It’s time to learn the ins and outs of hiring remote team members because it turns out this is more than just a passing fad. Hubstaff data has shown that, annually, remote work protects an estimated 62 hours’ worth of work that in-office teams lose due to daily interruptions.

Remote hiring is different. It can be challenging to adapt, especially if you’re new to remote work or you’re going through a growth spurt. Don’t worry. We’re here to help. Download our free remote employment agreement template below. Read on for our best advice and resources to help you with remote hiring.

As a fully remote company, we know something about interviewing and hiring remote employees. We’ll also help you start to understand remote employment laws. Follow this guide, and you’ll have an easier time finding and onboarding the best remote talent. Let’s break it down.

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How to hire remote employees

At the beginning of the pandemic, companies had to figure things out on the fly. It was almost impossible to plan ahead.

We’re still dealing with the pandemic and its impacts. But you can still plan for the future, even if there are still some unanswered questions.

Start by setting yourself up for success. When you have a game plan, you’ll have an easier time finding and hiring the right people.

1. Get clear on how you approach remote work

Figure out how you want to leverage flexible work options as part of your long-term strategy.

There’s a difference between hiring someone to work from home permanently and hiring someone you want to eventually bring into the office. Your remote teams need the skills to stay productive and communicate well at a distance.

You might decide that going 100% remote is a great way to reduce costs and increase productivity.

Remote vs. in-office productivity

On the other hand, you might allow only some positions to work from home. Security concerns or equipment costs can make it impractical to go totally remote right now.

Allowing your team to work from home gives you lots of flexibility. Decide how you want to handle your remote strategy now to avoid confusion and conflict later.

You’ll want to get specific on details like:

  • Do you need employees to work in specific time zones?
  • How does your team communicate?
  • What remote team software is non-negotiable?
  • How often do you need to talk to your employees in real-time?
  • Can schedules be flexible, or do people need to work a set shift?
  • Do people need to wear work attire for video calls?
  • What kinds of virtual activities happen for fun?

These might seem obvious, but not all remote jobs are created equal. Different companies handle remote work differently, and candidates will want to know these answers before applying.

People have this glamorous idea of what it’s like running a remote company. You call the shots. You choose your meetings. You hire, you fire. Oh, and you can grab lunch or hit the golf course whenever and wherever you want. I guess all that is true, but it’s a little more complicated than that. The truth is, if you’re running a remote team like ours, your day-to-day is all about air traffic control.

– Dave Nevogt

All of this information should be covered in your remote work policy. You can use our free template to help you get started.

2. Improve your online presence

What’s the first thing people do when they come across a job that sparks their interest?

They check out the company’s website. Your website and social media platforms give a sense of what it’s like to be part of your team.

It’s not just about what you say. A sharp candidate will spot clues about how organized you are, whether or not you’re short-staffed, and how casual your culture might be based on the way your website and social channels are managed.

Consider using your blog to share what day-to-day life is like inside your company.

Content can humanize your company so that potential new hires (and customers) feel more comfortable reaching out.

For example, if you want to hire a new project manager, you probably post a job description that goes over their daily responsibilities, right?

Now, imagine that you also share a blog post that provides a glimpse into a day in the life of a project manager at your company.

That content helps candidates picture themselves in the role. An applicant can really feel what it’s like to work for you before they even apply.

If they’re comfortable with it, put your current employees in the spotlight. Create short videos that talk about what it’s like to work for you. Automattic has a YouTube playlist you can look at for inspiration.

Creating those videos doesn’t have to be a big project.

At the end of your next video conference call, ask each member of your team to share a few words about their experience working remotely. Just make sure you let them know ahead of time so that they’ll be camera-ready.

Remote team meeting

Your online presence can help boost your reputation as a fun, remote-friendly company.

Plus, you can tailor your digital channels to attract the types of candidates you want.

3. List the skills you need in a good remote employee

One of the biggest advantages of hiring remote workers is that you have a much bigger pool of applicants to choose from.

That’s also one of the biggest challenges you’ll face when making your first remote hire.

Remote work is popular. You’ll probably be flooded with applications for every job you post.

How do you know what to look for in a remote hire?As you create your job posting and filter through that big stack of resumes, look for people who have the right skills — not just for their job function, but also the skills to work independently. You want self-motivated individuals, since 41% of remote workers have trouble staying motivated.

