A manufacturing business owner recently decided to hire a remote software developer – his first remote employee. Because I’ve managed remote team members in some way, shape or form since 1998, he asked for some advice. While the folks I’ve worked with have been a mix of folks close to home & scattered around the globe, he’s starting with a remote developer here in the U.S.
Why remote employees?
Hiring a remote employee might seem like the craziest idea ever. Even so, remote work has been growing steadily since the late ’90s for several reasons: People have roots. Their families have jobs, friends, schools & communities they love, outdoor recreation your community can’t compete with (and vice versa), etc.
In the ’60s-’80s, companies would move employees across the country on their dime. Today, such transfers are far less common.
If an ideally trained, experienced candidate with domain-specific knowledge for your opening lives somewhere else, & can’t or won’t move to your town, do you:
- Do without & settle for someone who isn’t ideal.
- Keep looking & wait until the right (or close enough) local appears.
- Hire no one & leave the opening unfilled.
- Hire a local & invest in the proper training.
- Ask a candidate to move to your town (consider your feelings if the situation were reversed)
Questions to ask your new team member
“Have you worked remotely before?” should have been discussed during the interview process. The first time an employee transitions from in-office work to remote work is a substantial one.
“What’s your schedule?” & “What times do you regularly need to be away?” aren’t probing personal questions. They let both sides discuss expectations and avoid surprises.
Example: I take kids to the bus stop about 8:00 am. I pick them up about 3:00 pm & about 4:00pm. As expected, there’s a few minutes of “cat herding” that takes place before and after the bus stops. While no one depends on me to offer immediate availability at any specific moment of the day, it’s important to communicate the team’s schedule.
Likewise, it’s on me to make sure someone understands my schedule when we’re trying to arrange a meeting time. If I am trying to finish up before the bus stop or am rushed to get to a meeting just after a bus stop time, meeting prep (or the meeting itself) isn’t as productive or focused. That isn’t fair to clients or your remote employer. It’s as important to discuss the times where all hands are expected to be available for scrums, meetings, standups, etc.
Lunch is a good example, even though you might not normally give it much thought. Some people eat at their desk. Some like to get out of the house & meet a friend. Some mix it up because working at home by yourself can be lonely. Some people need regular interaction, but text chat (Skype, Slack, etc) doesn’t feed that need. None of these things are wrong, but when your phone rings & you don’t answer, or you answer & your manager hears a noisy restaurant – they’ll wonder. It’s natural. You don’t want to make them wonder. You want them to know what to expect.
It’s OK to say “On Thursdays, I meet a few friends for lunch, so I’m not around from 11:30 to 1, and I start early or finish late those days“, as long as you’ve worked that out with people who need to reach you. This isn’t about someone expecting to know your butt is in your seat every minute of the day. It’s about being considerate of both parties. It’s trust.
“Tell me about your workspace” – also isn’t a probing personal question. An employer or client has an expectation that you aren’t trying to work in a room full of toddlers, barking dogs, or gaming teenagers. Speaking of, summer plans are important. If you have young school-age kids, how will they be cared for while you’re working? Will they be in a different space than you? If the kids are older, it generally isn’t a problem, while two to seven year olds don’t generally manage their day on their own.
If this isn’t the new employee’s first remote gig, ask them what worked & didn’t work in previous remote gigs. Take advantage of their experience & perspective, the wins & losses of another manager. It’s also help you understand the persona, priorities & needs of your new remote worker.
Next week, part 2.