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Hiring in 2021: Three Qualities to Look for in Remote Employees

Suzanne Boyd

Published

Remote work had been slowly gaining acceptance for years.

But the pandemic has brought about incredible change in the adoption of remote work. It is no longer seen as a company benefit, but a necessary alternative to working in an office.According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.7 million people (3.4% of the US workforce) were already working remotely before the novel coronavirus. This was up by 1% from 2015. By March 2020, 88% of organizations worldwide shifted to encouraging or requiring working fully remote, according to a global survey by Gartner

This was true for our business. Before the pandemic, Anthro-Tech had only a handful of employees occasionally working remotely, all of whom were based out of our physical offices in Washington. As soon as the pandemic hit, the entire team transitioned to work remotely. We’ve hired and on-boarded new employees virtually on a regular basis since then. 

Like many companies, this was the first time we ever made hiring decisions over Zoom. Asking a person to join our close-knit team without ever having shaken hands or sharing a meal or coffee together was foreign to us. We created new processes and procedures for remote interviews and training. We got creative about how we help new team members integrate and get to know the rest of the company. But most importantly, we homed in on new criteria for spotting promising candidates. When you interview someone in person, you can pick up a lot from the way they carry themselves, speak, and the energy they bring to the room. Through a screen, this can be more difficult.

If you are an organization that did not originally have a remote workforce or had very few team members outside of your physical offices, here are some of the qualities we have pinpointed as crucial to spot when hiring remote employees.

1. Remote workers must be proficient with remote collaboration tools.

2020 ushered in new ways of working—we now have a new definition of how to be an effective, productive employee.

Most companies today use one of the big four video conferencing platforms: Zoom, Google Hangouts, WebEx, or UberConference. Most companies also use one of the big three internal messaging systems: Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat. Familiarity with these platforms has become a base-level skill for remote workers, along with proficiency in popular project management software tools like Asana, Trello, Jira, Basecamp, etc. 

What we look for isn’t only the candidate’s familiarity with these platforms, but the way that they communicate and collaborate with them. Are they able to move between tools, handle minor hiccups, and still tell a compelling story? Do the tools help or hinder them from connecting and accomplishing what they are intending? Whenever we learn something new in the interview process, or a candidate effectively makes use of a tool we haven’t heard of before, we take notice.

2. Remote workers need to anticipate and prepare.

A great way to demonstrate that you’re a professional and that you care is to anticipate and prepare. Candidates who make it a practice to think through their presentation, their story, their supporting materials, their questions, and even what they are broadcasting unintentionally, stand out in interviews.

They are ready to go early. They are at ease and ready for small talk before jumping in because they are prepared. They have probably rehearsed or done a practice run of their presentation. They remove noise when sharing screens by closing unrelated programs, windows, and files. They save their audience time and reduce distractions by anticipating which browser tabs or files they want already open. They anticipate which backup examples to have ready to go. In short, they put thought into how their audience is going to experience their presentation.

3. Remote workers should dial up the energy when presenting.

It’s difficult to convey excitement or passion through a screen without extra effort.

During some of our remote interviews, I find myself having a hard time picturing what the person would be like to work with. When there’s no energy their message falls flat. I equate the dynamic to the way I have to show up in meetings, in training workshops, or when we’re presenting our work virtually: with lots of energy, gesturing when appropriate, smiling more than normal, nodding my head to show I am engaged. I expect this same energy from our interviewees. Even when presenting on more earnest topics or making the case for changes (bad news) listeners are more likely to want to connect with a person’s presentation if they believe the person cares about the story they are telling.

We looked for these behaviors when speaking with candidates before the pandemic. But over video conferencing individuals need to put out even more energy to show passion and engagement.

Specialties: Designing usable products and services. Anthro-Tech is a user-centered design consultancy focused on government agencies, nonprofits and enterprises with a social-impact mission.

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