You have a much bigger talent pool when you hire remotely. That’s both an advantage and a challenge.

If you’re hiring for a position that already exists in your company, talk to your employees. Ask them to help you come up with a list of skills a new person will need to be a productive team member.

At the same time, look for skill gaps you can help fill when you bring on a new hire. Can a new person help you reach more ambitious goals?

For new positions in your company, focus on your reasons for hiring. What do you need this person to accomplish?

These questions help you build a list of professional skills your candidate needs to succeed. On top of these, a good remote employee needs to be independent, organized, and great at communicating. Include those on your list, too.

Use the list you just created to craft a job posting that attracts the right people.

4. Attract the right candidates with a great job posting

The groundwork has been laid. You know who you are as a company and what you want in a perfect employee.

Let’s write a job posting.

We’re talking about work-from-home positions, but the tips in this section are valuable for all kinds of job postings.

The way you write your posting matters. Optimize it to attract the kind of applicants you want.

Be realistic

Describe your ideal candidate when crafting your job posting, but avoid setting unrealistic expectations.

It’s tempting to include a laundry list of skills and requirements. Startups are especially prone to this mistake because they need flexible, competent team members who can fill multiple needs.

Postings with unrealistic requirements attract two kinds of applicants:

  1. People who are too inexperienced to recognize that your expectations are impossible to meet, and
  2. People who don’t care if they can’t do the job.

The best talent is selective.

These people know that their skills are in demand. They’re confident that they’ll have no trouble finding a position and want to find a job they’ll enjoy.

Talented job seekers watch out for postings that say things like “We’re looking for a top performing rockstar who can wear many hats. We work hard and play hard!”

To a top candidate, that really means “We’re looking for someone to do way more work than we pay them for. Also, we expect you to work ridiculous hours, but sometimes we go to happy hour.”

The best talent is selective. They screen postings as carefully as you screen candidates.

Figure out if your job description is realistic by getting feedback from people who already do that job. Your employees can tell you if your list of responsibilities is too much.

What if you’re hiring for a brand-new position in your company?

In that case, try posting your job description in a professional networking group to ask for feedback. You’ll get an honest take and may even find some good candidates.

Answer the important questions

Don’t leave too many questions unanswered. That makes it look like you’re trying to hide something.

Think about what a top candidate wants to know before they apply:

  • Will this position work from home permanently, or is it only remote until it’s safe to return to the office?
  • For entirely remote jobs, do you have time zone requirements?
  • What’s the salary range for this position? Does it change depending on the employee’s location?
  • Do you provide equipment, or does the employee need to use their personal computer for work?
  • What will day-to-day work look like?

You don’t need to write a novel. There is such a thing as too much information. Ensure you cover the most important things and save the extreme details for the interview.

Give candidates a reason to apply

Remember that the best candidates are in high demand. They screen job postings as carefully as you screen applicants.

What remote workers value

If you want the best pool of applicants, give them a reason to apply.

Salary is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters.

Lots of talented people leave high-paying jobs to focus on other priorities. You don’t need to be the highest-paying employer if you have other things to offer. Just make sure your salary is competitive and fair. 

However, remote companies need to keep in mind that hiring remote candidates means that you’re competing with employers around the world. A “competitive” salary for someone in San Francisco is a different figure for someone in Omaha, Nebraska.

Office perks are irrelevant for remote positions. Don’t mention the free coffee and tea in your office when hiring someone who will never work there.

Office perks like free coffee and ping pong tables are irrelevant when your team works from home. What else do you have to offer?

Instead, talk about the reasons that someone would really want to work for you.

  • Highlight the best parts of your culture
  • If you offer a flexible schedule, mention that
  • Share your ethics, values, and company mission
  • Talk about bonuses or other rewards for great performance
  • Mention any remote perks like reimbursement for coworking spaces or food delivery allowances

Remote positions are in high demand, but just the fact that a person can work from home isn’t enough to attract the best candidates. Working from home is common now. You need to offer something more.

A job posting is an advertisement. Share the best things about your company so that applicants are enthusiastic about the idea of working for you.

Perks for employees

5. Look for cultural fit

It’s a good idea to put some thought into your remote culture while you’re defining your strategy.

If you have any lingering concerns about remote work, address them before you try to tackle remote hiring.

