shared their insights. This one is from Vinko on the Engineering team: “Overcommunicate. Write (and speak) much more than what your natural tendency would be. Otherwise, things will be missed.”
Embrace asynchronous conversations
It’s important to remember that not all in-office habits and systems are going to translate directly to a remote equivalent. This is especially true during time when we are working at home with our spouses or even children home from school. While it worked at the office, a video call might not be the best option for every sync these days.
Abby T. Mars Director of Program Facilitation on the People Team at Stack Overflow suggests you consider alternatives that allow you to work and shelter in place. “Think to yourself: Can this be an asynchronous activity instead? Would collaboratively writing a shared document work?”
Even if you have the same working hours as your team, be mindful that they might be looking after family members or have other distractions going on. Rather than rescheduling a catch-up for the fifth time this week, just record what you are aiming to present in a short video and ask for colleagues to watch it when they can and note feedback in a Google doc by the end of the next morning.
Agree on new communication rules – as a team!
Not sure how much, or how little, you should check in with your team? HAVE A MEETING! No but seriously, taking the time for one early meeting where your team can define and revise schedules and protocols for a fully remote organization will lay the groundwork for long term success.
Evernote suggests teams agree on a working cadence and some etiquette around what situations call for which communication channels ( video conference, phone calls, chat, or email, and set a preference order). “At an in-person or virtual team meeting, come together to decide on a ‘team charter’ for communication. It’s important that this is a joint effort, with team-wide input (not just a directive handed down from the leader).”
Set your status update
If you are using Slack or a similar chat tool, make sure you have good status update etiquette. When you’re juggling work, childcare, and other preparations for quarantine, it helps to overcommunicate. Remember to update when you are not available and for how long. If you are working odd hours as you juggle care for family members, perhaps include that info too. Operate with a simple maxim in mind: what would make it easiest for colleagues to stay in touch?
🚫 (back at 2 pm)
📞 (till 11.15)
🐕 (walking the dog but free to call)
🏡 (my hours today 6AM-10AM, 7PM-8PM)
How to make it work for candidates
How to get the most out of a remote interview
If your organization is in the fortunate position to be hiring for open roles, remember to be flexible and cultivate a sense of humor. There will be a lot of improvisation happening these days, so try to make the best of the situation. I spoke to Michelle Yoon, Global HR Generalist at Stack Overflow, and put together a short checklist.
- Try video calls as much as you can. Even though you might struggle to find a quiet place in your home office, it makes for a more personal approach to see a candidate face to face.
- Minimize background noises. If possible, get a pair of headphones for the interview to avoid additional background noises.
- Download the software. Do not wait to do this last minute. If you are new to a tool, do a test run, calling somebody or yourself on another device if necessary. Share any relevant instructions with the candidate.
- Keep your bandwidth free: If you need to do an important interview and have a lot of family home on different connected devices, ask your housemates to find a time when they can take a break and allow you to have the internet connection to yourself.
- Charge your battery or be plugged in to a power source.
- Turn off all notifications on your phone or other platforms during the interview.
- Reassure the candidate if they are running into issues at their end. Follow-up via email where necessary. The clarity and speed of the response will tell you more about how well a candidate can work remotely than their video connection.
Overcommunicate with candidates about everything
Even when you’re punctual during the interview process, it’s only natural for virtual candidates to feel like they’re being left in the dark if you’re not communicating consistently. Whether you have details about another round of interviews, or simply need to reach out because you have no updates yet, overcommunicate with remote developers throughout the interview process.
What if you are remote for an extended amount of time?
Whether or not your engineering team or company will get a taste for remote is hard to predict, but the fact is, the people who are joining your team now will need to work well remotely.
Who is a good candidate for a remote role?
Coby Chapple, a Product Designer at Github, has some advice on what to look for in a candidate. “My personal opinion is that the things you should look for when hiring for a remote position are essentially the same things you should be filtering for with any position, remote or not. That said, there are definitely a few things that stand out to me as being key for anyone to be effective as a remote employee.” He lists written communication, discipline, decisiveness and interests outside work. “If someone is going to be working from home, then it’s really important that they have hobbies, friendships, and things to do outside of work. Without something else to help them switch off and decompress, it’s much easier to end up burning out.“
For those who are now looking into hiring remotely for the first time, Ben Matthews, Engineering Manager here at Stack Overflow has some advice about relying on your usual instincts. “Hiring for a remote role as a manager is still sticking to the basics; whatever you were looking for in an onsite worker does not change that drastically when considering someone remote.”
Matthews adds the caveat however, that depending on a person’s previous experience working remotely, there can be a learning curve to get them to full speed. “For people who have not worked remotely before, there are some habits and nuances to learn in their new day to day. Distractions will shift from someone stopping by your desk, to a higher amount of messages, emails or other communications that are not in person. They will also need to learn a little more discipline in time management and have to add frequent progress updates to their responsibility.” His advice for managers is to be patient, give guidance, and help new hires feel empowered to work well in their (new) environment.”
“When you are remote, tone can get lost in translation if you are not thoughtful on how you are saying and doing things. The more you communicate, the better. Even if you personally think it’s too much, chances are, it’s not.”
Melissa Bruno, VP of People at Stack Overflow
Melissa Bruno, VP of People at Stack Overflow, tells us that hiring a remote employee isn’t much different than hiring an employee who is based in an office. The expectations for performance, aptitude, and ability to deliver results are the same. “In my experience, there are three characteristics that remote employees should demonstrate,” says Bruno. “Number one, focus on results vs. activity. Second, personal accountability, and number three, strong interpersonal and communication skills. On the first, I have found that it’s less about how long your to-do-list is and much more about focusing on what counts to get the results you need to deliver.”
Bruno says she is more likely to progress candidates who are able to clearly articulate how they were able to achieve results and looks for personal accountability and ownership to tell how well someone responds to setbacks.. Finally, on interpersonal skills and communication, she adds this crucial note, one we can all heed in this time of endless email, chat, and group calls. “When you are remote, tone can get lost in translation if you are not thoughtful on how you are saying and doing things. The more you communicate, the better. Even if you personally think it’s too much, chances are, it’s not.”