Remote work is a fast emerging segment of the labor market. How to embrace this shift as an employer - and find, recruit, and empower remote staff - is a question many companies and hiring managers are grappling with.

I have hired staff that works remotely. I have been hired to work remotely. In both situations I have learned lessons along the way. I want to share these lessons with you.

Perhaps you are tasked with attracting remote talent. Maybe you are the talent. In either case, remote work requires a deliberate recruiting framework as the types of skills that remote workers need to succeed are slightly different than those skills needed to thrive in a traditional workplace environment.

First, some relevant context: I have over a decade of startup and large tech work experience and have worked from home in various capacities - as an individual contributor, company founder, and general manager.

I have also conducted scores of remote interviews, extended offer letters to remote staff, and helped employees onboard who will work from their homes.

When hiring remote workers, I look for robust interpersonal and communication skills. Oftentimes remote work requires a person to demonstrate additional maturity and focus. They need to spend their time and the company’s resources well, with limited daily guidance. From my experience remote workers who excel have high intrinsic motivation and are self-starters.

5 skills remote workers should have - and how to find them

The following framework can help you probe for behaviors that you may want your staff to possess and will enable you to more analytically recruit and evaluate talent.

This framework is useful for candidates who want to prepare for remote job interviews or think holistically about skills to develop further when seeking remote work.

High performing remote workers demonstrate a:

  1. Bias towards action,
  2. Strong emotional maturity,
  3. Track record of driving projects or objectives to successful conclusions,
  4. Communication cadence that prioritizes that the right things get done,
  5. Persuasive advocacy when working with internal and external stakeholders.

If you value these attributes here are questions you can ask to better understand a candidate’s skill set.

How to confirm a bias towards action

Consider asking: explain a time when you have gone above and beyond expectations to solve a problem. How did you identify the problem? What was the outcome?

These answers can provide great insights into how deeply the candidate has thought about past problems and how they might solve issues that arise in the future.

I value diversity in thought, experience, and background. The beauty of showing a bias towards action is that such a mindset can shine through in a large array of activities.

A bias towards action need not be demonstrated just by work examples, though it can be. I once interviewed a candidate who showed a bias towards action by taking care of her sibling when her parents were unable to do so. Another candidate showed a bias towards action by suggesting solutions to a client’s operational problem which helped secure a new contract.

How to confirm ability to resolve ambiguous situations

At times working from home can be isolating and force staff to solve complex problems with limited managerial guidance.

If you want staff that can escalate work appropriately and have the self-awareness to resolve high-ambiguity situations, consider asking: What’s something you’ve achieved that you’re most proud of and why? When were you last frustrated by work, and how did you handle it? What is one thing you would like to change about your current company or role? How has our interview process been so far?

These questions probe for self-awareness. Being self-aware helps a person make informed decisions.

How to confirm ability to take ownership of projects

The social and technological foundation of collaboration has gotten incredibly good over the last decade as a result of new digital technologies and communication tools.

Yet remote work still necessitates that an individual drives projects or objectives to successful conclusions and takes full ownership of processes, tasks, and responsibilities.

To probe for these skills, consider asking: When did you exceed your management’s expectations? What happened, and why? How have you demonstrated thought leadership or engaged in projects that added value to your clients or internal stakeholders?

How to confirm excellent communication skills

Remote workers - more so than traditional office workers - need to communicate priorities that ensure the right things are getting done because informal conversations and water-cooler chats are less frequent.

Workers add value by understanding the cadence and frequency of written and verbal communication. As many Freecoders know, an engineer writes and submits code digitally. A reviewer simply needs to have access to the same Pull Request. So it is up to the remote worker to provide clarity and content since they are unable to showcase their whiteboard.

Consider asking: What would your colleagues say is your strongest communication skill? How would you go about simplifying a complex issue in order to explain it to a client or colleague? How would you persuade someone to see things your way? Why?

How to confirm relationship building skills

You will likely want your remote staff to advocate for and positively represent your team and business when working with internal and external stakeholders.

I ask: share an experience in which you successfully advocated for a client to resolve a crisis? What would you have done differently in hindsight? Please share with me an example of how you helped coach or mentor someone. What improvements did you see in the person's knowledge or skills?


Final thoughts on remote work

Like other sustained market shifts (i.e. the personal computer revolution), remote work is going to define how many of us, our firms, and our colleagues will work.

Before hiring staff you need a pipeline of candidates. Before that, you need to know what skills prospective candidates must possess to thrive in your firm. Only you will know what you need from new hires. In general it’s a good idea to understand candidates and their business fit.

Be open to candidates and answers that are diverse and varied – value can be demonstrated in many different ways.

If you use these questions as a guide and let yourself be open to new responses that demonstrate potential impact, you likely will acquire some very strong talent that will add value in the short and long term.