Most likely, your office culture has changed a bit since everyone started working from home. You’ll want to look for candidates who can fit into your current culture and help create the environment you want for the future.

If you have any lingering concerns or doubts about your remote work culture, address those now.

Encourage your team to find ways to connect, even if they’re working from different time zones.

All of this is a work in progress, of course. You’ll learn more about managing a remote team as you go.

Think of this process as figuring out what kind of a company you want to be. That determines the kind of talent you want to attract.

6. Interview remote candidates

Interviewing remote candidates isn’t necessarily more difficult than in-person interviews. It’s just different.

Phone interviews are fine, but video is way better for communication because you can see some body language. Use a video meeting tool like Zoom to schedule and conduct interviews.

There are more than 7 billion people on this earth. So when you’re building a remote team, lack of available talent is a piss poor excuse for anything. At Hubstaff, I get a lot of applications from a lot of super talented people. But I don’t just want button pushers. I’m looking for folks with some personality, who are doers, that actually take initiative and show some serious hustle. This is demonstrated not just through work examples and references (those are important, too), but also through every single interaction during the interview process — every email and every Skype call.

– Dave Nevogt

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Be mindful of video communication challenges

Be aware that some of the nonverbal cues you’re used to may be different on a video call.

Traditional job interviews place a lot of emphasis on subtext. Does the candidate have a firm handshake? Do they seem confident? Do they make good eye contact? Are they dressed appropriately?

When interviewing remotely, those cues are different.

A little awareness goes a long way. If you get the feeling that someone lacks confidence or isn’t presenting themselves well, consider if the video itself might be a factor.

How to prepare to conduct a video interview

Make sure you test your equipment ahead of time, especially if you’re using a tool you’re not experienced with.

The etiquette for video interviews is to use your computer with a webcam, not your phone. Interviewing from your phone makes it seem like you’re either in a hurry or not taking this call seriously.

A telephone interview is a good backup plan if your internet connection fails or you can’t get your camera working.

What to ask in a remote interview

Candidates for remote positions should be comfortable working from home. Here are a few things you should ask to figure out if they’re a good fit for remote work:

  • Why do you want to work from home?
  • Do you prefer working from the office if that’s an option?
  • How do you disconnect from work and recharge?
  • Do you have access to a reliable internet connection?
  • What challenges do you expect to face if you haven’t worked remotely before?
  • If you have worked remotely before, what did you like and dislike about it?

Listen for signals that a candidate expects to sleep late, work in pajamas, and catch up on their favorite Netflix series while they work. That’s a sign that they’re not prepared for the realities of working from home.

A candidate is probably a good fit for remote work if they show these qualities:

1. They’re proactive

Remote employees should take the initiative without needing a manager or a tracking tool to remind them.

Look for proactive people. Here are some of the signs to watch for:

  • They follow up
  • The offer ideas freely
  • They have a history of taking on additional responsibility at previous jobs
  • They volunteer

You’ll also be able to spot a proactive candidate by giving him or her a test project. Some people offer to complete a sample project without you prompting them, and that’s a definite sign that they’re the type to take initiative.

2. They can communicate clearly

Remote work requires more written communication in the form of emails or group chats.

Candidates with great communication skills will show these signs:

  • They ask questions to clarify what you mean
  • They repeat things back and ask “Did I understand that correctly?”
  • They look for feedback to make sure they’re communicating their point clearly
  • Even if they’re not a grammar whiz, their messages are clear
I really can’t stress it enough. A lot of folks are qualified on paper, but when I’m trying to narrow the field, the way a candidate communicates makes all the difference.

– Dave Nevogt

Pay attention to your initial emails with a candidate.

Are they concise in their writing? Does their tone align with your company culture?

Unless you’re hiring someone to create written content, you probably don’t need to worry much about spelling or grammar. It’s no big deal if they don’t know the difference between “affect” and “effect.”

Those things only become an issue when it affects the clarity of the message. You don’t want to pause and puzzle through every email or Slack message to figure out what someone means.

Employee communication
3. They prioritize work-life balance

In Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2020 Report, 20% of remote workers cited loneliness as their biggest struggle.

Many workers have been forced to adapt to remote work due to COVID-19, so it’s unrealistic to expect that every candidate knows their bandwidth and boundaries.

However, you still want your employees to at least be aware of how they can keep themselves from burning out.

