Cutter Group has operated a work from home model since its inception fifteen years ago. I have been with the company for seven years, and during that time I have worked exclusively from home – minus site visits and company get-togethers.
As we all go through this strange and difficult period of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are finding themselves adapting to the work from home lifestyle, and more and more companies are seeing the benefits this way of working can offer.
I have recruited many people into our support team since I started at Cutter, and have learned a lot about what it takes to find people that can successfully and effectively work from home. These are my tips for making sure that when you next decide to recruit, you find the right people to join your team in a work from home environment.
This sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed how many candidates don’t get it, and how many employers settle for not finding it. The first question I ask in any interview is “Tell me what attracted you to this position”. I’m looking for someone who’s interested in what I’m offering, understands the required area of expertise, and shows the drive to embrace the role and develop within it.
You’d be surprised how many candidates answer with things like “Oh I’m just looking for any work in the local area” or “I like anything in IT”. They either haven’t done their homework into the company and the role, or it’s not something they’re truly passionate about. When you work from home, you need to generate your own motivation to work hard – there’s no one standing over your shoulder. The only way that happens is if you’re doing something you are interested in and care about. Make sure you find people who share the passion for what you do – they are the ones that will work hardest for you, whether in the office or at home.
Every interviewer and recruiter has a question about self motivation in their arsenal, but it’s especially important to look for this in someone who works from home. This goes hand-in-hand with the point above to ensure you find someone who wants to do the job you’re offering them.
If the candidate has not worked from home before, then ask them for specific examples of times they showed self motivation. Look for people who give examples like undertaking training or personal development projects, or have found ways to improve the efficiency of their workflows, without needing to be directed to do so.
Working from home also requires a particular attitude and approach to work that not everyone possesses. There is an implicit level of trust between employer and employee when working from home. As a manager you do not have the same level of visibility of your team, and you need to be able to trust them to work hard for you without them receiving constant direction. Look for candidates who show evidence of a good moral compass and a desire to do the right thing – someone who gives you confidence that they will commit to completing their workload, and will look for opportunities to further improve the company and themselves when they have spare capacity.
This is my take on Steve Ballmer’s famous ‘Developers’ rant, because it is such a crucial component in successfully working from home. Yes, your candidate needs the right technical skills for your role, but if they cannot effectively communicate then they will fail as a home worker.
Communication is possibly the most important skill to look for in a home worker
Working from home brings a non-traditional (i.e. not face to face) method of communication to nearly every conversation. Most companies operate a combination of text (both instant messaging and email), voice, and video communication. You are looking for someone who is good at all of these, and excels in the one you use most.
If your teams spend the day with a phone stuck to their ears then find someone with a good phone manner who can communicate their point effectively without dragging the conversation out. If you are a group that spends most of your time in emails then find someone who can accurately convey tone in their words – and equally importantly, correctly perceive the tone of others. If you are a Slack or Teams user, then make sure your candidate can keep up with the rapid flow of text-based communication throughout the day, and contribute information about their workload and well-being effectively through that medium.
You should also look for candidates who can effortlessly achieve informal conversation through your primary communication medium. Those who thrive on office banter in person may struggle when faced with those same conversations via text-based messaging. Those who are great with words in an email may become a shrinking violet on video calls. Look for people with a communication style and a sense of humour that is a good fit for your business.
These are all things you can and should test during your recruitment and interview process. Before you even get to the formal interview stage, you can converse with your candidates through several different methods (e.g. emails and a phone call) and use this to gauge how effectively they communicate when they don’t realise they’re being assessed.
One of the greatest challenges for the manager of a work from home team is assessing people’s well-being and how they are coping with their work. When you don’t see someone in the office every day you miss many of the social cues around how they are feeling.
If a colleague is looking under the weather or sat at their desk with their head in their hands, then it’s easy enough to call them into the office for a chat.
When your communication with someone is primarily over the phone or text based then you are relying on them to be honest with you about how they are feeling in order to help them. Look for someone who is open about their well-being as it will make them much easier to support remotely.
It goes without saying that many of tools which have enabled home working recently are technical ones. Whether it’s a remote access system like Citrix, storing files in the OneDrive, or collaborating through Microsoft Teams, making the most of the solution requires some level of technical ability.
If you want your home workers to be effective they need to be able to make the most of the tools you give them – transitioning easily from one piece of software to another, switching seamlessly from PC to mobile phone when they’re on the move, and adapting quickly when you decide to move your software solution to a different platform.
Have you ever turned down a great candidate because they were too far from your headquarters? Or lost a candidate who seemed perfect because they decided the commute was too far? All those challenges go out the window if you let people work from home. Your talent pool when recruiting just became nationwide – maybe even worldwide. Embrace this opportunity to find the ideal person for your role by looking in places you’d never considered. If you use a recruitment agency then make sure they properly understand any location or timezone limitations on the vacancy.
You are about to hire someone that you may not see for weeks or months at a time. The interview is your main opportunity to assess a candidate’s suitability for the role before they start, and it’s essential that you make the most of it.
An interview should be more than a few questions; look for every opportunity to test a candidate’s ability to complete the type of tasks they will face in a normal day.
Give them challenges, set them assessments, get them to use the communication and collaboration tools that you employ within your teams. At Cutter Group we have developed a two and a half hour Technical Assessment that challenges candidates to work through some typical problems they might be faced with in the role. It also assesses their written and spoken ability to convey information in an effective manner. It’s become well recognised as an effective tool, and our customers have asked us to offer it as a service so they can use it to test heir own candidates.
Get creative with your own interview process and come up with ways to test your candidates before you commit to them. This will allows you to make your hiring decisions with much greater peace of mind that you’re making the right choice. Don’t forget that if you’re hiring remote workers then you can interview remotely too – I routinely hire people without having ever met them in person, and a good interview process can ensure this isn’t a problem.
Don’t be one of those people that says “I can’t let my employees work from home – how can I trust them to be productive!” If you can’t trust your employees then you are already hiring the wrong people. Working from home in itself does not present a challenge* as long as you as an employer can offer the right tools, and you take the time to find people with the right skills to make it work.
Working from home can present a huge number of benefits to both employers and employees. Now is a perfect time to embrace those benefits, and to better prepare your company for the next time a national or global emergency calls for it.
If you would like to discuss how we interview and assess our candidates in more detail or are interested in the technical aspects of home working solutions (remote access, security, etc.) then drop me a message.
*Obviously there are jobs where working from home is not a practical or appropriate solution. This article is aimed at the large number roles that transfer well to the work from home environment.