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Keys for Successfully Hiring and Retaining a Remote Workforce

          With the Deep-Dive Insights Series, Aston Carter takes a closer look at emerging trends in the evolving job market that will affect both employers and candidates alike.

The employment life cycle has been upended over the last year, and in many cases, the entire process is now virtual. Remote screening leads to remote interviews, and remote onboarding is followed by remote workflows. Along the way, organizations have discovered that effective remote hiring requires a new level of attention and care, leading to resourcing crunches both before and after a candidate is hired.

Hiring managers should screen for candidates likely to succeed in a remote work environment. But even the most adaptable new hires will need guidance and mentorship once they join, and they’ll need it for longer than usual.

It’s been a challenge for even the most prepared organizations to keep up with the evolving hiring landscape while retaining their best candidates in the process. Here are a few areas to help optimize the employee experience when hiring remotely:

Screen for Remote Skills

In addition to screening candidates for technical and job-specific skills, it’s important to assess soft skills that could contribute to success in a remote work environment. Screening for these traits early can help set new hires up for success by giving you an idea of their strengths and where they might need support for further growth.

With that in mind, hiring managers should ask questions geared toward screening adaptable skills including autonomy, resourcefulness and communication. This will give you an idea of a person’s capacity to build relationships and thrive in a virtual setting. Even if a candidate doesn’t have extensive remote work experience, you can still assess aptitude for success.

Start by asking some general questions, including:

  • Have you ever worked remotely or had a supervisor in a different time zone?
    • If so, how did you coordinate communication and navigate remote team building?
    • If not, how do you think you’d overcome potential gaps in communication that could arise in a virtual work environment?
  • Do you prefer communicating via email, phone or messaging platform such as Microsoft Teams, and why?
  • What are some challenges you’ve experienced or might anticipate when working remotely?
    How have you / would you overcome them?
  • How do you / would you stay motivated and productive while working remotely?

You can also tailor questions to the candidate’s resume, but don’t expect to find one correct answer for each question. As long as you’re screening for qualities that could transfer well to a virtual environment — such as flexibility, problem solving, team building and stress management — you’re on the right track.

Additionally, be sure to lookout for any areas that might require further development through training and onboarding. Managing expectations up front and remaining aware of your candidates’ strengths and weaknesses are great strategies for reducing new employee turnover.

Accept the Challenge of Virtual Interviews

The technical challenges of conducting remote interviews can be remedied with adequate preparation and clear documentation on connection requirements. The same can’t be said for making the process feel like an in-person interview. Virtual interviews can be uncomfortable. Candidates often have difficulty showcasing skills virtually. It can also be challenging for hiring managers to make authentic connections with candidates and get a good sense of who they are personally.

Recruiters can be helpful in screening candidates and navigating tricky remote interview scenarios. According to the Harvard Business School, “Recruiters … see a wide variety of candidates regularly and continuously. Their ability to identify potential cross-over skills is something that could be valuable in the current conditions; skills that are difficult to showcase in an interview, especially a virtual one.”

Whether you opt to partner with an external recruitment provider or not, don’t overcompensate by scheduling more interviews. Adding additional steps can make the process exhausting and increase the likelihood of candidate turnover. If interviewing drags on for weeks, you’ll risk increasing candidate fall out, and your most sought-after candidates could be snatched up by a faster competitor.

Take a Detailed Approach to Onboarding and Training Logistics

In a virtual world, it’s not advisable to squeeze onboarding into one or two marathon sessions. Instead, consider spreading out the process over a longer period of time, and provide more resources to facilitate training.

The end goal is to make sure new employees reach peak performance as soon as possible, but it won’t be an instant process. Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg reports that an effective remote onboarding strategy takes twice as much time and effort to implement as the in-person equivalent.

But additional efforts can result in a large ROI. According to SHRM, “the first six months are the most critical time after hiring new employees because that’s when 31 percent of new hires are likely to leave.” Successful onboarding can make a significant impact on early retention of new employees.

So be sure to pay attention to the logistical details of getting new hires ready for work: ensure your employees have digital copies of onboarding materials and that training can be accomplished virtually. Also think through the best cadence for providing the assets they need for the job, and consider providing an IT contact they can call if needed. If you want your employees to feel valued from Day 1, do everything possible to make sure they won’t feel under prepared as result of slipshod onboarding.

Pay Attention to Your People, Both New and Current

One of the greatest challenges of virtual onboarding is ensuring that new hires mesh with your company culture and don’t feel isolated. There are a variety of ways to thoughtfully integrate them into the organization. Be sure to provide new employees with a list of important contacts (e.g., direct reports, mentors, key peers and contacts in other departments). Additionally, create opportunities to build camaraderie and connections for both new and current employees.

HR Daily Advisor claims: “Studies show that employee engagement is linked to increased employee well-being, job performance, cross-training performance, and reduced turnover.” To enhance engagement, consider assigning each employee a mentor, and schedule regular meetings to keep a pulse on how the transition is going. Beyond that, the hiring manager should check in regularly and organize group team-building sessions. You might even consider scheduling virtual happy hours or coffee meetups to build morale.

Finally, to optimize performance in a virtual setting, set goals at both the individual and team levels, and check-in with employees to ensure they’re being met. Remote culture can be tough, so make sure your people aren’t feeling adrift by providing resources to help build strong partnerships throughout the organization. Employees are more apt to figuring out the remote work world when they know you’re behind them and that they have a team they can count on.

Expand Your Resourcing to Build Partnerships

HR resources can be particularly tricky to scale up, especially since the need to enhance hiring infrastructure often coincides with employee ramp-up needs across the business. Remember that you don’t have to do it all internally.

To facilitate remote hiring and employee engagement, look into your current staffing partnerships to evaluate additional service offerings, such as support with onboarding, performance optimization or logistical services for hardware, software and even IT support.

The transition to remote work can be challenging and often unearths process gaps that were previously unnoticed. But with the right resources, planning and partnerships it’s possible to develop a smooth and efficient working rhythm.

If you’re struggling to find the in-house resources required to craft a virtual hiring and onboarding strategy, you can consider working with a managed solutions provider to set up a customized workforce solution. This could alleviate you of many tasks – including onboarding, training and even logistical support – allowing you to focus on other business priorities while retaining visibility and oversight of the work.

If your organization is looking for strategic guidance around remote hiring practices, reach out to Aston Carter.