You can offer support, but you can’t manage stress for your employees. They need the skills to monitor and maintain their own emotional health.

These skills aren’t just important – they’re essential.

There are many virtual team-building activities you can do to motivate your team. However, you can only host so many group events.

Employees need the skills to manage their own emotional state — you can’t do it for them.

What about experience working remotely?

Does remote experience matter?

When you hire someone to work from home full time, it’s nice to know that they’ve succeeded with this work style before.

Working from home is different from what people expect. It’s not a perfect fit for everyone. Sometimes, people who really want to work remotely find that they don’t like it as much as they thought they would.

That doesn’t mean that you should rule out candidates who are a good fit otherwise.

Remote experience does help in dealing with challenges like time management and work-life balance. But proactive candidates with good communication skills are just as likely to thrive, even if they don’t have any remote work experience.

Don’t rule out a great candidate just because they’ve never had the opportunity to work from home before. If they have remote-friendly skills, they’re likely to succeed.

7. Start with a trial period

Some things you can just jump right into. Swimming pools. Trampolines. Your bed.

Hiring a full-time employee is not one of those things.

Your candidate shouldn’t have to do free work for the chance of getting hired. When they complete a test project, pay them — even if you don’t hire them.

Anytime we’re hiring a full-time employee, we ask them to work with us for four weeks so that both sides can make an informed decision. This “trial” can be done on a part-time basis. Two huge benefits to this:

  • You only hire folks based on actual ROI, not (possibly false) inclination
  • Someone doesn’t just quit their job and leave us feeling like we have to bring them on

Hiring on a trial also gives you an opportunity to gauge intangibles like personality and cultural fit, which can be really difficult to determine from a few emails and a Skype call alone.

Many companies take this approach to screen remote work applicants. If you do this, be respectful of your candidate’s time and labor.

Test projects shouldn’t ever be free work. Agree on a fair price ahead of time and pay them for their labor — even if you decide not to hire them.

8. Onboard your remote new hire

No matter how well your new employee knows their stuff, they still need training and onboarding to do a good job. Even the most competent, experienced, motivated people need time to learn how things are done at your company.

Starting a new job is stressful enough. Don’t leave your new hires to figure things out on their own. Help them get started right.

Good onboarding is crucial for remote new hires. They’re not surrounded by their coworkers. They can’t watch how other people get things done.

Starting a new job is already stressful enough. Your new hire is eager to learn and do well.

Set them up for success with these tips.

Use process documentation for everything

Here’s why process documentation is so important:

Let’s assume that you’ve decided to grow your remote team because productivity is so much better, and your overhead costs are much lower. Your team is growing fast. This month, you hire five new people who all work from home.

All of those new hires need training and onboarding.

You’re already busy, but now you spend most of your day answering questions. Since you’re the main source of information, those new team members have to wait until you’re available to get their own work done correctly. There’s a huge bottleneck.

Since you’re busy helping other people, onboarding takes much longer for all your new team members. You fall behind on your own work, and the company’s growth stalls a little.

That’s what happens when you don’t have good documentation.

On the other hand, if all of your processes and procedures are written down, your job is to teach your team how to find information on their own.

If you haven’t done this before, creating documentation might look like a daunting task. There’s so much!

Yes, it’s a big undertaking, but you don’t have to do it all at once.

Subscribe to the Hubstaff blog for more tips

As your team grows, create your procedural documents as part of the training process. You have to write it down anyway because that’s how you communicate with your remote team. Create a shareable document instead of an email. If you’re going to do a video call, consider recording the instructions so you can share them with your next new hire.

Speaking of process documentation, we strongly recommend using an onboarding checklist.

The checklist tells new hires exactly what you expect. We use different checklists for different roles and include things like:

  • Create your usernames and passwords for important systems
  • Go over workflows and project boards with your ambassador
  • Post about one of your hidden talents in the #random Slack channel
  • Schedule video calls with teammates so you can start getting to know other people in the company
  • Create an introduction video and post it in Slack

Notice that a lot of those checklist items are about getting to know the team. That’s one of the hardest things about remote work, so it should be a big part of onboarding.

Create connections between distributed team members

Employees who like their coworkers are more likely to stick around for the long term.

According to Gallup, an employee who has a best friend at work is 43% more likely to receive praise for their work and 27% more likely to feel like their job is important.

