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How to recruit, manage and retain virtual team members

May 16, 2020

Before COVID-19 was even a whisper in the news, remote work was projected to climb 200% by 2028. Instead, we made the leap overnight.

In that single bound, we far exceed the projected 200%. And it is likely that not all organizations will have their employees return to work in an office.

Having productive virtual teams involves more than technology. For virtual employment models to be effective, human resource and talent management practices need to shift to accommodate a different employee lifecycle.

Consider the following on how to manage key HR practices remotely, whether you choose to operate that way on an ongoing basis or whether it be based upon preference by the company or the employee, or even out of necessity:

Recruitment

  • Before you recruit, dial-in the job description. Be very specific about the responsibilities and accountabilities of the job and how it aligns to the overall organization.
  • Define the ideal candidate. Think about not only knowledge, skills and abilities but also behavioral styles, interpersonal skills and other soft skills that align with the culture of the organization.
  • In a virtual recruiting environment, the candidate pool is bigger and more geographically dispersed. Use recruitment agencies that specialize in your industry and develop employee referral programs to reward employees who bring forward strong candidates. Think outside of your normal processes when hiring remote employees to accelerate the sourcing process.
  • Employees who want to work remotely may not be looking for work on traditional job sites. Instead, post openings on role-specific user groups or job boards that cater to remote candidates (think gig employee).
  • Keep your social media accounts and website up-to-date, relevant and true to your brand. According to LinkedIn, a strong corporate brand can help lower hiring costs and attract top talent.

Selection

  • Plan a series of interviews and tests to evaluate candidates’ technical skills, communication, past experience and cultural fit. While technical skills determine if the candidate will be able to do the job, evaluating the cultural fit helps determine how the candidate will do the job.
  • To evaluate cultural fit, some companies use personality and/or behavioral assessments or ask behavioral-based open-ended questions. Ask every candidate the same questions in the same order to draw a fair comparison.
  • Remember, you are not only evaluating skills and abilities. It is important to also evaluate ability to work with different types of technology, working independently, collaborating in a virtual format, surfacing issues and concerns that can be barriers to success and delivering results.
  • Use a variety of technologies and communications tools during the selection process so you can assess how candidates communicate by email to evaluate ability to use the written word, phone to evaluate ability to express thoughts and ideas effectively, and video to observe body language which conveys such an important part of messaging.
  • Incorporate an exercise representative of the work to be performed to assess candidate technical skills and how they approach assignments. Consider the extension of contract work for a particular project to assess skill and fit prior to extension of offer of employment.

Onboarding

  • Carefully plan the onboarding process so it’s a positive, engaging experience. Equipment should be shipped to their home or work location before their official first day. Take it one step further and accelerate the acculturation process by also sending them swag, such as a coffee mug, T-shirt and other gear with the company logo. It is the small touches that go a long way in building relationships and solidifying your brand and commitment to employees.
  • Plan your onboard process in advance so it is ready to go when the employee joins the team. Don’t try to cram the onboarding process into a few days. It typically unfolds over the course of three months or longer on the level of role and responsibility.
  • Use checklists, online tracking systems or onboarding tools to keep track of paperwork. Try to limit the amount of running around or re-work that has to be done. For example, combine forms or use technology to intelligently apply details to future forms after it’s been entered once. If your state doesn’t permit online verification of contracts or documents, dispatch a notary to the new employee. If you don’t have a system with self-serve portal, consider investing in one. Well worth it.
  • Schedule introduction meetings and team calls for employees’ first few days and hold initial meetings via video to make the interactions more personal
  • Start assigning work or pulling the new employee into projects immediately, even if it’s just research or shadowing another team member. This creates immediate engagement and a sense of belonging with the team.

Management

  • Set very clear expectations with remote employees so they know what you expect and what they can expect from you. Explain which decisions they can make independently and when you want to be consulted. How often do you want project updates? And in what format?
  • Clarity will help remote employees get productive faster. It can also prevent managers from micromanaging work they can’t see. Convey to remote employees that they must take ownership of their work, processes and tools.
  • Establish goals and performance metrics upfront and tie them to the big-picture goals of the company. Ensure the employee understands the impact of what they do on other team members and strategic objectives to build connectedness to something bigger than themselves and reinforces the sense of team.
  • Ask remote employees how they like to be managed. Agree upon a cadence for checking-into make up for missed watercooler chats or chance meetings. Establish a consistent schedule and stick with it. Dedicate part of your check-ins to non-work-related topics so you can get to know your team members better.
  • Give remote employees feedback often, both positive and negative. Be specific and tie your feedback to objective performance metrics to build context.

Retention

  • Make it easy for remote workers to connect with co-workers, either through collaboration tools or occasional in-person retreats. Include remote employees in corporate initiatives and events and welcome them as part of the greater team.
  • Help remote employees build a career path; understand their long-term goals and match those with the needs and direction of the company. Remote workers may need extra help building connections across the company.
  • Ask for feedback. Working remotely, you may miss important visual cues that someone is frustrated or confused. Ask employees what they think, how they feel and whether they have everything they need.
  • Make sure the remote work experience is living up to employees’ expectations, too. People choose remote work because it fits their personality or lifestyle; make sure they’re getting the work-life balance, social interaction and challenges they need to be happy at work, at home.

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Author(s)

Jeffrey Wulf
Jeffrey H. Wulf
Principal
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Julia Johnson
Julia A. Johnson
Director, Organizational Performance
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