They also point out that team members will create loyalties with each other. When they encounter a “leaving moment” and may consider leaving the company, their loyalties to each other can keep them around and engaged.

It’s harder for employees to connect when they work from home.

Employee engagement

That’s especially true if you have a blend of remote employees and people who work in the office. The in-office team will naturally form relationships, while those who work remotely are more left out.

Start encouraging people to connect right away. Make time during onboarding to socialize with coworkers.

Use tools like Slack, Discord, and Zoom to create virtual hangout spaces.

It’s hard to join a team that you can’t see and hear. Create opportunities to connect.

If you have a bunch of new people starting within a short amount of time, consider hosting a virtual event to introduce everyone.

You can have a virtual team lunch by providing a stipend for food or sending a meal delivery service. Use a video calling tool like Zoom to host and plan a fun activity. Trivia and pictionary are crowd pleasers that can easily be done via video call.

Once you’ve made the introduction, don’t stop there. Think about how to keep that momentum going as your team grows. Check out our article on building remote culture for more tips.

Use the buddy system

Starting a remote job can be intimidating.

Think of it from your employee’s perspective. They want to make a good impression and learn fast, but they’re just at home alone with their computer. It’s hard to join a team that you can’t see and hear — especially if you’re new to remote work.

Don’t leave your new hire alone to figure it out. Instead, give them a partner to help with onboarding.

At Hubstaff, we call these people Ambassadors.

It’s like using the buddy system to help a new team member learn their way around. Ambassadors check in frequently to offer help, answer questions, and get to know their new co-workers. This helps people feel more comfortable and make friends right away.

You or the Ambassador should take the initiative to connect. Don’t expect the new hire to come to you as often as you want them to. They’re worried that they’ll seem too needy.

It’s up to you to be their training wheels.

Put them at ease and reassure them that it’s okay to ask questions. Help them get used to the way your remote team communicates so they can connect with the other members of their team.

Remote employment laws: what you should know

Labor laws are already complex. When you hire remotely, there’s more to think about.

Hiring people to work from home means that you can hire people in other states or even other countries. That’s a huge advantage, but it also presents some challenges when you have to navigate the local laws and regulations.

We’re not here to give you legal advice. Please don’t use this blog post to make legal decisions.

Instead, please treat this section as a list of things you should ask your legal counsel about.

State income tax

State income tax for remote workers might differ depending on where you’re hiring people.

If you’re a company based in Michigan and you hire someone in Texas, for example, your remote worker will be paying tax in their resident state, not in the state where your business operates. 

Payroll taxes for employees working out of state

Payroll taxes work the same as state income taxes. If your employee resides in Dallas but works in Oklahoma City, for example, you’ll be paying taxes for them where the work is actually being completed.

Remote employee unemployment benefits

Much like state income tax, do your employees claim unemployment benefits in the state different from your business?

This topic is a grey area. Because your employees are paying income tax in their home state, they’d also claim unemployment benefits in their home state, too.

Employees vs contractors

There’s a big difference between an employee and an independent contractor. The most obvious difference is that you’re responsible for withholding taxes from employee paychecks.

Here’s an article that goes into more detail about the differences between remote contractors and remote employees.

It can be easier navigating national and international employment laws if you work with contractors instead of employees but be warned: the penalties for misclassifying an employee as a contractor can be high.

Make sure you’re clear on the differences before you hire anyone as a contractor.

Your remote employment agreement

Hiring someone to work from home is a little different than hiring them to work from your office. You have some decisions to make, like:

  • Do you provide computers and equipment, or do team members need to use their personal devices?
  • How do you handle sick days and other time off requests?
  • Are employees required to work during specific hours, or is the schedule flexible?

Clarify all of these rules in your employment agreement. To help you get started, you can get our free remote employment agreement template here:

Next steps

That was a lot of information! Here’s what you should do right now to get started:

  1. Make sure your remote work policy is updated and ready to go. Before you hire anyone to work from home, you should be clear about how your company uses remote work.
  2. Take a look at your website and your social media pages. Do they make the right first impression for both your customers and any potential new hires?
  3. Write down a list of qualities you want in the perfect remote employee, and keep that list handy when you write the job posting. This will help you attract the right people.

Make sure you bookmark this post so that you can refer back to it throughout the hiring process.

Category: Business Growth, Remote